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Couple reopens renovated Etna Country Store to a grateful village

  • Brothers Oliver, 6, and Hudson Wilmot, 13, of Hanover, N.H., enjoy a drink and snack after biking from home to the newly-renovated Etna Country Store on Friday, Aug., 5, 2022, in Etna, N.H. This was the first time they had biked together to the store since it reopened. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Co-owners of the newly renovated Etna Country Store Kayla Dickinson, left, and her husband Tyler Dickinson, far right, make sandwiches with Amelia Berthold during the lunch rush on Friday, Aug., 5, 2022, in Enta, N.H. The store has recently been renovated. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Jeremy Thompson, of East Corinth, Vt., left, and Joe Martin, of Bradford, Vt., pay for their lunches at the Etna Country Store on Friday, Aug., 5, 2022. Elaine Puleo, of Hanover, rings them up. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

  • Zachary McCarthy, 13, of Hanover, N.H., left, and Sumner Finley, 13, of Etna, look over the new items stocked at the Etna Country Store on Friday, Aug., 5, 2022, in Etna, N.H.( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 8/8/2022 9:36:57 PM
Modified: 8/9/2022 5:46:50 PM

ETNA — The bright loft overlooking the aisles of the Etna Country Store looks like a typical living room. There’s a couch, a TV and children’s toys. Light streaming through a large window paints the wooden floors and walls with a glow.

The room might look like an unusual amenity for a country store, but for the owners, it’s a necessity.

“The only way we could have made this work is having space for the kids,” Tyler Dickinson said during an interview at the store Monday morning. He reopened the newly renovated Etna Country Store with his wife, Kayla Dickinson, less than two weeks ago. The couple’s three children — 7 years, 17 months and 2 months old — accompany them each day to work.

The store’s reopening comes nearly two years after it closed for renovation. Etna, a village of Hanover, is glad to have its store back.

“My knees buckled,” Etna resident Mary Ellen Rigby said about the first time she came to the store. “It was so very different from the previous store. The local people who I’ve talked to cannot believe it.”

The renovation follows several changes of ownership for the business. Victor and Kimberly Dube ran the store for 15 years before selling the operation to Rick and Lisa Arroyo in 2018. The Arroyos put the business up for sale in fall of 2020 and it has been closed since for renovations.

Throughout that time, the store building has been owned by Tyler Dickinson’s father, Rick, who also owns the Hanover-based plumbing and heating company Dickinson and Son Inc.

Tyler Dickinson declined to say how much the renovation cost, but said that the building was taken down to the studs and completely redone. Supply chain issues and inflation increased the cost and led to delays.

“Our running joke is we had two kids in the construction process,” he said. “The building was a shambles.”

Rot was found in the walls and the building had to be lifted to repair the stone foundation. “We completely blew the budget out of the water,” Dickinson said. “We were kind of committed so we just kept rolling with it.”

All along, they kept their mission in mind: to provide a beloved store for Etna residents — or anyone passing through — and to have jobs that would allow them to spend more time with their children.

Tyler, 39, and Kayla, 32, both worked corporate jobs before deciding to run the store; he in wholesale plumbing and heating, she in banking.

“We just kind of felt like it was time for a change,” Kayla Dickinson said. “This was how we could be with our family and still work.”

While neither of them have worked in food service before, they have strong customer service backgrounds.

“We know how we want to be treated when we come into a place,” Kayla Dickinson said.

Tyler grew up in Etna and Kayla in Brownsville. “We’re so excited to bring an old country store back to town,” Tyler said. “We have the center of our community back.”

The store carries products a visitor would expect to find at a general store in the Upper Valley. Ben & Jerry’s dominates a cooler for ice cream and there are shelves devoted to wine. There’s produce, dairy and staple dry goods.

“It’s where everybody stopped to buy milk in the old days and now we can do that again,” Rigby said during a phone interview from the Etna Library, where she works as a substitute librarian. “If you forgot milk, you had to go about six miles to get some, six miles one way.”

Rigby stopped at the store for a roast beef sandwich around lunchtime before starting her shift at the library.

“I’m just thrilled that they’re open again,” she said.

The busiest times of day so far are early mornings and lunchtime. People who work at nearby Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center stop by for breakfast sandwiches on their way in and other workers come by around lunch for deli sandwiches. The store has also become a stopping place for Appalachian Trail hikers to fill up water bottles.

On their first Saturday morning, they sold close to 100 breakfast sandwiches.

“We’re learning the business from scratch, which is a lot of work, but it’s fun,” Dickinson said.

Prior to opening the store, the family would spend time visiting other general stores. On weekends, the couple and their children would visit five or six stores at a time to find inspiration.

The biggest challenge so far has been finding employees. Ideally, four people would be working at a time: Two in the kitchen and two on the floor. Currently, Dickinson said he works 80 to 90 hours a week and Kayla Dickinson works around 60 hours.

“It’s something you have to go all in on,” Dickinson said.

The goal is to have 10 or 12 part-time employees “which sounds pretty daunting,” Kayla said.

“It’s holding us back from doing a lot of what we want to do,” Dickinson said. For example, they only serve cold sandwiches from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Next week, the couple will take over making cold sandwiches so that another employee can focus on hot sandwiches. “We have all these great ideas of what we want to do, but we’re trying to get the basics out.”

When the couple put out the call for applicants, two major groups responded: teenagers and newly retired people.

Casey Havrda, 17, was working the cash register on Monday morning. A rising senior at Hanover High School, she decided to work at the store because she could walk to work. It is her first job in retail.

“I like that it’s close by. Tyler and Kayla are both super nice,” she said. “The store’s really pretty. It’s a nice place to be, a nice place to work and the sandwiches are really good.”

Their teenage employees are going back to school soon and will be limited in the hours they can work.

“When we lose our younger staff, we’re really going to be working our butts off,” Dickinson said.

The couple’s family members have also stepped in to help.

During the renovation, neighbors would regularly stop by to see how the work was going. People regularly offered words of encouragement and shared how excited they were for the store to reopen.

“It’s amazing how appreciative the community has been,” Dickinson said, adding that one of the first things people have said when they stop by for the first time is thank you, “which really energizes us and makes the long days easier.”

Etna Country Store is located at 101 Etna Road. It is open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. It is closed on Sundays.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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