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West Hartford Store Closes

  • Marilyn Milham of North Pomfret, Vt., checks her post office box in the back of the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store has closed until further notice, the post office boxes are accessible from the back door. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Marilyn Milham of North Pomfret, Vt., checks her post office box in the back of the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store has closed until further notice, the post office boxes are accessible from the back door.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • A notice to postal patrons is posted on the post office boxes at the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store is closed indefinitely, the post office within the store is open six days a week to allow customers to access their post office boxes. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    A notice to postal patrons is posted on the post office boxes at the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store is closed indefinitely, the post office within the store is open six days a week to allow customers to access their post office boxes.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Marilyn Milham of North Pomfret, Vt., checks her post office box in the back of the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store has closed until further notice, the post office boxes are accessible from the back door. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • A notice to postal patrons is posted on the post office boxes at the West Hartford Village Store in West Hartford, Vt., on Feb 24, 2014. While the store is closed indefinitely, the post office within the store is open six days a week to allow customers to access their post office boxes. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

West Hartford — Nearly two and a half years after Tropical Storm Irene came ripping through the Upper Valley, one of the harder hit villages is still feeling the brunt of the storm.

West Hartford Village Store owner John Farrow was forced to close the historic breakfast, lunch and quick-stop market earlier this month after a decline in business and cumbersome Tropical Storm Irene loan repayments proved too much to bear.

“It is a sad story,” Farrow said. “I put all of that effort and money into rebuilding and then the business didn’t come back. My overhead increased almost three fold because of all of the loans I took out,” he said. “I didn’t know what else to do.”

Farrow took out multiple loans to cover the more than $300,000 in damages from the August 2011 storm.

After seven months of rebuilding, he was able to stay open for nearly two years, but o n Valentine’s Day, Farrow flipped the closed sign over one last time and placed two “for sale” signs in the front windows.

“I am sorry to see the store close because I know a lot of people relied on it,” long-time West Hartford resident Arthur Peale said on Monday. “It is an important part of our small community out here. I just hope it opens back up and that the neighborhood changes a little bit.”

The lack of traffic on the streets of West Hartford took a toll on the store’s business, Farrow said. To stay afloat, he said, the store needed to average $1,000 in sales per day, and at the time of closing only about $300 a day was coming in.

“I rebuilt, but other houses never rebuilt,” Farrow said. “The library is taking forever and still looks like a disaster zone. The whole village is depleted.”

In the final month of last year, the store brought in about $10,000 which is roughly one-fifth of the revenue from a good month prior to the storm.

“December was pitiful,” Farrow said.

On Monday, signs outside promising fresh deli sandwiches and homemade pizza were still hanging at the store, and an American flag on the pole out front snapped continuously in the wind. Inside, however, food shelves were bare, and only a few bottles occupied the drink coolers.

Farrow, a real estate broker, said the property, which is assessed at $203,400, according to the Hartford lister’s office, has been listed for sale.

The post office, which was opened in October 2012, will remain open in its current location in the back portion of the store. A separate entrance on the side of the store provides access from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week.

Farrow said it is possible the store could reopen on or about May 1, when the Appalachian Trail hikers start trekking through town, but it’s too soon to know for sure. In the meantime, Farrow isn’t giving up on the store.

The day after the store closed, Farrow hosted residents for free coffee and to brainstorm ideas for a financially sustainable business plan.

“It is just sad that the store can’t stay open,” West Hartford resident Brian Raymond said while picking up his mail on Monday. “It is a nice little place. It is a staple in town and they did a real good job after the flood.”

West Hartford resident Steve Hickory said he would miss the convenience factor.

“If you need something like bread or milk or something, it was nice to have a small store,” Hickory, who would stop in for lunch on occasion, said.

“You hate to see anyone not succeed,” he added. “I would like to see him make it.”

Selectboard Chairman Chuck Wooster said he was saddened to hear of the store’s closing. Revitalizing the core of West Hartford village has been a priority of the Selectboard, he said, adding “it will take a while.

“When (the West Hartford Library and Community Center) is all done, there will be parking out there and people can walk and swim and bike and hike,” he said. “We are sort of looking at West Hartford as a recreational hub for the town. Obviously we aren’t quite there yet, but hopefully as things finish up this spring, we will really start to see the village thrive.

“I do hope it opens back up. (The store) is a key part of it.”

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