Ming Chou, owner of the new Putney General Store, stands in front of the store on Kimball Hill in Putney. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Ming Chou, owner of the new Putney General Store, stands in front of the store on Kimball Hill in Putney. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer)
Saturday March 9, 2013

PUTNEY -- The Putney Historical Society has announced that Putney General Store proprietor Ming Chou will be leaving this summer, and the historical society is trying to figure out how it will continue running the business after he leaves.

Business has been good at the store since it re-opened in December 2011, Historical Society member Lyssa Papazian said, but Chou is facing health issues, which have forced him to sell the business.

"Ming has been perfect for the store, and for this community," Papazian said. "He has been very generous with his time and money and has been doing a fantastic job, but this is a decision he had to make. We're all very sad about this."

The Putney Historical Society purchased the historic Putney General Store in 2008 after an accidental fire damaged the top floor and roof.

Then, as the historical society was getting ready to re-open the store in 2009 a second fire, which has been ruled arson, completely destroyed the 200-year-old building.

After the second fire a local couple that was planning to manage the store pulled out and Chou made his bid to run the business.

He was there when the store re-opened in 2011 and has been behind the counter ever since.

"It's very hard for me. I have been chasing this store for 15 years," Chou said. "At this point I have no choice."

Chou was living in Sterling, Mass., when he heard about the opportunity in Putney.

He signed a 20-year lease with the historical society, and when he re-opened the store Chou enthusiastically announced that he was planning on settling down in his new home in southern Vermont.

Chou said that while the decision to leave Putney has been heart wrenching, he has to think about his health, and about his 11-year-old daughter, who does not yet know that her father is sick.

"I don't like to talk about my personal life. I don't want anyone's sympathy," Chou said. "I have a lot to take care of. I want to send my daughter to college. I want to see her get married. I want to take care of my health and then get on with my life."

Chou said he is going to move back to Massachusetts to be closer to his family and to his doctor.

Papazian said it will be up to Chou to decide how and when to sell the business.

The historical society owns the property, but Chou owns most of the equipment, and the inventory inside, as well as the good will he has built up over the past year-and-a-half, Papazian said.

The historical society is going to wait and see how Chou proceeds with his plans.

"It's his business. It has been a success due to his hard work and good will," Papazian said. "This was his dream. He will have to decide how to do this."

Papazian said the historical society could take over the business from Chou, but that would take a sizable investment of time, energy and money, none of which the already busy volunteer, non-profit organization has.

The Putney Historical Society also owns the former United Church of Putney at 15 Kimball Hill, which it leases to Next Stage Arts Project.

"We had a good first year," Papazian said. "We have had steady traffic and we think there is opportunity to grow."

The historical society is still processing the news and any decision on the future of the general store will be made by the historical society board.

Papazian said the building will not be sold.

Whoever purchases the business from Chou will have to work out a long-term lease with the historical society and Papazian said the group is obviously invested in making sure the future business owner has a good arrangement in place.

She also said the store will remain open, though how that happens remains to be seen.

"This is really hard. We felt like we had the right person," Papazian said. "We are committed to not closing the doors. We will not let that happen. One way or the other we are going to figure out a way to make this work."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 279. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.