Saving the General Store

Struggling to Save a Main Street Mainstay

Small Business
Struggling to Save a Main Street Mainstay
Published: September 9, 2007
Sounds romantic, but running a general store is anything but.


THE newspapers for sale in the window were 10 days old, and the shelves were largely bare but for a few boxes of cake mix and saltines. Established in 1812, the Colebrook Store is the oldest continuously operated general store in the state. But since mid-July this nostalgia-soaked spot across from town hall, where the coffee is hot and the gossip lukewarm, has been closed for vacation.

To the dismay of many of its neighbors, it is on the market and may be closed for good.

“It is the center of town, as far as I’m concerned,” said Jerry Rathbun, the first selectman in this postcard-perfect town of 1,500 in the state’s northwest corner. “Without it, the whole place kind of dies.”

General stores are gradually vanishing, victims of changing economics and consumer habits. In Connecticut only a handful remain, leaving many towns with fluorescent-lighted gas-station quick marts instead.

In Colebrook, signs in the window of the general store said: “Closed for Vacation. Be back July 17.” Two days later, the door was still closed. Joan M. Durant, the town assessor’s clerk, said: “I don’t think it has ever been closed for vacation. Now everyone is waiting to see if it will reopen.”

Dennis Spector, a college professor who lives in town, was standing outside wondering where to get his coffee. “There’s no Starbucks,” he said.

When reached later that day, the owner, Lora C. Murphy, 53, said that, as a mother of two, including a daughter with special needs, she could not afford to continue running the store at a loss. Ms. Murphy has owned the place for about two years. Customers may rave about the ├ęclairs and like the idea of running into neighbors when they buy the newspaper, she said, but that’s not enough. “It’s really hard because the local community sees it as a novelty.”

Comment: I'm not sure they are worth saving! One of my favorite childhood memories was the general store in Alto Michigan. Alto main drag is virtually a ghost town now. The hardware store is gone (that was a cool place, you could just walk in and buy BB's!). The bank is gone. So are most of the stores. I think there is still a bar there. Not news ... but people want quality at a reasonable price. In my teen years (perhaps my last visit to Alto's general store), the goods were dusty and the whole place had a certain dank spell about it.

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