Keeping NH’s General Stores Open

Dick’s Store in Danbury closed, but has since re-opened.

Dick’s Store in Danbury closed, but has since re-opened.

The Brookline General Store closed in April 2017.

The Brookline General Store closed in April 2017.

When the owners of the Brookline General Store decided to close in April 2017, loyal patrons bemoaned the loss of their local hang-out. The store specialized in purveying local crafts and meat, boasted a loyal pizza fan base, and offered small town activities like community puzzles. But after a few short years, the owners wished for a more relaxing retirement.

The closing of a general store disrupts the nerve center for almost every small town in New Hampshire. Here, teenagers can get their first job and retirees can get their last. You can pick up a sandwich, birthday card, Squamscot soda, and the skinny on Shirley’s broken hip.

So what happens when your town’s general store closes? Brookline is far from the only recent closure: in the past few years, stores in Hill, Francestown, Grafton, West Canaan, Danbury, Bath, Sandwich, and Cornish have closed. Some have since re-opened, others plan to re-open, but several remain plagued by weak markets and/or costly, but necessary, upgrades.

These closures reveal a hard truth about general stores in today’s world. It’s a tough life for store clerks and owners. Gas no longer reliably brings people into the store, where profit margins are higher. Modernizing equipment in the kitchen or at the pumps can be prohibitively expensive. Help is hard to find – and keep.

But stores can and do re-open, and that’s the better story. Here are a few lessons we’ve learned from our conversations and travels throughout New Hampshire about today’s general stores:

New Models of Ownership

South Acworth Village Store

South Acworth Village Store

When Acworth residents learned that their sole store was heading for the open market in 2000, the historical society tried something radical. They bought it. Their thinking was not to make it a museum, but to own and operate the business which had been in South Acworth since 1865. With the help of an LCHIP grant and a mortgage, the historical society developed a novel model of ownership: a non-profit owned general store.

“We knew what atmosphere we wanted to create, but really…we were winging it,” said Kathi Bradt, one of the store’s champions.

At first, their model relied on volunteer labor. When that didn’t work, they found a tenant to lease the space and operate the store starting in 2002. In 2007, the selectboard agreed to waive property taxes, which allows the historical society to subsidize the rent to encourage the storekeeper to invest in the business. The South Acworth Village Store now offers a community garden, a beehive oven for pizzas in the summer, and six paid staff (making it the third largest employer in town). It takes annual fundraising to keep the business afloat, even with rental income from the post office and an upstairs apartment, but townspeople recognize its value to the town’s social and economic life.

Francestown’s General Store is expected to re-open this fall under a new CSE ownership model.

Francestown’s General Store is expected to re-open this fall under a new CSE ownership model.

South Acworth’s model, sometimes known as a Community Supported Enterprise or CSE, also exists in Canterbury, Harrisville, Hooksett, Freedom, Lancaster, Eaton, and soon, Francestown.  Each store fits their model to the community they serve. Some stores are owned and managed by the nonprofit; others are owned by the nonprofit but leased to a separate private or nonprofit entity; and some, like Freedom and the Root Seller in Lancaster, are nonprofits located in a privately-owned building. Some of the stores sell lottery tickets, beer, cigarettes, and ready-to-go meals. Others pick and choose based on profit margins, the organization’s values, and space limitations.

TO-GO ITEMS:

RSA 79-G was passed in 2013 to benefit community-owned stores located in historic buildings. If your building is 100 years or older, listed on the State or National Register of Historic Places, owned by a nonprofit, historically and presently used as a store, smaller than 3,000 square feet of finished space, and your town has passed the measure at town meeting, the building and the land directly under it are eligible for re-appraisal at no more than 10% of its market value.

To date, only one store in the state is enrolled in the program: Robie’s in Hooksett.

CSEs in New Hampshire share a few similarities:

-Acworth, Harrisville, Canterbury, and Eaton rent space to the US Postal Service for post offices. (Hebron did this, too.)

-Nearly every CSE includes apartments that provide stable monthly income.

-None of the CSEs in NH currently have gas pumps.

-In most instances, CSEs work best in slightly isolated towns, where the general store serves a radius of 10+ miles.

In Canterbury and Hebron, citizens rallied and formed an LLC to purchase their stores. Local investors then purchased shares of the business, which gave them voices at the annual shareholder’s meeting. In the case of Hebron, this model worked for over a decade. “But eventually, the shareholders got tired of fixing frozen pipes at 1am,” recalls Mike Lemieux. When one of the shareholders offered to buy back the shares and return the store to private ownership, the shareholders agreed to sell.

“We consider our experiment a success. We kept the store open for many years and proved its commercial viability to the next owner,” says Lemieux. 

Canterbury remains owned by the LLC and continues to field interested calls from around the country. “It’s been a very good model for us,” says Lisa Carlson, one of the masterminds behind the community project. “When we need electrical work or sill repair, the shareholders respond. We didn’t buy stocks to make money, we did it to keep the heart of our community alive.”

Traditional Models, New Ideas

Danbury Country Store.

Danbury Country Store.

Most general stores in New Hampshire are still owned by families and individuals who enjoy the pace of running a small town general store. As always, these stores pride themselves on diversity of products. Just take a look at Wentworth Location’s Mount Dustan’s Country Store, where you can get your moose processed and some ice cream.

Danbury Country Store was most recently voted best in New Hampshire by WMUR. The yellow building stands at the corner of Route 4 and 104 in a town famous for its haunt, “Hippie Hill,” a modest rise between the road and the railroad bed that still attracts motorcyclists, beer guzzlers, and horseshoe players.

When the Danbury Country Store came up for sale in 2013, siblings Jim Phelps and Audrey Pellegrino decided to buy it and recreate the atmosphere it had lost after decades of renovations. Specifically, they wanted to see it as it was when their parents operated the exact same store in the 1960s and ‘70s. Nearly fifty years later, they knew the store would have to cater to tourists, bicyclists on the nearby Northern Rail Trail, and the everyday customer. Says Pellegrino, “Tourists help you to expand and grow but the locals keep you in business.”

The store includes a deli counter where they make 90% of their food and offer to-go dinners, space for local goods like whoopie pies and the historical society calendars, and plenty of seating for sandwich eaters. Store owners in North Sutton, Westmoreland, and Tamworth agree: good eating, good atmosphere, and great customer service make a small town store more successful.

The interior of Tamworth’s “The Other Store.”

The interior of Tamworth’s “The Other Store.”

The diversity of products can contribute to the chaos, but according to Danbury’s Pellegrino, her customers keep her going. “I love being part of the community, helping people to find solutions and to hopefully make someone leave in a happier mood than when they entered. The 70-100 hours a week that I work are just a bonus.”

Have a favorite general store? Is your community facing a store closure? Let us know!

 

Four Tips About Summer Place Stewardship: Passing It On

For families fortunate to own a summer cottage or cabin, their property is not only considered to be a favorite spot to relax, but also a valuable family asset because of the memories and experiences shared at that special place. However, these vacation homes can also be a source of conflict if realistic plans for the future of the property are not discussed and executed. (Just looking for tips on summer maintenance? Check here.)

Squam view, Elizabeth Durfee Hengen

Squam view, Elizabeth Durfee Hengen

Here are some tips for generational transfers of vacation properties:

Talk about it. Dealing with a legacy property means dealing with death. Many parents find it difficult to initiate the subject with their adult children, but family discussion about a place’s importance and vision for the future is essential. At a recent program sponsored by the Preservation Alliance, Squam Lakes Conservation Society and Lakes Region Conservation Trust, presenter Nat Coolidge suggested a “what does this place mean to you” exercise followed by honest and non-judgmental conversations about family members’ future roles before delving into financial implications.

Get advice from an attorney or CPA. Once you have the basics in place, work with someone who has experience with these properties and varied ownership arrangements.

 Make a property succession plan. Convert the vision to a working document, and incorporate guiding principles about stewardship, use, and leadership. Specifics can include: decision making about common homeowner issues such as repairs and maintenance; division of maintenance costs, property taxes and other expenses; scheduling of usage of the property; and ownership rights if one of the owners dies. If heirs don’t agree about keeping the property, an established buyout plan aids in a smooth transition. (This may include a provision to minimize the financial burden for family members who wish to buy out a sibling. In this case, the buyout price would typically be set at less than market value with favorable terms.)

Consider easements and endowment. Conservation and preservation easements can be a tool to ensure the family vision is realized, especially if it is sold outside of the family. Easements can also offer certain federal tax benefits and lower property taxes. Establishing an endowment, if possible, for the maintenance of the property can also ensure continued stewardship and help family members, with limited operations funds to contribute, stay involved.

Want to share your tips? Send ideas to projects@nhpreservation.org.

The Preservation Alliance thanks Charter Trust Company for their support of our Passing It On program.

Tim Cook (at left, with former Preservation Alliance board member Sue Booth) described the preservation easement that protects his 1811 federal farmhouse with rare, intact Rufus Porter murals at the recent Passing It On program. Photo: Steve Booth

Tim Cook (at left, with former Preservation Alliance board member Sue Booth) described the preservation easement that protects his 1811 federal farmhouse with rare, intact Rufus Porter murals at the recent Passing It On program. Photo: Steve Booth

Northern Pass Appeal Denied by NH Supreme Court

One of the biggest topics of conversation in New Hampshire over the last several years centers around the proposed Northern Pass project. By now, you’ve probably heard the news of the N.H. State Supreme Court's affirmation of the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee's denial of the Northern Pass project. The Preservation Alliance advocated for historic resources for over seven years during the project's development and we are proud of the long-term outcomes.

We are very excited about the growing interest by people across the state — sparked by Northern Pass advocacy — to identify, document, steward and celebrate cultural landscapes. Scenic views, farming valleys and mill systems, recreational corridors and more are so much of what make New Hampshire look and feel like New Hampshire. More on new and big ways of thinking here. And last year’s “what we learned” piece from Jennifer Goodman (our Executive Director) and Sharee Williamson from National Trust for Historic Preservation offers local and national perspectives as well.

Here is a crowd opposing the project at a rally in downtown Plymouth during a site visit by members of the SEC. Photo: Kristen Buckley

Here is a crowd opposing the project at a rally in downtown Plymouth during a site visit by members of the SEC. Photo: Kristen Buckley

During the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) review process, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, along with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance and other intervenors, expressed concerns about the proposed Northern Pass project’s negative impacts to historic resources.

“The N.H. Preservation Alliance is grateful to the National Trust for Historic Preservation for its excellent assistance, and thanks people along the proposed route who shared concerns and information about individual properties as well as significant agricultural landscapes, village settings, and scenic views,” said Jennifer Goodman, executive director of the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance. “New Hampshire not only enjoys a rich history, but also an impressive commitment to civic responsibility and environmental stewardship.”

The National Trust also raised strenuous objections during the Department of Energy’s federal permitting process, citing the harm that the project would cause to New Hampshire’s cultural landscapes.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has been advocating for the protection of this significant landscape since 2011 and designated the site a National Treasure in 2015.

Hope for St. Joseph's Church in Laconia

The Diocese has called off a sale that involved the demolition of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in downtown Laconia.

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When news hit that the recently-merged parish would have to demolish the 1929 building on Church Street in order to meet the needs of a purchase and sale agreement, church members and city residents grew alarmed. Community members sought advice from the Preservation Alliance, held meetings, wrote letters to the Diocese and the Vatican, and proposed the creation of a local historic district to halt demolition.

On May 30, the NH Preservation Alliance, Tom Mayes from the National Trust, and Father Georges de Laires discussed the matter on an episode of NHPR’s The Exchange.

Unfortunately, the demolition permit was filed before any district could be created and the only real tools the Heritage Commission could wield were public pressure and a demolition delay of 30 days.

Public pressure may have paid off.

Though the demolition permit has not yet been pulled, the Diocese’s decision to renegotiate the purchase and sale agreement is a promising start. Future hurdles will include how best to reuse St. Joseph’s. The Catholic Church imposes limitations on uses for former places or worship, but we’re fortunate to have several examples of reuse here in New Hampshire, including:

-St. Keiran’s in Berlin now serves as a community center for the arts

-St. Anne’s in Manchester provides after-school programs (side note: this property will soon be for sale after the merger between NHIA and New England College)

-Sacred Heart in Concord has been converted into beautiful condominiums for ten families

For more information about developing news out of Laconia and St. Joseph’s Church, read The Laconia Daily Sun article here.

For an editorial from the Concord Monitor, click here.

Summer’s Most Unwelcome Guests

And What To Do About Them

Carpenter ants won’t eat the wood in your house, but instead they will  burrow though it to make a cozy nest for themselves and their relatives.

Carpenter ants won’t eat the wood in your house, but instead they will burrow though it to make a cozy nest for themselves and their relatives.

Summertime is often a time to welcome friends and family to your home, but there are some visitors we would rather not host! As warm temperatures arrive, the resident mice tend to leave for greener pastures, but wood-boring insects now become the nuisance pests for old house and barn owners.  Now is the time to assess your buildings for these unwelcome guests and take the necessary steps to eradicate them if they are found.

Powderpost beetles also burrow through wood, leaving thousands of tiny telltale holes for you.

Powderpost beetles also burrow through wood, leaving thousands of tiny telltale holes for you.

A homeowner can do this by close examination of the basement, attic, house exterior and barn, looking for fine saw dust, mud tunnels and other signs of destructive pests. Carpenter bees, destructive wood boring  insects that resemble bumble bees,  can often be found by looking for mustard-colored droppings  on the clapboards of your house just under the half-inch or so round holes they have bored in your eaves. Fine saw dust can also be found under the entrance holes and is an easy way to find these destructive bees. These holes are the entrance to the tunnels they have created to house their brood.

Termites live to eat wood and are the most destructive of these wood-boring insects.

Termites live to eat wood and are the most destructive of these wood-boring insects.

Carpenter ants can also be found by looking for sawdust in crawlspaces, basements and other damp spaces. These ants are attracted to moist areas in your building's frame to build their nests. Like carpenter bees, carpenter ants do not eat the wood, but they are very destructive as they burrow through it to make their nests.

Powderpost beetles can also cause irreplaceable damage to wood members of your house or barn. Their activity can be identified by fresh piles of fine powder-like frass beneath very small (pin- to pencil-tip size) holes  produced by the adults burrowing out of the wood, or you may hear an actual ticking sound made by the larvae eating the wood. The adult beetles do very little damage to the wood.

Most destructive of them all are termites because they do eat the wood; their workers will eat through plaster, foam, plastic or asphalt to get to the tasty wood.  While some pests can easily be controlled by homeowners, termites might be best handled by a professional.

The links listed below can help with insect identification and methods for removal.

http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/carpenter-bees

https://extension.unh.edu/resource/carpenter-ants-fact-sheet

https://extension.unh.edu/resources/files/Resource000532_Rep554.pdf

http://www.doyourownpestcontrol.com/powderpostbeetles.htm

 

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s 2019 Auction Exceeds Goals

The N.H. Preservation Alliance’s fifth online auction was a great success this year, exceeding  both our participation and fund-raising goals. The auction proceeds support the restoration, rehabilitation and stewardship of our Seven to Save properties and other old farms, buildings and barns around the state.

More than 100 people from New Hampshire and 13 other states participated in this year’s auction. The auction items ranged from insider tours of special homes and gardens to quick getaways around New Hampshire, skiing and golf packages, carriage rides, workshops and expert consultations and services.

The Preservation Alliance would like to thank all the bidders and donors for their enthusiastic participation and generous support. Calls for assistance continue to rise each year as property owners, investors and community leaders look for creative solutions for the preservation of the irreplaceable landmarks that are so critical to New Hampshire’s communities and economy.

This 2019 auction’s great variety of quality experiences, goods and services were donated by generous individuals, businesses and organizations around the state who care about and wish to protect New Hampshire’s distinctive history and heritage.

The generous donors to 2019 Preservation Alliance Auction include: Aldworth Manor, Ann Henderson, Badger Balm, Bedford Village Inn, Bensonwood, Blasty Bough Brewery, Blue Moon Evolution, Boston Harbor Hotel, Camp Birch Hill, Canterbury Shaker Village, Capitol Center For The Arts, Castle In The Clouds, Children's Museum, Chuckster's, Colonial Theater Group, Common Man, Cranmore Mountain Resort, Errol Heritage Committee, Fifield Building Restoration & Relocation LLC, Frederick's Pastries, The Don and Jane Project, Fuller Gardens, Gibson's Bookstore, Harrisville Designs, Historic Windsor, Inc.-The Preservation Education Institute, Horse & Hound Inn, Hotel Concord, Ian Blackman Restoration & Preservation, King Arthur Flour, Landmark Trust, League of NH Craftsmen, Lindt & Sprungli (USA) Inc., Lynne Emerson Monroe/Preservation Company, Manchester Historical Association, Meghan Gross, Patricia Meyers, Moffatt-Ladd House & Garden, Mt. Kearsarge Indian Museum, New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources, New London Barn Playhouse, NH Division of Parks and Recreation, Omni Mount Washington Resort, Ould Colony Artisans, Pat's Peak Ski Area, Scott Patten Photography, Peabody Essex Museum, Pickity Place, Portsmouth Harbor Cruise, Portsmouth Historical Society, Mary Lyn Ray, Rolling Green Nursery, Rye Airfield  Skate Park & BMX, Southeast Land Trust of NH, Squam Lakes Science Center, Stave Puzzles, Inc., Sunrise Woodworks, Swan Boats Boston Public Garden, Tamworth Distilling, Thayers Inn, The Carriage Barn, The Fells, The Gundalow Company, The Macdowell Colony, The Oar House. Vintage Kitchens, LLC and Yankee Publishing Co.     

The Preservation Alliance supports and encourages the revitalization and protection of historic buildings and places, which strengthens local communities and economies.

 To become a member, make a donation, or learn more about the Preservation Alliance, visit www.nhpreservation.org.

Donald Hall's Preservation Legacy

The N.H. Preservation Alliance is very enthusiastic about the recent “save” by preservationists to steward pieces of Jane Kenyon and Don Hall’s Eagle Pond Farm legacy. Please contact leaders Mary Lyn Ray or Lynne Emerson Monroe via donandjaneproject@gmail.com with any questions or suggestions. The tribute below was posted by the Preservation Alliance following Donald Hall’s death on June 23, 2018. Here’s a recent Boston Globe story. Donations for the preservation effort can be sent to the Preservation Alliance PO Box 268, Concord, NH 03302.

What a legacy Donald Hall left for New Hampshire citizens and readers all over the world! The award-winning writer of prose and poetry died this past week at age 89.  Hall was an incorporator of the N.H. Preservation Alliance when it was formed over 30 years ago, and we think his decades of writing before -- and since -- supports and inspires preservation activity. 

Hall's Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot.

Hall's Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot.

Hall’s observations about his adopted state (he said, “I was created to love New Hampshire”) were based off of characters he met in Wilmot, where he resided, and nearby Danbury and Andover. In his collection of essays, Here at Eagle Pond, Hall wrote, “In New Hampshire the state supper is beans and franks, and every recipe begins with salt pork, Campbell’s cream of mushroom, and Miracle Whip” and “In New Hampshire convenience stores sell Fluff, Wonder Bread, Moxie, and shoes with blue canvas tops.”

His realistic settings connect you to special buildings in addition to natural landscapes. When you read Lucy's Christmas, you feel like you’re visiting the white, steepled South Danbury church for the annual pageant.  (It still hosts the annual Christmas party and lots of other activities too.)

Hall's themes of practicality, frugality and continuity shine through in his work. The title of his recollections of summers on a New England farm, A String too Short to be Saved, describes the hand-written label on a box of short strings. In his 1977 poem Oxcart Man, Hall describes how a farmer loads his potatoes into a cart and walks beside his ox to market, where he sells the potatoes. Then he sells the cart, ox, harness and yoke and, we imagine, walks home and starts again.

He lamented the loss of people and loss of landscape – burnt houses, new development, and the conversion of special places into the indistinguishable. “Nostalgia without history is a decorative fraud,” he wrote. This affinity for place was borne from his c. 1806 house, purchased by his great-grandfather in the 1860s.  In memoir and fiction, he described this place that served as his boyhood retreat and eventually his residence until his passing.  He wrote in the same first-floor room in which he slept and first began writing poems as a boy.  He seemed to love the continuity of use, the layers of people’s and building’s history, and we do too.

Here are some ideas of ways to honor this great artist:

·         Read a poem or story of his (or his wife Jane Kenyon, another incredible voice for life in New Hampshire) for yourself or to a child. 

·         Think about what rural New Hampshire means to you on a scenic 24-mile drive through his town of Wilmot along New Hampshire Route 4A or Rt. 4 between Lebanon and Andover. (Get some coffee at the preservation-award winning Lucky’s Coffee Garage in Lebanon after your drive.)

·         Support a local preservation project or the Preservation Alliance so we can enjoy more preservation and less lamentation.

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