This month we were pleased to speak with Mark Johnson of the Bliss Village Store in Bradford, Vermont. The Bliss Village Store is located in the center of the Bradford Village Historic District and is a classic general store offering groceries, baked goods, beverages, cigarettes, beer, wine, souvenirs and a thriving deli with cafe seating in the rear.
Q. When did your purchase the Bliss Village Store and why did you decide to get into this business?
A. I purchased the store in 1998. I actually sold the store in April of 2011 but because of the economic downturn and other factors, the new owners were unsuccessful with it. I took it back in 2012 and have owned it ever since. I had been in the Education field as both a teacher and administrator and after 23 years, I wanted to do something for myself and purchased the store.
Q. Why is the store named the “Bliss” Village Store? Was the original owner of the store named Bliss?
A. When I purchased the store, it was actually called the Bradford Village Store. When I went to get the liquor license, I found out that the corporation and the associated business name had been sold and I couldn’t use it. The building was originally the Bliss Hotel and so I named it the Bliss Village Store. Also, we had customers who were still writing checks to BVS for Bradford Village Store. Since Bliss Village Store has the same initials, it worked well.
Q. Any historical remnants of the original hotel? Have you found anything interesting?
A. A few things like an old cash register but most things had been cleared out by the previous owners. The third floor of the building is still divided into seven tiny rooms from the original hotel. The third floor has low ceilings and no windows. The hallways have such low ceilings that it would be hard for anyone who is tall to walk down the hallways. Today, it is used to house the furnaces and other equipment for the rental units.
Q. What are the biggest challenges for your business?
A. Right now the biggest challenge is the pressures from Montpelier: taxes and increased labor costs. It’s difficult to balance current labor costs and still give increases to long term employees. Also, our business used to be predominantly beer, cigarettes, bread and milk. We probably do 10-15% of the volume we once did for cigarettes. Some of the decline is due to people going to New Hampshire where they can get these things tax-free, the decline in tobacco use, competition from Hannafords and other newer businesses, as well as the changing nature of communities. People do not necessarily shop in the place that they live any longer.
Q. What are some things that you would like people to know about the Bliss Village Store that they may not know?
A. Well, food service is one of the biggest pieces of our business. Our deli is one of our most popular services. We also have quite a few long term employees who have worked here longer than I have owned the business. Donna Harrington in the deli has been here for 30 years. Donna Lally, another employee, has been here for 25-26 years. We also have one of the largest assortment of craft beers in the area. We draw folks from quite a distance to purchase beer. We also have an eclectic assortment of wines that are priced under what you would pay elsewhere. We are also open 7 days a week which is not true of all the convenience stores in the area.