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ON THE SCENE: Valley Grocery owners start rebuilding

June 8, 2018
By NAJ WIKOFF , Lake Placid News

On Sunday March 11, the full-time and seasonal residents of Keene Valley had a shock that caused them all to gasp in pain. Their beloved Valley Grocery store - affectionately known as Valley Gro - was engulfed in flames. It was a business that had served the community well for nearly 50 years under the auspices of the Hall family.

The Valley Gro was much more than the community's grocery store; it was one of the spiritual anchors of the community. Yes, it was a grocery store but far more than that as three generations of Halls have served in leadership roles in the Keene Valley Fire Department which also provides ambulance and mountain rescue services. It was a business where the guides serving the families with camps on the Upper Ausable Lakes and Ausable Club members staying at the Club cottages on the lakes ordered and organized the food needed for wilderness experiences.

The Valley Gro was one of the few remaining businesses that had a professional butcher that ordered and cut meats to order, meats of a high quality rarely available in chain supermarkets. Further, as it served many seasonal residents used to fine dining in New York, Boston, Philadelphia and elsewhere, it carried an array of seasonings and specialty items rarely found in a small country store.

Article Photos

Work has begun on the new Valley Grocery store in Keene Valley.
(Provided photo — Naj Wikoff)

"The Valley Gro has been an integral part of the community," said Liz Jaques. "Everybody gathered there. They did their local shopping there. They relied on it. If there's one thing you forgot, you knew you can get it at the Valley Gro. Lots of times they'd have items unavailable at other grocery stores. Their meat is excellent, always has been. The Club guides got all their food for their clients at the Valley Gro. It will be packaged up and ready for them to pick up. Most of the private camp owners still to this day rely on the Valley Gro."

Owned by Carol Hall and Bruce Reed, Keene's retired highway superintendent who is known for his fine hand-made sausages, the Valley Gro also made sandwiches to order, sold transfer station tickets and provided great service. Most people who worked there did so for decades.

Horrible though the news of the fire was, good news is that no one got hurt. Tough was that several members of the fire department responding were Halls, such as Carol's brother, Ron Hall, a former fire chief. For them, fighting the fire was a difficult emotional challenge as well as a taxing physical challenge. The fire was so grave, and the danger of its spreading so great, that eight regional departments responded. Even so, it took five hours to contain the blaze. By then, the building was a total loss. No small success was they kept the fire from expanding.

"I was crying the whole time I was fighting the fire," said Ron Hall, who, like her, grew up in the store. "So much heartache and sweat went into this place."

The great news is Carol and Bruce have decided to rebuild, not an easy decision as maintaining a business in such a seasonal economy and in a town of slightly over 1,000 residents is no easy task. First, Carol and Bruce had to wrestle with the insurance company; fortunately, they had a good policy and documented the contents. Members of the community gave generously to help cover what the insurance might not, and to help the owners and their core staff weather their personal economic loss until the business can reopen.

"It's a good feeling that we are starting to rebuild," said Carol. "It's a new adventure. At times you don't know how important a business is until it's gone. We hope to have it open around September-October, but realistically it might take longer. The new building will be a little different. The coolers will be different. The meat department will be bigger. We cut to order. Not many places still do that. Our meats mean a lot to the locals and seasonal residents, they like good stuff."

While everyone desires the Valley Gro to open sooner, between constructing a building to code and under the watchful eye of the insurance company, and acquiring the needed shelving, refrigerators, and goods simply will take time.

"We tend to take for granted many things and all of a sudden they're not there," said Diana House.

"What I like most about the business is the people," said Carol, referring both to their customers and staff. "And I like to be busy. My parents bought the business when I was 9 years old. It's been a big part of my life. Next year it will be 50 years. I think my dad would have been very pleased about what we had done before the fire, the new stuff we put in and the upkeeps, all of that. And I think he'd be very pleased to see what we are doing now. The community has been wonderful. They've been so generous and helpful."

"Seeing it being rebuilt is just beautiful," said Peggy LaRose, a former longtime employee. "I wasn't sure if they'd rebuild, but it's wonderful that they are and keeping it in the family. Seeing the progress is giving everybody hope. It'll be up and going soon, and we'll be back as we should be."

"When I first moved to the town, Almeda and Nip owned it," said Jean Coolidge. "For years I did all my shopping at the Valley Gro, but now I live a bit closer to E'town so lately I'd been using it to fill in what I need. It's great that it's getting rebuilt."

"Our family came to the Valley in 1886 or 7," said Andy Derr. "We've been using the Valley Gro throughout its existence. Our family was devastated to learn about the fire, especially my daughter. I'm happy for the owners that it's being rebuilt. They do a great job there."

Carol Hall and Bruce Reed want Keene's year-round and seasonal community to know that they've been overwhelmed by and very grateful for the outpouring of support, which has taken many forms, including letters, calls, donations, hugs and smiles.

"Until tragedy strikes, we often don't realize how much what we do on a daily basis impacts the lives of those in a community such as the town of Keene," said Carol. "The Valley Grocery will be back, brand new, and better than ever. Thank you one and all."



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