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Henry
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« on: February 21, 2015, 01:13:08 PM »

ODE TO A GENERAL STORE
BY KIMBERLY OVITT

(Published in The February 19, 2015 Edition of The County Courier)

Vermont's general stores offered more to the people of town than just merchandise and a place to shop. The country store served as a community gathering place and social center. Like our present-day pubs; meeting hall; convenience, hardware, drug, clothing, and food store all rolled into one, it was the place town folk gathered to talk politics, share news and local
gossip.

Many of Vermont's general stores also served as town post offices. Mail and newspaper deliveries brought news of the outside world to remote Vermont communities. In a time when many miles separated mountain farms, it was often the country store that brought families together.

We know that country stores did not spring up overnight. As towns were settled, peddlers with goods to sell appeared on the scene. They traveled from home to home with wares of all sorts in their wagons, saddlebags or strapped to their backs in large sacks. But as soon as a small community could support a store, one was set up.

The small community of Fletcher began its long mercantile history in the year 1820, when the Honorable Zerah Willoughby opened a store in his house on his farm where he sold everything from nuts and tea to tobacco and gin.

It is hard to imagine the many kinds of items that filled Vermont's early general stores. Inventories ranged from the ordinary to the exotic. There were milk pails, hoes, and washboards; ribbons, silks, and goose feathers; nails, umbrellas and spectacles. Large and small potions and cure-all medicines occupied many shelves of the apothecary chest. Nearly everything a family needed that could not be grown or made on the farm could be found at the store.

Passing time and changing ways have transformed the general store.  The commercial landscape, pre-packaged goods, supermarkets and specialty shops forced Vermontís general stores to change with the times.  Today, those that remain beat little resemblance to those that graced the state a century ago, and of course there are those that have closed, victims of the
changing times.

The Fletcher General store is the latest example. This piece of town history, owned by Laurie and Robert Froebel, is going on the auction block and will be sold off to the highest bidder on Friday, March 6 at 11:00am, leaving this tight knit community in limbo.

With the sale, and possible closing, of the Fletcher General Store, the small, rural community of Fletcher will be back to where they were pre-1988. Below is the Selectmen's response to Orin and Deborah Tilton upon their request to open the store in 1986.

"Since the only store in Fletcher was destroyed by fire in 1979, the residents had to travel to neighboring towns to make general purchases. This trip, while sometimes inconvenient, also requires a trip totaling about 6 miles for most. The population of Fletcher, like other small, rural, communities has increased, and the need for a general store to service this growth is obvious. The "social center" atmosphere, usually established in a local General Store, is an aspect of rural life that has been missing in Fletcher since 1979."

This Fletcher General Store has provided vital services to residents for 26 years. In addition to offering the basics like food and beverages, the store has been a community gathering place for snowmobilers to fuel up and for deer hunters who rely on the store to purchase staples for a day in the woods and if it has been a successful day, to use the deer weighing station. Many visitors to the store have raved about the homemade pizza and the deli foods that have been served at the store since its opening.

There has been some discussion about the possibility of the town purchasing the property and converting it into new offices for the Town Clerk. Community members seem to be open to the idea, but there is also a strong sentiment among some locals that a store is needed within the town limits;

"It has only been 3 months since it closed but feels more like a year. Revive Fletcher General Store!"

"I'd rather see the store reopen. The community needs it!

"This town needs a store, not just for the goods it provides, but for the community that goes along with it".
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Henry Raymond
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