Lyssa Papazian never pictured herself running a country store. But when the Putney General Store closed in December 2016, she stepped in to help reopen the business and manage operations.
Lyssa, a historic preservation consultant and Putney Historical Society board member, manages the store with fellow historical society board member Betsy MacIsaac. The two have been running the store since it reopened in May and are committed to managing it for at least a year until another tenant is found to take over the store.
A Community Hub
The Putney Historical Society has owned the building since 2008, and the location has served as the town’s general store since the 1790s. Two fires at the store in the last nine years have created both significant challenges and an outpouring of support.
An accidental fire in May 2008 damaged the building’s roof and upper half. The following year, a four-alarm arson fire in November 2009 gutted the building. After both fires, locals responded by donating materials, labor, and cash to help rebuild the store. The store then closed again in December 2016 after proprietor and pharmacist Jim Heal died of lung cancer.
Lyssa says the historical society needs to understand the business intimately to be able to continue the model of owning the building on behalf of the community and to ensure that the store continues to operate. By running the store, the organization will understand not only what the business needs, but also what the community needs and expects from it, as well as what the building requires to serve as a store.
Working on the front lines has given Lyssa a deeper appreciation for what it takes to run a general store. She is also more keenly aware of how significant the store is to people in the community.
“For years I have been writing grant applications about how important the store is to the town, but I never fully understood until now what the store really is to people,” Lyssa says. “The most important thing is the community gathering aspect, especially among people who would have very few other places to interact. People come in and learn the news of the town from each other or from us—what roads have been damaged, who needs help, the weather, town hall news, and who had a baby. We are the unofficial town kiosk and tourist information center, and we try to guide visitors to the businesses in town or the region.”
Serving up Food, Drink & A Welcoming Vibe
Inside the store, visitors will find a deli counter, coffee, baked goods, meat, groceries, beer, and wine (the second floor remains closed). Popular items include the BLT sandwich, roast beef sub, pulled pork sandwich, raspberry oat bars, and maple bacon pecan donut.
Lyssa and Betsy lowered the store’s sandwich prices to try to make sure there was a lunch option available with a drink for under $10. They also give a discount to the nearby mill employees who come in several times a day.
More than anything, Lyssa and Betsy want the store to be a place where locals and tourists feel at home.
“The G-store—as we call it locally—has always been the one store in town where everyone feels comfortable going into,” Lyssa says. “One of the most important things that we want to preserve is making sure the prices are reasonable, that the selection has something for everyone, and that the staff is friendly and welcoming to all.”
September 2019 update: The store was purchased by Mike and Kim Cosco.
-The Putney General Store is located at 4 Kimball Hill in Putney, just off Interstate 91’s Exit 4. Visit www.putneygeneralstore.com.