Home News and Features A New Life for East Calais General Store

A New Life for East Calais General Store

Jess Quinn will be running the East Calais General Store once it’s rebuilt and ready to open. Photo by John Lazenby.
When the East Calais General Store closed in December 2019, joining the closing of country stores in Woodbury and North Montpelier, an 18.6 mile stretch of Route 14 from East Montpelier to Hardwick became a food desert. It was a sad sight.

But the citizens of East Calais are doing something about that. Driving by, you will see and hear the sound of construction on the historic building.

The East Calais Community Trust has been raising funds to renovate and restore the historic building that has been home to a store since the 1850s. They are committed to revive the store as a local source for food including fresh produce, with a kitchen offering a deli and grab-and-go meals.

Besides offering food and household staples, the general store will provide a gathering place and coffee bar featuring locally roasted coffee. It will also have a well-designed kitchen offering family-style meals along with access to WiFi and restrooms. The current construction plan also includes three apartments on the second floor.

One important step was finding a person with the same vision as the East Calais Community Trust to run the store. Jess Quinn, who lives a half mile down the road, was selected as that person. “I was drawn to it,” she remembers, driving by the store, and then, three months later, seeing a posting by the Community Trust in the Hardwick Gazette seeking a store operator. “In the back of my mind, I wondered ‘What if?’ The two-page letter of intent was easy to write,” she said. 

After several Zoom calls and an interview with the board, Quinn was voted unanimously to be the store operator and was offered the position. 

“I’ve managed several properties and ran a farm market in Maine, lived on site, and learned a lot from that experience. One of my goals is to provide great food and to create a long-lasting community space. As a kitchen manager and chef for the Twin Valley Senior Center, I hear stories about the store from the elders. It was a big heartbreak for the community.”

Quinn is excited about the construction work. “My favorite part is designing the store and kitchen to run efficiently. I am challenged by only being allowed to use electric appliances and not burning petroleum products,” she said. “I have experienced a lot of moments of serendipity since taking on this project with continued support from the community. I have been meeting with many people who want to help. I’m also excited that the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce is so active and committed to new business success.”

Quinn has been writing grant proposals and is launching a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for much needed equipment. This startup project is expensive because it is a blank space, starting from scratch.

The Trust’s goal is to support the success of the store and hopes Quinn can avoid the financial struggle that a large bank loan would impose. Market research is an essential part of the planning process. Quinn is budgeting her start-up expenses and seeking grants and financial support. She was amazed to learn that a creemee machine can cost $11,000 and has been researching the possibility of buying used equipment. “It’s all about taking little steps, checking things off my list,” she said.

During the pandemic, the shuttered store still served the community outside on the front porch — as a drop-off location for the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, as a source of free food in the “Everyone Eats” program, and hosting a barbeque truck last May that quickly sold out its 400 meals. Every Saturday during the summer the East Calais Community Trust hosted “Extra Row,” where the people in the community offered produce from their own gardens to be shared with anyone.

Many challenges have been overcome by the community members who have taken on this project. For example, the cost of materials and labor increased during the pandemic. They diligently searched out grant opportunities and secured architect R. Edwards & Company, who proposed the design. To see the designs, visit eastcalaiscommunitytrust.org

The renovations are expected to be completed in mid-June this year. “I’m already hearing from many people in the area who are seeking summer jobs,” Quinn says.

Linda Radtke met Jess Quinn when Quinn responded to the offer of a free refrigerator on Front Porch Forum and came to Radtke’s house to wrangle it into her truck. See Quinn’s GoFundMe page at gofund.me/e1925bde.