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Mill River General Store to shut its doors Friday

Mill River residents are already devastated by the loss of their local meeting spot.

Mill River — The historic Mill River General Store will close its doors Friday, Jan. 31. This decision did not come easy for store owner Jessica Holcomb. However, without substantial support from local financial institutions, she was unable to keep the store afloat.

Jessica Holcomb and Dave Herrick in the Mill River General Store in 2017. Photo: Terry Cowgill

Holcomb had been leasing the Mill River General Store from building owner David Herrick, who previously owned the store for 25 years and sold it to Holcomb in 2017. Herrick, who, at that time, had listed the building and the business with Wheeler & Taylor for $699,000, had relisted the space with Piretti Real Estate for $295,000 only a week before Holcomb’s decision to shut down.

In order to keep the business running, Holcomb would need to purchase the building. However, she and Herrick “could not come to an agreeable purchase price after we have realized that the building needs a lot of work and the maintenance wasn’t being done,” she said.

Built in 1870, the building requires some significant renovations, including updates on the upstairs apartment, stairs and front porch leading into the store. Without these repairs, Holcomb is convinced that the building would not pass its inspections.

Holcomb had made several offers to buy the building over the course of her store ownership, all of which were rejected. “I knew that couldn’t go any higher; I knew that I couldn’t meet his [Herrick’s] price,” she said.

Even after meeting with several financial institutions, including a promising proposition from Greylock Federal Credit Union, Holcomb “came to the conclusion that the asking price, plus the renovations that needed to be done, were unsupported by the business numbers.”

The outside of the iconic Mill River General Store, which will close its doors at the end of the week. Photo: Janey Beardsley

Without the proper growth and renovations made to the business, Holcomb’s expenses began to exceed her revenues. In a town with a population of 1,500 people, operating a general store can prove too expensive for the amount of revenue coming in.

Mill River residents are already devastated by the loss of their local meeting spot. “It’s a great loss to the community,” said longtime resident and New Marlborough Town Library director Deb O’Brien.

The store had been “the hub” where local residents could enjoy fresh sandwiches and coffee, and pick up a newspaper. Some also relied on the business for food and other grocery items.

Charlie and Teena Parton frequent the store a few times a week for lunch. “It’ll be very sad [when the store closes],” said Teena Parton. For them, the store was where to go when “you need a quart of milk or a pint of cream, or loaf of bread.”

Over the course of her ownership, Holcomb created a strong bond with the residents of Mill River: “I’ve grown very attached to these people. You see them every day, they become a part of your family,” she said.

The Mill River General Store’s ‘Coffee Club’ rack of mugs. Photo: Terry Cowgill

As The Edge wrote in a 2017 story about the sale of the store to Holcomb: “On the walls surrounding the coffee urns are about 250 ceramic coffee cups, each emblazoned with the name of a member of the store’s “coffee club” — so named for the dozens who show up at all times of day to have a cup of joe, a donut or sandwich, and share their thoughts on everything from national politics to New Marlborough Town Hall to who’s manning the Red Sox bullpen. Friday is free-coffee day for members.”

Holcomb hopes that the Mill River General Store will not only be taken up by new owners in the future, but that the owners “pay attention to the needs of the community” as she did. She thoroughly enjoyed all the “laughing and smiling and hugging and crying … being there for one another,” that came with running the business.

The support Holcomb gave community members herself over the course of her ownership was unmatched: “We’re going to miss Jess and Todd [Holcomb’s husband]; they’re great people and it’s great to have them in the community,” said O’Brien. “Jessica goes out of her way to help everybody, and I know she’s a huge asset to the library. If I ever need anything for any program, she’s right there, so it’s going to be a huge loss.”

Lucy, the store cat, keeps an eye on the Mill River General Store. Photo: Janey Beardsley

Community members have already reached out to Holcomb about future business endeavors, but Holcomb plans to take a break from her three years of hard work to regroup. As for the post office, located directly inside the store, it will remain there until instructed otherwise, operating on the same business hours.

The closure of the Mill River store will leave the town without a general store. Approximately 2.5 miles south sits the Southfield Store. That business, however, is not a general store but a coffee shop and cafe. In order to purchase goods normally associated with a general store, New Marlborough residents will have to travel to Great Barrington, Sheffield or Canaan, Connecticut.

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