In the heart of historic Peru village in the southwest corner of Vermont is the iconic J.J. Hapgood General Store. Prior to a brief closure, J.J. Hapgood was the longest continuously running general store in Vermont. Ownership of the store can be traced back to 1827 when it was built by a logger named Joseph Jackson Hapgood. Those of us who enjoyed the 1987 hit movie “Baby Boom” starring Diane Keaton, whose character moves to Vermont and embarks on a series of life-changing events, may remember that filming was done in the Hapgood store.
Unfortunately, there came a time when the store was closed for several years, falling into disrepair and badly in need of care and attention. But fortunately, in 2013, Juliette Britton purchased the property as a labor of love and has since brought it back bigger and better than ever. Juliette, born in Chester, grew up in Peru and still enjoys warm and wonderful memories of her days hanging out at the store as a local kid. After attending Burr and Burton, Juliette went on to attain her degree in Fine Arts in Portland, Maine, where she worked her way through college in the food business. She became a good-enough, self-taught chef to be retained as a private chef in Boston. Wanting to expand her understanding and proficiency in the world of business, Juliet then worked in venture capital.
She returned to her hometown of Peru in 2004 to raise a family. Years passed, but Juliette saw the opportunity to serve the community by reviving what had become a dormant remnant. Her goal was to restore and reopen this historic establishment and make it once again a gathering center for the town.
So Juliette and her family essentially rebuilt and revived J.J. Hapgood, adding a cafe, a custom wood-fired oven and an outdoor patio. And, yes, we are glad to report that the store is once again a thriving Southern Vermont fixture, where locals and visitors from neighboring towns can gather for live music, attend an art opening or catch up with friends over a good meal. J.J. Hapgood often displays artwork from local artists.
This project could not have been done without the daily dedication and devotion of Juliette, who brought a world of talent to the project in which she served as the general contractor. Thoroughly committed and unafraid of hard work, Juliette employed the knowledge and experience gained by previously working in the family’s construction business. A project that might have taken others a year or two was completed under budget and on schedule in six months.
As for the food, the best accolades about J.J. Hapgood come from nationally recognized food reviewers. J.J. Hapgood has won numerous awards for its culinary achievements including from “Best Things Vermont,” which proclaimed J.J. Hapgood one of the 15 best restaurants in Vermont and Thrillist.com, which featured J.J. Hapgood for offering one of the “21 Best Breakfast Sandwiches In The Country.” Fodor’s, Ski Magazine and USA Today all lavished praise on the quality of food offered at J.J. Hapgood. And of course, we’d be remiss not to mention that in 2015, Sir Paul McCartney came to J.J. Hapgood for a late lunch after having skied at Bromley. Juliette says he was delightfully friendly.
It’s a wonderful way to start the day enjoying a delicious bakery item along with a cuppa, sitting on the pleasant patio in the center of Peru, Vermont. We enjoy our lunches on the patio as well. The sandwiches are generous and tasty. There always seems to be a table available and the crowd is friendly and in good cheer.
Juliette honors and fosters relationships with local farmers and producers by creating an environment for customers to learn about the foods they eat. At the same time, the store carries top-quality regional and national brands including North Country organic ham and turkey from Claremont, New Hampshire; D’Artagnan chicken; Niman Ranch prosciutto and ribs; and Black River organic ground beef from N. Springfield, Vermont, as well as mozzarella from Maplebrook Farm in North Bennington.
J.J. Hapgood also offers basic and speciality provisions, produce, local dairy, charcuterie, excellent wines, craft beer, fine chocolates and hard-to-find, unique gift ideas. Just taking a leisurely stroll through the store, you’ll find a selection of pastas, ramen noodles, olives, crackers, teas, socks, hats, greeting cards and items for the house and kitchen.
Juliette advises that her most popular takeout items include family meals, shepherd’s pie and pot roast. Check with the store for upcoming pop-up dinners including Chinese food and sushi. Also, don’t miss the terrific pizza from the wood-fired oven. Currently, catering is available via pickup.
Perhaps Juliette takes her greatest pride in the role her store plays in the community, often serving as a gathering place for neighbors, events and fundraisers, which can be held inside and/or outside. With private party capacity up to 75 people, J.J. Hapgood has hosted a BBQ for vintage car owners, an oyster festival, as well as gatherings for the local theater and medical clinic. Juliette is so appreciative and grateful for the local support she has received that she enjoys giving back to the community in any way she can. Most everyone who walks in the store stops and talks with Juliette if she’s not back cooking in the kitchen.
One last tip: There is a cute, country-style three-bedroom house on the grounds, with a kitchen and screened porch, that is available short-term. Makes walking over for breakfast very convenient.
J.J. Hapgood is at 305 Main St. and can be reached by calling 802-824-4800 for up-to-date hours. When you stop in, say hello to Juliette. She’ll be glad to welcome you and chat for a while.