Merola's Market: Family Business In Debt Rescued By Dana Conklin And Other Loyal Customers

Small towns across the country are feeling the burden of the recession, and the Long Island, N.Y. town of Point Lookout is no exception. Like many small towns, Point Lookout is served by many family-run businesses that struggle to compete with chain stores and suppliers. Point Lookout's Merola's grocery store found itself deeply in debt and on the brink of bankruptcy, despite being beloved by town residents. The New York Times reports how Dana Conklin, a Point Lookout native and loyal customer, stepped in to save the business.

She suggested a one-time fund-raising drive so that customers could help pay the bills and keep the store going until business picked up in the spring and summer. And one by one, customers trooped in with checks or mailed them in -- at last notice, more than 150 of them covering almost half of the store's $100,000 debt to the supplier.

Merola's, owned and operated by the same family for three generations, will continue to struggle to survive.

The family knows it will have to operate smarter and tougher -- probably fewer jobs for local kids, employees paying for part of their health care, and the market aggressively seeking new niches, like, say, delivering food to people on the beach.

Businesses everywhere are overhauling their practices to get a leg up in the recession. Customer loyalty and commitment will be an invaluable asset in the fight.