Valley News Forum for Oct. 22, 2023: Don’t forget about general stores

Published: 10-22-2023 6:16 AM

Don’t forget about general stores

The recent changing of the guard at Dan & Whit’s is symptomatic of larger issues out of sight of the public eye. Since the COVID-19 pandemic descended on us, we have heard frequently about staff shortages in schools and hospitals. And for good reason. They fulfill critical needs we can’t do without. The same could be said about municipal sanitation workers, school bus drivers.

But how about general store managers and their employees? While many of us may take them for granted, many general stores play very important functions within their communities. Their unsung and overlooked central presence is the center of community. They are the crossroads for foot traffic and idle chatter that is in itself critical to town life and are the locus of spontaneous communication without which the essence of what we cherish in our towns would wither away.

General stores face a continuous assault from big box and dollar stores that don’t sell what we need. Instead they sell what their parent corporations what us to buy to fatten the corporate bottom line. Profit margins in general stores are necessarily slim. They’re trying to remain competitive in a hostile environment while doing their darndest to meet the needs of their clientele. Big box stores sell a lot of merchandise we don’t really need.

What do we make of all of this? Running small in-town businesses that cater to the local population is a difficult preposition. They operate on faith that they are serving their customers well, and customers who rely on their presence take it on faith these storefronts will always be there. But times are changing. Nothing stays the same for long. We should patronize our local stores to strengthen and enhance their odds of survival.

In a dynamic community such as Norwich, the relationship between community and Dan & Whit’s is essentially symbiotic and based on mutual need and respect. I should know, I’ve lived in the Upper Valley most all my life. Please stop by.

Jim Masland

state representative Windsor-Orange 2

Thetford Center

The importance of children’s literacy

As the executive director of a literacy nonprofit that serves children in Vermont and New Hampshire, I am encouraged by the heightened attention to literacy as a fundamental issue for success in school and life (“Goal in Vt. ed secretary search: Teach kids to read,” Oct. 13). We should all feel a societal responsibility to support the teachers, literacy specialists and other educators who are committed to providing our students with the necessary skills to become strong readers. As we dig deeper on the best means of equipping our children with the tools for how to read, we should not lose our connection to all the reasons why we read. Curiosity, imagination, empathy, a sense of self, and an awareness of others are just a few of the critically important capabilities that youths need in their lives today and for the future. By promoting positive and engaging relationships with books and reading, and ensuring equitable access to literacy enrichment opportunities, we increase the likelihood that more children will embrace not only the mechanisms of reading, but also the many benefits and enjoyment that it can impart.

Laura Rice

executive director, Children’s Literacy Foundation


Taking exception to American exceptionalism

I think statements that highlight America as exceptional are dated. This belief has a long history in our country emanating from John Winthrop’s “city upon a hill,” to Obama declaring, “I believe in American exceptionalism with every fiber of my being.” My worry is that this theme may blind us to the risk that democracy in the U.S. could be radically changed, over time, to be an autocracy and subverted by a demagogue. This was a worry of the founders. It should be a worry of ours as well.

Lincoln asked the question: At what point is the approach of danger to be expected? He answered, “It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

The transforming of America into a diverse and multiethnic society has challenged traditional political and social norms. This has resulted in political chaos. It contributes to Americans’ pessimism about democratic institutions’ ability to govern the nation. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, only 16% of people said they trusted the government — close to the lowest levels in seven decades of polling. This transformation has fostered fierce authoritarian backlash. Terrorist groups like the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, QAnon, incited by Trump, were ready to engage in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. Trump’s wrath knows no bounds as he regards his adversaries as traitors, swamp creatures, human scum. If elected president in 2024, he would deconstruct the administrative state. He legitimizes his followers to hate as he hates, fostering Republican representatives like Paul Gosar, Marjorie Taylor Green, and Lauren Boebert, to demonize the other side with baseless conspiracy theories (e.g. the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., was staged) or accusing opponents of being “deep state” traitors (the door-knockers in the vaccine information campaign were “Needle Nazis”).

Let’s hope that the current political chaos spawns leadership that values and elevates the common good and enhances trust in our major institutions. James Baldwin reminds us, “Nothing can be changed until it is faced.” We need to confront the reality that the danger to our democracy is here.

Bob Scobie

West Lebanon