Community spirit alive in Cavendish businesses

Singleton's General Store is an iconic anchor of Cavendish. <small>All photos by Cara Philbin.</small>

Singleton’s General Store is an iconic anchor of Cavendish. All photos by Cara Philbin.

By Cara Philbin
©2023 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Ask nearly any business in Cavendish why they’re in this small town in the shadow of a major ski resort, and you’ll get a slightly different version of the same answer: community.

“We take pride in everything we put out, we treat everybody like family,” says Laura Jennings-Ryll, general manager of Murdock’s on the Green, a locally owned, farm-to-table restaurant that sits in the heart of town. Its large porch is a welcoming place to dine on warm summer evenings.

“When (the owners) moved here, there was not a whole lot in Proctorsville. They wanted to open something up where the locals could come in and feel like they were coming home for dinner, so they could have a place to go and basically call their own.”

Hannah Zimmer, left, returned to her roots and took over the Village Clipper. Here she is with two clients, Nola Forest, center, and Honore Hazen.

Hannah Zimmer, left, returned to her roots and took over the Village Clipper. Here she is with two clients, Nola Forest, center, and Honore Hazen.

Jennings-Ryll says that for this former 19th-century woolen mill — now in its fifth year as Murdock’s — community is the centerpiece of the 50-seat restaurant’s business strategy. Four days a week, evening diners are offered a variety of fresh meat, fish and vegetarian dishes supplied mostly by the owners’ 120-acre Cavendish farm. “Everything is homemade, right down to our sauces,” she says. “If we wouldn’t eat it, we wouldn’t serve it.”

When it comes to the campy charm of archetypal old New England, Cavendish certainly isn’t lacking. Wedged between the Green Mountains, the Connecticut River and two wildlife reserves, its first European settlements sprouted on a colonial route cleared by the British along ancient Native American trails from Lake Champlain to Charlestown, N.H. Crown Point Road became Vermont’s first major road, fueling a century of commerce. When the railroads came in, Cavendish became the site of textbook antihero Phinaes Gage’s famous accident. It was also the chosen home of influential Soviet dissident and writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn following his expulsion from the Soviet Union in the 1970s.

Today, this fundamental piece of southern Vermont sits just half a mile from a major intersection connecting Ludlow with New Hampshire. Its central village, Proctorsville, covers 3 square miles of walkable storefronts on Route 131. So why hasn’t Cavendish experienced the surging real estate prices or influx of tourists typical for a resort-adjacent town?

Some think it’s the sheer proximity to a major ski resort that can make it feel more like a threshold than a destination. Only 15 minutes to Okemo Mountain Resort, it’s easy to see how travelers could reduce this short stretch of old Vermont to merely a portal to other places.

“Occasionally we’ll get some skiers,” says Hannah Zimmer, who runs the Village Clipper salon. “But the majority of my clients are locals.” Still, Zimmer says she can barely keep up with business. “Our customers like that they can stick close to home. Some even walk. Whether you’re nine or 90, everyone is welcome.”

Others agree that Cavendish’s low-key reputation hasn’t hampered the local economy. Instead, it may be fueling sustainable growth.

Alfred Gallet with Vermont Fresh Pasta's award for participating in Springfield High's Occupational Development Program.

Alfred Gallet with Vermont Fresh Pasta’s award for participating in Springfield High’s Occupational Development Program.

“We have such a tight-knit community,” says Alison Singleton, a manager of the family-owned Singleton’s General Store. “We’re excited to keep things local and have lots of local people and products in the store. I love this little town.”

Singleton and her husband Daniel, who will soon become owners of the store, regularly eat at nearby Murdock’s. For almost 50 years, Singleton’s General Store — reminiscent of an old western outpost — has offered a thoughtful update on the classic variety store. The requisite guns and Americana relics, like totem poles and mounted game dressed in silly clothes, have turned it into a landmark. But the real testament to the success of this hyper-local model is the gourmet deli with made-to-order sandwiches, a robust selection of fresh cheeses, meats and vegetables, and other local products, like beer from Outer Limits Brewing, which is next door to Murdock’s.

The immediate effects of this economic symbiosis are tangible, says Taylor Shaw, who opened Outer Limits four summers ago with her partner Wesley Tice. Shaw says that even though they have seen a 150 percent increase in product distribution in the past year alone, Singleton’s remains one of the top retail locations for the young brewery, which also boasts a tap room.

“We started super-simple and the town has been super-supportive since day one,” says Shaw. “Now, we have a ton of local regulars.” All three businesses are located on or near the Town Green.

Singleton’s also carries products from Vermont Fresh Foods, a wholesale pasta, ravioli, sauces and pesto producer that has been operating nearby on Route 103 for the past 20 years. In August of 2022, it was purchased by Chad Brosher, who aims to scale distribution nationally.

“I wanted to buy a company that was manufacturing a very high-quality product, and the product line at Vermont Fresh Foods was excellent,” Brosher says. “It’s also the largest manufacturer of fresh pasta in the state and has a loyal consumer base,” which includes customers near and far — from Singleton’s and Dartmouth College to Burlington City Market and the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Brosher sources many ingredients locally, including maple syrup and organic hydroponic basil, as well as cheese products from Crowley Cheese in Mount Holly and Grafton Village Cheese, which plans to open a  location right next door. Across his parking lot sits the new brick-and-mortar restaurant iteration of Smokin’ Bowls, a beloved roadside soup shack that has been operating in Rockingham for 15 years. Co-owner Sarah James says they also use products from Grafton Cheese and from Fischer Farm in Springfield.

Denise Gebroe of DG BodyWorks offers not only personal training but a place for 'women to do what they want.'

Denise Gebroe of DG BodyWorks offers personal training, as well as a place for ‘women to do what they want.’

Despite his broader pasta ambitions, Brosher says he was drawn to this area’s vitality. The production facility is managed by locals, most of whom have been with Vermont Fresh Pasta longer than he has. Craig Halley, the company’s product director and plant manager, says that Brosher has been ramping up the company’s award-winning partnership with the Occupational Development Program at Springfield High School, which offers an alternative curriculum for intensive special education students. Now, Vermont Fresh Pasta will hire some program participants after they graduate.

This kind of resourceful inclusion and confidence in the face of challenges were recurring themes in The Telegraph’s interviews, and important indicators of social resilience. But it wasn’t always this balanced, says Jo Frye.

In the early 1990s, Frye founded the original Village Clipper salon, currently run by Zimmer, and bought its prominent and historic building a few years later. According to Frye, it was built in 1830 by the son of Proctorsville founder and Revolutionary War veteran Leonard Proctor and served as the Eagle Hotel until 1896.

At the turn of that century, it was sold to the Proctorsville Fraternal Society, who hosted the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, their female service arm the Rebekahs and the Masons on the second floor. On the first floor were businesses, including a barber and the Proctorsville Post Office, but Frye says the Fraternal Society would rent only to men.

“It was kind of an unspoken thing,” she says. “But every woman who tried to rent it, they wouldn’t rent it to them. And we all know it’s because they were women.”

If Frye is correct, it seems the arc of the moral universe has bent toward justice. At one point, control of the building fell to the Rebekahs, and it has been women-owned ever since. Now, Frye leases one unit to a woman tax accountant. And just last summer, she sold the Village Clipper name and leased the salon side to Hannah Zimmer, who moved back to the area when she saw the opportunity “to buy a business people already feel connected to.”*

Correction: Zimmer actually bought the Village Clipper name from from Julie Lepore Call, after Call purchased it from Frye. 

“As an adult, I’ve never worked this close to home, and it’s nice being around familiar faces and people I grew up with,” says Zimmer.

According to Denise Gebroe of DG BodyWorks on the Village Green, this shared sense of connection, purpose and wellness is what makes the Town of Cavendish strong. A certified physical trainer and massage therapist, she moved here 15 years ago to pursue the idea that when we feel better, we do better.

Gebroe eventually opened DG BodyWorks. While she and a staff of professionals offer structured classes, massage therapy, personal training and other paid wellness services, Gebroe has conceptually expanded the space to serve as a multi-functional community center — a “place for women to do what they want,” she says.

It has since played host to cooking and painting classes, Ayurvedic treatments and “so many book clubs.” Gebroe says it has even served as a temporary crash pad for people “escaping bad divorces or battering husbands.” She says everyone is welcome, regardless of whether they can afford services, because her mission is “to help the community stay healthy and strong.”

As Singleton says, “If there’s anything we don’t have, you probably don’t need it.”


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  1. Julie call says:

    Frye did not sell the the Village clipper name last summer. It was Julie call, who bought it from Frye back in 2009. I sold it to Zimmer.