by Nat Frothingham
ADAMANT — I was manager of the Adamant Cooperative store for not quite two years — from sometime in March 1990 until the end of February 1992.
In the very earliest days of my time as manager, someone drew my attention to a story written as a special feature by Sally Johnson and published in the New York Times on Feb. 7, 1990.
Johnson wrote about the founding of the Adamant Co-op during the Great Depression and how the co-op had thrived through the 1940s and 1950s. But Adamant, like so many other rural communities, lost many of its farms in the 1960s and 1970s. Increasingly, people who lived in Adamant worked someplace else.
Johnson wrote about plans to close the store and plans to keep it open. “Short of a miracle,” Johnson wrote in the Feb. 7 piece, “the Adamant Co-op is likely to go out of business this spring. But a miracle had already happened. After the nine-member board voted in December to close the store on Jan. 31, 15 neighbors promised to donate a total of $450 a month through April to keep the store running.” And Johnson went on to say, “The board will vote again on April 27.”
I ought to remember that April 27 meeting because by then I was manager. But I don’t remember that meeting. And the store did not close. Instead, as the founders of the co-op had done, Adamant community members pulled together. They wrote and won a grant from the Division of Historic Preservation to put a new roof on the co-op building. And board President Cindy Cook and others met with U.S. Postal Service officials and brought a “contract post office” into the store.
Chief among my memories of working at the store from 1990 to 1992 was the sort of local friendship and support that was offered to me. There was a local woman who brought me a cooked lunch from her home. And there was Ina Slayton, who lived up the road. I would phone her and she would bring down a pail of hot water so I could mop the floor. (There was no hot water at the store at the time.)
I remember one day when a fellow came out from the Agriculture Department’s “Weights and Measures” and tested our scales to see if they were giving accurate weight. He surprised me by saying that the Adamant store was “number one.” “Number one?” I asked. “What do you mean by number one?” He said that the Adamant store was the oldest continuously running grocery store in Vermont. That got my attention.
There were a number of silly things that happened at the store too. There once was a young man who came into the store and said he wanted to be a volunteer. I was impressed. I took down his contact information. Then a few days later he came back and told me he was getting married. He didn’t have any cash on him but could he take away some beer for the reception and pay me back later. I agreed. And put my own money into the cash drawer to cover the expense. He never came back. I was angry at myself for being duped. I phoned and phoned the number he had given me. Then one day a woman phoned me. She said it was her son who took the beer out of the store on credit and said, “Look, stop phoning us. If you continue to phone us I will report you to the State Department of Liquor Control and you will lose your license to sell beer.”
I’ll end with this story. Highly improbable, but I swear it happened. One day I ran out of pennies. You can’t do business at a little country store without giving back exact change. What was I going to do? Lock up the store and drive to Montpelier and get some bills changed for pennies? While I was pondering my dilemma, I saw what can only be called a jalopy parking in front of the store. A young fellow got out of the car. He was smiling. He wanted to buy some beer. That was OK. And then he disclosed that he could only pay for it in pennies. It was those pennies that kept us going that day.
I like the way the little hamlets of rural Vermont have hung on to community life. The Adamant Co-op store had a great beginning during the Depression. During my time there the store was not remarkable for what it sold — milk, eggs, bread, beer, frozen meat, soda, newspapers — the store was remarkable in that it brought the community together. And although I’m aware that the store now has running water and fresh lunches and Friday night summer dinners and fresh baked goods — and an annual Black Fly Festival — it’s still doing what it has been doing all along — bringing people together. All this is worth honoring and saluting at its 80th anniversary.