A Country Store: J.J. Hapgood Through the Seasons
There had been a country store in Peru since 1806, when one J. J. Hapgood built a small house in the heart of the village and opened the Peru General Store on the first floor to serve his neighbors’ needs. It had always been the anchor in this small mountain town, and when it closed in 2009 it left a big hole in the community.
Juliette and Tim Britton had no intention of running a country store when they made the decision to move to Vermont to raise their three young children. Juliette had grown up in Peru, the daughter of Edna Meyer, who was famous for her beautiful gardens. The lifeless shell of the general store that had once been her childhood haunt was a sad reminder that the village she and her husband loved was missing something. So in 2013 they rebuilt Mr. Hapgood’s store from the ground up, giving it a 21st-century twist.
They brought the entire community into the project, inviting ideas and opinions and communicating through social media, both the new and the old-fashioned kind. In the three years the store has been open, Juliette says it has more than fulfilled their dream. Hap- good’s has become the physical and emotional hub of the community. Like the old-fashioned central switchboard, they often get calls from neighbors asking for information on what’s happening and updates on where people are!
Central to the interior is a large custom-built brick and soapstone wood-fired oven, handcrafted by expert Pawlet mason Peter Moore, complete with a local marble hearth. In addition to using the oven for a wide variety of pizzas, it also serves as a year-round inspiration for other dishes such as roasted vegetables and fish.
As an experienced cook herself, Juliette wanted to develop the menu around local, fresh food as much as possible. “We are passionate about providing local foods and supporting local farms,” says Juliette, “while at the same time providing a menu that is accessible and ap- proachable.” The sandwiches are made with home-baked bread, there are always interesting craft beers as well as fine wines available, and the sweets are scrumptious.
Each season brings its distinct character to the order of their days and how they support the local lifestyle. When the weather turns cool and the brilliant colors of fall spill over the mountains, locals are joined by strangers passing through who find a welcoming place to restore their strength before setting out for hikes and bicycle rides. Peru is known for its end-of-September fair, which takes place along its Main Street. Hapgood’s fills its role as a place to grab a good lunch or drinks for an afternoon of browsing the arts and crafts stands that line the road. Hot cider and organic teas and coffees are ready to be paired with late-harvest homemade pies and scones.
During the fall hunting season you can pick up a specially designed blaze orange hat as well as a hunting license at Hapgood’s. It’s also a certified big game reporting station where hunters can report their harvest. In late fall, when the holiday season begins in earnest, Juliette and her crew are ready to provide holiday dishes to take home. For Thanksgiving you can order your turkey or have them prepare the whole dinner for you to take home. Christmas pies and last-minute gifts are on hand, and on New Year’s Eve they have a full house for an exuberant dinner.
The arrival of snow means the return of winter locals. Every weekend and during the holidays, families return to Hapgood’s with a real feeling of coming home, Juliette says. In addition to warm, nourish- ing food, the store also stocks a wide range of necessities: everything from socks and gloves to organic meats and coffees to kitchen basics like can openers. On the walls are the always-rotating art exhibits with works by local artists for sale.
Vermont has a cherished fifth season, when it’s not bone-chilling cold but not quite what you would call warm. There is a lot of mud, and it can last into May. St. Patrick’s Day brings out the revelers for a traditional Irish feast of corned beef and cabbage and homemade Irish soda bread and John Specker playing traditional Irish fiddle music.
Spring in Vermont is heralded by the opening of Hapgood Pond and the beloved Fishing Derby. It also means the hatches are rising and Hapgood’s can supply state fishing licenses as well as bamboo fishing rods, bait and hearty picnic lunches. With the arrival of warm- er weather, the kitchen is filled with locally foraged fiddleheads, ramps and mushrooms, which are used in a variety of menu items as well as for popular seasonal pizzas. Gardeners can pick up organic seeds along with their morning coffee.
Summer brings a whole new wave of residents and visitors who come to enjoy the outdoors. The large patio at Hapgood’s provides an ideal space to enjoy a lazy summer lunch. The annual Vintage Car Cruise In provides a good excuse for a full-blown barbecue supper cooked outdoors on open grills with live music. The village is filled with the shouts and laughter of children who love to visit Hapgood’s where penny candy awaits their consideration. For Juliette this is a time that brings back so many memories of a childhood spent in the freedom and security of a small town.
This summer, Hapgood’s has launched an expanded dinner service with the collaboration of Lauren Gustus, who was lured away from the Brooklyn food scene. Inspired by the lively synergy of food sense and experience that Lauren and Juliette bring together, the new menu features the same high quality and farm-to-table focus Hapgood’s has become known for with some tantalizing additions. “During the three years we have been open, we have listened carefully to what our customers are looking for,” says Juliette. “Having a full dinner service will really fill a need in our community and give us a chance to showcase our skills and favorite local foods.”
Every Sunday, through all the seasons, and in all weather, young and old and in-between tumble out of the Peru United Church across the road and into the warm welcome of coffee, biscuits and egg sand- wiches along with the camaraderie the resurrection of this small Ver- mont country store so successfully provides.
Frederica Templeton looks forward to the change of each season and matching the garden with the kitchen.