More than a place to pick up a loaf of bread or gallon of milk, Vermont general stores are what anchor Vermont’s small communities. And like everything, they change to keep up with the times. Here are a few that have made notable upgrades:
J.J. Hapgood General Store
As a child, Juliette Britton remembers buying penny candy or dipping into the pickle barrel at J.J. Hapgood General Store in Peru. From 1827 until it closed in 2008, “it was the heart of town,” explains Juliette. The store’s closure was “a void everybody felt,” she says — one she and her husband, Tim, decided to fill. After community input and extensive renovations, they reopened in 2013 with penny candy, a pickle barrel and even the same bells on the (still creaky) front door. Shelves are stocked with everything from night crawlers (they also sell fishing licenses) to local cheeses and jams.
There’s excellent, scratch-cooked food to go or to enjoy in a comfortable seating area or side patio paved with local marble gifted by a community member. Flaky buttermilk-chive biscuits cradle local egg and cheese in one of the best breakfast sandwiches in the state. Sandwiches like fried haddock or grilled cauliflower with arugulaand sriracha mayonnaise come on freshly house-baked bread. Last winter none other than Paul McCartney stopped in for the popular wood-fired pizza. It boasts creative toppings like kale and chickpea with winter squash — sure to please vegetarians like Paul — or spunky Thai chicken. There is wine and Vermont beer on tap as well as house-made cheesecakes, seasonal pies and very good cider doughnuts.
Falls General Store
Just around the corner from the covered bridge in Northfield Falls is another town landmark: the 120-year-old Falls General Store, which reopened last summer after a lengthy renovation. Long Island transplant and longtime local second-home owner Vince Rooney and his wife, Norma Berrios-Rooney, had decided to invest in the building and business because, as Vince says, “I found community here.” Updating the historic structure proved a labor of love, but they stuck with it, driving toward their vision of a contemporary general store: part co-op grocery/part bakery with a coffee and juice bar and full kitchen. “Food brings people together,” Vince says. “I want to offer real food for the community.” The menu of solid, freshly prepared food is available for takeout and to eat in at a few tables squeezed between the shelves and coolers overflowing with local produce, dairy and specialty foods. Almost everything is made from scratch, including hot sauces and salsa to go with quesadillas filled with tender, shredded pork or green chile chicken. House-ground and seasoned sausage stars in breakfast sandwiches (maple) and is scattered over thin-crust, New York–style pizza (fennel). They even make the ketchup and pickles for the top-notch, freshly ground local beef burger served on house-baked Texas toast. Vince handles most of the baking himself, offering Italian classics like cannoli (to be enjoyed with an espresso if you like) as well as crowd-pleasers like chocolate-dipped peanut butter cookies. And, of course, there is a creemee window.
Dylan Richardson worked in the Williamsville General Store while he was in high school and then wound his way back after living and cooking in Boston. Just over a year ago, he and his parents, Glenn and Lauri, opened the WilliamsvilleEatery in the building where the store had operated for more than 175 years before closing. They chose to focus on dinner three nights a week along with hosting special events including wine dinners. “Our goal was to keep that community energy, that lively spot, and we felt we could maintain that without doing a whole store,” Dylan says. The family did the renovations to the warm and open space themselves, down to the fanciful decorative mosaics by Lauri, an artist who also runs the dining room and makes the desserts like tiramisu and maple-sweetened apple food Dylan and his dad take care of the rest of the food, sourcing as many ingredients as possible from Vermont and offering local brews on tap. Tacos served on Vermont-corn tortillas include carnitas-style, slow-cooked Vermont pork or marinated tofu served with fresh salsas, Spanish rice and local black beans. Pizzas range from Vermont-smoked pepperoni with fresh basil to a seasonal white pie with black trumpet mushroom béchamel sauce, spinach, lemon thyme and local mozzarella. Regulars also often make a meal from small plates like the trio of bacon fat–seared house meatballs served with fresh-baked focaccia bread plus a dish of roasted beets with tarragon from the Richardsons’ home garden. “We are a family that is extremely passionate about food,” says Dylan.