Owner Larry Bloch stands with store manager Laura Kwasniewski in Save the Corporations From Themselves on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P.
Owner Larry Bloch stands with store manager Laura Kwasniewski in Save the Corporations From Themselves on Main Street in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Tuesday October 30, 2012

BRATTLEBORO -- Larry Bloch first arrived in Brattleboro almost by accident.

A native of New York City, Bloch was looking to leave the urban lifestyle behind and he was traveling through New England in 1996 to find a small town near his son in New Hampshire when he pulled off of Interstate 91 and drove down Main Street.

There was a pulse in Brattleboro, he would later say, and an energy that spoke to his activism and to his desire to build a world that was better than the one he had grown frustrated with around Manhattan.

After settling down and calling Brattleboro home Bloch would eventually help start a community radio station, save the River Garden, change the town charter and support activist causes that stretched from Windham County to Africa.

Bloch died Sunday, at around 5:30 p.m., of pancreatic cancer.

The people who knew him, who worked with him, and who would occasionally bump heads with him, say Bloch was a passionate and driven man who always had a vision of a more just world behind whatever cause he was fighting for.

Ian Kiehle worked for Bloch for eight years when he managed Bloch's store, Save the Corporations From Themselves, on Main Street.

Bloch subsidized the store with his family money, but Kiehle said from the start the store was conceived as a way to support social activism.

On the floor above the store there was a room, known as the Activist Attic that had books and periodicals and which would be available for groups that were looking for a place to meet.


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Kiehle explained that the attic was just as important to Bloch as was the week's sales, and he said Bloch would promote the attic with just as much energy as he would the latest in hemp fashion.

"He would not get caught in any boxes. He was a fluid individual," Kiehle said. "That worked for some people, but for some people it didn't."

Bloch opened his store in 1997 and in the coming years he would get involved with community radio, changes to the Brattleboro charter, Building a Better Brattleboro and creating the Robert H. Gibson River Garden. He also started an annual tennis tournament and tried to save the Common Ground Restaurant when it was struggling.

"He was always busy with something," said Kiehle. "He interacted with everyone."

Before coming to Brattleboro Bloch started a Manhattan club, Wetlands Preserves, which would become well known for supporting young jam bands as well as for merging social activism with art.

Pearl Jam, Counting Crows, Rage Against the Machine and the Wallflowers played some of their first New York shows in the club.

Bloch worked there for eight years, before moving to Vermont.

David Hiler, who now co-owns The Whetstone Station Restaurant, worked with Bloch on trying to find a new owner for the Common Ground when it was struggling to remain open.

The Common Ground was going through tough financial times and Bloch, Hiler, and a group of others, volunteered hours of their time to try to find a new owner and save the restaurant.

"Larry had a voice of reason in what was a pretty diverse group," Hiler said. "He was a great listener. He was level headed. Even when it wasn't looking good, Larry kept me in it. He was committed and passionate and you wanted to work with him."

Jim Maxwell, a local attorney, remembers getting a call from Bloch while the Federal Communications Commission was cracking down on the local radio station, Radio Free Brattleboro. The stations was operating without an FCC license and the federal commission would eventually raid the studio and take its equipment.

Maxwell had never met Bloch, and he only knew a little about the station's plight. But he agreed to do work for the station, and Maxwell would eventually become an active member of the town's new radio station, WVEW, which is licensed by the FCC.

"He was persuasive. We fought the FCC even though we knew it was a losing battle," Maxwell said. "Larry was an intense human being and he had a way of conveying the urgency of a situation."

Through the years Maxwell and Bloch clashed occasionally on how the new station would evolve from Radio Free Brattleboro, but Maxwell said he never lost respect for what Bloch was trying to do.

"Larry was a man of great intelligence," said Maxwell. "He thought everyone should have a voice and everything he did was to make sure people had a way to communicate and a way to be active in their community."

Spoon Agave worked with Bloch for three-and-a-hlaf years on rewriting the Brattleboro charter.

Agave also said that Bloch's enthusiasm and passion for democracy and equality would find its way into whatever argument he was making about proposed changes to the charter.

"He was perhaps the clearest and strongest advocate for democratic ideals that were put into the charter," said Agave. "He wanted to help all of us who live in this democracy and he helped us see what we have to do to maintain it."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.