170-Year-Old Grafton Country Store Closes

The Grafton Country Store in Grafton, N.H.  will be closing on June 10, 2014. 
Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

The Grafton Country Store in Grafton, N.H. will be closing on June 10, 2014. Valley News - Jennifer Hauck

Grafton — Jenny Barnes, a cashier at the Grafton Country Store, had to tell the same story to every customer who walked in the door Tuesday: The store was going out of business at the end of the day, and she didn’t know why.

“I just know that the bank is coming in tomorrow to take everything over,” Barnes said, referring to Franklin Savings Bank.

The shuttering of a general store that has been in business for almost 170 years means that residents of Grafton, population 1,340, will have to drive down Route 4 to either Canaan or Danbury, whose newly renovated country store reopened last year. Grafton Country Store’s owner, Vinnie Bianco, handed Barnes her last two days of pay without any prior warning, she said.

Yet the store’s decline had been visible for the past few months. In April, Bianco stopped refilling the gas pumps. Then, Barnes said, Bianco stopped ordering merchandise and stocking the shelves.

Bianco declined to comment in detail on his business. “I’m not happy of what’s happened,” he said. “I don’t want to say too much because I don’t want to give people ideas to use against me.”

Grafton Selectman Steve Darrow noticed signs of the store’s troubles, but he’ll be sad to see it go.

“Where else do people congregate and chew the fat on the porch?” he asked.

The Grafton Country Store has long served as the town’s social hub, he said.

“If you went (to the store) and hung out, you’d find out the goings on,” said Darrow, who moved to Grafton in 1975.

Now, six employees will lose their jobs, not counting Bianco. Among them are its managers, Debbie Brown and Kitty Eggleston, who sipped champagne on Brown’s porch next door to commemorate their years with the store, 19 and five, respectively.

Barnes said that since Bianco hadn’t shared the news about the store’s closing with anyone but her, she ended up telling her co-workers what had happened. The morning cashier, Bobbi Paterson, walked home early because she couldn’t stop crying in front of the customers. For her, the job was ideal: She doesn’t drive due to anxiety problems, so she could walk to her work.

“I absolutely love this store, and I’m going to miss it desperately,” she said.

Sharon Demers, the previous owner, sold the store in 2011 to Bianco, whose previous career was as a Pepsi delivery driver. Demers, who ran the country store for 11 years, couldn’t explain its failure, either.

“It was an extremely viable business. I had nine employees, I worked hard, I was able to take two to three weeks’ vacation a year,” she said.

According to Demers, the sale of the business was arranged in 2011 through the Small Business Administration, which required her to loan $50,000 to Bianco as part of the financing agreement. Officials at Franklin Savings Bank could not be reached for comment.

“It’s heartbreaking for me,” Demers said. “The store’s been open since 1846 and it’s only been closed once before. In the early 1990s it was closed for a few months. It’s only had five owners.”

Darrow speculated that competition from the Danbury Country Store might have been to blame.

Demers disagreed. “When I first bought the Grafton store, it was a very busy store — the Danbury store — but we got an equal amount of business,” she said.

Barnes, who lives in Danbury, wasn’t sure. “Our only competition is Danbury, from what people say, but we make the best pizzas.” she said. “I couldn’t say, though. I’ve never had Danbury pizza.”

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