19th century general store makes a comeback
When it closed earlier this year, there was much mourning over The Brick Store, the New Hampshire landmark that claims to be one of the oldest continuously operating general stores in the country.
No more fudge, penny candy or smoked meats, and no more ambiance of a time gone by.
Now, a few months after they bought the store at auction, Becky and Scott Mitchell are gearing up for its reopening. They've had a few setbacks this fall, but vow to open soon.
"To us it was just part of the lineage up here," Becky Mitchell said. "We didn't realize how people would stop all summer long, the tour buses, would come from just all over."
The store in the northern town of Bath, a few miles from the Vermont border, is thought to have been built in the early 1800s and rebuilt after a fire in 1824. It's served as a post office, gathering place and presidential campaign stop. The late singer Patti Page, who lived part of the year in Bath, sold bottles of maple syrup at the store that when you uncapped the bottle, one of her songs played.
In 1985, the store was named to the National Register of Historic Places, but early this year, its longtime owners said on Facebook, "We have nothing left to give ... financially, emotionally, or physically."
The Mitchells felt they had to save it when it went up for auction in July. Scott Mitchell, who grew up just two towns away and still has a woolen hat he bought there over 30 years ago, found out about the auction the day before it happened.
"We scurried together to get the check from the bank," Becky Mitchell said. "My husband did not want to see it go at auction to somebody who was going to make condos or try to do something else with it. He really wanted to see it stay The Brick Store."
They bought it for $235,000.
The application to include The Brick Store in the National Register of Historic Places said the Federal-style building with Greek revival portico has features such as a "hoop" variety counter with angled upright sides to allow hoop-skirted women better access to the merchandise. The back outside walls show painted advertisements for "Lady Poor's Ointment" and "Morrison's English Liniment."
"It's those classic, longtime businesses that are the real soul to the business economy in a little town like Bath," said Beno Lamontagne, spokesman for the state's Division of Resources and Economic Development. "To see it come back to life again is so wonderful, so inspiring."
Since July, the Mitchells have cleaned up the old cash registers and put up photos of the store and Bath through the years. They changed the lighting and installed shelves to "make it look more like the time period it was from," Becky Mitchell said.
There's no firm opening date but the Mitchells hope it will be in the near future after advertising it would open in October, then November. But even news of the opening on the store's Facebook page has sparked plenty of excitement from the thousands of loyal fans, who reacted with smiley faces and thumbs up emojis. Many recalled how they had been saddened by the closing and were already planning trips next year to include The Brick Store.
Others were already asking whether the store would stock its famous smoked cheese and other smokehouse goodies. And yes, the famous smoked pepperoni is on everyone's short list.
"That's' what everyone asks for," Becky Mitchell said.
Rep. Sue Ford, whose legislative district includes Bath, said the store was a big part of Bath's identity and was a huge tourist draw, especially during the fall foliage season.
"I think it's wonderful that it's reopening. The store was absolutely the place to be in Bath." Ford said. "It was huge loss when it closed. People are thrilled. They are looking forward to supporting the new owners."