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Chelsea Store Set to Close

‘We Never Should Have Bought the Place in the First Place’

  • Chelsea Country Store owner Jane Ackerman greets Gary Villa as he delivers The World, a free newspaper, to the store Thursday afternoon July 3, 2014. The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12. "It's just a product of the dollar general era," said Ackerman of the loss of her business.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Chelsea Country Store owner Jane Ackerman greets Gary Villa as he delivers The World, a free newspaper, to the store Thursday afternoon July 3, 2014. The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12. "It's just a product of the dollar general era," said Ackerman of the loss of her business.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12 after nearly a decade under the ownership of Julie, Jane and Rick Ackerman. Though not in direct competition with the neighboring Will's store, Will's began expanding its inventory after the Ackermans' announcement. "We've got roughly 1200 peopl here in town, there's four stores, a bakery, a restaurant and a bar," said Chase Ackerman, son of Julie, Tuesday, July 3, 2014. "Something's gotta give." <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12 after nearly a decade under the ownership of Julie, Jane and Rick Ackerman. Though not in direct competition with the neighboring Will's store, Will's began expanding its inventory after the Ackermans' announcement. "We've got roughly 1200 peopl here in town, there's four stores, a bakery, a restaurant and a bar," said Chase Ackerman, son of Julie, Tuesday, July 3, 2014. "Something's gotta give."
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chelsea Country Store owner Jane Ackerman greets Gary Villa as he delivers The World, a free newspaper, to the store Thursday afternoon July 3, 2014. The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12. "It's just a product of the dollar general era," said Ackerman of the loss of her business.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • The Chelsea Country Store will close July 12 after nearly a decade under the ownership of Julie, Jane and Rick Ackerman. Though not in direct competition with the neighboring Will's store, Will's began expanding its inventory after the Ackermans' announcement. "We've got roughly 1200 peopl here in town, there's four stores, a bakery, a restaurant and a bar," said Chase Ackerman, son of Julie, Tuesday, July 3, 2014. "Something's gotta give." <br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

Chelsea — The placard above the door of the Chelsea Country Store reads, “Established 1818,” but on July 12 it will close its doors, owing to a problem all too familiar to small town retailers: Shoppers just stopped coming.

The store’s proprietors, Julie, Jane and Rick Ackerman, own the building and have paid off their mortgage. The country store’s troubles don’t lie in debt or rent, but rather in its customer base, or lack there of.

“There’s too much in this town for too few people,” Julie Ackerman’s son Chase Ackerman, a cashier at the store, said.

The country store is one of a pair of adjacent brick buildings in the center of town. The neighboring building hosts another business: Will’s Store.

Its owner, Will Gilman, has been trying to sell since before the Ackermans bought the neighboring building. That, in hindsight, should have been a warning sign, Ackerman acknowledged.

“We never should have bought the place in the first place,” he said.

The space next door to the Ackermans’ store had always been a drugstore, long before Gilman moved in, but he began stocking groceries as the country store failed. There were no hard feelings between them; business owners have to try their best to survive in Chelsea.

“The lines have blurred a little bit,” Gilman said.

Both Ackerman and Gilman said they didn’t think of each other as competitors. People don’t come to Will’s to buy a full load of groceries, Gilman explained.

In Chelsea, population 1,238, there actually are four stores with comparable inventories in the center of town: the Chelsea Country Store, Will’s Store, Flanders Market and Chelsea Pizza House. The town also boasts a bar, a bakery and a sit-down restaurant, all in the same half-mile.

But not for long.

Dixie’s, the restaurant down the street, is going out of business too. Its manager, Suzanne Josler, said the owner had troubles similar to the country store’s. The owner, Brigetta Johnson, could not be reached for comment.

To explain why business is so bad in Chelsea, Gilman pointed to rising fuel prices and a higher tax on cigarettes. Jane Ackerman blamed the recession and the presence of nearby supermarkets such as Price Chopper and Shaw’s.

“When I’m paying $4 a gallon for milk from Hood, I can’t compete with Shaw’s selling it for $2.99,” Ackerman said.

Chelsea Selectboard Chair Carol Olsen, a resident for at least 40 years, has fond memories of a time when people almost never left town.

“What you did years ago was you got up, you came downstairs, you went to the grocery store, you went to the post office, you did what you did,” she said.

Now, those people are dying out and commuters to Hanover, West Lebanon and Montpelier are replacing them. Members of this new demographic tend to buy their groceries where they work instead of in Chelsea, Ackerman said.

“That whole population — it’s all gone, and that’s sad,” Olsen said.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.