Exterior of the West Townshend Country Store on Route 30 at Windham Hill Road. (Mike Faher/Brattleboro Reformer)
Exterior of the West Townshend Country Store on Route 30 at Windham Hill Road. (Mike Faher/Brattleboro Reformer)
Thursday February 7, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- Big things are happening at the West Townshend Country Store.

First, a renovation project is substantially complete at the 165-year-old building, and there is a search under way for a manager for the cafe/local food market, thrift store and CSA headquartered there.

Also, organizers have announced that the Townshend Farmers Market will move to the country store this summer.

It's all part of a volunteer-driven vision to transform the Route 30 building into a hub for food and cultural resources.

"Because the community banded together and wanted this to happen, it's on its way to being successful," said Robert DuGrenier, vice president of the West River Community Project.

The nonprofit Community Project is headed by local farmer and artist Clare Adams and was founded to save the store building, which had been in danger of shutting. That would have forced out the sole remaining tenant, the West Townshend post office.

The Community Project secured a long-term lease and, in a relatively short time, the group has brought the property back to life. The post office was preserved and moved to the rear of the building to make room for retail space in the front.

That space initially opened last summer, even before the post office relocated. But DuGrenier said the cafe plans have evolved: Major renovations began in the fall, and volunteer labor has played a big part in that project.


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"Every Saturday, we worked for four or five hours," DuGrenier said Wednesday. "Last Saturday was sort of our wrap-up day."

Those who step through the store's front doors now will see freshly painted walls, new lighting and new flooring around a store counter with shelves that are stocked with locally produced goods.

It is designed to serve as a cafe and local-food market. The plan is to initially offer basics such as coffee and bagels.

"We'll take small steps to start," said Cameron Howard, a former chef who operates Dunberry Hill Designs in Townshend and volunteers with the Community Project.

Organizers are hoping to build a clientele and then expand the cafe's cooked-food offerings. That will be possible via the store's planned commercial kitchen, which will be installed in the basement in the project's next phase.

In addition to attracting local customers, Community Project administrators expect use locally produced food to lure in tourists traveling Route 30.

"We do understand that there are a lot of people who go by here," Howard said.

Store backers want to hire a manager for the cafe, a well-established thrift store upstairs and a local CSA. DuGrenier said there have been talks, but that position remains unfilled -- which means the cafe cannot yet open full-time.

"The big challenge is, we haven't found anyone to run it. It's been all board participation and volunteers," he said. "We're at the point now where we want to get someone with a food background."

For now, the thrift store remains open Tuesdays through Saturdays. Also, organizers plan to soon resume regular Friday-night pizza parties at the store.

The pizza gatherings started last year after construction of an outdoor oven. DuGrenier said musical performances will be part of the Friday gatherings.

Details will be announced on the Community Project's website, www.westtownshend.org, and on Facebook, where the organization can be found by searching for "The Vermont West Townshend Country Store."

Another new development soon will bring even more people to the country store: Post Oil Solutions and the West River Community Project announced this week that the Townshend Farmers Market will be held on Friday afternoons at the store starting this summer season.

The 5-year-old market had been held on Thursdays on the Townshend Common.

"With all the new community activities and interest in local foods happening at the West Townshend Country Store, it seemed like a natural fit to move the market there and to change the event to Friday to coordinate with the well-attended Friday Pizza Night," the two organizations said in a joint announcement.

Post Oil, which founded the Townshend market, "will continue to support this transition."

"Because of the strong support from the local community for the West River Community Project, both organizations believe that the market will continue to be successful for years to come," organizers said.

There are several other developments at the country store, including:

-- A community art show has been hung inside the cafe.

-- A student from nearby Leland & Gray Union High School will be coordinating an addition to the thrift-shop business: The idea is to sell higher-end, designer clothing on the online auction site eBay.

-- DuGrenier said the Community Project broke even last year and has been attracting support from a broader area.

"We have people from Windham, Jamaica, Wardsboro, Newfane, Townshend and Athens," he said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.