Retail pro takes chance, follows her dream to Panton General Store
PANTON — For most of her 30 years in retail, about half of them spent working her way up in the Jolley Associates chain of convenience stores, Bridport native Linda Goodspeed dreamed of running her own country store.
In the first weekend of June, that dream came true for Goodspeed, 51, who now lives in Vergennes with her husband, John.
That’s when Goodspeed threw open the front door of the Panton General Store, which former owner Andy Megroz had decided last fall to shut down at least for the winter.
Goodspeed said the store — which sits on a low ridge four miles due west of Vergennes, not far from Panton Town Hall — had always seemed ideal to her.
“I would drive by here and see the sign,” she said. “And it was like, this would be perfect. This is what I’ve always wanted to do. Have my own place and build it up.”
Megroz, who had been marketing the business, was out of state, but Goodspeed tracked him down.
“I just talked to him through email because I wanted to buy this store,” Goodspeed said.
Things didn’t immediately fall into place. She said banks were reluctant to loan on a shop that had not operated since the fall of 2013.
But she and Megroz worked out a deal. He retained the property, but is leasing the business to her, with no rent for the first two months. They hope the plan will allow her to establish a track record that will support bank financing, and they believe that approach can succeed.
“The country store is up and running for the community under the leadership of Linda Goodspeed, who has extensive experience in the business,” Megroz said. “She’s energetic and I think she’s going to do well. I’m very confident in what she’s doing.”
Goodspeed said she is happy with the arrangement, most of which was worked out before they sat down in the same room and said hello face to face.
“I only met Andy about a month ago, and he’s been very, very generous to me,” she said.
Goodspeed is confident in her ability to make the venture work by adding groceries and other goods to meet customer demand, expanding deli offerings, running sales, and pricing competitively.
“I didn’t take out any loans. I cashed in my 401K and all my stocks and bonds to do this,” Goodspeed said. “I’m betting on myself. That’s what I’m doing. And that’s what I’ve wanted for over 15 years, to own my own place.”
Both she and Megroz said they would be patient with the plan, which they intend to end with her owning the building as well as the store.
“I’m leasing it for a year and hopefully the banks will let me buy it after that,” Goodspeed said. “Maybe it will take me two years for the bank. I don’t know. The first year is the hardest, I think.”
BACKGROUND IN THE TRADE
In running her own business, Goodspeed is following in the footsteps of her late father, Willie LaFountain of Bridport, who operated LaFountain’s Garage in Bridport near Snake Mountain for three decades.
Goodspeed got her start in retail when she lived in New Hampshire at the age of 18, and when she came back to Addison County she worked at Ames Department Store, now the home of Hannaford Supermarket.
“I liked it so much I continued when I moved back to Vermont,” she said.
Then came her 15-year stint with Jolley Associates, where she advanced in the company from cashier to store manager in Chittenden County, Rutland and Addison County locations.
But then it was time to defer her business dream and help take care of her young grandchildren, although she still worked part-time as a schoolbus driver and Shaw’s Supermarket cashier.
When the children were older, Goodspeed returned to retail fulltime at Wal-Mart, first in Williston and then in Ticonderoga, N.Y.
Now, Goodspeed said, she can finally use that experience on her own behalf, and is free to call her own shots.
“I’ve done retail for so long, and to be quite honest I’ve worked paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I want to be my own boss, and if I want to give a free cup of coffee, I want to be able to give a free cup of coffee.”
GROWING HER BUSINESS
At the same time, Goodspeed said her experience tells her to listen to her customers. At every opportunity, she has asked those who come in to pay for gas — or buy her sandwiches, homemade baked goods (donuts are the most popular and were sold out last week) or variety of flavored coffees — what they would like her to stock on her shelves.
As a result, in her three-plus weeks of doing business she has already added frozen pizzas, chicken, dry dog food, ice cream, bug spray, shampoo and deodorant, cleaning supplies, tomato juice, Pepto Bismol, toothbrushes and toothpaste, and decaf coffee.
“I’ve been asking the community what is it that you like, what is it that you want, and then I’ve been buying different things,” Goodspeed said.
Items still on her wish list include a creemee machine, fresh local meats, hot deli items and a continued expansion of her grocery selection, especially once she is able to take over the rest of the building’s first floor.
“I want to be able to build a relationship with the community,” Goodspeed said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the old-fashioned country grocery store, that’s what I want to turn this into, and make it a little bit bigger and have more of a selection. I’ve already started in. I have potatoes and onions, and I have the old-style barrels over there.”
Although small stores cannot always compete with supermarkets’ bulk purchasing power, she said there are many staples — milk and eggs, to name two — that she can offer at what she calls more than competitive prices.
“There are some things I buy where I get the same prices as grocery stores,” Goodspeed said.
For the time being, Goodspeed is the only Panton General Store worker (although husband John declared, “I’m the go-fer,” and helps stock coolers as well as run errands), running the shop from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Sundays.
“I would like to have the business up and moving more than it is so I could maybe hire a couple people,” she said. “There are so many people who need jobs.”
And then there is her long-range, overriding goal.
“I can start building myself something that I can leave for my children and my grandkids,” Goodspeed said. “That’s what I want to do. I want to build something that can be a family business that can be passed down.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].
LINDA GOODSPEED SITS behind the counter in the Panton General Store last week. Goodspeed, who has always wanted to run her own store, took over the business in early June. / Independent photo/Trent Campbell
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