When I glance at the calendar, I can hardly believe it’s been a year. I don’t think anyone here—not me, Tim or any or our dedicated staff—knew quite what to expect when we opened for business last, snowy December. What has become clear—in between hundreds of loaves of homemade bread, pizzas tossed and glasses of beer and wine served—is that J.J. Hapgood is helping to reinvigorate the community that has always been present in Peru.
Tim and I knew from the start that a focus on fostering community would drive J.J. Hapgood and provide the foundation for all of the relationships that we built with producers, farmers, customers, musicians and local organizations in our first year. We feel fortunate that many of the producers who supply our café and store are also our friends. The conversations that we have with these folks every day as they make deliveries or grab a cup of coffee reinforce our mission to support local farmers and producers. Of course, we’ve learned that our way is not the easiest or most efficient way to run a business. Still, taking shortcuts to save a little time or money is not for us because they do not directly support our mission.
I see another example of the community spirit every time a group reserves our dining room or event space for a meeting. These events remind me of Vermont’s annual Town Meeting Day, but on a smaller, more intimate scale. In the past year, the Bennington and Rutland Supervisory Union, Flood Brook School, the Mountain School at Winhall, Burr and Burton Mountain Campus, Neighborhood Connections, The Collaborative and the Mountain Valley Medical Clinic have all held meetings at J.J. Hapgood. We’ve been so happy to host these important, local organizations and to feed them, too.
Speaking of the food, we believe that the food here is a real draw for the community, in addition to being a source of pride for me and Tim. We are mindful of the types of food that we serve and make a point of offering a variety of foods to appeal to our eclectic customer base. This is why we serve poached eggs with mung beans and kimchi for breakfast alongside freshly made buttermilk and chive biscuits for our egg sandwiches, and scones. It’s why we take so much care in making what we can by hand.. We are proud that some folks drive from as far away as Saratoga, NY to grab a breakfast sandwich and cup of organic coffee. Others walk in from down the street for a homemade muffin or donut and juice on their way to work. And then there are folks who come in during lunch or dinner to enjoy one of our delicious wood-fired pizzas, lingering to enjoy the company of others.
Anytime I look around the store and café, I feel proud of what we have built. This is partly why I host so many community events at the store, including our Calypso-themed Labor Day barbecue to benefit Mountain Valley Medical Clinic and the Welcome Home parade for hometown-Olympian Sophie Caldwell. I want to share what makes J.J. Hapgood—and Peru—so great. I think the message is spreading. I can see that people are excited when they arrive for an event. I can only imagine what it would have felt like years ago when people in town gathered for a community barn dance or the Parsonage Picnic on Old Home Day back in Peru’s early days. Often, the events feel like a family gathering or reunion where I can see relationships being rekindled or growing.
Reviving this beloved grocery, eatery and community gathering space has been a labor of love. My husband and I are here almost every day, and you’ve probably seen our kids. We are so thankful to every person who has played a part in our first year, which we will celebrate with events and special mementos over the next few months. Look for details soon. And thank you from the bottom of our hearts for helping us to make J.J. Hapgood a vital part of this community.