by Joshua Jerome
On Thursday May 26, 2011, Barre was consumed by a deluge that created debris filled flash floods and significant damage to personal property. And while the storm raged on, Cynthia Duprey was out of state with one of her daughters on a school function. The next morning, Cynthia’s husband, Bill Duprey, assessed the damage and discovered that the ground around their house and two neighbors had dropped eight feet and a large hole had formed on their property. Severe erosion compromised the structural integrity of their home and public safety officials condemned the structure.
Cynthia arrived home to see the ominous yellow barrier tape across her property and wasn’t allowed to go back into her house for a week. Escorted by Barre City Fire Department personnel, Cynthia described how swiftly they went from room to room, asked by the public official, “what do you need from this room.” They grabbed what they could in an hour and the family of seven (two were away at college) returned to the Hollow Motel. The Federal Emergency Management Agency established an office within days of the flooding and thus began a long arduous process for Cynthia and Bill until the final demise of their beloved home.
As the summer of 2011 progressed the Duprey’s moved into a new home and Cynthia worked toward building a new normal. The flooding in Barre coincided with the “Big Dig,” a project to replace and upgrade crucial infrastructure and create a more pedestrian friendly streetscape. While at a book club meeting in late fall, it was announced that Barre’s lone book store was going to close at the end of the year. Cynthia was saddened to hear this, but the Barre resident and mother of five saw an opportunity to fulfill a dream that she first had when she was a kid.
Cynthia used to spend time with her grandparents during summer and each summer, when she look forward to going to a local children’s bookstore. “I still remember how it smells” Cynthia said as she described those summer experiences as what ignited her desire to own a bookstore. And despite Borders filing for bankruptcy earlier that year and competitors Barnes & Noble and Amazon scaling digital and e-reading product lines, Main Street reconstruction and the aftermath of flooding, Cynthia knew that the time was right to fulfill that dream.
With the help of Barre-based Community Capital of Vermont, Cynthia put the pieces together and on Jan. 1, 2012, she received the keys to the Main Street storefront. Next Chapter Bookstore was born and signified a turning point for the Duprey’s but also downtown Barre. Bill built an elevated children’s reading nook and Cynthia began having story time every Saturday, which have become popular attractions for families. Their first year was trial by fire with the ever present backhoe and dump truck in front of their window. “We just went for it” she says looking down the sidewalk recalling what it was like that first year, “We didn’t know what to expect, but we listened to people that came in and adjusted to what they wanted.”
Cynthia is encouraged by everything that is going on in downtown Barre along with the fact that people are still purchasing books, which is good for the local economy. Cynthia just celebrated their three year anniversary and on top of that just closed out on their FEMA buyout of their condemned home, ending a 42 month process that was only supposed to take three to six months. I asked her if she would have gone forth with opening the bookstore if she knew then what she knows now. Without hesitation she looked over at some regular customers sitting in front of the store and said, “absolutely.” Cynthia explains that they are just not a bookstore, but a hub where community members gather to discuss the topics of the day and create social capital. For Cynthia, her next chapter in life has been rewarding.
The writer is executive director of the Barre Partnership.