The BGS Spirit Must Be Preserved
Last Sunday the Barnard General Store was packed with people from the community and afar who came to say their goodbyes to Carolyn DiCicco and Kim Furlong who, for 18 years, had been the stewards of this community institution.
The BGS closed its doors for the first time in its 180 years last Tuesday evening with patrons and other well-wishers filling the historic facility and spilling out onto the street overlooking Silver Lake. They were sad, appreciative of good deeds done and hopeful that, sometime soon, the store would again come to life.
The day before, Monday, line after line of elementary school children from Barnard Academy walked down the long hill in the warm sunshine to receive free ice cream at the store. They brought homemade cards and gifts of appreciation expressing what the store has meant to them – for their entire young lives.
The BGS succumbed to a financial crisis, which the owners have been struggling to combat for several years. They previously sought help from a group of community members who reviewed the store’s business plan and practices. Many of the proposed solutions improved the store’s operations temporarily. Unfortunately they did not alleviate some of the core financial and management troubles.
The Barnard General Store situation isn’t totally unique. Stories abound in Vermont where small, local businesses give way to large box stores, restaurant chains and mega-businesses, usually located in larger populated centers miles away. Every time this happens, another strand in the fabric of what has made Vermont special is lost. Another small bit of the character of Vermont erodes, probably forever.
Historically, that uniqueness has created a strong sense of community spirit. It’s one of the things which cause many people beyond Vermont to wish they could live here, to be part of it.
So, now in Barnard what happens to the community when that 80-year-old widow, who anxiously awaits going to the store at 7 a.m. every day for her coffee, fresh-baked muffin and conversation no longer has a place to go? Unfortunately she can’t go there anymore. She’ll simply stay home, hoping someone will stop by to share news of what’s going on in town.
And, what happens to campers at the nearby Silver Lake Campground who hike to the BGS to purchase food and long to chat with locals to discover more about the town and Vermonters? Those opportunities and needs now must be resolved several miles away.
And local residents as well must travel to Woodstock, Pomfret or Bethel if they’ve run out of something needed to prepare a meal.
How about the dozens of people who live miles away and who keep their kayaks and canoes on storage racks provided by the store, just yards from beautiful Silver Lake. It’s been both a welcoming service and an incentive for watercraft users to patronize the community’s only real retail business.
And, in winters – where can snowmobilers who have traveled long miles along VAST trails, stop to warm up by the woodstove, refresh themselves and gas up their equipment, before moving on to their eventual destination?
Who now will act as the community information center guiding visitors to where they’re trying to get, reminding locals of important upcoming community meetings and events, promoting local causes and opportunities via bulletin boards and signage at the store, or create and run the famous Barnard Street Dance, foster the popular skating rink on the lake and provide incentives for people who participate in Green-up Day and so much more?
The BGS is gone, for now anyway, but never the spirit of community it helped to foster. The historic building stands vacant, silent and in need of repairs and improvements. Most important, it is void of the people who considered it the heart of the town.
The loss of any small community store, whether in Bridgewater, West Windsor, Plymouth, Barnard or anywhere in Vermont is tragic. Somehow a sustainable solution to the BGS must be found.
Someone with vision, the willingness and ability to work hard and, we must assume, deep enough pockets, could not only restore the functions of a true Vermont country store, but also rekindle the hopes of people who want, need and deserve the spirit of the BGS to live on indefinitely.