Reborn from the Ashes
Owned by the Hall family since 1969, the Valley Grocery Store, was and is a vital hub in Keene Valley. When it burned down on March 11, 2018, it was like losing an old friend.
For Eric Wells and other local outdoor guides, the loss of the store meant two things. The first, was a loss of customer service and friendly banter that had been a part of his routine for decades. The second, was that an additional three hours on average were now needed to prepare for guided trips, primarily due to travel time to the next nearest grocery store.
Before the fire, the Valley Grocery added a level of simplicity to this small but critical part of Eric and other guides’ work. Eric would phone in an order for a supply of food — milk, bread, deli meats, cheese, nuts, and cookies, for instance — to feed six or so people three meals a day for four days of backcountry respite. “Valley Gro” staff would collect each item, put everything in a box and store it in the walk-in cooler, where Eric and others would simply swing by to pick it up, lingering for a few minutes of small talk.
“It wasn’t until it was gone that I realized just how much I relied on the store,” said Eric, recalling a time when he forgot a package of bacon only to find that later that morning, it had been delivered to a location where he could easily retrieve it – the task completed before he even had to ask.
While it is possible to make do until the store reopens in the fall of 2018, it is impossible to replace the personalized, small-town service of the Valley Gro. Like the outdoor guides, local neighbors and businesses, too, rely on the store. When the population more than doubles in the Town of Keene each summer with seasonal residents, hikers, camp counselors, and others, the customer base also surges. Anyone who has picked up special-delivery Rock Hill Bakery bread on a Tuesday, selected a cut of sirloin for a Saturday barbeque, or bought the newspaper and a sandwich nearly every day, has also been making do until things get back to normal.
The Town of Keene has a long history of philanthropy, so it is no surprise that after the fire, there was an outpouring of support for the Valley Grocery. Some 300 people made donations through Adirondack Foundation’s Special and Urgent Needs Fund (SUN Fund), which is available to help respond to nonprofit and community emergencies, as it did with flood recovery efforts following Hurricane Irene and heating-system repairs at the Strand Theater in Plattsburgh.
At the storeowners’ request, a portion of the funding was directed to the fire departments whose dedicated volunteers hosed down the flames on that fateful Sunday afternoon, while some is helping to pay staff suddenly out of work. As the Valley Grocery continues to rebuild additional funding will be directed where it is most needed to help this Adirondack phoenix rise from the ashes.
February 2019 Update: Nearly one year later, we are happy to report that the Valley Grocery is slated to reopen in the near future, restoring a key community resource for the Town of Keene. We know Eric and others who depend on the store will be grateful for its return and we thank the many donors who supported the Valley Gro's rebirth through the Foundation's SUN Fund. // Photo: Guide Eric Wells navigates the Ausable Lakes, across which he regularly ferries food and supplies. ©Lisa Godfrey