The average UK worker commutes 2,906 miles a year and spends an average of 45 stressful minutes a day doing it, the RAC foundation says. That's equivalent to one whole working day each week or, in other words, a big fat waste of time. So, it's pretty easy to understand why, for most retailers, the lack of any discernible commute (unless you count slipping down the stairs and through the connecting door) is the most positive thing about living above their stores.

One independent retailer who is particularly grateful for the carpet slipper commute is Navanja Rush, co-owner of 7Oaks Convenience Store in Kent. Navanja and her husband Rush bought their current store with upstairs living accommodation last year. The husband-and-wife team, who also have a young family, had previously owned a store in Brighton which was a 40-minute drive away from their home.

"At the end of a long day it was such a pain to get in the car and drive for that length of time," she says. And it wasn't something they relished doing in the middle of the night either. "We had a few problems with faulty alarms going off in the night and it would take ages to drive down and sort it out and you'd be panicking the whole journey. If anything like that happens now we can react straight away, so it's not as big a deal."

It's also infinitely more practical when balancing work and family life, she adds, a point which fellow independent retailer Deepa Patel of Thorkhill Stores in Thames Ditton, Surrey, wholeheartedly agrees with.

"It works perfectly. I'm able to have a full-time job, but I'm here when the kids leave for school in the morning and when they get back at 3.30pm not many working parents have that luxury. I try to spend as much time as possible on the weekends with the children, but I can dip in and out of the store whenever I'm needed."

And even if she's busy feeding the kids she's always got a keen eye on the shop floor thanks to a large wall-mounted CCTV screen in the kitchen. "If I'm ever off duty but I see someone in the store that I need to speak to I can just pop through the connecting door and grab them before they leave. It's quite funny when I do that, I think they assume I have a sixth sense! It's certainly something I'm happy to let our younger customers believe as it's a great shoplifting deterrent!"

Stores with living accommodation attached are definitely the most highly prized by young first-time retailers such as Deepa, says Allen Shepherd, director at Christie & Co. "The ease of living and working in such close proximity to home and family is a big draw, as is the financial side. Most young first-timers will have sold their original home to fund the store's purchase so desperately need adjoined accommodation."

But it's a need which starts to dwindle in later life, he adds. "The longer the retailer has been in business the greater the appetite for separate living accommodation. Quite often, long-serving retailers who will have amassed some capital will sub let the flat or accommodation above the store and move to a separate home nearby."

It's something that retailer John Jackson is hoping to do in the near future. John and his wife Jenny had lived and worked happily in and above the Toll Barr Post Office and General Store for more than 20 years. Until 2008 that is, when heavy rains submerged the village under a metre of water, destroying the store and their home. "Most people in the village lost their homes or their businesses, but for us it was both, which was pretty devastating," he says.

Fortunately, John and Jenny's experience is fast becoming a distant memory thanks to an insurance-funded refit, and is a rare occurrence.

Getting away from it all

However, one frustration that is commonly shared by retailers is the difficulty in "switching off" at the end of the day.

"Living and working so close makes it much harder to be off duty, but I've got better at it over the years," says John. "You have to be quite regimented about it. It does mean that if we want a holiday or a day off we have to go away or we'd just end up popping into the store the whole time."

When closing up at the end of the day Deepa has her own way of making the break between work and home. "I make a point of not going through the connecting door between the store and our home," she says. "I'll always lock up the shop from the outside and then walk round to the house's side entrance. It's a psychological thing, but it definitely helps me to switch off."

Another trick that Deepa has is to forbid spare stock from creeping into her living quarters. "We don't have a stock room so sometimes the odd bit will end up in the hallway, but we make every effort to keep this to a minimum. Some retailers I know sit in their living rooms surrounded by cases of squash and boxes of crisps it's terrible! On the plus side, I never need to worry about running out of ingredients when I'm cooking."

Noise and the disrupted sleep that it brings is another big negative for retailers who live above their stores. "Our newspaper deliveries tend to come at 3.30am and are really noisy because the drivers tend to chuck the papers from the van onto the pavement with a huge bang," says Deepa. "It can actually be quite frightening sometimes as you think you're being broken into."

Someone who's felt all too keenly the terror of being broken into is Steve Denham, who owns a small convenience store and post office in the West Sussex village of West Chiltington.

"We endured a terrifying break-in last year when thieves targeted our tobacco gantry, and to be honest we've never really got over it," he says. "Even though we've installed lots of new safety features including a motorised roll shutter, the fear that we could be broken into again is always at the back of our minds. It's such a shame because we had lived and worked in the same place for 21 years and never experienced anything like it before. I'd jump at the chance of living a little further away from the business now if I could, although I would greatly miss not being at the very centre of the community anymore."

It's a sentiment which most retailers share. In fact, after the negligible commute from counter to kitchen, the community aspect is the second biggest plus point for most retailers who live above their stores.

"Your customers aren't just your customers. They are also your neighbours and in many cases your friends," adds Deepa. "Sometimes this can throw up a few problems, but most of the time it's a huge bonus."

Navanja agrees: "Our customers know we live above the shop, so they know we are locals ourselves. It definitely helps to make you an even greater part of the community, which can only be a good thing for us as retailers and as people."
The pros and cons of living above the store are easily balanced
Pros: l No commute to work l Greater community engagement l Greater work life balance Cons: l Difficulty switching off l Noise and disruption l Fear of crime