Orwell fixture returns to the family: Two new Buxtons take over store

ORWELL — Buxton’s Store, a fixture on Orwell’s Main Street fixture, is set to return to being a Buxtons’ store.
Orwell couple Andy and Mary Buxton are ready on Monday to sit down and buy the store and the home that goes with it from Doug Edwards, who has owned and operated the grocery (and more) store for the past decade. Edwards bought Buxton’s Store in 2006 from Andy Buxton’s grandparents, Dick and Thelma Buxton, who ran the business for about 40 years.
Andy and Mary Buxton and Edwards have for more than a year been putting the deal together, and in recent months Andy Buxton has worked with Edwards, learning the ropes in the aisles he used to roam — and work in — as a youngster.
“From 5, 6 years old I can remember before going to school I would be helping my dad grind meat,” recalled Buxton, 36.
And back in the day, he wasn’t the only Buxton kid to be found in the store.
“We have great pictures of all my cousins and brothers and sisters all working their way up through the ranks at the store as we were all growing up,” Andy Buxton said.
He won’t be the last, either. Because the deal includes the home behind the store, Andy and Mary Buxton are selling their Orwell home and moving there, and Edwards is heading to nearby Sudbury.
With Andy and Mary Buxton will come their preschool daughters, Veda and Edie, who already enjoy visiting privileges.
“Mary will pick them up from daycare, and they’re just so excited to get here,” Buxton said. “It is neat to watch them react probably the way I reacted when I was their age, wanting to be involved in it.”
And the Buxtons have plenty more relatives in Orwell, some of whom who have already taken their turns working the front or meat counters or stocking the shelves, and others who probably will in the future.
“My grandparents are up the street. My aunt and uncle are across the way. My cousins are two houses down, and I’ve got more Audet cousins down on the lake, and we’re all raising families together,” said Buxton. “So we’ve got a huge family support system here.”
For his part, Edwards, 52, said he has had a good run on Main Street, and was thrilled to see a new generation of Buxtons taking over.
“It’s been great. The people of Orwell and the surrounding communities have been great,” Edwards said. “The Buxtons have always been great, so I’m very happy it’s going back to a member of the family.”
Edwards had hoped to run what he called a profitable operation a little longer. But a while back he was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder that causes fatigue and muscle pain and weakness — an especially poor combination for someone with the workload of a small business owner.
“I wanted to be here another five to seven years,” Edwards said. “Unfortunately some health issues came up that really took a toll, and made it really difficult to keep up the pace. Right about the time this was happening Andy approached me.”
Edwards said Andy Buxton’s purchase of the store makes sense not only because the establishment bears his name and it means running a business in his hometown.
“Andy’s got a lot of good ideas. He’s very enthusiastic, and he’s got a fantastic food background,” he said.
When Buxton graduated from Fair Haven Union High School he was interested in pursuing education in music, but not so much that he wanted to continue to attend school. He worked on Gerry and Cheryl Audet’s Lake Home Farm for about eight months, and then decided to look for work in the restaurant business.
He spoke with Tony Neri, owner of what was then Angela’s Restaurant in Middlebury, seeking a job as a server. Buxton recalled a brief interview with Neri that led to 16 years at Angela’s and then at Two Brothers in the same Main Street space under new ownership.
‘He said, ‘What are you looking for?’ I said, ‘I’m looking for a job, Mr. Neri.’ And he said, ‘Do you know anything about sex, drugs and rock and roll?’” Buxton recalled. “And I kind of chuckled. I was pretty nervous. And I said, ‘Well, I know a little bit about sex, and I know a little bit about music. I love music. But I don’t know anything about drugs.’ And he said, ‘Great, you’re hired.’”
Buxton quickly worked his way up to tending bar, but that summer sprained his ankle playing basketball and needed to get off his feet. He asked the chef if he could help in the kitchen.
“He took a stool from the bar and brought it out back and set me up with a 50-pound bag of onions and potatoes and said cut away,” Buxton said.
That began his cooking career: For years he settled into a routine of three shifts a week behind the bar and two a week in the kitchen.
And there he learned the skills he hopes to put to good use at Buxton’s Store: He wants to “amp up the deli and meat collection;” eventually add a commercial kitchen, probably at the expense of the store’s hardware aisles; add fresh fish on a weekly basis; work to become “destination craft beer and wine store;” and expand the store’s prepared food offerings.
Some of those goals, such as the commercial kitchen and beverage expansion, are longer-term. But Buxton has already added more “scratch-made” foods such as meatballs, meatloaf, breaded pork, stuffed chicken breasts, and marinated and bacon-wrapped meats.
“People can come and get food prepared to go home and cook,” Buxton said. “Right now it’s wintertime so we’re blowing through a lot of comfort foods.”
But many things will stay the same, including the 40-pound Cabot sharp cheddar wheels and the store-ground beef. 
“Our ground beef has been a staple here for 50 years,” he said.” There’s a cult following for our ground beef.”  
And there are no plans to change the store’s approach to customer service: The sign outside reads, “Welcome to All Who Enter.”
“Kindness and friendliness is our motto. My grandparents started that 50 years ago, and that’s something that is never-ending,” Buxton said.
That also means the two tables pushed together near the coffee pots will stay in place: They draw a daily crowd of residents.
“Every morning by 9 o’clock they’re here, supporting me, supporting the town, supporting the coffee runs,” Buxton said. “It’s a local hub where yesterday’s information, last night’s information, can be talked about.”
Edwards will also be around, and not just because he has agreed to help out Buxton for a few weeks. He became part of the community in the past 10 years, including dispatching for Orwell’s fire department and rescue service.
“I will definitely miss it. But I’m right around the corner and I can come back and visit and see a lot of the folks,” Edwards said. “A lot of the townsfolk have been like family, and a lot of the employees over the years have become like family. A lot of people come through here, and it’s great to see them go on to different careers or (start) families as they’ve gotten older.”
Eventually, Edwards will look for retail work again, but something less stressful than the 70-hour weeks of shop ownership.
“I want to take some time and get the health back under control and take it from there,” he said.
Now Buxton will take on the long hours, and he is thankful for Edwards’ support —  “Doug has been wonderful. He’s really a wealth of knowledge.” — as he begins to make his own imprint on an Orwell institution.
“I understand there’s a lot of tradition here … But I feel like I’m young and I’ve got some drive behind me,” Buxton said. “I want to make this a really cool destination market country store. And I need the local force to support me. And I’m open to feedback. I’m open to criticism. Because that’s how your business is only going to grow.”
Edwards said those interactions will be what keeps Buxton’s Store — and Buxton — going.
“It’s the people who really make the whole thing worth it,” he said. 

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