How one Vermont hamlet saved the heart of its community with a new General Store—and got the world’s best pancakes in the bargain.
By Amy Traverso
Apr 17 2017
Childhood sweethearts who first came to Vermont for college, Jillian Bradley and Joe Minerva bring
a combined two decades’ worth of grocery experience to running the Barnard General Store.
This is the story of a small Vermont town that lost its general store—its primary marketplace and social heartbeat for 180 years—and how determined citizens came together to bring it back. Lest you find yourself immune to Capra-esque tales of underdog pluck, it’s also the story of a crumb coffee cake that would put any New York deli to shame. And the pancakes! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Back in 2012, after nearly two centuries of operation, the Barnard General Store did the unthinkable and closed down. The small town north of Woodstock, population 947, was left reeling. Longtime operators Carolyn DiCicco and Kim Furlong had been hit hard by an anemic post-Irene foliage season followed by what came to be known as “the winter that wasn’t.” They had poured their lives into the venture, but in the end the numbers just didn’t work. And so went Barnard’s only local grocer, its community hub and ice cream counter, a fueling stop for snowmobilers on the Corridor 12A trail, and a core piece of its identity.
Numbers were crunched, and a remedy was proposed: If a newly formed nonprofit, the Barnard Community Trust (BCT), in partnership with the Preservation Trust of Vermont, could raise half a million dollars, the store’s landlord would be willing to sell the building at a loss. People donated what they could, some larger donors pulled through, and within a year the BCT owned the building, ready to lease it out to new operators.
Enter Joe Minerva and Jillian Bradley, fresh-faced 20-somethings already schooled in the small-town grocery business from stints at the local market in Richmond, near Burlington. Residents were thrilled to have their store back. And then Bradley revealed her secret superpower: In addition to the fact that she and Minerva were willing to work 80-hour weeks, she’s a legitimately gifted cook. In her hands, staples like BLTs and home fries sing with zingy extras like sriracha mayo and sharp cheddar. The crumb coffee cake (her grandmother’s recipe) is as tender as cotton candy, with a thick streusel topping perfumed with cinnamon and—what’s that flavor?—love. On weekends there are buttermilk pancakes, served plain or with chocolate chips or blueberries or pumpkin-chai spice. Pancakes may not be a complicated endeavor, but Bradley has mastered the perfect ratio of leavening, buttermilk, and butter, so they reach ideal richness and height without a hint of bitterness.
Now the store is chugging along, riding the rhythms of slow and busy seasons. Bradley and Minerva have trained a solid staff, which allows them to take the day off now and then. Summer people vacationing on Silver Lake, just across the street, boost the ice-cream-and-grocery business. On hot days, children with hair still damp from swimming line up at the window next to the soda fountain for a scoop of cookies-and-cream. Tourists pop in for a bottle of maple syrup with a side of rural authenticity; locals get quinoa, canned corned beef hash, and prepared meals of elevated comfort fare (as in apple-stuffed pork chops or coconut-pecan twice-baked sweet potatoes).
Bradley and Minerva say they’ll measure their progress in terms of decades. “Our number one goal wasn’t to make as much money as possible,” Minerva says, and gestures to the entrance of their store. “It was to make sure that door never
Barnard General Store. 6134 Rte. 12, Barnard, VT. 802-234-9688; Facebook