SUNDAY marked the end of an era as Robert Kirkwood shut up shop for one final time after living his dream for six years.

Described as “the heart of the community” and “a legend of Crossgates”, he leaves behind a legacy of goodwill to all.

It was back in 2015, after his mother’s passing, when he decided to follow his dream and open a store of his own.

The Corner Shop on Main Street welcomed customers for the first time in October of that year, and he would open a second store in Mossgreen two years later.

Robert said health issues had prompted the decision to shut up shop and although it was “nothing too serious”, back-and-forth visits to his GP in recent months had been a “wake-up call”.

It has been a “rollercoaster” six years for him, he told the Times, but it ended with tears of joy as residents from across Crossgates and beyond gave him one final farewell outside the Premier Stores shop in Mossgreen.

Sporting his 'Arkwright jacket' (a nod to Ronnie Barker’s shopkeeper in Open All Hours), the 57-year-old received a round of applause and gifts as a token of their appreciation.

“It was very humbling,” Robert said on Monday morning. “The day itself was challenging, but I couldn’t believe the generosity of everyone.

“I started off with a wee wobble last night, but I thanked everyone for coming and talked about how much the community has evolved over the years and how amazing it has been to see how we’ve got through the past few years together and during the pandemic.

“One man came into the shop during the day and he was in tears. He said, ‘You don’t realise what you’ve done for me. You helped me through this pandemic. If it wasn’t for chatting to you every day, God knows what would have happened to me’.

“You don’t realise what you’ve achieved until you hear someone say something like that. I was really taken aback. He gave me a big bottle of malt whisky.

"The gifts I received was so generous. I’m just a wee, humble guy who sells tins of beans! To hear words like that, and to receive such lovely gifts... just wow.”

That generosity means Robert and his wife, Carol, will not be short of refreshment and, having sponsored and had advertising boards at Humbug Park – the home of Crossgates Primrose – he’ll now be able to attend home games as often as he likes thanks to the donation of a club season ticket.

Locals said he'll be sadly missed and recalled the hardship fund he set up to help those who were struggling during Covid, just one of many acts of kindness.

Chico Davidson, Crossgates Spider-Man, said: “Robert’s been an inspiration. I’ve known him for six years and in that time he’s become a really good friend, but he has that character that makes me feel like I’ve known him all my life.

“He went above and beyond for the community. If you were struggling, he’d help you. He would help anyone. His legacy will live on. He is a legend of Crossgates. I’d say he’s the heart of the community."

Ross Bennet, who runs the Crossgates Community Facebook page, also paid tribute.

He commented: “Robert followed his dream by opening up a shop in the village and has served it superbly.

“His passion, his loyalty and determination to help people... incredible. His dedication during Beast from the East and during the pandemic will never be forgotten.”

Although he has left his shop, Robert will be keeping a close eye on proceedings in the village and lending a helping hand.

He’ll be joining the Crossgates Gala Committee and keeping in touch with the friends he’s made throughout his time in the village.

For now, there'll be a well earned rest and more time with his wife and family before beginning a new job.