STODDARD — Mill Village Country Store is now under new ownership, after longtime proprietors Dale and Deb Smith sold the business March 22.
Elisabeth Guarino of Lempster, who purchased the Route 123 market with her husband, Justin, said the couple has always wanted to run a restaurant, but shied away from that plan last year because the COVID-19 pandemic was taking a heavy toll on the food industry. They turned attention to the country store — which sells groceries, deli items, fresh sandwiches and beverages — last year after Guarino, a real estate agent, saw it on the market.
“This was the perfect opportunity,” she said. “... We saw it as a now-or-never-type situation.”
March 26 was the couple’s first day in business because they closed the store for a few days to do renovations, according to Guarino. She said that included adding a takeout window, where customers will be able to purchase soft-serve ice cream, and sprucing up its interior.
But the country store, which Guarino described as a community hub, will largely remain the same as it had been under the Smiths. There will be no change to the mail service, she said, as many local residents have P.O boxes at the store.
One notable addition to its offerings: house-made pizza with tomato sauce that Justin — a veteran who has done construction and environmental work since he and Elisabeth moved to New Hampshire from Rhode Island in 2017 — cooks from scratch.
“I run the business. He cooks all the food,” she said. “It’s like the perfect team.”
Elisabeth Guarino said the Smiths have helped with the transition, even hosting a meet-and-greet so she and Justin could introduce themselves to Stoddard residents. The couple has been talking to people about what they want the store to add and is open to ideas, she said.
Guarino said she and Justin have been flattered by the local reception, with many people having already stopped by the store to introduce themselves. One woman brought cinnamon rolls for the new owners, and someone else brought champagne.
“It’s just such a genuine town,” she said. “I’ve never experienced anything like this. I’m in awe.”