Craftsbury General Store
Almost from the moment the Craftsbury General Store changed hands in 2012, it became the local watering hole, not just a place to pick up a bag of potato (or kale) chips, but the best place in town to gather, gossip and, when the weather is reasonable, have breakfast or lunch perched on one of the porch’s rocking chairs. If you stay there long enough, you will see everyone you know.
Credit Emily Maclure, a 35-year-old Northeast Kingdom native who left her career in Los Angeles to come home and create a welcome meeting place with an assortment of food and drink that goes way beyond the usual mix of an old New England general store. The Slim Jims are still there but now they are next to those kale chips. Maclure’s modern version has cut down significantly on the need for shopping trips to the larger towns of Hardwick and Morrisville.
Vermont has always tugged at Maclure’s heartstrings. Drawn back to its four seasons weather, she was particularly attracted to Craftsbury because of the superb cross-country skiing available through the famed Craftsbury Outdoor Center, and because she loves the yoga studio.
“This place nourishes me,” she says. “I have friends of all ages; there’s way more social life in Craftsbury than in California. It feels more genuine. You aren’t just saying hi to people because you have to.”
Maclure had always romanticized finding the perfect little business that would make the move possible. And then the general store came up for sale. It suits her experience and her personality to a T. Her easy, cheerful way with people is infectious.
“We’re really silly here,” she says, “particularly around three o’clock when I need a second wind. We put on Michael Jackson and have a song and dance.”
Anyone who happens by can join in. And they do.
Maclure’s idea of a modern country store revolved around bringing the best parts of the city to the rural landscape without destroying the country character. “I didn’t want it to be just another store with another chicken salad. I wanted to raise the bar, push the envelope and introduce things you find in a city market.”
So the store, which dates back to shortly before the Civil War, no longer sells yard goods and saws. Maclure has replaced them with lots of food: not just the standard pound of butter, sack of flour and grilled hot dogs but quinoa salad, lasagna and quiche, brownies and lemon squares and local beer to fill your growler. It also offers one of the finest pizzas in Vermont—Pesto Margarita—on a par with Parker Pie’s prize-winning Northeast Kingdom variation from West Glover. The combination appeals not only to the local residents but also the students at Sterling College, just up the hill in Craftsbury Common, and guests at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, in addition to the hikers and bikers who take the back roads.
Maclure, who is constantly upgrading the level and amount of prepared foods, introduced Globe Trotting Wednesday dinners two years ago, and they became an instantaneous hit.
The market’s two cooks, Jan Koshak and Kit Basom, share responsibilities and oversee the Wednesday dinners. In the summer they sell as many as 120 of them in a night at $10.99 a pop. Their fame has spread to nearby towns, drawing customers from Greensboro, Wolcott and Hardwick—all down the road a piece.
Every day there is a selection of organic vegetables in season from Pete’s Greens, the farm next door. Plus Jasper Hill, Bonnie View and Sweet Rowen cheeses, Patchwork bread, and milk from a local dairy. And beef and chicken.
“Somewhere close to 50% of the stuff in the store is local all the time,” Maclure says. “But we still have Coke and Pepsi and Campbell’s chicken soup.”
Last summer Maclure made a drastic change, adding a greatly expanded and eye-catching wine section: Sales increased over 30%.
Linda Ramsdell, a lifelong Craftsbury Common resident who has watched the store change hands several times, says the difference between Maclure’s version and others is that “there’s always something going on there to surprise you, always something new. Last summer it was gelato; this winter it was cupcakes. And everyone who works there is lively and happy and smiling.”
Always willing to make something for a customer’s party, the store will ramp up its catering department this summer and has several large weddings on the books.
“After three years doing one thing, I would normally have been bored,” MacClare confesses. “But not this time. I’m still managing to have a lot of fun.”
Does she miss the California sunshine? “No,” she says, “but I miss the Korean spa where I could go for a 20-minute sauna and maybe the pho (Vietnamese soup) around the corner.”
The Craftsbury General Store is Marian Burros’ go-to place for gazpacho quiche, VT cheeses, and wine for last-minute guests when she hasn’t had time to cook, with a side of gossip.