TOWNSHEND—Look for a new pizza-plus operation at the crossroads of Routes 30 and 35 in mid-July.
After several years of uncertainty and variable hours under the last lessee, John Papadopoulos of Brattleboro, the site of the former Townshend Corner Store has been bought outright by Spiro Leristas, the owner of Village Pizza on Putney Road in Brattleboro.
Since the Corner Store closed in the 1980s, the site has been something of a black hole, as numerous businesses and restaurants have come and gone.
But Leristas, who has successfully run Village Pizza for two decades, promises it will become a reliable stop for local diners and tourists who want pizza, sandwiches, salad, desserts, and beverages.
Doing business as Townshend Realty, Leristas bought the place last summer in July and, as passers by can see, he is doing extensive renovations to the interior of the 36-seat restaurant, even installing new classically-patterned glass on the front of the building. He plans to keep the tenants of the two apartments upstairs.
Leristas, who was profiled in the Feb. 2 edition of The Commons, is reluctant to talk about his plans for the Townshend restaurant, saying only that the food will be the same as it is at Village Pizza.
A rich history
The site evokes nostalgia from Townshend residents who remember previous stores and restaurants in the building and the times when it served as a village meeting place.
According to A Stitch in Time, the Townshend Historical Society volume published in 2003, the building is one of the oldest commercial properties in town. It was built in 1892 to replace an older store destroyed by the fire of 1886, one of four fires that decimated the village in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Its earliest history is well buried in town files but, according to historical society accounts, “As the Corner Store, the building was owned by Gordon and Joyce Phillips for 35 years, ending in 1985. Earlier, in the mid-1960s, the town clerk’s office was in the building. During the Phillipses’ tenure, the Corner Store lunch counter was the village’s informal meeting place.”
Peg Ellingwood, who opened the Second Chance Shoppe on Route 35 in the center of town in 1982, remembers that clearly.
“You got a sense of what’s going on in town this morning,” when you stopped there,” she said. She also recalls the old counter and “luncheonette stools” that were mainstays in the building until, she said, they were sold one year at the Grace Cottage Hospital Fair.
Ellingwood also spoke with enthusiasm about the food and cooking at the restaurant when Paul and Charmein Dexter were running the place.
“Paul cooked everything to perfection and you couldn’t hurry him,” she said. “One thing they were famous for were the muffins. I swear the tops were four inches across. They had two flavors apiece. My favorite was cranberry-walnut. And also if they were cold, he would cut them in half and grill them and wrap them up for you.”
Elizabeth Dery, a next-door neighbor for 10 years and an antique dealer, is thrilled that Leristas has bought the place. She believes the “Greeks (Leristas is Greek) and Europeans have fun-loving hearts.” She thinks the success of the place depends on the customers.
She also likes to think it might be like it used to be when, after a snowstorm, everyone would cross country ski to the restaurant.
Some of the exterior décor, specifically the flower-painted shutters, reminds residents of the Wildflower Café and Bakery, run by Annie Doherty, who sold the property to Leristas.
Ellingwood recalls the café with fondness, especially the painted flowers.
The building has gone through a series of owners, and twice fell into foreclosure when Chittenden Bank took over.
Records show that, beginning in 1984 and apart from the foreclosures, the site has steadily gained in value from $140,000 in 1984 to the recent purchase by Leristas in 2010 for $230,000.
Ellingwood, who said she also really liked the most recent restaurant incarnation, favoring the pizza and steak sandwiches made by Papadopoulos at Townshend Pizza, and she has high hopes that the new restaurant will again become a meeting place.
“You know, you could have breakfast and read the paper,” she said.