VERNON—Is a general store in the town’s future?
At least 175 residents think so, according to information provided by Annette Roydon, chair of the Store Committee, which was formed after the first few community visits from the Vermont Council for Rural Development.
During these community visits, officials with the Council meet with residents of a particular town and ask them what they need to make their town a better place to live, work, and visit.
After townspeople identify their top three priorities, the Council brings in what Roydon calls “wonderful, important people” — experts and officials who can connect townspeople with individuals and organizations that will help them achieve their goals.
Once these projects are identified, residents form committees and choose leaders to work on bringing them to fruition.
In Vernon, locals chose developing a town center, establishing walking/hiking trails and access to the Connecticut River, and opening a community store and café.
Art Miller, local chair of the Vernon project, appointed Roydon to head the store committee.
Until a few years ago, Vernon had a general store on Route 142, but with its closing, locals have nowhere in town to buy a cup of coffee, a loaf of bread, or gas for the car.
They also have no village center, no general store.
“I want a gathering place,” Roydon said, noting Vernon has “no real place where people can meet and shoot the breeze.”
Roydon and her team of about 12 town residents met last month. Their first order of business: to determine if enough Vernonites really want a community store.
With the help of Town Administrator Michelle Pong, the committee members developed a survey for residents to complete online or on paper. Some of the questions include how often the participant plans to use the store, which products they are most likely to buy, and which services they are most likely to use.
The team received about 175 replies.
“We didn’t get any nasty responses, which is good,” Roydon noted.
The final question, “Do you think locating a store in Vernon should be a priority,” received all “yes” votes, Roydon said. She wasn’t surprised. “Most people who answered want [the store],” Roydon said, adding, “otherwise, why would they bother?"
Roydon was surprised by how often responders claimed they would use the store. “Two to three times per week is the mean,” she said.
One of the challenges the group faces is deciding where to put a store.
“We have three or four locations in mind, but we still need some negotiating” before announcing them as options, Roydon said.
She and her team won’t focus too much attention on one site until the Village Center Committee decides where to locate the village center — that’s where they want to put the store. “It’s a chicken-or-egg” situation, Roydon said.
Another challenge is overcoming public attitudes. “The biggest problem is trying to figure out how to deal with a lot of skeptics in town,” Roydon said, explaining, “they want a store but doubt it’ll happen.”
“It’s a lot of work and we’ll get it done,” Roydon said, adding, “I feel really optimistic. I have amazing people [on the team] and that’s basically what it’s all about. It always amazes me what groups will do."
“There’s a tremendous amount of enthusiasm in the team,” Roydon said, noting she loves doing group work and sees herself as the committee’s orchestra conductor.
She has already lined up one person to lead fundraising and another to find grants for the project — Roydon said Pong has signed on to write the grants. The survey brought in other interested volunteers, too.
The committee plans to schedule meetings about once a month, and the public is invited to attend, Roydon said.
One of those meetings will happen on the town bus, Roydon said, when the entire group takes a field trip to other community stores in Putney, Guilford, and Townshend.
“Katie Buckley is coming on the field trip,” Roydon said, adding, “we’ll pump her for information!”
Buckley, Guilford’s town administrator, knows quite a bit about establishing a community store and café. She serves as the vice president of the Friends of Algiers Village — the nonprofit group that bought and renovated the Broad Brook House, home of the Guilford Country Store. And, when the Vermont Council for Rural Development visited Guilford for a community visit, Council officials appointed Buckley to serve on the “Open a Community Store & Café” group.
“Reopening the Country Store in Guilford has been incredible for our community,” Buckley said in an email to The Commons. “It is a place to meet old friends and make new ones,” she said, noting, “we saved a significant historic building in the process!”
“Vernon is a wonderful town filled with so many great people. They need a gathering place,” Buckley said, adding, “There is vibrant energy in the people who want to make it happen. I think we will be drinking coffee and eating donuts down there in no time!”