PERU -- A town icon will soon be back in operation. The J.J. Hapgood General Store and Eatery was originally opened in 1827 and will be reopening under the management of Juliette and Tim Britton in early December.
Juliette Britton grew up in Peru and remembers the store from when she was young. About 10 years ago, she moved back to the area with her family and she and her husband were looking for an opportunity to do something for the community.
"The store had been closed for about four years," she said. "When we decided to buy it ... it was because this little village was struggling without it, both economically and spiritually."
She and her husband believe in the idea of revitalizing small businesses in small rural communities, like Peru. She said that going forward, it will be very important to shop local, cut back on travel and to reclaim these old community centers that had a real purpose in the past.
Britton and her husband purchased the building towards the end of 2012 and started construction on the site this summer. Don Stewart, of Stewart Construction Inc. is the construction manager and said this was the most unique job he has ever worked on.
"This was kind of unusual, we are a commercial construction company," he said. "However, many of the contractors who worked on this job primarily do residential work."
Stewart said the Brittons really wanted to work with local contractors that they knew of and trusted. The physical building of the store has been a community effort, with many contractors living about 10 miles or less away from the store.
The project has worked so well, he said, because all the subcontractors work like Vermonters, putting their whole heart and soul into the project. Stewart said this construction project has been very similar to a barn raising of the past.
"This is really going to be the cornerstone of the community," he said. "It will be where people will meet, they will find their mail next door and find their coffee and sweet roll here."
One of the key community aspects Britton hopes to engage with at the store is the Mountain Campus of Burr and Burton Academy. Ben Freeman, the director of the Mountain Campus said he and the students helped with the clean up process of the old store over a few days. They have also helped the Britton's stack the wood that will be used in the wood fired pizza oven. He said the J.J. Hapgood store is a great case study for what the students.
"[This case study] is how people in Vermont right now are trying to rebuild the economy, the social vitality and ecologically responsible [of small, rural towns]," he said. "I'm sure the students will be stopping by the store..have place to go after school or even work [there] after school."
Britton said the store will be part restaurant, part general store with some specialty items like cheese, local produce and charcuterie. There will be pizza, espresso, as well as regular coffees and basic provisions. There will be something for everybody, she said.
Along with the store and food, there will be indoor and outdoor seating. Towards the back of the store, there is an event room that can be closed off from the rest of the store for parties or other functions. Britton said the new store will be similar to the old, by both reclaiming artifacts, letters and pictures, as well as building materials from previous owners and visitors, but by also reclaiming the community gathering space. Britton said she has been sent letters and cards sent from the original general store, one letter even dating back to the 1880s.
"It has been really wonderful to get to know everybody in Peru. I grew up here and know a lot of the people, but I'm really connecting and getting to know them better," she said. "We have been thinking up various ways we can offer services to the community to help make the store successful, and that has been really exciting to me."