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A cup of cheer: Vernon's Community Café debuts in Town Hall lobby


By Wendy M. Levy, as seen in The Commons:

VERNON—A group of locals trying to open a community café are so intent on meeting their goal, they won’t even let a lack of a storefront stop them.

The morning of Sept. 27, the Vernon Store Committee turned the Town Hall lobby into a one-day pop-up café, with coffee, hot tea, and home-baked goodies like cookies, doughnuts, and cake, all available by donation.

Tables and comfortable chairs hosted groups of friends and neighbors chatting and snacking. In one corner, the Vernon Free Library had shelves of books and movies for sale.

The idea brewed from a series of visits to Vernon from the Vermont Council for Rural Development.

During these community visits, officials with the Council meet with residents of the host town and ask them what they need to make their town a better place to live, work, and visit. After townspeople identify their top three priorities, the Council brings in a variety of officials to connect townspeople with individuals and organizations to help them achieve their goals.

One of the top three priorities Vernonites identified was creating a general store with café space so residents could buy things like groceries and have a public social space.

From there the Store Committee was formed, and former Selectboard member Annette Roydon became its chairperson.

Because the town hasn’t yet chosen a location for a “village center” — another priority — the location of a general store is also still in limbo.

Meanwhile, the Store Committee gave the café part of the plan a test-run.

Town officials joined them in the festivities — and in calling the event a success.

Selectboard Chair Christiane Howe told a guest, “earlier today there were no seats left.”

The donation jar on the snack table was stuffed with bills, which will help pay for the next round of goodies.

“I’m just here to enjoy the company,” Lynda Starorypinski said.

“I’m just here to eat,” said Janet Rasmussen, vice-chair of the Planning Commission. Then she reconsidered. “I guess I am on the committee."

“Yes, you’re on the committee,” Roydon confirmed while she made tea for a visitor.

The committee, which had 12 members just a month ago, may soon get about 10 more, according to Roydon.

Tim Arsenault, a member of the Store Committee and the town clerk, told The Commons the idea for the pop-up café was inspired by a story he read in the Greenfield Recorder about a similar event in nearby Leyden, Massachusetts.

“I put the article on my Facebook page and said, ‘Hey Vernon, why not here?’” Arsenault said.

After receiving consent from the library trustees and the Selectboard, the Store Committee put the event together, he said.

But they didn’t do it alone.

Assistant Town Clerk Aina Lindquist baked oatmeal-raisin cookies, raspberry bars, and blueberry coffee cake. Lister Chair Carol Hammond made the pumpkin cider doughnuts and doughnut holes.

Roydon, looking around the lobby, said, “this is all the library staff. The curtains, the tables, they already wanted to do this.” She noted the library staff had been trying to create a social space in the lobby for quite some time.

“The best ideas come about through consensus,” Arsenault said.

“We’re just a group of Vernon citizens who are working together to make our town a better place,” said Arsenault. “We can’t change the past, but we can improve the future.”