Starksboro store promotes commerce
STARKSBORO — Kerry Kurt runs her general store a little bit differently than the average business owner.
On any given afternoon, one might approach the Horse n Rebel Grille and Gallery on Route 116 in Starksboro and find a note on the door reading, “Out on the farm, call if you need me,” accompanied by a phone number.
And it’s not unusual for Kurt to return from her chores to find that people have left notes for her on the counter inside with a dollar for the Arizona Iced Tea, or an old saddle.
“People think I’m crazy,” Kurt said, but she explained that her customers are her neighbors, and she trusts her neighbors.
The Horse n Rebel runs on these kinds of interactions, according to Kurt, who will accept an IOU as temporary payment if someone is short on cash when stopping in to purchase some of her Sentinel Farms grass-fed beef, or any of the other locally made products that the store stocks.
“The whole concept is basically attempting a global perspective of how to build community, provide a gathering space, and to think about ways to invite the community to help fund the resource,” Kurt said, emphasizing the power that each person in a community holds as a buyer.
She described the store as “a gathering space, a resource for local artists and artisans, food makers, and groups” and a place to bring all of those things “up front and personal to the local community.”
“They can use their financial power to keep our community active and vibrant and self-sustaining,” Kurt said of her customers.
For Kurt, whether or not her business will succeed is all about the choices the people in the community make. One can opt for industrially processed beef, or her grass-fed, organic beef, straight from her own farm.
“The cows enjoy their life, so why would we be surprised that that would come across in a marketable product that’s good for us?” Kurt said, explaining that her organic beef has an amount of omega-3 protein comparable to wild salmon.
“It’s not an easy thing,” Kurt admitted, “but I want to be a responsible consumer.”
For that reason, she stocks products that are made around the county and within the state, including Monument Farms milk, Cabot cheeses, Maple Meadows eggs, local syrup, grains from the Nitty Gritty Grain Company, and soon the Horse n Rebel will begin stocking local wines and beers. And in addition to products, Kurt runs a children’s camp on the property.
“Part of it is that we’ll profit and hopefully be able to create a funding stream for the camp and the sustainable agrarian campus here,” Kurt said of the addition of alcohol to her sales floor.
But one product that you will not find in Kurt’s store is tobacco.
“We’re probably the only the general store that doesn’t sell tobacco products,” she said. “It’s one of those insidious products that by some throw of the dice we allow companies to advertise to the public and they know if they can get someone under 18 hooked, they will have a customer for the rest of our lives.”
Kurt, who was a nurse for a number of years before transitioning to store proprietor, has treated a number of people who have suffered from tobacco-induced illnesses.
“We need to have the energy to help each other stay healthy and positive and live a wonderful life,” she said.
And Kurt realizes that this choice occasionally might be bad for business.
“It’s certainly not the easy way out,” she said. “People have said to me, ‘Oh, you’re going to go out of business if you’re not going to carry tobacco products.’ Well then, I will just go out of business.”
But Kurt knows that her store is offering something that many businesses do not — community.
In addition to the store space, the Horse n Rebel has a community room where various groups come to meet including the Starksboro Revolutionary Knitters, Robinson school mentors and a parents group.
“And there’s a piano,” she said. “Anybody can come in and play the piano. Local kids who are taking lessons but don’t have a piano at home often come here to play. I’ll be doing commerce on one side and hear the tinkling of the ivories in the other room. It’s very lovely.”
The Horse n Rebel also features a gallery space where local artists are encouraged to display their work, and a woodstove “that people gather around just like people have for centuries,” according to Kurt.
The store, Kurt emphasized, is also a gathering space.
Whether for meetings, to practice the piano, to buy groceries or to enjoy one of Kurt’s “Dagwood” sandwiches stuffed full of local meats and veggies, Kurt encourages customers to come in, and to linger.
“When you need something, just kick me,” she told a customer, setting down the phone mid-interview. “Ham?” she asked a few minutes later. “Slab or slices?”
And after the customer had been helped and began to move toward the door, she said, “I’m Kerry.”
“I’m Rob,” he said.
“Come back and see me sometime,” she said. “Bye, Rob.”
And so goes a normal Horse n Rebel transaction.
Kurt said that the success of the store lies in the support and investment of customers like these. Without it, she can’t hope that it will become self-sustaining, which is her biggest goal. Something she nearly reached last summer.
In addition to keeping the store up and running, Kurt hopes that the Horse n Rebel income will eventually be able to help fund scholarships for kids to attend the Sentinel Farms Arts, Ag and Equine Camp that she and her partner, Sonny Provetto, host at their farm.
“To support that, we are definitely going to need business and community building partners who are really interested in increasing the resources and making sure that those are available every day and every year,” she said.
But in the meantime, Kurt encourages those traveling on Route 116 at the intersection with States Prison Hollow Road to stop in for one of her all-local breakfast sandwiches, made fresh all day, or to pick up some fudge.
“We just welcome people to come in and have a great cup of coffee, great conversation, a yummy backed good or to take home some good, grass-fed beef and to come back and say ‘Hi’ again tomorrow,” Kurt said.
Tamara Hilmes is at email@example.com.