Convenience Store and Deli Opens in Downtown Norfolk
Residents Offer Strong Show of Support
By Wiley Wood
It’s not the Corner Store. The musty gray carpet is gone, the cave-like interior, the flat fluorescent lighting. The Berkshire Country Store—bright, cheerful and inviting—is something else.
It opened without fanfare in the pre-dawn dusk of January 4. Within minutes, the grill was delivering hot breakfasts to customers at the deli counter, while other Norfolk residents stood around in clusters, coffee in hand, exulting that the town had a store again.
The road has been long and bumpy since Fadhl Saleh shut down the Corner Store in September 2014 and the Economic Development Commission (EDC) began casting around for his replacement.
Ryan Craig, who had run a successful store in Cornwall but closed it over a lease dispute, was quickly identified by the EDC as a talented prospect. After a false start, a change of ownership in the proposed building and a series of contentious hearings, the path was finally cleared in July, and Craig began his transformation of 6 Station Place into a convenience store and deli.
Built with a fresh attention to detail, it manages to catch something of the Norfolk vibe. There is still a deli counter, a coffee bar, shelves offering necessities and treats, a whole wall of refrigerated drinks, a dairy case, a freezer. But, with many of the furnishings custom-built by local craftsmen, the store finds a sweet spot between functional and woodsy.
Craig, an exuberant presence, points to the two communal tables by a bank of windows. “We put mismatched chairs around them. This place is brand new, but we want to give it the feel of a country store right from the start.”
And Norfolk residents, who mobbed the store during the first days (“It was a madhouse,” says Craig, “standing room only, people came out in a big way”), have continued to drift through in large numbers. They can be seen at most hours of the day picking through the items on the shelves or in the refrigerated cases, where national brands and local products sit side by side, or perching on the handsome stools made by Kingsland, a Norfolk company, and drinking coffee, reading the daily papers and sampling sandwiches. These run the gamut from man-sized towers of meat and cheese to more intricate confections, such as the grilled chicken with guacamole and sharp Dijon mustard.
“In a town like this,” Craig explains to a patron, “you have to be a little bit of everything.”
Reactions have mostly been positive. “I like it, so far,” said David Torrey on his first visit, over morning coffee and an apple fritter. “It’s more spacious than I expected.”
“The ‘Grown-up Grilled Cheese’ is excellent,” said another, known for her pickiness about food.
“Those tables,” said Schuyler Thomson, “are where the Farmers Market is going to hold its next committee meeting.”
If there has been a complaint, it is about how long it sometimes takes to get an order filled, but Craig is aware of the problem and vows to solve it, planning to add staff at the end of the week and on weekends when business is heaviest.
Craig’s sense of the store is an evolving one. New features this week include the paintings of Ken Musselman, a North Canaan artist and illustrator, on the walls and a pair of round wooden tables in the deli area. Craig willingly entertains suggestions from customers, though he cautions that he is constrained by what his suppliers carry and by what he can order in sufficient quantities to get delivery. Someone recently asked for string cheese, and Craig was happy to oblige.
The daily New York Times is a touchy subject, both for Craig, who finds himself dealing with a balky distributor, and for the paper’s loyal readers, who expect an unfailing supply. “You can’t buy your paper in Winsted or Canaan one day because it’s convenient and expect to find it waiting for you in Norfolk the next,” says Craig.
But the consensus would appear to be that Norfolk’s keenly felt need for a general store has been more than met by the personable and hardworking Ryan Craig.
He notes that many people walk through the door carrying paperwork, a fact that confused him at first, until he realized that they had just been to the post office and were incorporating a visit to the store into their daily routine.
“That’s the part I like most,” says Craig, “that the store provides a meeting place for the community.”
Photos by Bruce Frisch.