By Sarah Hibbard Pyle
Editor of The Francestown News
You may have read the July 20th Wall Street Journal article about the closing of our village store. It began, “For 203 years, the Francestown Village Store served its tiny New Hampshire town…” You may have read the article and felt sad at such a loss for our town, or realized how much the store was the center of our community, or you may have said to yourself, “Hey! Who’s calling us tiny?”
But this story is about a man from Nevada who read the article and said to himself, “How can I help?”
The next day, this man called Francestown Town Administrator Jamie Pike with an offer: he wanted to buy the store from the bank, pay off the back taxes and donate the property to either the town or (his preference) to the town’s Historical Society.
Well, as Jamie later under-stated, an offer like this doesn’t come in every day! With such an amazing opportunity comes a high level of responsibility. And, in the case of the town accepting the offer, a lot of legally necessary bureaucracy. Getting voter approval to accept the gift would mean waiting for Town Meeting in March or calling a special town meeting (no easy job). Jamie gave the gentleman a number of people to call, including FIHS (Francestown Improvement and Historical Society) Chair Charlie Pyle.
Over the next few days, it was determined that FIHS could legally accept a gift of property, and do it in a timely fashion, with the approval of its Board of Directors. The FIHS Board met to discuss the possibilities — and possible pitfalls — brought to the town by this generous offer. There were concerns about whether the organization had the resources to take on the project, pay for taxes and insurance, and what other responsibly came with acceptance. Part of the mission of FIHS is to “contribute to the improvement and welfare … of the Town of Francestown.” Getting our village store back for the people of Francestown certainly fits that mission, but could they pull it off?
TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE?
Maybe, but on Monday, August 28th, the FIHS Board voted to try. In the two weeks between their first meeting and the vote, they got estimates on taxes and insurance, talked to the bank about the process and requirements, had the town building inspector look at the building to determine its condition, and met with Jason Pelchat, Senior Project Manager at Nobis Engineering to review the ongoing responsibilities regarding the removed gas tanks. The board determined that, in order to have the time to responsibly review options for the future of the store, they would need a few months and about $20-25,000, as well as a volunteer study committee.
As of this writing, FIHS Chair Charlie Pyle has written to this generous donor to accept his offer. If the transfer goes forward, the committee will be appointed in the next few weeks. (Several of the people who helped in the fact-finding effort have already agreed to serve.) They will be looking for people to donate to FIHS specifically for the store fund (They already have pledges for $16,000 of the $25,000 goal — and would welcome your help!)
“This is such a remarkable opportunity for Francestown,” said Pyle, “I’m cautious, but optimistic that this is something that we can all get together on as a town and make happen.”
This article first appeared in the September edition of The Francestown News. The Monadnock Beat thanks editor Sarah Hibbard Pyle for sharing the story.
Hibbard Pyle said Tuesday the purchase and gifting of the village store to FIHS is expected to take place this week or next.