Country stores work to stay open

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In many of our towns, the country store is the one reliable place for
groceries and light bulbs, medicine and gasoline, and often and little gossip. But some general stores
are struggling to stay in business. Is the general store a quaint
vestige of history, or a vital center of commerce and community? The
director of the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores, Dennis
Bathory-Kitsz, and Paul Bruhn of Preservation Trust of Vermont help us examine what some people are doing to ensure
their general stores stay open for business.

Also in the program, how Vermont might benefit from the federal stimulus
package. Aid to states is targeted at transportation projects and
Medicaid, but there may be strings attached that will dissuade Vermont
from making full use of the funds. VPR political reporter Bob Kinzel
updates us on what Vermont officials are learning about the package.

And Al Sharpton, civil rights activist and host of the radio program
"Keepin it Real," visited Middlebury College last week. Middlebury
College senior Alexander Manshel reports on Sharpton’s message to


Listener comments:


Susan in Randolph:

Al Floyd and his wife Jan run the store that is the unofficial nerve
center of our part of town. There’s a free magazine exchange in the
back near the woodstove, across from the coffee. That’s where your dry
cleaning is waiting for you after you’ve sent out your suit.
The official opening time is 7:30, but if you’re a recognized
local, it’s understood that you can come on in as soon as the door’s
Need medicine for your horse? Al’s got it. Need a birthday card or
a bottle of wine? Al’s got it. Need someone to put out your chimney
fire? Al will be there. He’s also the fire chief.
The contribution that Floyd’s makes to the quality of life in our town is incalculable.

Rob in Calais:

Given the independent nature of Vermont general stores, what sort of
coordinated resources are in place to ensure they have reasonably
priced and in-demand products, especially local food products, to build
profitable customer relationships?

Peggy in Craftsbury:

Here in Craftsbury, the
Craftsbury Historic General Store (dates back at least 100 yrs) has closed
its doors.  What began as a sole proprietor business became
a community-investor enterprise a few years ago.  Various improvements,  
additional features,  etc. were clearly not enough to sustain the venture,
despite this town being home to Craftsbury Outdoor Center,  Sterling College, Inn
on the Common (also closing – end of Feb), and the Craftsbury Inn –  the latter
sits directly across the street from the General Store.  This is a
great blow to our town.

Michael in Glover:

We should really study the success of Currier’s
store. They are famous for a collection of stuffed aminals, [and also they stock
anything the town needs. And they keep up on new trends, ie, organic and whole
foods without becoming too yuppie. They are the life of the town and keep us in
communication in a very positive way.

Leslie in West Hartford:

I wanted to contact you about the program today re: Vermont country
stores. About a year and a half ago the West Hartford Village Store was bought and re-opened by a wonderful, friendly couple,Pat & Joe. They have brought back the center of our community, which, because of its location, includes parts of Sharon, Queechee, Pomfret and W.Hartford. In addition to food staples, they have an excellent deli with daily meal and sandwhich specials. They also offer amazing homemade pizza. Their food is delicious! I know that their oustanding lunches bring in customers from as far away as WRJ and Lebanon. It is all prepared fresh and served with wonderful customer service. It’s as though they have brought the heart back to our community. Just wanted to brag about OUR local general store. Great meals,
outstanding selection of fresh produce, terrific selection of food, wonderful
place to meet and greet folks. 

Lyssa Papazian, Project Manager for the Putney General Store Project:

I am glad you are speaking with Paul Bruhn who has been such
a supporter and advocate for our project in Putney. In May of 2008 fire ravaged
the Putney General Store and it was forced to close its doors for the first
time in over 200 years. The historic c. 1796 store is at the physical and
social heart of our town. The people of Putney were devastated –
children, working people, seniors, and our many visitors feel an intense loss. 
With a staggering rebuilding estimate and a limited insurance settlement, the
previous owner decided he could not rebuild himself. With the help of PTV and
Paul, the community rallied around the idea of a non-profit taking it on and 
bringing in grant and local fundraising dollars to help reduce the total cost
to stabilize and rebuild the historic store. The goal was to reduce the amount
of debt a new operator would have to take on to make it a sustainable general
store business again. The Putney Historical Society was the local non-profit to
purchase the building and start raising fund s and securing bridge financing to
replace the roof. The roof is back on and we are now planning the next phase
and are looking for a store operator – we have received four letters of
interest and are very excited that we have interest from folks with some real

What we learned through this process was just how important
the general store on the corner was to the entire village economy. Putney has
never been without its store and so did not fully realize  how much foot
traffic and tourist business it generated for all the other businesses in town.
As a small town, Putney was lucky to have a small but vibrant downtown with
retail stores and restaurants. Now our fragile village economy is in serious
danger from the double whammy of losing the general store and the taking economy.
We are working as hard as we can to get the store open for business again and
we hope it is in time to save the rest of the village stores. But it also seems
clear that the challenge of the general store businesses needs help and support
from their community.

Sarah Baker of Putney Books:

I am listening to this program today in the bookstore, with a group of
local folks who are eating lunch in the cafe next door, our local
general store well within sight. The fact there is a gathering here for
this program only goes to speak for the strength and value our
community holds for our General Store.  I just wanted to strongly
reiterate what Paul mentioned about the effect of the great loss of our
store in particular. Our town has not only lost the morning hang out
for our local group of lifelong Vermonters, but we have lost our center
of commerce, the effects of which are being felt at every other retail
store in town. People no longer run into the local jewelry or clothing
store to pick up that last minute gift while they also grab the gallon
of milk they need at the well known in our town "G-store". A caller
mentioned the trickle down effect of how news travels through town over
cups of coffee….this is a quintessential but vital part of being a
small town.

huge efforts are being made to recreate our town store, the biggest
effect our community can have in the success of this project is to be
vocal about the want and need of the store, as well as the continued
daily support of the businesses in town as well as the General Store
should, or rather WHEN, it reopens! Many thanks for your attention to this subject….all of us small town store owners appreciate it!

Grace-Ellen McCrann in Westchester County, NY:

I live in New York, but I buy a lot of things online/by mail. Do any of these stores have websites, or offer some sort of shopping list/catalogue online? I already know about The Vermont Country Store and have been shopping with them via their catalogue/online for years. I understand that a small store wouldn’t/couldn’t offer everything on a website, but if I’m shopping online anyway, I’d be happy to send some of my business their way. Vermont-oriented gifts and kitchen items are a particular interest for me, but I’m happy to consider other categories as well. Could you put up a list of Vermont Country Stores on the Vermont Edition portion of the VPR website?

Bill in West Topsham:
Thank you for airing today’s program about country stores in Vermont. I have owned the Waits River General Store in West Topsham since April of 1990 and was a founding member of VAICS. This has been a most trying time for our store and even with community support it is touch and go if we will survive the lure of New Hampshire and Box Stores. I have found myself thinking, "They’ll miss us when we’re gone." But, your program was inspiring and gives us hope.


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