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Former library building finds new life as retail space

PUTNEY—Swirl, the clothing and antiques consignment store located at 52 Main St., will soon take its philosophy of reuse one step further. In the beginning of March, the store will move to 90 Main St., the mid-century-style building that formerly housed the Putney Public Library.

Swirl owner Lisa Taylor told The Commons she’s even keeping the old library shelves for displaying merchandise. “They’ve been growing on me,” Taylor said. Her boyfriend, Jim Roberto, who is doing renovation and construction to ready the building for the shop’s move, said the shelves are very well made.

Taylor isn’t surprised.

Older items, like clothing and furniture, “are typically better-made” than newer items, said Taylor. They “stood the test of time without falling apart,” she noted.

“I really believe in reusing, recycling, and vintage. Things swirling around and around. Sustainability has to become a big deal,” she said.

Taylor opened Swirl on Jan. 1, 2004. She purchased the business, then known as Recollections, from Indra Tracy, when it was located at 118 Main Street in an old Texaco gas station. “I changed it a bit. I consigned more clothes and reduced the furniture selection,” Taylor said.

Equity — and aesthetics

Four years ago, Taylor moved Swirl to the building she shares with the River Valley Credit Union. “I love the space, and the credit union has been a fantastic landlord, but this building came up,” Taylor said, and she couldn’t say no.

Part of her reasoning is financial. “In 14 years, I’ve spent $200,000 in rent, and there’s no equity in that,” Taylor said.

But aesthetics was what drew her to the idea.

“I moved here in the mid-1990s and I’ve always loved this building. I love mid-century architecture, furniture, and decor,” Taylor said.

It’s an architectural anomaly in downtown Putney. “There’s nothing else that looks like this,” she said, noting that most businesses in the area are in re-purposed houses.

After the library moved to its new home in 2005, the building at 90 Main St. was a house for a while. The last owner turned it into a living space. For privacy purposes, he boarded up some of the building’s high, wide windows. Roberto is in the process of uncovering them to restore the original design and to let more light into the interior.

Otherwise, the building hasn’t been altered since its 1967 construction. Designed by local architect George Henry Bissell, it housed Putney’s first stand-alone public library. Before that, the library was located in a room in the Town Hall.

It’s worth noting that the nearby post office, which was built four years before 90 Main Street, is of Neo-Colonial Revival style, and blends in with the village’s architectural vernacular.

Collecting old buildings

The beauty of the building that will soon house Swirl, Taylor said, is “its openness, its windows,” which cover significant portions of the exterior walls. The interior is almost entirely open-concept, with one large, L-shaped, single-floor room with high ceilings, and a few smaller utility rooms for an office, changing room, and restroom.

Taylor pointed out that she’s “slowly collecting old municipal buildings.” A few months ago, she purchased an old post office near Putney and turned it into her family’s home.

Swirl’s future home was never listed on the real estate market. The same real estate agent who sold Taylor her residence notified her about 90 Main Street coming up for sale. “She didn’t even know I was interested in it,” Taylor said.

For Taylor, the move isn’t just about building equity or repurposing a mid-century marvel, although it’s about those things too. It’s about restoring downtown Putney as a retail destination.

She pointed out the closing in the past few years of some notable stores and restaurants. Taylor hopes to spur the village’s revitalization by moving her shop closer to its center and by continuing to work hard to keep her customers happy and well-dressed.

“I have a dollar bin in my shop. You can come in here and get spiffy for a dollar,” she said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #445 (Wednesday, February 7, 2018). This story appeared on page C2.

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