BALMORAL people have banded together to save their general store.
Residents Tom Silcock and John Vitkovsky led a drive to get community members to sign on as shareholders to raise $300,000 to buy the Balmoral Community Store.
Mr Silcock said the store had been on the market since last year and its future looked dim with no buyers.
"It looked like no-one was going to buy it and it was going to close," he said.
"It's the only grocery store in Balmoral; the next closest is Hamilton, Horsham or Coleraine. It's very important to the community.
"So we formed a private company and bought the store. As from Monday it will be operating under our ownership, with an official opening on May 22."
Mr Silcock said the successful company formation was proof of Balmoral's strength and how much the community wanted to see the town prosper.
"A group of us believed it was crucial to the township's well-being," he said. "It is pretty special, it shows what communities can do when they put their minds to it.
"It is sad that it has come to this, a town buying its own shop, but the town has really suffered from drought and the lack of water in Rocklands Reservoir. But we see a positive future for the community with the pipeline and we are told there will be more water in the reservoir.
"So we believed it was crucial to keep services in the town. If one store closes then another one does. We don't want to see that. It also means staff can keep their jobs."
Mr Vitkovsky said the private company was still $30,000 short of its target but was going ahead with the purchase.
"We are hoping to raise the rest of the money anyway," he said. "We have about 40 shareholders already and that is terrific for a little town. Those people are rescuing the store."
Balmoral residents have praised the shareholders' move, saying it will help maintain freedom for elderly residents.
Di McLean said the town should be proud of its action.
"I think it's positive that the town is fighting for its own resources. We have a lot of aged people here and it is important to have a shop in town where they can get their supplies," she said.
"Easter and Christmas are very busy here so we needed to keep that shop.
"The fact the community is getting behind it is very special. It shows the community spirit in town to rally around and put their own money into it."
Jenny Macfarlane said it was important to keep the shop open.
"It helps keep the community together, keeps us in town doing some shopping here instead of elsewhere," she said. "If you run out of basic grocery items you don't have to drive out of town. For some elderly people, driving isn't an option."