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Nevada man donates $125,000 to save Francestown Village Store

  • The Francestown Historical Society plans to reopen and run the store, which had been in operation for 203 years. Ben Conant 



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, September 07, 2017 5:0AM

Sarah Pyle said it was about two weeks ago when a man from Nevada called her husband Charlie with an unexpected offer to pay off the foreclosure cost and any back taxes on the Francestown Village Store and donate the property to the Francestown Improvement and Historical Society.

“Of course we all had to pinch ourselves,” said Pyle, who is a member of the society, which plans to reopen and run the historic store. “No one calls and offers to do something like this. We were all like ‘Are you serious? Is this really going to happen?’”

The Village Store, which was formerly owned by Christina and Rob Wohle, shut its doors on July 6. A store operated in town for 203 years and it was commonly referred to as the second oldest continually operating store in the country. The Wohles said the business took a hit after its gas pumps were removed last year.

Lake Sunapee Bank, a division of Bar Harbor Bank & Trust, retained the property for $100,000 during an auction in late July.

The demise of the old general store caught the attention of small and large news outlets alike, including the Wall Street Journal, which picked up the piece and spread the story to a national audience. Pyle said the man from Nevada, who offered to purchase and donate the village store, read about the situation in the Journal.

Pyle said the donor doesn’t have any prior connection to Francestown, although she said she has since researched the man’s name and found that he has done similar philanthropic gestures in the past. Pyle said she wasn’t comfortable releasing the man’s name until she had asked him first, information that was not available by the Ledger’s deadline on Wednesday.

The donation will amount to somewhere in the neighborhood of $125,000.

Pyle said the society unanimously voted to acquire the property during a recent meeting. She said everyone voted “Yes” to take on the task, although one member wasn’t present at the meeting.

“Part of the charter of this society is to work for the betterment of Francestown,” Pyle said. “The store is in the heart of our village and they felt strongly that they had the capacity to take this on.”

She said the society is in the process of gathering a steering committee that will decide how to proceed and the scope of work that needs to be completed.

Pyle said the society has already accumulated about $16,000 in donations from a small group of donors who believe in the project. That money should be enough to button the store up and keep the building safe through the winter.

She said in addition to donations, residents are volunteering their time and asking how they can help keep the store alive. Pyle said many people inquired about the situation during the town’s recent 100th anniversary Labor Day celebration.

“It’s more than just a store,” Pyle said as a reason why people are so concerned about the future of the place. “It’s a center for us. You can drop in the village store and find someone to talk to.”

She said since the place has closed, something has felt different about the center of town.

“You drive through town now and it feels like there is something really missing,” Pyle said. “I don’t want to say it feels like a ghost town, but in some ways it does.”

Jarvis and Marcia Coffin, who bought the Hancock Inn after moving to the area about six years ago, purchased the Hancock Market, across the street from the Inn, early this year. Jarvis Coffin said it’s still a little early to have a broad perspective on how difficult it is to run a general store in a small town, simply because they haven’t owned the market for too long. That being said, Coffin said he thinks markets or general stores are still viable business ventures.

“It’s not easy and it’s hand to mouth,” Coffin said. “But I think they deserve to be supported by the communities because they offer a fresh and convenient alternative to big-box stores for people who are looking for quality meat products or local produce products. These stores are a venue for that.”

He said in Hancock there is a regular morning coffee crew, and people use the store to pick up eggs, butter, or milk when they run out.

“I think that the village store country store is one of most valued artifacts in New England,” Coffin said. Despite changing times, that’s why he thinks these small stores will be able to survive.

No one from the Dublin General Store was able to comment by deadline on Wednesday

With rapidly changing times, where most people commute to work and do their grocery shopping at large stores on their way home, Pyle said the society is aware that keeping the Francestown store afloat will not be a simple task.

“It’s going to take the entire town of Francestown to keep the Francestown Village Store,” Pyle said.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.