Ted Reinstein and the New England General Store

Coretta Scott King once said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members.” There isn’t a soul who would buy into this notion more than that of Ted Reinstein, author of New England’s General Stores: Exploring an American Classic.

On the peaceful evening of Thursday, May 31, the Chroniclecorrespondent and author drew a crowd of around 30 to the Elizabeth Taber Library in Marion to discuss the ethos behind his new book and examine the often soft-spoken importance of general stores around New England.

Throughout his talk, Reinstein’s focus persisted on one very important aspect of civilized life that can be easily overlooked in today’s society: community. Reinstein even prefaced his talk with a little joke regarding the redundant nature of his speech, saying, “If we were playing a drinking game tonight and you were going to have a drink every time I said community, none of you would be able to drive home.”

Reinstein went on to explain, “Why general stores are valued more than ever has nothing to do with [what] is sold on a shelf at a general store, but everything to do with something you can’t put a price on, which is a sense of community.” Reinstein clarified that general stores are something that author Ray Oldenburg coined “the third place,” which he defines as a common location that strengthens our sense of community in which a neighborhood people will spend most of its time in between their home and work. This is something that Reinstein believes in strongly, and something in which he surmises is making a big comeback in 21st Century New England.

Reinstein’s New England’s General Storesis a lovely departure into the heart and soul of New England – a deep dive into the small penny-candy, mom-and-pop shops that are the backbone of the Northeastern American small town. In the book, the author spends his time highlighting a number of New England general stores that have stood the test of time and have been proven to be an integral part of each of their respective communities.

He incorporated a multitude of different stores in his book, including stores that have been closed, reopened, closed, and then reopened again – stores that sell everything known to man (including one in Augusta, Maine that absurdly sells wedding dresses), and even a store owned by actor Steve Carrell and his wife Nancy in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Throughout it all, Reinstein reminded us that every one of these stores has one thing in common: an unbelievably strong sense of community.

One might think Reinstein gave his talk in the small town of Marion because he had caught wind of the Marion General Store and, upon being impressed with the small, yet strong shop, he wanted to give a talk that hit close to home with many of its residents. Interestingly enough, however, after being prompted about whether he had visited the long-running staple of Marion, he was caught rather off-guard.

“Here? In Marion? Really!” Reinstein replied, astounded.

So maybe it’s stores like these, unknown to the rest of the world yet so familiar to the locals, that make Reinstein’s book exactly what it’s all about it. After all, what’s a community without a fun secret or two?

By Caleb Jagoda

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