In what has been a year of disappointment and woe for many, residents in two area communities got some welcome news recently, in the reversal of what had the markings of a troubling trend.
The local general stores in Acworth and Sullivan were among those in the region that had either shut down over the past few years or, in the case of the former, planned to. But in short order, word came that a Massachusetts couple had bought the Sullivan Country Store on Route 9, and that the South Acworth Village Store won’t close, as planned.
Facing the increasing pressures of modern life and commerce — from better automobiles that make driving a few towns over to a larger supermarket easier; to online shopping and cheap or free delivery; to the advent of cellphones; to the availability of almost any food or product one might regularly require at low prices in superstores — small town general stores have been fading from the scene across the nation, including here in the Monadnock Region.
And that’s to the detriment of our neighborhoods and, particularly, smaller, rural towns, where such stores have traditionally been centers of civic life as much as places to obtain basic goods. They’ve served as post offices, coffee shops, lunch counters and video stores. They’ve hosted clubs and organizations, been the town newsstand, bulletin board and gossip center and, in at least one case, kept citizens connected to the outside world.
In Sullivan, the fatal blow was the recent extensive reconstruction of the bridge and road along Route 9, starting just about at the store’s front door and running almost to Granite Gorge. That monthslong project killed business, though the shop remained open, and owner John Little finally shut down and put the property up for sale in January. Without the store, residents had to head to Gilsum, Keene or Stoddard for items that had been available locally. But Little found a buyer in October, and earlier this month, a Boston couple — one of whom attended school in Dublin as a boy — announced plans to reopen the store.
In Acworth, the South Acworth Village Store on Route 123A has been a community foundation since the Civil War. At one point, it hosted the last public payphone in the state — which the federal government demanded be kept operating as a communications lifeline in a town with spotty cellphone service and occasional downed telephone lines from winter storms.
But as cell service improved, the payphone left. And as revenues dropped, the store became one of several in the region purchased by a nonprofit, in this case the Acworth Historical Society, which has operated it via the Acworth Community Project since 2001, through a lot of volunteer time and generous donations.
In November, the group announced plans to close the store when its volunteer manager retired. There simply wasn’t money to pay anyone to run it.
But less than two weeks later, the nonprofit announced a reversal of course, as resident Mary Lord agreed to take the helm — and to put together a group to seek a more viable business model moving forward.
Much has been said about the increasing depression, loneliness and despair in our society, and attributed, at least somewhat, to the loss of connection, of community. That dynamic is accelerated by the loss of community centers, places to congregate and chat, exchange news and fellowship, and see smiling faces on a regular basis.
Thus, it’s cheering news indeed to see two such places revived when they appeared lost.