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Jim Kenyon: Empty Racks in Barnard

  • Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon in West Lebanon, N.H., on September 15, 2016. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Geoff Hansen

Published: 3/25/2018 12:18:52 AM
Modified: 3/26/2018 12:02:36 PM

Outside the Barnard General Store, a wooden sign advertises “Meat and Seafood” while another sign reminds customers that “Breakfast and Lunch” are available at the counter. There’s “Craft Beer” too.

But inside, a longtime staple of general stores is missing. The 185-year-old Barnard General Store has stopped selling out-of-town newspapers.

No more New York Times, Boston Globe or Wall Street Journal. The Financial Times and New York Post have also been removed from the store’s newspaper rack.

What in the name of Scotty Reston is going on in Barnard?

The store’s young operators, Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva, blame White Mountain News, a Lebanon-based company that distributes nonlocal papers to Upper Valley retailers.

Last month, White Mountain notified retailers in Vermont, at least, that starting March 4, it would no longer offer out-of-town papers at a discounted price. Before, stores received roughly a 10 percent break off the newsstand price.

“After much thought and consideration, the Company has found it necessary to increase the cost to you to Full Retail,” White Mountain informed Vermont retailers in a February notice.

In the case of The New York Times’ Sunday edition — generally, the best seller among out-of-town papers — Vermont retailers now pay White Mountain the newsstand price of $6.

The increase, coupled with White Mountain’s small monthly delivery charge, means it will “actually cost the store money in order to sell papers,” Bradley and Minerva wrote on Barnard’s listserv. “We are not at all happy about it and we know this is going to upset many of you, but we feel it is the only choice we have and are being forced to do so.”

In my travels last week, I found two other stores — Sharon Trading Post and M&N Mini-Mart and Deli in Royalton — that have stopped carrying out-of-town papers.

From my chats with a couple of New Hampshire general store owners, it doesn’t appear White Mountain has increased prices on that side of the Connecticut. I stopped by the company’s office on Thursday, but the manager was on vacation. No one else could answer my questions.

The price increases have hit mom-and-pop stores particularly hard. Many struggle to make a buck as it is. And newspapers have never been much of a moneymaker, general store owners told me.

“Those who want continued access to the out-of-town papers will likely be happy to have the additional cost passed along,” Barnard resident Melinda Haas wrote on the town’s listserv. “We could not expect the (Barnard General Store) to incur additional expense.

“Might this decision be reconsidered?”

Apparently, not.

Bradley and Minerva, who took over the store in 2011, wouldn’t talk with me, but they weighed in on the Barnard listserv. (They operate the store, but the building is owned by the nonprofit Barnard Community Trust.)

“We all know that the new age of digital media is taking over,” they wrote. “It seems that newspapers (possibly with the exception of local news) is becoming a dying business.”

It’s not news that newspapers, including this one, have seen better days. Daily newspaper circulation is at its lowest level since 1945, the Pew Research Center reported last June.

It wasn’t long ago — five or 10 years — that Dan & Whit’s General Store in Norwich sold 300 copies of The New York Times on Sundays. Now, it’s down to roughly 75.

I get that I’m hardly impartial on this subject. Strangely, the Valley News, which handles its own distribution and continues to offer retailer discounts, might even benefit from less newsstand competition. Still, fewer choices for newspaper readers isn’t cause to celebrate.

“Having access to newspapers and news from places far and wide gives us a shot at connecting to the world and being well informed about issues we cannot immediately touch or see,” Haas wrote in her listserv post.

Other stores continue to sell the New York papers, the Wall Street Journal and the Globe, but have raised their prices to offset their increase in costs.

Seems fair.

Coburns’ General Store in Strafford raised the price on out-of-town papers by 50 cents on Sundays and 25 cents the rest of the week.

“We’ve never made much on papers,” said store owner Melvin Coburn. “But if we stopped selling Sunday (out-of-town) papers, people would go crazy.”

His wife, Sue, told me that selling a wide range of papers is part of what makes a general store. “It’s a service to the community,” she said.

Teago General Store in Pomfret went up 50 cents across the board, but so far no one is complaining. The store has found that newspapers can be a loss-leader, said Amy Stone, an employee working behind the counter last week. “We have people who have been buying papers here for 30 years,” she said. “They might get a coffee or a breakfast sandwich, too.”

Barnard General Store continues to sell the Valley News and two weeklies — the Herald of Randolph and the Vermont Standard.

So why don’t people in Barnard who are interested in reading out-of-town papers just do so online? Haas, who was among the residents to try to persuade the store’s operators to change their minds, has a digital subscription to the Times.

“It’s not the same,” she said.

Haas is one of those Times’ readers — count me as one, too — who prefers flipping through the Sunday paper while sitting by the fire on a wintry Sunday rather than staring at a screen.

“I do that every day,” she said.

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.




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