Volunteers seek new owner for Putney General Store

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PUTNEY — Putney loves its general store and the town recently honored Betsy MacIsaac and Lyssa Papazian, the Putney Historical Society volunteers who have been running the store for the past two years.

The two Putney residents received the town's 2018 Community Service Award for their work to keep the general store open and thriving as a center and social hub for the community — as well as a great place to get a cup of coffee and muffin or burrito.

The community service award was announced at Putney's Town Meeting, but MacIsaac and Papazian weren't there — they were working at the store, they said. They were eventually asked to come to a Select Board meeting, where they received plaques last week.

"We've been volunteering almost two years," said MacIsaac. "Our strength is the community."

But despite the honor, MacIsaac and Papazian don't want to continue at store; they are actively seeking a new owner for the business on behalf of the historical society, which has owned the store since the first 2008 fire.

MacIsaac and Papazian stepped in more than two years ago when the historical society's tenant died, and his family didn't want to continue to run the store.

The store had burned twice, included a catastrophic fire in 2009 that destroyed the venerable general store, which is considered the oldest continuously operating general store in Vermont, having started in 1796.

The community rallied then to raise the money necessary to rebuild and reopen the store, but the past seven years have been full of ups and downs.

In December 2016, then-owner Jim Heal, who had run the store and opened a much-requested pharmacy, died of lung cancer, and his family didn't want to continue the business. The store was then closed for about four months, and during that time MacIsaac and Papazian, along with several of the store's employees, helped clean and reorganize the store and get it ready for another incarnation. The store has been open from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., seven days a week ever since.

MacIsaac and Papazian said the past two years have seen a steady and rewarding growth at the store, which is now generating $1 million in sales and has 11 employees — 13 if you count Papazian and MacIsaac. Papazian, a historic preservation consultant, and MacIsaac, a sheep and goat farmer and fiber artist, want to return to their careers, but both said Tuesday they would not abandon the general store, where they have worked non-stop for the past two years to get it up and running. The store includes a very busy deli, along with a large choice of craft beer, wine, basic hardware, groceries and many locally produced items.The second floor has about 2,500 square feet with both an elevator and stair access, and it could be sublet. The second floor is not currently used, although previous store owners have used it, including for the pharmacy.

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The general store has a popular counter by the front windows and there are tables and chairs in the back of the building that overlook the falls of Sackett's Brook. The store has free wi-fi as well.

The historical society has been trying to find someone to buy the business, but the society is adamant that it won't sell the building. The historical society is asking $120,000 for the business, which includes all the inventory. Rent for the building, to cover the historical society's mortgage, maintenance and taxes, as well as the store's equipment, which the society had to buy, would be about $3,600 a month. Papazian, who is now making a small stipend, said she had worked with a business consultant to come up with the figures, but she and MacIsaac acknowledged that finding a new operator for the general store had been a challenge. Papazian only started taking a stipend from the store's finances after the historical society agreed it needed to show it could support a manager's salary.

The store's biggest business is its food — whether it is sandwiches at the deli or ready-to-eat food for supper, said Papazian. "We sell a lot of great food," she said.

The store has been listed on Craigslist and in the Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe, to no immediate success.

MacIsaac said they were currently working with an interested candidate. Both of the women said some people have "hit a wall" when they find out the building is not for sale.

Papazian said by purchasing the business and renting the building, would-be general store owners could "get into it relatively easily."

She said she and MacIsaac are willing to work with any future owners for a smooth transition. The two women had originally planned on working at the store until January 2018, and then January 2019.

While eager to return to their lives and businesses, they are firmly committed to Putney having a general store.

"We're not going to close the doors," Papazian said. "We want to preserve the integrity of our downtown," said MacIsaac.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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