Lincoln store owner knows her customers

LINCOLN — If one were to spend a day observing the clientele of the Lincoln General Store, here’s what they may see: In the morning, a group of eight men who gather there almost every day to discuss woodworking techniques, or the area’s best sheet metal provider. At lunchtime, perhaps a cyclist, stopping for a quick bite to eat as they brave the Six Gaps. And in the late afternoon, school children, hurrying off the bus and into the store, charging a snack to their parents’ account and making their way to soccer practice.
Day after day, decade after decade, the store has served as a community hub, a mandatory stop for folks looking to pick up a fresh loaf of bread, have a document notarized, or confide in store owner Vaneasa Stearns, who says that meeting these individuals is what makes owning the store worthwhile.
“I would never know these people if I didn’t own the store, really know them and their backstories. It’s been really special to be included in (their) lives,” she said. “They’re excited to share news with me. (Sometimes) I know who is pregnant before they’ve even told their spouse. I’ve always felt like I’ve been a part of everyone’s family.”
When Stearns, a Lincoln native, bought the Lincoln General Store in 1991, it wasn’t for sale. Nevertheless, the then 26-year-old approached the store’s owners and made a deal. She returned to the town after a brief stint in Middlebury, where she lived with her husband, Dan, who she met while attending Endicott College.
Though it is her community family that frequents the store, it has been her biological family that has kept it running. During her first day on the job, she worked with her five-week old daughter Alyssa in a cocoon by her side. Today, three of the store’s seven part-time employees are cousins, and another is her youngest daughter, Lydia.
Since she first purchased the store, Stearns has turned it into a multi-faceted, one-stop-shop for community members and visitors alike. She has added a deli and a bakery, and has expanded the store’s wine section from three $1.50-bottles to several shelves and regular wine tastings. Stearns said one of her favorite times of year is deer season, where she and her staff operate a weigh station for hunters.
“It’s so fun to see grandfathers coming with their grandsons,” she said. “I get to see kids bring in their first deer and I get to see the excitement they have. That’s really special.”
Through the store, weigh-ins during deer season become a community affair.
“It’s the one time of the year that they all take a week off from their responsibilities. They’re pushing deer for each other and I love that camaraderie,” she said. “If there’s a big deer that comes in, it’s amazing, I don’t know how the word gets out, but you’ll see pickup trucks pulling in just to see it.”
In the 26 years that she has spent running the store, Stearns says she has enough stories to write a book. She has come to notice the way certain customers prefer to receive their change — coins first, bills second — because they have a system for how they place money in their wallet. She knows what time folks leave for work, because they’ll come in at the same time every day to buy a coffee. And if her back is to the door, which she says is a “little tricky” to open, she can tell who it is by the way they maneuver the handle and enter.
Above all, Stearns said, her time behind the counter at the Lincoln General Store, interacting with the same community members year after year, has proved for her an old adage true: Never judge a book by its cover.
“You can never judge what’s going on in people’s lives,” she said. “They may look grumpy on the outside but they’re just hurting on the inside. There’s a lot of complexity in people’s lives and you just can’t jump to conclusion about their personality.” 

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