(Host) Residents of Putney say their twice-burned general store will rise again from the ashes. Construction of a new store – made of local timber – is expected to begin this summer.
The big question now is: Who will be behind the counter?
VPR’s Susan Keese reports.
(Keese) The new proprietor will lease the store from the Putney Historical Society.
Jeff Shumlin heads the citizen task force charged with hiring the right person for the job. He says the store is the community’s hub and the village isn’t the same without it.
(Shumlin) "At this hour on a normal day with the store open and thriving we would see cars pulling in and out people walking up and down the street, kids stopping on the way home from school."
(Keese) Instead, there’s a sign on the Silver Forest dress shop saying ‘Closed til Spring.’ The book store is also closed.
(Shumlin) "Everybody is awaiting the reopening of the Putney General Store because it really does bring people to the downtown."
(Keese) A chain link fence surrounds the cellarhole where the store stood since at least the 1840’s – until it burned to the ground in a deliberately set fire last November.
The historic post-and-beam building had been damaged by fire a few years earlier, and was just about to re-open. That was thanks to an enormous local effort, during which the Putney Historical Society bought the store.
After the second fire, more money was raised. A few grants were lost because there was no longer an historic building to protect. But new grants came along.
A local timber framer volunteered his services to raise a new post-and-beam store.
Now big logs, maple and pine, donated by Putney landowners, are piling up in a lot near the town’s main corner.
Shumlin expects construction to begin this summer.
(Shumlin) "The biggest challenge we face right now is selecting an operator for the store."
(Sound of axe)
Shumlin says he’s hoping for someone with experience running a similar business.
(Keese) In the woods outside the village, a small group of Putneyites are felling some big maples.
Carol and Arthur Westing, the retired couple that own this land, donated money for the first rebuilding effort.
(Arthur Westing) "When the call came out that one way to help might be to donate some wood, we decided we could give a few trees".
(Keese) Local logger Mark Bowen spearheaded the timber cutting campaign. Much of the wood is from his land. He doesn’t expect a lot in return.
(Bowen) "It’d be nice to have a hardware department in the general store again."
(Keese)The Westings have ideas too.
(Arthur Westing) "And I would really be happy if the new owners were involved in doing some good baking."
(Carol Westing) "I would want to see the proprietor be someone who’s a people person."
(Keese) Back in the village, Jeff Shumlin adds that the candidate should have lots of energy. The hours are long, but it’s a deal for the right person.
(Shumlin) "We will identify with the operator we select a level of rent that is high enough to cover the carrying costs of the building and low enough that they can succeed. That they can stock the shelves have a viable business and make a good living here."
(Keese) The Historical Society is accepting letters of interest through the end of March.
For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.