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Randolph’s Main Street Mainstay Belmains Set to Close



Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, October 26, 2017

Randolph — The steady drum roll of area retail stores going out of business hit another downbeat on Thursday, as Randolph’s variety store Belmains, a Main Street mainstay that has outfitted generations of residents with clothing and satisfied many a sweet tooth with its well-stocked shelves of penny candy, announced it would be closing its doors for good in January.

Belmains, which has been in business since the Great Depression, is the latest Upper Valley retail storefront to fall victim to customers switching to internet shopping for even their most basic needs and is the fourth White River Valley business to announce its closing in the past month.

Calling it a “sign of the times,” Belmains said “the growth and convenience of Amazon and other mail order companies and the lack of good steady flow of foot traffic in Randolph has brought the Winslow family to this decision. Over the years we have had the best customers and the best employees, but this is no longer the business atmosphere that we have enjoyed,” the store said in an email to the Valley News.

Todd Winslow, president of the parent company that owns Belmains, did not return a phone call seeking comment. The Winslow family’s other business in Randolph, Magee Office Products, remains open.

The news about Belmains follows other recent announcements of business closings in the Randolph area, including Bisbee’s Hardware (formerly Aubuchon’s hardware), Wiggett’s Auto and the Snowsville General Store in East Braintree, Vt. In the Upper Valley, municipal equipment supplier Kibby Equipment announced in September its closing, and in June, the multi-generation family furniture business Bridgman’s announced it would be closing and the property would become the new anchor location for Listen Community Services.

For Randolph residents, a trip to Belmains was an indelible part of growing up. A trip to the store meant being enticed by the smell of the “peanut counter” with its bins of cashews, or ogling the toy shelves, said Jan Reis, owner of Blue Moon Boutique, a clothing and gift shop she has run for 29 years across the street from Belmains.

“I grew up with it and will miss them greatly,” Reis said. “They had everything you could want. Women’s clothes, men’s clothes, toys, some hardware ... quality things that would last.” The store would become a social hub in town on a Friday night and “it felt like a community.”

Bob Moreau, owner of Bob’s M & M Beverage around the corner from Belmains, said he had been “hearing rumors” that the variety store might be closing but dismissed them after he saw some recent renovation work that had been done in the back of the store. He said the store was a big convenience for people who didn’t want to head out of town to buy staples.

“They had everything you could want,” Moreau said. “I’ll be sad to see them go.”

Downtown Randolph has been buffeted by storefront openings and closings. Linda Runnion, the member consultant now managing the White River Valley Chamber of Commerce, said that two Main Street artisan studios, Art of Vermont and Main Street Crafters, closed in the past year but new tenants followed not long after: sandwich shop Chef’s Downtown Deli has now moved into the former Main Street Crafters space, and Randolph artist Rachi Farrow is now occupying the former Art of Vermont space.

Runnion expressed dismay over Belmains closing, saying the store has been a “mainstay” of downtown Randolph and has been prized for the quality of the products it stocked, whether it had been sturdy Woolrich clothing or high-end toys from Melissa & Doug.

“Most of us would go there first and only if we couldn’t find it there go elsewhere,” Runnion said.

She noticed the store trying to adapt to a changing environment — it had recently added grocery items — but at the same time could see the store wasn’t as busy as it once had been.

“We’d just been watching the shelves go bare for several months now,” she said. “It just makes me really sad.”

Belmains’ acting store manager blamed internet shopping for pulling away the store’s customers.

“We used to have a lot of people and foot traffic, but we don’t have it anymore.” Bobbi Kuhn, who has worked at the store for more than 17 years, said it has a total of nine employees.

The falloff in store traffic, she said, “has been going on for awhile.”

“It is what it is,” Kuhn said.

Downtown variety stores once occupied a spot in nearly every Upper Valley town, but they have been disappearing with greater frequency over the years, especially as discount chains like Dollar General move to shopping plazas on the outskirts.

The opening of a Dollar General outlet in Fairlee was the driving reason for the decision to close Hill’s 5 & 10 in Bradford in 2015, the owners of the store said at the time.

The former Hill’s 5 & 10 location on Main Street is now occupied by another sign of the Internet era: a nonprofit co-working space and studio.

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.