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Communities fight to save their small town general stores

general store
Posted at 1:21 PM, Jul 22, 2022

ELMORE, Vt. — As general stores in small towns across the country become victims to ever-expanding chain stores and supermarkets, some communities are successfully fighting back to save their beloved rural fixtures through new community funding efforts.

First opened in the early 1800s, the Elmore Store in Elmore, Vermont, has been a fixture of this town tucked next to a lake. It has all the usual staples and also serves as the post office. In this northern Vermont community without cell service, the Elmore Store has been a hub of communication and commerce for two centuries.

But back in 2019, the longtime owners put it up for sale. This tight-knit community worried that this place would be shuttered, like so many other small town stores in America. So, the town of Elmore, home to just 800 people, decided to do something.

"Everybody in town was worried about what would happen to the store," said Trevor Braun, a life-long Elmore resident.

Braun now sits on the board for the Elmore Community Trust a group formed to save the Elmore Store. Through an aggressive fundraising campaign in this tiny corner of rural America, they raised the $400,000 needed to buy the building.

"A large majority of donations were small donations from community members; $20 here and $25 dollars there added up over time," Braun added.

Back in January, Kate Gluckman and her husband, Mike, took over running the store. They don't own the building itself though. That's where the community trust comes in. The nonprofit owns the brick-and-mortar and is responsible for upkeep and maintenance.

"We want to preserve those spaces and preserve that way of life," Gluckman said.

All of that gives these small business owners a chance to focus on running a business, while at the same time ensuring this small town doesn't lose its store.

"I do think it is an innovative way to preserve these important spaces," she added.

At the turn of the 20th century, general stores could be found in nearly every American community. But in the 1930s, supermarkets began to spring up. Unable to compete, general stores closed from coast to coast.

Ben Doyle with the Preservation Society of Vermont says the Green Mountain State has lost at least 30 general stores in the last few decades.

"It can be really devastating for a community a real sense of loss, of community identity," he said.

But this preservationist is seeing more communities using the trust model to save small-town stores. Some rural towns are even in the process of reopening stores that have been closed for years.

"The store can actually focus on being a store. The landlord isn't trying to make a buck they're trying to make sure the mission of community vitality lives on," he said.