Locals band together to preserve historic store

  • Mike Stanley and his wife Kate Gluckman now operate the Elmore Store, which is owned by the Elmore Community Trust. (VtDigger - Shaun Robinson)

  • The Elmore Store on Route 12 in Elmore, Vt., is backed by the Elmore Community Trust, a nonprofit that purchased the business on Dec. 31, 2021. (VtDigger - Shaun Robinson) VtDigger photographs — Shaun Robinson

Published: 1/17/2022 8:50:44 PM
Modified: 1/17/2022 8:49:40 PM

ELMORE, Vt. — Kate Gluckman winds through the aisles of the Elmore Store, stopping to point out the eggs from across the street, the bread baked just a few miles away.

In a town of 900, this shop plays many roles. It sells handmade local goods alongside name-brand grocery staples. It stocks newspapers and helps provide access to Wi-Fi. It’s a place where folks can meet, and it’s long been a place where they can get their mail.

Gluckman and her husband, Mike Stanley, took over as the store’s new operators on Dec. 31. They’re backed by a nonprofit called the Elmore Community Trust, which plans to renovate the building and ultimately invest in projects throughout the town.

“The store started in what we think is the 1840s,” Gluckman says, looking over at Stanley. “We’re trying to get, what — another 200 years out of it?”

The Elmore trust acquired the store on Dec. 30 after raising about $400,000 for the project, said Trevor Braun, a member of the trust’s board of directors. Most of the money came from individual donors, he said, though that included some large contributions.

Braun said the trust leases the store to Gluckman and Stanley through a business model called a community-supported enterprise.

The model leverages community funds to reduce the upfront costs that often come with starting a business, lowering the barrier to entry for new operators and allowing them to focus on growing their operations. At the same time, the trust can focus on big-picture issues like maintaining and renovating the business’s historic building.

In Elmore and at least a dozen other communities around Vermont, Braun and others said, this model has helped locals to preserve the businesses that define their main streets and play a major role in local and regional economies.

“It’s unclear how much longer the building would have survived if it was just supported by the income from the store itself,” Braun said. “It’s just the way things work now.”

Just as some community stores have been saved, many across Vermont have closed. The Hinesburg General Store shut its doors in 2017, the Monkton one in 2019 and the Jacksonville General Store last fall.

Elmore’s gray and green store, with an interior full of dark wood, is the only food store in town. It also houses a small pizza restaurant. The Lamoille County town is about 20 minutes from Stowe, and median household income is roughly $70,000, which is 10% higher than the statewide average, according to the U.S. Census.

Before Gluckman and Stanley took over, the Elmore Store was owned and operated by another couple, Kathy and Warren Miller. Several years ago, Braun said the latter couple was getting ready to retire but struggling to find people to take their place.

That’s when Braun and others got the idea to form a trust that eventually could own the store, he said. They started working with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, he said, which has supported similar projects in towns including Putney and Albany.

The owners of Albany’s general store weren’t able to reopen after a fire in 2013. A group of townspeople bought the place in 2018, raised money for a rebuilding effort and ultimately received nonprofit status in 2019 as the Albany Community Trust.

In Bakersfield last fall, residents started planning to form a community trust with the goal of opening a new food market in place of one that shut its doors last May.

The Preservation Trust of Vermont provided funds to help get Elmore’s project off the ground, said Ben Doyle, the organization’s president. He called the project a great example of community members rallying together around a common cause.

A new challenge

Just as Gluckman and Stanley were settling into their new jobs, though, they got word from the U.S. Postal Service that the federal agency plans to remove the post office boxes from their store next month.

The Elmore Store is a contract postal unit, meaning its operators get a stipend for offering postal services, but aren’t federal employees. About 150 households have a box at the store, and many local businesses use the facility to ship products.

Braun said project leaders were caught off guard by the postal service’s decision and did not get a chance to voice major concerns about it beforehand. The agency has made efforts to remove the boxes before, he said, but this time feels different.

“It’s a huge blow to us and the community,” Braun said.

Gluckman said postal services don’t bring in much revenue. But when people stop in to get mail, they often decide to grab groceries or a snack before heading home.

The post office also cements the store’s role as a gathering place, she said, and residents appreciate having a local spot that securely holds their packages.

In an email, U.S. Postal Service spokesperson Steve Doherty said post office boxes will be moved from the Elmore Store to the Morrisville Post Office, about a 10-minute drive north, by Feb. 25. Home delivery in Elmore will not be impacted, he said.

Doherty said the agency will negotiate a new contract with the Elmore Store’s owners since it was recently sold. Gluckman and Stanley were aware of this process, they said, but did not know that the boxes were going to be removed.

The Elmore Community Trust is working with Vermont’s congressional delegation to try to get the postal service’s decision reversed, Braun said. They’ve also started a petition and are encouraging residents to reach out to the postal service directly.

Stanley said he thinks the store will survive without the post office boxes there, though he wouldn’t be surprised if it makes running the business more difficult.

“Essentially, to close that post office is to say: This rural community isn’t viable, or isn’t important,” Doyle said. “And that we know is not true.”

Braun said now that the trust owns the Elmore Store, it needs to fundraise for an “exhaustive” building restoration. That cost has been pegged between $800,000 and $1.2 million, he said, though some of it already has been secured through grant funding.

Planned renovations include work on the building’s foundation and an expanded septic system, which would allow the store to have public restrooms.

In the long run, Braun said he hopes the trust will be able to use equity from the store to fund other local projects, too. That could include renovations to the town hall and one-room schoolhouse, or perhaps a municipal septic system.

“These community-supported enterprise models demonstrate an incredible opportunity for rural Vermont to reimagine what’s next,” Doyle said. “It’s really about people who love their community, and want to see it be vibrant.”

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