TOWNSHEND -- A mixture of hard work and community spirit has revived West Townshend Country Store.
But members of the West River Community Project still had been missing an essential element of that mix -- someone to consistently staff and manage the new store while also developing cafe offerings to suit an eager clientele.
That has changed with the hiring of Aubrey Mullen, who started work as store manager a few weeks ago and has big plans for the refurbished space on Route 30 at Windham Hill Road.
"This, for me, was an opportunity to bring my passion for local food to another level," Mullen said.
The non-profit Community Project has redeveloped the 165-year-old country store building, which had been in danger of closing entirely and forcing out the sole remaining tenant -- the local post office.
Instead, the post office has been relocated to the rear of the structure. And the complexion of the property has changed entirely, from fresh paint outside to extensive renovations inside.
A new outdoor oven is fired up for Friday-night pizza gatherings, which now happen in conjunction with the newly relocated Townshend Farmers' Market (scheduled from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday at the store from now through mid-October).
Inside, there's a thriving thrift shop on the second floor. Downstairs is the store and 12-seat cafe, which -- with Mullen's arrival -- now is open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Mullen has lived in Vermont for 15 years and most-recently spent a few years as a cook at Newfane Cafe & Creamery. He said he found out about the country store opportunity "pretty much by word of mouth" after speaking with Robert DuGrenier, vice president of West River Community Project.
"After meeting with the board, it seemed like too good of an opportunity to pass up," Mullen said during a break in serving customers on a recent morning.
The nonprofit's emphasis on developing a shared community space -- which also includes weekly CSA orders and pickups as well as regular musical performances -- helped draw Mullen to the store.
"It just seems like a group effort in every sense," he said.
Mullen also was encouraged by the store's focus on Vermont-made products. The cafe now is offering staples such as coffee and baked goods, and Mullen is looking to expand a menu that currently includes sandwiches, pizza and quiche.
"Right now, we're kind of limited in what we can do," he said.
That's because a large, commercial kitchen still is in the works at the country store. DuGrenier said it would serve not just the cafe but also community members.
"We're moving forward," DuGrenier said. "The goal is to have a kitchen that people can come and rent."
Eventually, Mullen -- who has purchased a home near the store -- wants to also expand his breakfast offerings and obtain a beer-and-wine license. He expects to "build slowly," taking advantage of regular local customers as well as passersby on busy Route 30.
The location "is just very convenient," he said. "I think that will help us a lot."
Mullen isn't the only new face at the country store. Hedy Harris started work about three months ago as manager of the thrift shop.
"Certainly, the community aspects of it interested me," said Harris, who also serves on Townshend Selectboard.
Harris has established regular hours for the second-floor shop: It is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Friday.
Harris said she's seeing "lots of regular customers -- people who come in every week to see what's new."
She also has overseen expansion of the store's sports-related merchandise and housewares.
"Lots of (donations) are local," Harris said. "We also are connected with a thrift shop in New Jersey, and we get lots of their overflow."
Harris still is searching for additional volunteers to help staff the store and sort donations.
More information about the country store and West River Community Project is available at www.westtownshend.org or on "The Vermont West Townshend Country Store" Facebook page.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.