WEST TOWNSHEND -- Slowly but surely, West Townshend Country Store is coming back to life.
Store advocates will reach their next milestone July 15, when a grand opening and community celebration is scheduled to kick off at 3 p.m.
And they're already reaching well beyond that event, laying groundwork for a community center that will include a commercial kitchen constructed in the basement of the old building along Route 30 at Windham Hill Road.
"The ball is rolling, and that's what I find really exciting," said Robert DuGrenier, vice president of West River Community Project.
The revitalization started several years ago when it appeared that the building -- which already was empty of any retail operation -- could shut altogether. That would have forced the relocation of West Townshend's post office, which operates in rented space there.
That's when Clare Adams contacted the building's owner and worked out a rudimentary preservation agreement.
"I live right down the road. I'm an artist," Adams said. "I thought, ‘I could use this as a studio.'"
The building remained open, but Adams says her responsibilities quickly became "more expensive than I could handle."
So she began working with DuGrenier -- who is president of Townshend Historical Society -- and with The Preservation Trust of Vermont, a Burlington-based organization that also is assisting with the revival of Guilford Country Store.
Added Adams: "Their vision was, the way to do this was as a nonprofit."
Hence the West River Community Project, with Adams as the president. Members have applied for non-profit status, and the organization has secured long-term rights to the structure.
"We were able to acquire a 20-year lease with very reasonable rent to make this possible," DuGrenier said.
Some elements of the group's plan already are under way:
* The store has hosted musical performances in cold-weather months.
* A thrift store will continue to operate on the building's second floor. The store, where most items are priced at $2, is an important revenue generator for West River Community Project.
"It's been wonderful," DuGrenier said. "It's really been our bread and butter."
* An online farmers market started this year, with the goal of connecting more Townshend-area residents with locally grown food. Purchases are available for pickup each Tuesday afternoon at the country store.
More information, including a registration form, is available at www.westtownshend.org.
"You have access to ordering amazing, local food," DuGrenier said. "We're in search of new members."
The July 15 grand opening -- which includes food and music -- will celebrate the building's new cafe and market, which is open from 8 a.m. to noon Wednesdays through Saturdays.
The shop includes bagels and coffee, baked goods, fresh produce, maple syrup, breads and other merchandise.
"We're looking for more local vendors," Adams said.
Veda Bassett is coordinating the online farmers market and the cafe, and she noted that the small store's offerings still are expanding.
That same community has been pitching in with West River Community Project as its work has gained momentum.
For instance, the market's business plan for ice cream sales was developed earlier this year by a senior at Leland & Gray Union High School in Townshend. And a recent concert staged by Townshend-based Unity Hills Arts Centers International benefited the country store.
Project organizers plan to return the favor by installing a community garden and a bread oven in the store's backyard.
Also in the works is a commercial kitchen in the building's basement. That facility will be available for rent to any resident.
"We'll probably have a build-out in the fall, so it could be ready for winter," DuGrenier said.
Much work remains. In addition to kitchen installation, the building is about to get a fresh coat of paint. And project leaders expect to relocate the post office to the rear of the building so retail space can expand just inside the front door.
Ironically, the project has been made a bit easier by a fire that gutted the store about a dozen years ago. That led to installation of new infrastructure and a new roof, so there are no structural concerns for a building originally constructed in 1848.
"The building is sound," DuGrenier said.
West River Community Project can be reached at 802-221-0466. In addition to the website, the group has a Facebook page titled "The Vermont West Townshend Country Store."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.