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Mail, Milk And Gas: Ripton Country Store Stays Open To Provide Essentials

A brown building along a roadside with a sign reading "Ripton County Store."
The Ripton Country store also serves as the Addison County town's post office, so it has remained open through the COVID-19 pandemic, operating at reduced hours.

Across the region, many general stores that typically welcome people in to buy essentials and serve as a community hub have moved to curbside pickup. That’s not the case at the Ripton Country Store, in part because the store also serves as the Addison County town’s post office. So, customers are still coming in to pick up food, mail, gas and other needs.

Owners Eva Hoffmann and Gary Wisell are taking precautions against the coronavirus. Just this week, for example, they began requiring anyone coming in to wear a face mask. They’re also operating at reduced hours.

VPR’s Henry Epp spoke with Ripton Country Store co-owner Eva Hoffmann earlier this week. Their interview is below and has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

Henry Epp: How are you holding up?

Eva Hoffman: I've been better. The last two days, I think — my stress level is pretty high. I had some surgery in January, so I'm on the list of people that need to be cautious.

You are still keeping the store open?

Oh, absolutely.

And so what does that look like?

Everybody is taking it very seriously now. The community here rallies around everybody. So they've been fantastic. We have people coming in and donating gloves, making masks. We have a nice plexiglass — brand new plexiglass — barrier at the cash register. So we still have people in and out because we have the post office here. So that's a big deal. People come in to get their mail.

Nobody wants to go into Middlebury if they don’t have to to shop. So staples or, you know, we have an empty dairy case on a regular basis. We do sell gas. So the traffic has lightened up. But some people that normally didn’t buy things here at the store are coming in, because they don't want to go anywhere else.

Do you feel safe, and do your customers feel safe when they come in?

I think some people are still on the spectrum of thinking nothing can happen to them. I think what concerns my husband and I most are folks that we don't know. We've had people come in and just say, “Oh, we’re so surprised that you're open.” Well, we're open because there are people in the community that need staples and they need the mail and they need gas.

But we're not here for, you know, people to stop off and visit and be a tourist site. And that has happened since all of this started. Those are the folks that make us uncomfortable. Not that we don't appreciate their support. We appreciate their support. But, you know, we've got a stay-at-home order. And we can't stay home.

Has it changed your business model at all in terms of how you're providing food and necessities and gas to your customers?

Well, some of the changes that have taken place have been thrust upon us. For instance, eggs cost us a lot more than they did. So we've had to pass that increase on to our customers. We're having to really rethink how we're going to bring product into the store. We have a lot of traffic, I guess, in regard to keeping the store stocked. When we do order, we order more of things.

More from VPR: Researchers Launch Online Survey To Gauge Coronavirus Impact On Food Systems

For the past, probably the last month, we're just like everybody else, can't get any paper supplies, as in tissues, Kleenex. We can't get any cleaning supplies. The only reason that we have toilet paper is because of a wonderful neighbor that owns the cabins up the way and they had an extra box and they sold us the box so that we could have it for the community. That's the kind of stuff that goes on here.

It's unclear right now how long some of these restrictions will last. Does this setup feel sustainable for you and your husband and your business right now?

Well, the big important piece here is that we have to stay healthy, because it's only Gary and I. That's it. So if something happens to one of us, there's no store. So it's really critical that everybody, you know, do the right thing and not let their guard down. And we're working really hard to stay healthy.

I guess on a slightly lighter note, I'm just curious Eva, you know you mentioned some of the things that are hard to keep in stock, toilet paper, dairy items. Is there anything in this store that just isn't going off the shelves that, you know, has sort of been stuck around?

You know, we have a big thing with penny candy and lots of candy, you know, old-fashioned general store thing going on. I guess that's gone down. We don't sell as much candy as we did. Oh and certainly things that we have that people that would be coming and traveling, say going to Bread Loaf …We're not selling any of those kind of things, sweatshirts, cups, mugs, stuff like that.

Well, Eva, anything else that we didn't get to that you'd want to add?

I just want to truly applaud, as I said, this community here … they've embraced us. They're helping to take care of us. And Gary and I are happy to be here. We're just praying that we get through this, and that the community does, too. And the state and everybody else.

Amy is an award winning journalist who has worked in print and radio in Vermont since 1991. Her first job in professional radio was at WVMX in Stowe, where she worked as News Director and co-host of The Morning Show. She was a VPR contributor from 2006 to 2020.
Henry worked for Vermont Public as a reporter from 2017 to 2023.
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