The life and death of the Thetford Center Village Store

Without a likely lender, the list of potential buyers seems small.

The life and death of the Thetford Center Village Store
From Images of America – Thetford by Susanna French

The early history of the Thetford Center Village Store is somewhat mysterious. It is believed to have started its life as a corn crib belonging to one C.F. Porter, whose ancestor, Hezekiah Porter,  owned most of Thetford Center in his heyday as real estate speculator, mill and brickyard owner, and tavern keeper. The corn crib was originally located on Tucker Hill Rd by the Sayre covered bridge. It was moved to its present location on Route 113 and expanded and refurbished as a store around 1895. It now contributes to the Thetford Center Historic District.

In recent times the Village Store was purchased by Mike Pomeroy in 2004, along with Baker’s in Post Mills and B&B Cash Market in West Fairlee. Mike and Mary Dan Pomeroy ran the stores until Mike, a beloved community volunteer and selectboard member, passed away in January 2020.

2016, Community bustle inside the Thetford Center Village Store. Photo credit: Li Shen

Mary Dan worked heroically to manage both stores single-handedly and keep them open. However, weeks after Mike’s death, the coronavirus pandemic began, forcing the closure of the Village Store due to a lack of staff.

The present owners, Cameron and Kathleen Gregory, are Mike’s nephew and niece. They purchased both the Village Store and Baker’s Store.

Cameron reopened both stores in fall of 2020 shortly after acquiring them, in the midst of the pandemic. At the time there was a lively debate about masks, including residents lobbying the Selectboard for a mask mandate in public businesses. This would have included the Village Store. Cameron argued that he would lose a segment of customers if he required them to wear masks. In the end, while masks were strongly recommended, a mandate was never instituted because enforcement in Thetford would have been too problematic. However many residents changed their shopping habits, either buying online or shopping at places in the Upper Valley that did require and enforce mask wearing.

The Village Store re-closed in the spring of 2022 after operating under new ownership for roughly a year and a half. By fall of 2022, Baker’s also closed, citing issues with the gasoline supplier. Both stores were listed for sale, the Village Store for $159,000, significantly more than it was acquired for 3 years earlier. Since being listed, Baker’s has come under new ownership and the store reopened, complete with brand new gas pumps. Meanwhile, the gas pumps and underground tanks at the Village Store were permanently removed by Global Partners, the gas company. According to Cameron, Global wanted 250,000 gallons of gas sales per year. The 48,000 gallons sold at the Village Store did not interest them. Thus they neglected to maintain the existing, antiquated gas pumps, which slowly failed. Around the same time, the store also lost its status as a Big Game Reporting Station. Both these resources brought customers to the store and are now gone.

2016, Big Game weighing station outside the Thetford Center Village Store. In the background stands the Thetford Center Community Association building. Photo credit: Li Shen

There have been numerous efforts to purchase the Village Store, but all of them so far have come up short. A bank might be reluctant to make a loan since the store has lost its gas pumps and tanks. It is also unclear that the store would be financially robust as a stand-alone operation in its present state.

Another concern is that the Post Office, which is housed in the rear of the building, may permanently close in the foreseeable future. The Post Office suspended operations during the removal of the gas tanks. In a letter to residents, USPS wrote, “This suspension of the facility is not tantamount to a discontinuance action, but rather is intended to give the Postal Service management the ability to evaluate potential solutions. After review of potential solutions, should discontinuance of the facility be pursued, we will notify customers by posting information about the closing pursuant to Postal Service Handbook PO -101.” The Post Office is now reopened, but the possibility of its closure lingers. This would remove a source of income for the store’s owner and make any potential lender nervous.

Removal of the first of two fuel tanks at the Thetford Village Store. Photo credit: Li Shen

The removal of the tanks leaves the lingering question of environmental contamination, cost, and liability. While the tanks were owned by the fuel supplier, and the liability reportedly falls to them, it is still a complication for any new owner or lender. Environmental remediation can absorb a lot of time and money.

The community in Thetford Center would like to see the store re-open. It provided a hub for local life in the village center. People loved to linger over styrofoam cups of coffee to shoot the proverbial breeze. Many ideas have been put forth for another store of some sort or a cafe. But, without gas, a store no longer seems viable. A cafe would be welcome; however inspections have revealed that the current septic system is too small for any change of use. It can only provide for four employees, two at the Post Office and two at the store. And at a quarter acre in size,  the lot is too small to accommodate any additional septic without the use of abutting land (which says nothing of nearby wellhead protection areas). Most of the lot is occupied by structures. There is also speculation that the roof actively leaks and there is certainly no foundation — the wood structure is sitting directly on the ground and its antique timbers have acquired substantial rot over the years. Current building code would also likely require myriad electrical and fire code upgrades simply to reopen the store as it once was.

Even before the pandemic took its toll on the Village Store, it does not appear that the store was the breadwinner of the Pomeroy’s holdings. That title likely fell to Baker’s. Could a financially viable store be reopened today, without the companion operation of Baker’s and without gas pumps and a public restroom? Not at least without substantial investment in the roof, foundation, wiring, and fire suppression systems of this historic building.

And without a likely lender, the list of potential buyers seems small.

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