A community legacy continues at Jacksonville General Store

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JACKSONVILLE — A general store that has run continuously since 1854 is set to change hands soon and keep its doors open.

"There's a whole lot fewer country stores than there was in the 70s, 80s, 90s and aughts," said Jack Keefe, who has owned the store with his wife Pamela Pease for the last six years.

The couple had been trying to sell the Jacksonville General Store for a little less than a year. Keefe said they took it off the market at one point and started to look for a buyer themselves, eventually finding a local couple to take over ownership of the store: Heather Hebert and Jason Klump.

Keefe and Pease are heading back to southern Maine to help Pease's aging parents. Keefe said they will miss everything about running the store.

"It's a lot of hours," he said. "Whether you want to or not, you become part of the heartbeat of the town. All the information runs through you."

Keefe said he learned the names of more people in the six years of running the store than he did while living in Maine for 40 years. The couple moved here to take over the store.

While the owners looked for potential buyers, a small group of residents issued a survey soliciting feedback about the store and met with The Preservation Trust of Vermont to explore co-op models. The survey was shared on the store's Facebook page.

"With the multiple threats, whether it be Amazon or large grocery stores or Walmart, it takes a pretty clear business model to have these things succeed," said Keefe. "These stores are challenging, no question."

Keefe and Pease plan to stay on while the new owners learn the ropes of running the business. They expect to leave by the end of October. They do not expect to participate in a community meeting about the future of the store at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24 in the Whitingham Municipal Center.

Keefe said he does not think people will say critical things about his family's style of operating the store at the meeting, but he wants to let them evaluate it freely. He anticipates the results of the survey will be discussed.

A post on whitinghamvt.org invites friends and neighbors to the meeting, calling the store "an important part of our community."

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"We are hoping to get your input and ideas about how to make it better for you," the post states, adding that the goal is to ensure the store stays "a vibrant and successful local resource."

Gretchen Havreluk, who lives in Jacksonville and serves as economic development consultant for the town of Wilmington, described the store as "a key place" for the community to gather.

"It's important to make sure that we safeguard the store for our economics there," she said. "They have a lot to offer there with Vermont products and you can get a whole dinner there. And it's been there for a very long time. We need to keep it alive."

Havreluk is a member of the group of residents looking to support the store. At the meeting, she expects to discuss the survey results and hopes to introduce the new owners.

"It's very exciting," she said.

Seth Boyd, another member of the group, said he did not think their efforts were futile.

"Because we did a lot of work and got a magnificent response to a community survey," he said, counting more than 200 surveys submitted online and about a dozen paper surveys. "So for a small community, we think that's a good response."

Boyd found the results to be "not overly surprising."

"The community wants the store to hold on to its traditions, I think," he said. "So the Jacksonville General Store has always had a tradition of being a great deli, butcher shop and meat counter ... The other part that got some fairly strong response was to have some additional seating, sort of cafe style, for people to visit and have a cup of coffee. And then really, just everybody's interested in having more of a selection of everything. They want to be able to make that their one-stop shop."

Boyd said he hopes the new owners will be introduced at the meeting and there will be a dialogue about supporting the store's success. He sees his group as one that is interested in commerce in town.

"It started with the store but it's about supporting all the local businesses," he said. "So it was a fun, little informal group. We had a good time meeting on occasion and sharing ideas."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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