A Community Saves Its Center: Barnard General Store Expected to Reopen Soon With New Managers

  • At the Barnard General Store on Thursday morning, Ted Williamson, of Barnard, looks over a petition that Stephen Marx, of Strafford, wanted him to sign. The petition seeks a constitutional amendment to give the Earth rights. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    At the Barnard General Store on Thursday morning, Ted Williamson, of Barnard, looks over a petition that Stephen Marx, of Strafford, wanted him to sign. The petition seeks a constitutional amendment to give the Earth rights. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dean Jillson, of Barnard, leaves the Barnard General Store one morning recently as a sign outside charts the Barnard Community Trust’s fundraising progress. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Dean Jillson, of Barnard, leaves the Barnard General Store one morning recently as a sign outside charts the Barnard Community Trust’s fundraising progress. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rick Carbin, president of the Barnard Community Trust, sits at the counter of the Barnard General Store last week. Speaking with him is Tom Platner, secretary of the trust. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Rick Carbin, president of the Barnard Community Trust, sits at the counter of the Barnard General Store last week. Speaking with him is Tom Platner, secretary of the trust. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tom Platner, left, and electrical inspector Andrew Rea examine the second floor of the Barnard General Store while Mary Myers, of Barnard, plays  the banjo. Myers has been renting studio space in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Tom Platner, left, and electrical inspector Andrew Rea examine the second floor of the Barnard General Store while Mary Myers, of Barnard, plays the banjo. Myers has been renting studio space in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • At the Barnard General Store on Thursday morning, Ted Williamson, of Barnard, looks over a petition that Stephen Marx, of Strafford, wanted him to sign. The petition seeks a constitutional amendment to give the Earth rights. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Dean Jillson, of Barnard, leaves the Barnard General Store one morning recently as a sign outside charts the Barnard Community Trust’s fundraising progress. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Rick Carbin, president of the Barnard Community Trust, sits at the counter of the Barnard General Store last week. Speaking with him is Tom Platner, secretary of the trust. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Tom Platner, left, and electrical inspector Andrew Rea examine the second floor of the Barnard General Store while Mary Myers, of Barnard, plays  the banjo. Myers has been renting studio space in the building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Barnard — Longtime Barnard resident Dean Jillson isn’t a big fan of cooking, so most mornings he’d head down to the general store to eat. But last May, the 180-year-old business closed due to financial struggles, and the town lost more than a grocery store and lunch counter.

“It’s not just a place to buy things, but a place to converse,” said Jillson, 78. Losing it was “a disaster.”

But that’s about to change.

Soon after the Barnard General Store closed, a group of residents sprang into action. They revived the Barnard Community Trust, which formed in 2009 to find ways to stabilize the store’s finances. The trust came to an agreement with building owner Bill Twigg-Smith to buy the property for $500,000.

Now, thanks to volunteers, individual donors, and local businesses, the store is poised to reopen.

The trust has raised $470,000 through fundraisers and donations from residents, summer residents and visitors. The donations, ranging from $1 to an anonymous gift of $100,000, have come from 495 individual donors, said Rick Carbin, president of the trust’s board of directors. “In a town of 950, that’s pretty good.”

The white two-story building across the road from Silver Lake has long been a popular gathering spot for Barnard residents and visitors. Some made a habit of stopping for coffee on their way to work. Others paddled to the store for meals and supplies.

Since last summer, volunteers and later, paid staff, have opened the store every morning, with coffee and snacks available by donation. A few dollars here and there have added up, totaling $50,000, Carbin said.

The service has attracted both residents and people passing through. Some stop in to warm up by the woodstove; others use laptops to tap into the store’s wireless Internet connection.

On Friday morning, Jillson drank coffee at one of several round tables, chatting with friends. Carbin sat on a nearby stool, working on his computer. Mary Myers staffed the counter, which was filled with baskets of baked goods, boiled eggs and two kinds of coffee.

Myers serves on the trust board and has helped with the renovations. She also made the blueberry cake and pumpkin muffins.

“The store is just a vital part of our community,” said Myers, 28. “I think it’s got a lot of potential, and I want to see it become something awesome.”

For the past several months, volunteers, along with paid contractors, have been working to improve the building. They’ve repainted the interior, replaced a roof and made plumbing repairs, Carbin said. The electrical system was brought up to code, and a local business fixed the woodstove chimney for free.

Upcoming projects will include installing a new delivery door. The store is authorized to seat 18, and they hope to expand that number to 25, Carbin said. But when it reopens, the building will look and feel much like it always has. The ice cream window will reopen and the store will sell gas, as it has in the past.

“We want to maintain the atmosphere,” he said.

To that end, the old wooden floors will be waxed, but not replaced.

“We like the bumps,” he quipped.

The trust recently tapped new managers, a young Vermont couple, to run the business. Carbin declined to name them until the lease is signed, likely next week.

The couple provided a business and financial plan, he said, and they plan to work with a wholesaler to be able to sell products at prices comparable to larger grocery stores.

Some details still need to be worked out, and the new managers will work with the trust and other community members to find out what people want from the store, he said. “We’ve said from the beginning the priority is to operate a general store that serves the local community.”

The business previously served lunch and breakfast daily, and dinner a few nights a week.

The new operators may do something similar, but “at a minimum,” they will offer breakfast and lunch, Carbin said. “That’s pretty much what people want.”

The trust, which will buy the property in two stages, will likely put down $300,000 at the closing, with Smith-Twigg holding the note for another year, Carbin said. “Bill came to us in November and said he didn’t want the whole amount for right now.”

As of Friday, a closing date had not yet been set, but Carbin said he hoped it would take place this week. Smith-Twigg could not be reached for comment.

Even with the closing in sight, the trust still has work to do, Carbin said.

They will continue to raise money, with an overall goal of $650,000. The money will cover property costs, insurance, taxes and improvements to the building.

They will also set aside a reserve fund “to deal with anything that comes up in the future,” he said, “because you never know.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.