By Julia Purdy
The West Street neighborhood in Proctor will soon have their corner store back—with some differences. Jenn and Chris Curtis are preparing to open The Market On West Street in Proctor, formerly known as the West St. Market, before Memorial Day. The front has been refreshed and painted in cheerful sunshine-gold with green trim, upper windows have been replaced with green shutters, and the interior is filling up with grocery staples, wines, snacks and a deli counter.
The latest glitch has been getting the POS equipment up and running.
The store has a comfortable, inviting atmosphere, with emphasis on Vermont country store rustic. It’s an eclectic collection of old stuff given new life. One window features a stained-glass panel. Lighting has been updated with hanging barn lights and modern fixtures featuring reproduction Edison bulbs. A new cast-iron pellet stove will warm the space.
“I just love industrial style,” Jenn Curtis said. She planned the color scheme of warm shades and the design herself. “I thought it had good bones.”
Completing the picture is the original, well-worn maple flooring, which has been kept natural and refinished. Chris Curtis gets emotional when he talks about the flooring. He pointed to the discolored and cracked area at the door and mused how many local folks have crossed that threshold, including his own relations.
“When you’re replacing things, the history is gone,” he said.
Chris’ grandparental generations worked in marble. His maternal great-grandfather, Lucian Lizewski, came over from Poland individually with friends. Then he met and married Chris’ great-grandmother, who had also come from Poland as a young girl. Lucian Lizewski’s job was lowering men into the Hollister quarry and he was known never to have had an accident, according to family lore.
Chris’ paternal grandfather Curtis was in charge of the vast military headstone department.
Chris’s parents, John and Helena (Pietryka) Curtis, were born and raised in Proctor and Florence, respectively; after high school John took a highway engineering job with the state of Connecticut, where Chris was born and grew up.
When Chris told Jenn his dream was to open a general store in Vermont, she was equally enthusiastic. Long before the auction Jenn and Chris had visited Proctor and stopped at the empty store to look around.
The Proctor store had been vacant almost a year and the tax sale was held May 18, 2018.
Aunt Gail and Uncle Albert Curtis live in town. When the store was put on the auction block, Aunt Gail called the couple “twice in one week before the auction,” Jenn said, to urge them to view the store and bid on it.
Jenn said she had one bid left at the auction and wasn’t going above a certain figure. She bid against the only other bidder, and he stopped.
“It seemed meant to be. If it wasn’t for her urging, we would not be here. But it feels right and we’re going to give it everything we have,” Jenn told the Mountain Times.
Jenn was born and raised in Windsor, Connecticut and worked as a nurse. The couple bought a run-down farm in Connecticut. Chris, a landscaper of 34 years’ experience, turned the farm around. They sold it to come to Vermont.
The Curtises closed on the building in May and drove back and forth, gutted the store and worked on it, sold the farm, and moved above the store, where they now live, Dec. 22.
The only original object is the butcher block from Frank LaPenna, Chris Curtis’ second cousin, who ran the store from the late ‘80s-early ‘90s.
“Everybody loved him,” Jenn said. “We loved this, my husband planed it out, we stained it and put it on this sewing machine base.”
Another original feature is the walk-in cooler behind the kitchen area. It is lined with varnished matchstick paneling, the doors have the original heavy hardware, and it still operates off a compressor in the basement.
The Market On West Street will carry cigarettes, displayed on an antique metal cigarette display, CBD products and lottery tickets, but no vape products.
There will be a refrigerated grab-and-go for take-home meals, an ice cream chest and a candy counter – and an ATM machine for those last-minute cash needs.
Jenn calls Chris a “soup guy” who makes soups from scratch using recipes from Grandmother Curtis. Jenn prepares daily specials from scratch, including pastries and sub rolls.
They plan to sell mostly fresh, locally-sourced goods, organic when they can but “you pay a lot more. We will be going to the farmers’ market sometimes but I do want to try to utilize local farmers,” Jenn said. The produce will be unsprayed but not necessarily certified organic.
The Market On West Street will be open six days a week, and the Curtises will man the store themselves.
The Curtises have done most of the work themselves, along with Chris’s brother Jeff, hiring local tradesmen for plumbing and electrical work. Jenn’s nephew is a certified mechanic who set up the surveillance cameras and the POS register, which will also keep inventory.
Jenn also feels she has roots in Proctor. A new enterprise energizes the whole town, she said. “I want the town to be happier and more active. This is the turnaround.”
The Curtises are appreciative of the warm welcome they have received in town. Town Manager Stan Wilbur stops in every day and orders for a sandwich, which is yet to be made.
“We don’t want the town to want a market, we want the town to have a market,” Chris added.