Grafton residents await reopening of village grocery after surprise closing

By Gloria Dufield
©2015-Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Grafton community was hit hard in May by the unexpected closing of Mae’s Cafe at 56 Townsend Road, followed closely by the announcement that the Grafton Village Market, around the corner at 162 Main St., would also be closing.

Sandi Woods, who operated the Village Market for many years, officially closed the store on May 23. She had assumed operations of the market from the Lisai family.

The Windham Foundation is searching for a new tenant for the Grafton Village Store, which closed in May. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

The Windham Foundation is searching for a new tenant for the Grafton Village Store, which closed in May. Photo by Cynthia Prairie

Both the store and cafe are located on properties owned by the Windham Foundation.

According to Grafton Historical Society records, a village store has been in operation since 1787 , first in a log cabin when the town was called Thomlinson. Other stores would open including one in 1816 in what is now Grafton Town Hall and the Post Office. According to the Five dollars and a jug of a rum: History of Grafton, Vermont 1754-2000, at one time the town had four grocery stores. The current store building dates to 1841, when George Barrett built and opened his own store. The building was maintained as a store through a number of owners. In 1963, the foundation bought the building and began leasing it to various store operators.

In a letter to the community dated May 13, Windham Foundation President Bob Allen said he understood the importance of the store to the community and believed the “only way the store will succeed long-term (i.e. generate enough traffic and revenue) is to combine it with a cafe in the same location,” which apparently has been a successful model in the past.

He also stated that village stores throughout the state have been struggling but those that are surviving are modifying “their operations to adapt to the changing demographics and needs in Vermont’s small towns.”

He saw this “unfortunate circumstance” as an opportunity for  the foundation and community to come together to create a successful model.

The Windham Foundation moved quickly to re-open the cafe, then stock basics like bread and milk at the Grafton Village Cheese Store, which is next to the cafe. The Grafton Inn Café (also previously known under the names of Mae’s, Mack’s and Daniel’s Café) opened on May 28, serving breakfast and lunch from 7:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., seven days a week, managed by Nate Harford who had worked the deli counter at the Grafton Village Market.

The foundation also met with the community on May 20 to discuss the store and cafe closings. Liisa Kissel said that various ideas had been brought up, including a co-op model where community members contribute financially to the store as well as the previous mentioned option of a combined store and cafe.

In an interview on Friday, Allen said the foundation is waiting for a proposal for the store and that another community meeting would be held within two weeks. Allen said the foundation is looking for a business model that would allow the store to thrive. Both he and foundation chief financial officer Bob Donald said that the Grafton Inn Café has been doing well.

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Filed Under: Business & Personal FinanceFeaturedGrafton

About the Author: Gloria Dufield is a Green Mountain Union High School and University of Vermont graduate. She has more than 15 years of experience working in higher education libraries. Her most recent writing includes marketing projects for a Vermont GIS company as well as articles for a weekly publication.

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  1. Jim Mitchell says:

    They stock basics like bread and milk at the Grafton Village Cheese Store, which is next to the cafe.

    Yeah right– try milk and Budweiser!

    Anyway, when the foundation took all the cheese out of the village store and all the Windham Foundation/old tavern collectibles, it blew a giant hole in the village store’s market from which they never recovered. Visitors no longer had any reason to go there. When it separated from the Lisai’s, that meant it could no longer buy at wholesale discounts.

    Then when the foundation opened a dinette to compete with the cooked meals the store offered, what was left?

    Plus the foundation’s purchase of house after house in the village has helped depopulate the community, as has the evolution of the place into a retirement residence. The population has dropped 20 percent over the last decade, the number of full-time residents is even smaller.

    Now I can conceive of a way to reposition the store and change its product and service offerings so it might survive with a boatload of start-up cash but I really have difficulty seeing how it would be turned into any kind of worthwhile financial investment.

    Area Resident