by Carla Occaso on behalf of The Bridge
Dear Sister City Barre,
We love you. We thought we should tell you this just before Valentine’s Day. Those of us who come to the Bridge office every day (Publisher Nat Frothingham, Managing Editor Carla Occaso, calendar editor and Graphic Designer Marichel Vaught and Advertising Manager Michael Jermyn) live in or near Montpelier, so that is our center of gravity, but Barre beckons us on a regular basis. How can we count the ways?
My first experiences of Barre in the late 1960s to early 1970s were as a very young girl through the lens of my mother’s eyes. She loved Barre even though we lived on the Montpelier side of East Montpelier. It was just somewhere she felt comfortable, she said. Going there seemed special. She liked to get a certain nut candy at the counter of J.J. Newberries and take my sister and I along. She called it a “five and dime,” which didn’t make sense to me because not much really had that low of a pricetag, but it sounded cool. I remember the long wooden aisles that creaked under our feet and the shelves upon shelves of all different kinds of things. She usually bought us something like candy, new socks and a doll, and we went home very gratefully.
Barre opened other doors for my family on numerous occasions. My grandfather bought me a sewing machine when I was 11 because I loved to hand sew, but running a machine was nothing I knew about. My mother never learned to use a sewing machine, so she enrolled me in sewing classes in Barre. My sister took piano lessons in Barre and became so adept she later went to the Adamant Music School. My sister, myself and a friend or two spent many winter weekends at the B.O.R. Ice Arena. I took my SATs at Spaulding High School. I got custom-dyed hot pink high-high heels at the bridal shop in town to wear in the musical I was in at U-32. Barre was where a lot of our extra-curricular learning happened.
Before I worked at The Bridge, I loved Boisvert’s Shoe Repair store — so it is not only because they advertise with us, but because I am a customer. When I lived in another county, most of the cobbler shops (including the ones in Montpelier and St. Johnsbury) had gone out of business, except Boisvert’s, so I mailed them my worn Frye boots. They fixed them promptly and when I went to pick them up, Boisvert’s had put a sturdier sole on the bottom, so they were in better condition than when they were new.
More recently, Nat had a problem here at The Bridge offices and looked to Barre to bail him out. He was convening a meeting and the vacuum wouldn’t work because the bags were full to bursting. We don’t hire out a cleaning crew — we ARE the cleaning crew — to the extent we clean. So he and Michael called around town to get bags for what can only be called a vintage machine. Nat went to Nelson’s Hardware. He could not say enough about hardware associate Clay Tucker, who got on his hands and knees trying to find the right bag, but no, they didn’t have it. Then store owner Bob Nelson himself got involved and went on eBay to order them. Within days Nelson’s called to tell Nat they ordered the bags and shortly afterward they were in. They even let Nat leave the vacuum cleaner at the store to make sure it was a perfect match. “Is this service or what?” Nat said. “That is why these people succeed in business. This is why people are going to Nelson’s. For the service. Do you think I’d drive from Montpelier to Barre to go to Nelson’s? Yes!”
Nat then shared another story about Studio Place Arts, which is an art gallery with items for sale downstairs and artist studios upstairs. He had purchased a pottery set for his daughter, who lives in England, for Christmas. He brought the set into the office and showed it to us before putting it back in his car to get packaged up to ship overseas. But before he made it to the shipping store, the pitcher rolled off the seat and hit the pavement. A crack appeared. Nat refused to send a cracked vessel to his daughter, so he went back over to Studio Place Arts on a Saturday. Studio Place Arts Director Sue Higby welcomed him and then took him up the elevator to the very studio of the potter who crafted the pitcher. The artist wasn’t in, but an exact replica of his pitcher was right there on a shelf. She negotiated a reduced price with the artist — considering his misfortune. Nat then went straight away to have them professionally wrapped and sent to England, but he couldn’t believe the excellent service he received. “They could have said, ‘You busted it. You should have to pay,’” Nat recounted. But no, they did the best they could to make things right and his daughter called to say everything made it unscathed to her home.
Michael loves Exile on Main Street because “they have a $2 record bin in the back, and I’ve found some treasures there.” He also loves the ReSource Store.
Marichel said she loves going to shows at the Barre Opera House. The highlight of her trips? Popping into a restaurant for dinner before the show. Her favorite? The Asian Gourmet on Main Street.
We love the many food options in Barre, most recently the food at Rickie’s Indian Restaurant in South Barre. We learned about it from our former Barre reporter, Emily Kaminsky, this past fall. We couldn’t wait to try it. The same week we ran a story about Rickie’s, Nat, Marichel and I drove there for a feast. We love trying new kinds of food and we love to eat. At Rickie’s, customers sat together at the tables and joined in on one another’s conversations whether they knew each other or not. It was a hoot and the food was terrific. The service was great as well as the smiles of the proprietors.
But never mind the stores, lessons, recreation, entertainment and food, Barre has some darned impressive sculpture all over town. Marichel told me about a secret she learned from Barre students about the wall, which sits behind the majestic statue — the tribute to warriors named “Youth Triumphant.” Locals call it the “naked man” for obvious reasons. If one person stands at one side of the wall, and they whisper, the person all the way on the other end can hear. “It is an architectural dynamic. I feel like there is a lot of outdoor art in Barre: The Hope Cemetery; Studio Place Arts. The Barre Heritage Festival. They are proud of their heritage and what makes them Barre. They are really diverse,” said Marichel.
Editor’s note: Our talented Barre Beat reporter, Emily Kaminsky, has moved to Massachusetts with her family. We shall continue to try to cover topics in and around Barre.