Small Retail Stores Close in Vermont

  • Kathy Frazer of White River Junction, Vt., right, reviews regulations for alcohol sales with Brownsville General Store employees Donna Spaulding, middle, and Christina Rathburn while preparing to transition into ownership of the store on November 24, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • In the shadow of Mount Ascutney, customers enter the Brownsville General Store to shop in West Windsor, Vt., on November 24, 2014. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 22, 2017

West Windsor — The general store in the heart of Brownsville has closed its doors.

The owner of the Brownsville General Store shuttered the business late last week, and a real estate broker said the store has been for sale for about a month.

“It’s not at all good for West Windsor,” Selectman Edwin Johnson said in an email. “I can’t say much more than to express my hope that someone can develop a viable business plan that will permit a successful reopening as soon as possible.”

Kathy Frazer, of White River Junction, bought the store off Route 44 near the defunct Ascutney Mountain Resort in November 2014, a business move she told the Valley News at the time was a life-long goal.

A woman at the store on Tuesday declined to comment about the ongoing situation, saying “I’m all set” before locking the door.

The Brownsville General Store isn’t the only small-town store in the Upper Valley to close its doors recently.

The North Tunbridge General Store, Flanders Market and Chelsea’s Pizza House are closed, again — and have been for at least three weeks, owner Eric Flanders said on Tuesday.

The state of Vermont forced Flanders to close all three businesses on the Route 110 corridor in late November following a tax-related issue.

In early December, Flanders rectified the issue, and the state allowed him to reopen. That was short-lived, however, as the stores only stayed open for a month or two before Flanders shut them down.

“Everything is financial,” he said on Tuesday. “We are closed right now, but we plan on reopening.”

He acknowledged that the closing of the businesses has been “very difficult” for the townspeople, as well as for his family and the businesses’ two dozen or so employees.

“It’s a tough road,” he said. “I don’t want people to lose faith.”

The Flanders have owned the North Tunbridge General Store since 2002, Flanders Market since 2006 and Chelsea’s Pizza House since 2009, according to the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office.

The abrupt closings in November were a surprise for several people who walked up to the front doors of the businesses expecting to go inside, but were instead met by locked doors.

Residents said the closings took away the convenience factor of having a store nearby. The fact that they had to travel for gasoline was a burden too, some said.

The Brownsville store also had gas pumps, which are now roped off with yellow caution tape.

Flanders said he has sought help from the Vermont Small Business Development Center, and an advisor is helping he and his wife, Stacey, get back on track.

That advisor, Ross Hart, said the nationwide organization, which is funded in part by the government, aids small businesses through free, confidential business consulting services.

Hart recognized that times are difficult for general stores in some small towns. Oftentimes, small stores can’t buy as inexpensively as bigger stores, which leads to higher prices and forces consumers to travel for goods.

“I think times are more difficult than people really think they are economically,” Hart said. “Everyone is price conscious.”

As for Brownsville, Town Clerk Cathy Archibald said she can hardly remember the last time West Windsor has been without a store.

Frazer bought the Brownsville General Store from Amy Yates, a West Windsor native who owned and operated the fixture since 1993.

“We have always had a store here,” Archibald said. “Hopefully someone will step up and buy it.”

Broker Daniel Kogut of Williams Group Sotheby’s International Reality in Woodstock said the store is listed at $379,000.

He said several people have inquired.

Despite Ascutney Mountain Resort going out of business in 2010, something that clobbered the local economy, Kogut said for the first time in a long time, real estate sales are picking up a little bit in the area.

“We have got a lot of very interested people,” Kogut said. “It is a really great opportunity for somebody.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.