The shop’s name changed several times over 40 years, but the face behind the counter remained the same.
Margaret Atkins, fondly known as Maggie, was a helpful, cheery woman who worked at the Houghton Regis convenience store from the early 1970s to her retirement in 2012.
But after she left she kept in touch with everyone at Nisa Local in Hillborough Crescent and joined them at the staff Christmas party on December 21.
So they were shocked to hear that 62-year-old Maggie had died less than three weeks later after a suspected heart attack.
Store owner Kishor Patel has paid tribute to his former employee, who he described as a “one-off”, and staff are making a collection for Maggie’s mother.
When she started working at the shop it was known as Edwards’ and she stayed when it became a Wavy Line store and then when it was taken over by the Faulkner family in the late 1970s .
Mr Patel told the Gazette: “My brother Pat and I bought the store in 1985 and converted it to a Nisa Local and Maggie stayed with us until she retired 27 years later.
“It was with great sadness that we learned of Maggie’s death. She was a very caring lady, particularly to her family, who she always put before herself.
“At work Maggie knew all the customers by name and was always ready to help, have a laugh or a helpful chat.
“She was known on many occasions to drop customers’ shopping home for them.
“Maggie was meticulous about cleanliness and always kept the store clean and tidy.
“She was ready to help out, whenever or wherever, and on many occasions this included helping out at one of our other stores.”
When Maggie retired, a surprise party was held for her at St Vincent’s Church Hall, Houghton Regis, which was attended by 150 guests.
South West Bedfordshire MP Andrew Selous joined Maggie’s past and present work colleagues, plus customers, friends and family, to bid her a fond farewell.
Mr Patel said: “Since her retirement I’ve really missed the famous cups of tea she used to make.
“We asked Maggie to do us the honour of cutting the cake when our company celebrated its 25th anniversary at the 2010 Houghton Regis Carnival.
“Even after her retirement Maggie used to attend company and community events.
“Only on December 21 she attended our staff’s Christmas party.
“She always brought me a cake for my birthday on New Year’s Eve. This time was no exception.
“Maggie was a one-off – an irreplaceable member of staff and member of the family.
“We will miss her very dearly. Our thoughts are with her mum, family and friends at this sad time. We are making a collection for her mother.
“Anyone can make a donation at either our Nisa Local store in Hillborough Crescent or Neptune Square.
“Please see also see the notice at these stores for memorial arrangements.”
Maggie, who never married, was rushed into hospital on January 5 and died two days later.