The Hub – Kim Furlong, Storekeeper

Kim Furlong has a single string tied around her left wrist. The string symbolically connects close friends in a circle of support and promise for a friend about to give birth. “When the child is born we will all cut the string together. It’s a way of celebrating a new beginning. I should’ve put one around this store years ago.”

Kim, along with her partner, Carolyn DiCicco, own and operate the Bernard General store in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont. “We don’t so much operate it as we run it, or it runs us, doesn’t matter, there is a lot of running. In the summer it is a 3-month sprint, for the rest of the year it is a marathon but we never stop moving. After 10 years of dreaming about buying this store and 18 years of owning it we are getting tired of all the running.”

Being a general store shopkeeper means you are on your own most of the time. There is no field office to call, no mother ship for support. It’s just wits and wiles, 24/7. You are the plumber, carpenter, marketer, event planner, late night opener, all day listener, janitor, purchasing expert, financial guru and wizard of all things necessary for a disperse rural community.

“I’m not saying it hasn’t been hard. We devoted 18 years of our lives to this store- lived upstairs, worked downstairs, raised our families here. Now we are just about done emotionally; this last year has been very difficult. We have no line of credit anymore; it’s amazing we kept it going this long. Without the support of the community we never would’ve. We give it our best.”

With an 8-stool soda fountain in the rear of the store and Tuesday burger and Saturday live music nights, the store is the social, economic, political and in many ways, spiritual hub of this little village on the shores of Silver Lake. But a general store doesn’t just sell merchandise; a shopkeeper doesn’t just keep shop. A general store stocks its shelves with the needs of the community while a shopkeeper spoons out the nourishment to sustain its heart.

“We’ve seen kids grow up and graduate and come back again with families. We’ve had births, deaths, weddings, divorces. Broken ankles, broken hearts, they all pass through this store. You come in a stranger and you leave a friend. That’s just the way it is. We wouldn’t have it any other way.”

“It was the community that attracted us, the community that we fell in love with, the community that supported and sustained us, the community that rallied around us. We fed the community as much as the community fed us. But eventually we all lost our appetites. The community is shrinking; some locals can’t afford to live here anymore and with specialty stores and giant grocery stores a short drive away it’s near impossible to keep it going anymore.”

Today the Bernard General Store is closed for the first time in 180 years. Kim and Carolyn are adrift, unsure of where the next wind will blow them.

Kim cut the string on her wrist just last week.