Couple sees 'opportunity' in closing Newfane store
NEWFANE -- Since the 1970s, Newfane Country Store has operated on Route 30 in this historic village.
Now, it might be time for a new business to take over. After 12 years running the store, owners Bob and Marilyn Distelberg are closing up shop in a matter of months, and they're seeking entrepreneurs who might have an interest in the space.
Noting that the prominent white building that houses the store is nearly 140 years old, the Distelbergs see the coming change as a potentially positive development for the village and for the local economy.
"When you take a wider, historical perspective, this is just a part of the evolution of this building," Marilyn Distelberg said.
The Distelbergs' store and residence -- they live upstairs -- has a rich history in Newfane. In fact, it's the subject of an exhibit at the Historical Society of Windham County just down the street.
Information from the historical society says the building that previously occupied the site, the Jones Exchange, burned in April 1875. The new Batchelder-Higgins Store was constructed there the following year, and it still stands.
The store also served for a time as the village's post office. In the 1970s, Newfane Country Store began operating at the site, and the Distelbergs have continued the country store business since buying the property in 2002.
Prior to purchasing the store and moving to Newfane, they had worked a combined 40 years for IBM while living in New York.
"When we first started this, we called it our first 'retirement' adventure," Bob Distelberg said.
In Newfane, the Distelbergs host what is billed as a "unique Vermont experience."
A large sign above the entrance advertises two of the store's signature offerings -- quilts and fudge. A visitor walking across the store's wooden floor will see a glass case full of fudge along with jars of candy, toys, games and a variety of other offerings.
The Distelbergs have emphasized local products while also creating an online store at newfanecountrystore.com. But it's not easy keeping a small-town store going, and the required time investment is one reason the couple has decided to call it quits.
"There were a lot of factors that went into it. A key one is that we've been doing this for 12 years," Bob Distelberg said. "Running your own business is hard work. Doing retail, especially, is hard work. For a long time, we were open seven days a week and, between the two of us, we were here seven days a week."
Economics are another factor. The Distelbergs have seen declines in Newfane's economy, with fewer shoppers stopping at the store. And Marilyn Distelberg sees two larger trends: More people are shopping online, and she also believes consumers simply are buying less these days.
"As a business that sells 'stuff,' that has an impact," she said.
The Distelbergs slowly have been scaling back the store business. Last year, they renovated to allow space for a tenant, the architecture firm Cotton Design, to move into the building.
At the start of 2014, they cut the store's hours; it is now open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday through Monday. And by March, they had decided that the store would close entirely later in 2014.
That might happen at the end of October, though Marilyn Distelberg said the exact date has not yet been determined. In the meantime, the Distelbergs will be selling off their merchandise while also soliciting proposals from anyone who might be interested in taking over the storefront.
"We own the building, and we'd like to see somebody in this space so that it's not sitting empty," Marilyn Distelberg said.
She ruled out residential and food-service uses, but the space might be filled by an office, a gallery or a retail operation. Even the Country Store brand could continue, but Marilyn Distelberg believes the store "would require some level of reincarnation" for it to be successful.
She added that "we're excited to see what happens next in this space," and her husband feels the same way.
"This is a good thing," he said. "Hopefully, this will be an opportunity -- an opportunity for something new in the village."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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