Chuck Gundersen stands at the counter of the Teago store. (Rick Russell Photo)
By Virginia Dean, Standard Correspondent
SOUTH POMFRET – The renowned Teago General Store will soon be in the hands of a new owner who plans to keep the establishment as an important resource to the residents of Pomfret and beyond.
Chuck Gundersen, owner of the store for the last 30 years, will turn over the keys to his business and accompanying half-acre property during the first week of January to Barnard resident Kathleen Dolan, the founder and executive director of ArtisTree Community Arts Center.
The sale is being arranged without a realtor, and the price remains undisclosed, the pair said.
“I will miss the Teago Store,” said Gundersen. “I’ve been lucky to have owned it and run it for so many years. I treasure the many, many friend- ships I’ve made, and I mourn the many friends who are gone now. But, because of the store, they’ve passed through my life.”
To Gundersen, the presence and even concept of the general store is fading as the demands of the digital age have increased.
“It’s an institution that is slowly dying for many reasons,” said Gundersen. “It’s sad but natural. This is a different world than the one in which the general store sprang up in every little town and village. The numbers drop in Vermont every year.”
Despite his overall economic prognosis of the general store, however, Gundersen has made it his goal to keep Teago unscathed.
“It’s a unique institution,” he said. “I happen to feel that it is a special place among special places, and I love it.”
The Teago General Store is set to officially change ownership next month. Rick Russell Photo
But for the 73-year-old, the 80-hour week has propelled him to retire along with his wife, Alice, who taught in the Lebanon School District for 37 years.
“We decided last spring that it was time to put the store on the market so I could join Alice in retirement,” said Gundersen, who indicated that he does not have any specific future plans except for traveling and writing. He said he will remain in the area.
“I’ve never had a plan in my life,” said Gundersen. “I imagine I’ll get by as usual, trusting to fate and luck and continuing to be as blessed as I have been all along.”
For Dolan, the purchase of the store is an opportunity to provide the town with the same kind of “respectful commitment” to the needs and lifestyle of its residents in the same way that Gundersen had envisioned and implemented for so many years.
“When Chuck approached me to purchase the store, it was out of concern that if it were put on the open commercial real estate market, Teago would be at risk of becoming something other than a general store and, thus, a loss for the community,” Dolan said. “I’m pleased that Chuck considers me a person who possesses that commitment and respect toward our community.”
Gundersen’s apprehension was not new to Dolan who had established the ArtisTree Community Arts center as Purple Crayon Productions (preschool age) in 2003 and ArtisTree (all ages and populations) in 2010 with the same idea in mind.
“My goal was to provide the community with an art experience that could enrich and enhance a way of life that already existed,” said Dolan who has worked with children for more than 20 years as a care provider, arts educator, and art therapist. “Local community response to ArtisTree has been extremely important to me, and I have learned along the way that the success of an organization goes hand in hand with an ongoing sensitivity and awareness of what a surrounding community wants and needs.”
Dolan said she is sure that the community continues to desire a place like Teago where people come not only to grab a cup of coffee, a newspaper, their mail or a sandwich, but can greet each other, converse and feel a part of a social setting.
She also explained her belief that a thriving, local food establishment adjacent to ArtisTree would assimilate well into its programs, gallery shows, and other events – particularly the theater.
“This integration has the potential of making South Pomfret even more appealing and interesting as a community and/or destination and attracting more participants and event goers to ArtisTree,” said Dolan.
The store, she projected, will not technically be a part of the nonprofit, but a standalone neighboring business with a tendency to coordinate with what happens at ArtisTree. The Post Office will continue to rent the space it is currently in.
Remaining as a store, Teago will eventually be renovated and refurbished with a shift in terms of what will be offered.
“We’ll probably expand the deli counter and prepared foods, reduce or eliminate the groceries and sundries, and add more tables for sit down meals, beverages and snacks,” said Dolan. “I’d love to add an ice cream counter and some old-fashioned general store elements such as penny candy jars.”
Dolan noted that “it would be great to supply more fresh local produce and locally sourced food items” as well.
On the outside, Dolan will investigate adding an extended porch on the side of the building and working on revamping the aesthetics to the front of the store that faces the road.
“This may entail going to the state level to apply for changes made to the parking and road situation that currently exists,” said Dolan. “But, for the immediate future, Teago will remain exactly the same as it is until plans and arrangements are made for the renovations.”
Dating back to the mid-19th century, the original building and store has passed through several owners’ hands until Gundersen purchased it on September 1, 1987.
The building is on a small triangle of land including the parking lot across the street. There are two apartments upstairs, and the Post Office is located in the building.
This article first appeared in the December 21, 2017 edition of the Vermont Standard.