CALAIS — A general store in one of Vermont’s most idyllic villages has recently opened up for customers again now that the coronavirus infection rate has subsided to safer levels. The virus pandemic actually gave business a boost as locals stayed home, and, not wanting to venture to downtown Montpelier, they relied on the store to get food and supplies.
Situated between the historic Kents Corner Tavern and the summer playground of Curtis Pond, the Maple Corner Community Store became, in recent years, a local music attraction. Its Whammy Bar became known to rock out all year long with such musical acts as Liz Beatty and the Lab Rats, the Larkspurs, the Shanty Rats, Rust Bucket, and Groove Philter.
But all that stopped with the COVID-19 pandemic. The store shut down for in-person shoppers on March 5, but with curbside pick-up, business actually picked up, said store manager Anne Marie Shea.
“We actually got busier for a while,” Shea said. “We quadrupled our produce section. Our bottom line hasn’t changed a lot.” Shea said they were lucky to not have to lay off any employees, but noted some employees stopped working because of fears of catching the novel coronavirus. But since the infection rate has gone down, business has gone down. “People are less scared. They are going to Montpelier,” Shea said. “It’s time to reopen.”
And with reopening, new rules are in place for in-person shopping. Masks are required; no entry if you have symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, chills, cough, loss of taste and smell); no entry if you have been outside of Vermont for any reason in the past 14 days; no more than three customers in the store and one in the post office at any given time; one-way path through the store with arrows on the floor; and stand six feet apart from people, according to maplecornercommunitystore.org. Also, if you order a sandwich, wait outside while they make it.
The enormous and unexpected changes brought on by Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home” order hit the store just a few months after former owners Artie and Nancy Toulis sold it to a community cooperative in December 2019. Shea was part of a group who helped organize the community cooperative that bought the store by purchasing individual $500 shares. “It is a corporation. It is owned by 200 people,” Shea said, adding that it took about six months to scrape the money together. They bought it December 16, and opened by December 19.
But then came the lockdown, which dealt an unexpectedly positive blow. It brought in more local business than ever. So now, thanks to investment by a group of determined citizens, it looks like the community store will stay open through good times and bad.