NEW MARLBOROUGH – They have grown too big for their small farm stand, so farmers Peter Chapin and his mother, Jan Johnson, have modernized. They bought the historic Mill River general store.
Yes, this general store. The one built and opened in 1840. The one that Dave Herrick ran for about 25 years until 2017 when he rented it to Jessica Holcomb. The one Holcomb returned to Herrick in early 2020 due to financial difficulties. The one that until January 2020 housed the village post office until the post office merged with that in Southfield several miles away.
This general store: quintessential New England in appearance, postcard perfect, and in modern times a business difficult to run.
Located in a small village across from the library and on the way to high school, the Mill River General Store, like most general stores in rural communities like this, bears an inordinate responsibility as an arbiter of the identity of the city.
If Chapin feels the pressure, he doesn’t show it.
Under his leadership, the general store will increasingly reaffirm Mill River’s connection to the land, both locally and regionally, and the vegetables, meats, dairy products and other products produced there.
He and his mother bought the building and store in Herrick in May for $ 257,850. Chapin said the U.S. Postal Service had been in contact with him about the post office reopening.
“I was told that we initially left the facility due to problems with the electrical system,” regional postal service representative Stephen Doherty told The Eagle this week in an email. âImprovements have been recently made by the owner, and the building is awaiting an inspection to allow us to resume our activities there. “
Chapin said his plan was to integrate his farm store with the general store.
âWe not only want to give this place back to its former glory, but we also want to add new glory,â he said. “We want to improve the food, give the post office back to people, and we really want it to be a place for the community, in addition to the visitors that we have here.”
The store is open seven days a week. In its current form, it’s a patchwork of what’s to come, Chapin said.
Chapin, 29, runs Mill River Farm, a five-minute walk away, and Equinox Farm in Sheffield.
At Equinox, he grows mesclun, arugula and spinach on approximately 6 acres that he leases from former Equinox owner Ted Dobson, who is now focusing on cannabis on part of this property. The 32-acre Mill River farm is owned by Johnson, founder of Berkshire wildflower honey, which produces and sells raw honey, beeswax skin care products, and beeswax candles.
Chapin, who grew up in New York City and moved to the Berkshires about eight years ago, oversees a thriving operation at Mill River Farm that includes 1,300 hens, 558 broiler per month during the summer, 120 pigs per year, greenhouses and sheltered rows. vegetable beds all year round.
He and his mother originally sold their products wholesale. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic struck and many restaurants and stores closed or downsized, Chapin and Johnson devoted most of their efforts to selling their produce in their on-farm store – a 12-foot shed on 8 feet – at Mill River Farm the Brewer’s Hill Road.
There was a refrigerator and shelves. Buyers bought products on the honor system. Due to the size of the farm store, only one customer could enter at a time. There was no room for someone to take care of it.
âThe Mill River General Store just felt like basically perfect,â Chapin said. âIt’s been on the market for a while and I know everyone in Mill River really wants something here. “
In recent months, the building’s wiring has been upgraded. Chapin says he’ll have a working deli counter in about a month, followed by a full kitchen. The store will serve breakfast and lunch sandwiches, roast chickens and other take-out, he said.
Currently, the store sells beer, wine and liquor and typical general store merchandise like coffee, newspapers, batteries, snacks, cigarettes, and kitchen items. But, it also offers Chapin’s own products, meats and eggs.
Other local products include Berkshire Mountain Bakery bread, products from Indian Line Farm, apples and stone fruits from various local orchards, Farm Country soup from New Marlborough, beef from The Farm New Marlborough, dairy products from High Lawn Farm to Lee and SoCo Ice Cream. Creamery in Great Barrington.
Chapin recognizes that running a general store in 2021 is a difficult proposition for most people. Unlike in the old days, locals these days are more likely to look for savings in county malls, rather than shopping at a rural outpost like this.
But, he says it has some advantages. The first is that it can provide much of the food sold there, eliminating the middleman. The second is that the pandemic has shifted the way many people shop, at least to some extent, towards supporting local produce.
âThere seems to be a lot of support, not just in this area, but everywhere, in terms of people learning how to speak directly to farmers,â he said. âSo we really hope to develop that, to bring all the good local farm produce to a place where people can buy it, to provide the best quality products, the best quality meats and things like that, in addition to some of the modern conveniences.
At the same time, he said, the store can fulfill its traditional role as a meeting place for neighbors and vacationers. The store has three indoor tables.
âWe don’t want to be like a design place that is only affordable for some people,â he said. “It is a place where everyone can come.”
He said he plans to close the store shortly after the start of the new year, in order to repaint the walls and revamp the layout.
âIt needs a little bit of attention for sure,â Chapin said. “We’ll keep the old school vibe a bit, but we want everything to be just a little bit upscale.”