Just over the hill from Weston is a sweet little town called Peru, where Juliette Britton grew up. If you ask her, she will swear that you can go home again. A Burr and Burton Alumna and graduate of the Maine College of Art, Britton’s made a successful return to Vermont and launched a career that combines her passion for business and community. We talked with her about restoring a local landmark, JJ Hapgood General Store, and asked what makes her community tick.
“After being in the Boston area for a while, my husband Tim and I decided it was time to settle in a place where we could raise our family. Vermont made a lot of sense. It was the simple things that appealed to us; the things that are easy to take for granted, like going to the grocery store and filling your car up with gas. Things that are so easy to do here but difficult in other places. At first that was what we valued, the comfort and quality of living here, and every day we’re grateful to be back.”
Juliette and Weston. “One of my earliest memories of The Weston Playhouse was auditioning for parts in Annie. I was kind of shy about being on stage but I LOVED that story. I can’t imagine there was one kid who was my age that grew up in this area that didn’t try out for the show.”
“I also went to the Little School, so I remember a connection there between the school and the Playhouse, which is still very much alive today.” Situated in an historic school building next door to the village green, the Little School is an inclusive early childhood program serving 2-5 years old from Weston and surrounding towns of Chester, Andover, Ludlow, Cavendish, Peru, Landgrove, and Londonderry.
“It’s been a joy to see the theatre connection with my own children. Last year I got to join them for the Junie B. Jones preview [at the Little School.] Right away the kids were engaged with the actors (Weston’s Young Company) and it was wonderful. They talked about it for days… and then we got to go and see the show together!”
“Connections like that,” she continued, “are what inspired me to get involved as a board member. I wanted to do more to support what the Company does for people who live here. In one way or another, everyone has a connection to Weston — through their children, their grandchildren… It’s totally inspiring and something we want to see continue for years to come.”
On Creativity and the Arts. “I studied fine art in college and I’ve always had a passion for it. My husband and I think its tremendously important to support the arts in our region so that they can grow and evolve. Encouraging young artists and encouraging art appreciation are such important qualities for a healthy, vibrant community.”
Reviving a General Store. “When Tim and I returned to Vermont, we had twin boys, and then two years later, a little girl. We knew this was a great place to be; we loved the schools and the community. But the missing piece was our professional life and we had a couple of different ideas. The store came about because it seemed like it could be a challenging, rewarding pursuit that would also fill a need for the community. In fact, it was almost impossible to pass up the opportunity to make a difference, to do this,” she smiled.
“We lived here for a few years with it being empty. Just a dilapidated, falling-down building. So we came up with a plan, involved the community, and began to rebuild and renovate. The process truly required community support, and Peru believed in our mission and what we were doing. They trusted that we would be good custodians, and make good decisions at JJ Hapgood.”
Happening at Hapgood. Goings on at the General Store and Eatery bridge the gap between tradition and modern living. “It’s all about people getting together, meeting, having the opportunity to see old friends. That’s an old historical benefit of a small general store. But I knew there were other aspects that we could bring to the experience. A meeting space, for example. There are not a lot of spaces to gather outside of churches and town halls. So we thought a meeting room would be a welcome addition. And while a deli has also been a traditional component, we decided to take it to another level.” Today, visitors gather over an upscale, farm to table menu that features incredible products and dishes made in-house, or by talented local purveyors. “The food service piece was essential to our business model, but it’s also an important piece for the community.”
JJ Hapgood and the Weston Experience. “I think often in Vermont, the distances between destinations can be appreciable. We recently went to the theatre in White River Junction, but along the way we stopped in Woodstock. I love when we allow extra time to stop and experience unique places, so the journey becomes as memorable as the destination.” Just ask Sir Paul, he found his way alright.
Our parting advice is this: check out live music or local art in Peru, have an incredible lunch, brunch, or early dinner, then mosey on up to Weston for an unforgettable show, a craft cocktail on campus, and a dose of our colorful Cabaret. The arts are alive in the mountains, with no small thanks to people like Juliette—putting their passion to work for the benefit of us all.