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Closing Time for Cornish Store

  • Rob Bladen Jr. stands behind the counter at the Cornish General store which his family owns and will be closing this summer. Frank Ackerman, center, comes to the store every day for breakfast. Mike Porwitzky, right, was making a delivery to a household and had stopped at the store to ask for directions. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Rob Bladen Jr. stands behind the counter at the Cornish General store which his family owns and will be closing this summer. Frank Ackerman, center, comes to the store every day for breakfast. Mike Porwitzky, right, was making a delivery to a household and had stopped at the store to ask for directions. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rob Bladen Jr. looks out the window of the Cornish General Store on Thursday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Rob Bladen Jr. looks out the window of the Cornish General Store on Thursday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Rob Bladen Jr. stands behind the counter at the Cornish General store which his family owns and will be closing this summer. Frank Ackerman, center, comes to the store every day for breakfast. Mike Porwitzky, right, was making a delivery to a household and had stopped at the store to ask for directions. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Rob Bladen Jr. looks out the window of the Cornish General Store on Thursday. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

Cornish — They talk town politics, firing shots at each other from opposite sides of the table. Starting at 8 a.m. for a couple hours, then again at lunchtime. Throughout the afternoon and evening, depending on their schedules.

It didn’t matter at the Cornish General Store off Route 120. The doors opened as early as five in the morning, and stayed that way until 8 p.m.

But come late August, business at the general store will close for good, much to the chagrin of Bill Wall and several other members in the community who frequently gather in the shop’s seating area.

“I’m going to miss this place terribly when it closes,” said Wall, 67. “We love having conversations here.”

Wall, who relocated to Cornish after years of construction work in Connecticut, found solace in the Cornish General Store.

He and “a bunch of retired goats who argue with each other” gather in the country store multiple times throughout the day, engaging in spirited debates over cups of coffee. The discussions would get heated, Wall said, but they became a staple of the store. People would browse through the aisles for a bag of dog food or a bottle of Coke, and, depending on the hour of day, about eight men would take their seats near the cash register and plunge into conversations on education and health care.

“You could really hear about what was going on in the town here,” said Frank Ackerman, 68, a retired resident who spends most mornings in the Cornish General Store. “We’ll have to find a new place to go now.”

Earlier this week, Shirley Bladen, one of the store’s co-owners, said she and her husband put the shop on the market and if no buyer is found, the store will close its doors by Aug. 31.

“We don’t have to have it close,” Bladen, 71, said. “We want to close, we want to retire.”

Bladen and her husband, Bob, bought the general store in 2000, she said, and except for a 2 1/2 year break from 2007 to 2010, took care of the shop’s day-to-day needs.

During the hiatus, Bladen said, she and her husband sublet the general store to Mike Ackerman, Frank’s son, and went on a safari in Africa and a cruise to Alaska.

Although Bladen enjoyed her duties at the Cornish General Store, the travels made her realize that she was ready for retirement.

Bladen’s ordinary days were hectic. At 4 in the morning, she would get to the shop and prepare breakfast sandwiches and food for the day. She would stay until noon, usually, and be there on weekends, too, for the store’s pizza-and-wings speciality.

“It was more than I wanted to do,” she said.

Over the weekend, she broke the news her the general store’s employees, she said.

Marie DeRusha, the store’s cook, said the news came as a surprise to her.

“I guess I wasn’t expecting it,” DeRusha said, “but, then again, it’s still a recession.”

Sales had been dropping off for the past two to three months, she said, probably because distributor prices were coming in higher and forcing the store to raise costs.

“That,” DeRusha said, “and maybe people just don’t have the money to spend.”

Summertime usually draws contractors who pop in for a quick eat, “but with more people out of work, they’ve stopped regularly coming,” she added.

Mike Hamel, whose family owns 12 Percent Solution, a general store at the junction of Town House Road and Route 12A in Cornish, said he’s observed the decline in business for the last five years.

“It’s a sad situation,” Hamel said. “I understand what they’re going through. I had to close the store’s deli and lay off four workers. It’s a small store, and it’s like a family, but you have to make tough choices.”

In Vermont, the Barnard General Store, which reopened in late January after the town revived a nonprofit trust and raised $500,000 to buy the property, is experiencing more success.

A young couple — Joe Minerva and Jillian Bradley — is running the general store now and “doing extremely well,” said Rick Carbin, president of the Barnard Community Trust’s board of directors.

The Barnard General Store mortgaged $200,000 until January of 2014, and as of next week, the community trust will have paid $100,000 of that value, Carbin said.

Carbin said he believes the trust is on track to pay the other $100,000 before the year is up and remains sympathetic to the difficulties of keeping open a general store.

“It’s a tough business,” he said.

In a phone interview Thursday, he said the community trust is happy to advise Cornish if the town is interested in reviving its general store.

About 45 historic general stores belong to the Vermont Alliance of Independent Country Stores, said Jim Harrison, president of the Vermont Grocer’s Association.

The alliance is a subgroup of the Vermont Grocer’s Association, Harrison said, and gives general stores who voluntarily join the opportunity to network and learn from one another.

“We’re very fortunate in this part of the country to still have historic country stores that serve our local landscape,” he said. “Unfortunately, we lose one from time to time.”

Harrison said a colleague has data that shows 18 general stores across Vermont closed in the last five years, while seven others became different businesses.

The problem most general stores experience is finding a niche in a shifting market, Harrison said.

“But what doesn’t change is how they treat the customers,” he said. “These types of stores are really beneficial. They’re about the community.”

Zack Peterson can be reached at 603-727-3211 or zpeterson@vnews.com.