Halesworth village store and post office celebrates 60th birthday

A VILLAGE store and post office near Halesworth, described as a 'vital part of the community,' is celebrating its 60th birthday this week.

Tony's Stores at Westhall was opened by Tony Whatling in July, 1951.

He was 25-years-old and rationing was still in force when he fulfilled his ambition to open a shop.

'I came out of the forces and this place was for sale,' he said.

'I had always wanted a shop. There was rationing in those days and there was no paper to wrap anything in. People had to bring a plate or a jam jar to put their sugar in. Everything came loose so butter and sugar had to be weighed out.'

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Mr Whatling continues to work in the shop and post office and will celebrate his 86th birthday next month.

He always opens on Christmas Day morning in case anyone has forgotten anything essential or batteries are needed for childrens' toys.

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'I always open for batteries in case Father Christmas has run them down the night before,' he said with a twinkle in his eye.

'It is fun for me too because the children come in and tell me what they have had.'

The shop stocks everything from the usual food stuffs and fruit and vegetables to matches, birthday cards, stationery, buckets and spades, cake tins, sweets and string.

But Mr Whatling said: 'We do not stock like we used to. We used to sell wool, clothing, wellies and plimsolls.

'Supermarkets have taken trade away, but then supermarkets only sell certain things which have got a high price. They do not want to sell the little knick-knacks.

'I think it is important that villages keep their shops. Every village used to have a shop. Now I think I am the only one left between Beccles, Bungay and Halesworth.'

Mr Whatling said he has no plans to retire. 'I have never known anything else,' he said. 'It's my life.'

Cindy Woolnough, who works alongside Mr Whatling, has worked in the shop on and off since the age of 12. She is now 54 and a grandmother.

Westhall resident and customer Liz Harvey said: 'Tony's Stores is more than a shop, it's a meeting place where villagers catch up on local news, collect doctor's prescriptions, buy tickets for various events in Westhall, purchase their lottery tickets – the list goes on – and if what you want is not available Tony will get it for you.

'Tony has contributed enormously to the community of Westhall in so many ways but most importantly has kept the shop up and running. It is such a vital part of the community, and is there, as Tony puts it 'for all your neighbourhood needs'. The shop not only serves Westhall but many of the surrounding villages too.

'To have had the shop open for 60 years is an achievement in itself but Tony is still there every day providing so much to Westhall.'

Customers celebrated the milestone with a drink and a bite to eat at the store on Saturday.

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