March 28 was the end of an era for this town, for this country another step down the road away from the image of rural America we carry in our hearts.

Nine years ago, Evan and Tracy Galle bought the general store in town. They spruced up the outside, painted the inside a cheery baby-blanket green and scattered antiques and curios that had a local flavor throughout the store -- most notably a 5-foot tall rustic, wooden rocking horse. A bench, chess table and eight or nine chairs, several of them rockers, were placed off to the side of the front counter. They moved with three children into the apartment over the store, named their business Shaftsbury Country Store and began a new chapter in their life and this quaint, small town.

What had once been a place for beer, wine, soda, chips, and maybe a sandwich, immediately became a central meeting place for the community. Every morning found the same fellows sitting in the chairs with coffee, perhaps a homemade cider donut or cinnamon bun, trading information on who’s doing what, where the deer/moose/turkeys/bear can be found, or just swapping stories and whoppers. Ten or 15 minutes standing near the front counter gave a pretty good cross-section of people from the community and a fair (if not impartial) idea of things going on in the community, county, state, country and the world! Any time of day was an opportunity to see a neighbor and hear or confirm a tidbit of news.

The deli was open all day for a fresh-made sandwich. Lunch had two kinds of homemade soup. My favorites: Darn good chili and excellent N.E. clam chowder. Once, Evan offered them both the same day; I spent 20 minutes deciding what to have for lunch. People waited for the days Evan made ribs (my daughter’s favorite), wings or fried chicken. And they catered; weddings, anniversaries, company parties and picnics, and even barbecues, putting the whole family to work, including grandparents.

What made their store such a special place was the atmosphere. They wanted to be the heart of the community and welcomed everybody with a cheery, sincere "Hey, how are ya?" or "What’s up?" But more than that was their involvement in community matters. Morning chats on the local radio station, fundraising jars, sign-up sheets, petitions, notices of activities were part of the public face of the store. They (especially Tracy) were very vocal and visible advocates for the welfare and homely qualities of our community.

I know you will have more family time, but your gain is our community’s loss. I’ve lived in several small towns across the country. I never witnessed the impact a family had on a town of the immediacy and magnitude your move to Shaftsbury did. Thankfully, you’re not leaving. We’ll see each other around. But I won’t get as many opportunities to brighten my day as I did by visiting your store.

Thanks.

DENNIS FITZHUGH

Shaftsbury