Postcard from Hardwick
A few years back, I was nursing my infant daughter in the upstairs café at the Buffalo Mountain Co-op when a woman’s voice announced over the intercom, “Brett, your car was hit in front of the co-op.”
I didn’t move. Drowsy, content with mama milk, my ruby-lipped baby was nearly asleep. With great interest, I was reading an outdated New Yorker I’d stashed in the diaper bag and drinking iced tea.
Being the co-op, an employee brought the woman upstairs and introduced the two of us. The woman — a retired elementary school principal flustered to the point of actually wringing her hands — calmed down over a glass of tea, too, while we talked. We eventually walked outside, my sleeping, flush-cheeked baby cradled in my arms. On the street, I squinted at the skinny scratch on my old tank of a Volvo and assured her I didn’t care in the least — which was absolutely true.
She paid for my iced tea, so I likely came out ahead of the bargain.
Originally a buying club, the co-op opened its doors in 1975, in a brown-shingled building, across from Poulin Lumber. Those were the days, long-time co-op employee Annie Gaillard told me, that folks would drive their pickup or VW bus to Boston for a work commitment and haul the foodstuffs back to Hardwick. Flooding from the Lamoille River eventually drove the co-op to relocate on higher ground in what’s known as the Jeudevine Mansion on North Main Street, then owned by Caspian Arms. Like everything else in this world, the co-op story continues to evolve, with the purchase of the current Main Street building in 1990, now owned outright.
The small space, Annie acknowledges, fences them in.
Move? Remain? Incur debt — or not?
It’s undoubtedly true that what Annie describes as “all the cool stuff that’s happening in Hardwick” — a resurging interest in local agriculture — can be linked in some serious vein to the co-op’s enduring presence in this town with two mainstream grocery stores, two auto parts stores, a gun shop, and an independent bookstore. How’s that for a mixture in a town with a population of less than 3,000 souls?
On a cold morning in November, 2005, the adjacent Bemis Block caught on fire in the early morning. All day, firefighters drenched the tiny co-op building with water, saving the co-op from incineration. The next week, The Hardwick Gazette printed a cover photo taken the morning after the fire. A carpenter in a ragged Carhartt jacket crouched before the co-op’s front door. In the black-and-white photo, the tiny co-op with its peaked roof was shrouded in ice, beside the charred remains of its neighbor.
The carpenter told me he placed his mouth near the door’s frozen lock.
His breath thawed the ice.