Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Middlebrook General Store reopens its doors

Middlebrook General Store

After sitting empty for almost two years, the historic Middlebrook General Store has once again opened its doors, thanks to a tiny Shenandoah Valley village coming together to breathe new life into this heart of the community.

The weathered white building, which sits facing Rt. 252 in this rural Virginia farming community with acres of land surrounded by the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains, was renovated and opened by its former owners who spent more than $100,000 updating the interior in addition to adding a patio overlooking a meandering stream. After running it for several years, they closed the store in August 2009 when they purchased a Bed and Breakfast in Yorktown, leaving the store vacant in the months that followed.

The owners put the Middlebrook General Store up for sale. The surrounding community worked together to buy it in hopes of once again walking its worn wooden floors, enjoying a crackling fire while sitting around the potbelly stove on a cold winter day, and picking up groceries without having to drive the thirty-mile round trip to Staunton.

Thanks to a newcomer in town who helped set up the legal end of it, and thanks to the help of many investors, the store has recently reopened as the Middlebrook General Store Community Co-op whose members have a financial stake in its success. Shares were sold for $25 each with some folks purchasing a single share while others have made higher investments. Any profits generated is to be distributed back to the share owners, and expectations are that Middlebrook could be a model for other rural communities.

After several organizational meetings that attracted as many as 100 interested citizens squeezed into the community center to hear more about the plan, the co-op collected pledges and revenue that was set aside in escrow as the push continued to raise enough to approach the store owners with a credible purchase offer toward their $175,000 asking price. The co-op also needed enough capital to buy inventory to stock the shelves and pay part-time workers.

The community was successful in their quest, eventually buying and opening the store to once again provide a place for those share holders to stop there, shop there, help determine items to be sold, and volunteer to help. The store will once again buzz with activity, and music may once again float out the open doors as the popular Friday night music gatherings resume.

A local fiddler who not only worked at the store in the past but participated in its Friday night hoedowns, 26-year-old Hannah Short was excited about the store reopening to again serve the community.

Self-employed with several small businesses as well as working part-time with Joel Salatin at his nearby environmentally friendly Polyface Farm, Hannah invested in the co-op and helped spread the word on Facebook. She was enthusiastic as she talked about the local goods that would be offered at the store as well as grocery staples needed in most households.

"This is exactly what is needed in the community," she shared, adding that other ideas have sprouted such as a Saturday farmers market to highlight the productivity of local farms and perhaps a cafe-type addition.

Word about the co-op has been mostly by word-of-mouth supplemented by a bulk mailing to the community. Hannah has added social media, posting information on Facebook and expanding the idea beyond Middlebrook and Augusta County.

With the store located in the center of the village, its reopening will once again provide a place for locals and visitors to catch up on the news and grab a snack or perhaps munch on a hot dog or BBQ while waiting for car repairs at Rosen's Garage or visiting the library. Its cozy interior offers an oasis for patients waiting for lab results from Dr. Rob Marsh's medical clinic across the road.

The Middlebrook General Store co-op plan is on the internet for those who are curious about how to go about such an idea or for anyone interested in investing in a rural general store, keeping alive a long-time tradition and reviving the heart of Middlebrook, Virginia.

If you find yourself in southern Augusta County, stop by and visit for a while.

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