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News from everywhere *but* Central New Hampshire.

Anonymous Patron Steps In To Save Francestown Village Store

Courtesy of Francestown Village Store

Earlier this summer, news broke that the Francestown Village Store, a 203-year old institution in that small Monadnock town, would be closing. The story made headlines in New Hampshire, but also caught the eye of the Wall Street Journal.

It turns out all that publicity may help save the store.

Sarah Hibbard Pyle, editor of the Francestown News, as well as a member of the Historical Society, joined NHPR’s All Things Considered host Peter Biello for an update.

(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

After that story appeared in the Journal, I gather the Town offices received an interesting phone call.

They sure did. Yeah, Jamie Pike, our Town Administrator, literally picked up the phone one day and there was a gentleman who asked the name of the bank that holds the mortgage on the Village Store. Jamie wasn't sure why the gentleman was calling and gave him the name and contact information and then the next thing he heard was the guy calling back saying, ‘My plan is buy the property from the bank pay the back taxes and donate it to either the town or the Historical Society.’ His preference, as it turned out, was the Historical Society, and as it turned out it worked best for us, too.

And does this gentleman, who wishes to remain anonymous, have any ties to the town?

None at all. He just, I think, was enchanted by the story and by the sense he had of how much the store means to Francestown.

Does the Historical Society hope to run the store as a nonprofit?

We've just begun to explore what we can do. It can't be run as a nonprofit and be a store because the store is a profit making thing. Can we do it as a co-operative? Absolutely. Could it be a privately held corporation?  Absolutely. There's all sorts of different business models that we're looking at. And you know there are a number of stores in New Hampshire and Vermont that have gone through this kind of crisis that we're looking to model ourselves after, or at least to learn from, so that we can determine what's best for Francestown.

Francestown has about 1,500 residents. Is there enough population there to sustain the store?

Well, it has been sustained for many years. But we are not alone in this. Lots of villages are finding that keeping village stores open is a challenge. The question is, what can we do to be sustainable? And I think over the next couple of months we're going to hope to answer that.

So what would it mean for the town to get the store back up and running?

Is the center of our community. It is our heart, it is where we go to meet each other. It's what a village store is to all of our small communities in New Hampshire.  In just the month it hasn’t been there, I don't think we realized how much it mattered to the heart of Francestown to have that store. And it feels naked now, it feels like the body doesn't have a heart anymore. I don't know how better to put it. It is important to our community. The center for our community and it's important that we bring it back. 

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
Peter Biello is the host of All Things Considered and Writers on a New England Stage at New Hampshire Public Radio. He has served as a producer/announcer/host of Weekend Edition Saturday at Vermont Public Radio and as a reporter/host of Morning Edition at WHQR in Wilmington, North Carolina.
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