PROCTOR — The floors are gleaming, the appliances pristine — The Market on West Street is open for business, boasting fine local fare and affordable prices.
And it’s been a long time coming, since husband-and-wife team Chris and Jennifer Curtis bought the market for $83,000 in an auction last year.
“This has been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Jennifer said. “Even when we bought our farm ... we cleared 20-acres and put up fencing for my Clydesdales, we fixed up the house. ... This was more challenging than that.”
Jennifer and Chris alternated weekends between their farm in Columbia, Connecticut and the little store in Proctor, with its three-bedroom apartment upstairs.
Slowly but surely, the Curtis’ revived the little shop, breathing new life into the old wood floors and completely revitalizing the outside and inside with new paint and new machinery, giving the now Market on West Street another chance.
“We filled three 30-yard dumpsters,” Jennifer said of the stuff removed from the store during the revitalization process.
Gone is the old formica white table top, replaced with the multi-toned wooden flat harvested from a 1950s-era bowling alley from Amherst, Massachusetts, and wine bottles are stacked in refurbished dresser drawers up against the shop’s wall.
On the wall hangs an antique cigarette dispenser, and a pellet stove perches nearby for the chilly season, and a reclaimed post office desk from 1890 serves as the shop’s coffee station, where customers can pour their own Mountain Grove Coffee from White River Junction.
“To me, we’re coffee people,” Jennifer said. “We’re doing Boar’s Head meat and cheeses. ... Thomas Dairy does all of our dairy products.”
Jennifer said she and her husband intend to run the shop themselves, but they’ve enlisted the help of Daniel Pierce, who recently came home to Rutland County after decades of traveling and will be manning the kitchen making old home favorites.
“Shepherds pie, baked ziti, peppers and onions and meatloaf,” Pierce said. “All from scratch, the way it should be done. ... I have a great gumbo recipe that’s taken eight years to perfect.”
“He’s a godsend,” Jennifer said. “An angel dropped him at my front door.”
On the left-hand side of the store, Jennifer said the grab-n-go case will be stocked full of prepared comfort foods, soups and dinners on the fly, if a custom deli sandwich isn’t tempting the palate.
But the list, Pierce said, was compiled specifically for the demographic of born-and-bred Vermonters looking for a taste of times passed, served on Jennifer’s homemade grinder and kaiser rolls.
“The average demographic here is 50 to 60 years old,” Pierce said. “Those are the people I want to cater to. All the forgotten people who gave us the freedoms we have. ... If we have it, and the product is here, I’ll make you whatever you want.”
Signatures include “The Farmer,” a roast beef and Vermont cheddar sandwich with horseradish mayonnaise, and “The Poorman” an all-beef fried bologna sandwich with American Cheese, lettuce and tomato, that Pierce said they priced at $4.50 apiece.
Despite the fact that the store is spic-and-span and brimming with potential, Jennifer said the couple made sure to keep a little piece of history on display: a butcher block belonging to former owner Frank LaPenna, who also happens to be Chris’s second cousin.
“I’m going to put a little plaque here for him in memory,” Jennifer said. “That is the only thing we’ve kept in the whole store.”
The block is fashioned onto an old Singer sewing machine in front of the large deli case, which Pierce said will also hold ground hamburger, raw meats and poultry. Toward the back of the store are brand-new coolers boasting beer, soda and ice creams, and the bagged ice machine was delivered last week for barbecue season.
Grocery items, including snacks, milk, toiletries and sliced bread and bakery items from Koffee Kup Bakery will be available, as well as lottery tickets, chips and pork rinds.
The store also boasts an ATM machine, and affordable prices for everyday items, Pierce said.
Back when the couple bought the famous store, one other bidder almost took the future of the Market on West Street when he pushed Jennifer to her bidding limit.
But miraculously, he didn’t counter just one bid before her cap, she said.
“We’re supposed to be here,” Jennifer said. “I’m so excited for the town ... they deserve to get what they need without having to drive five, six miles for it. ... I can’t wait for everybody to come and check us out.”