The hamlet of Stillwater is rich with history, and as of Monday, Garris General Store returned to the village. Located on Main Street, the 144-year-old business was one of the state's longest-running general stores when Dean and Albina Voris purchased the property in July, 2016. They closed the store to begin a long restoration process. It was an arduous undertaking, but it all was worth it as people entered Garris' on Monday ooohing and ahhing over the incredible transformation and the return of a downtown gathering place.
“When I first realized that Dean was interested in the store I told him if anyone could conquer the needed renovations to the structure to be board of health and construction code compliant I was confident he could be that person,” said Stillwater Mayor, Lisa Chammings. “He is meticulous and exceedingly patient. The structure needed a lot of work. Renovating old structures is a long and at times painstaking process. In this case Dean has far exceeded what I knew he could do.”
Voris is a long time town resident and was determined to preserve this piece of history while adding some modern nuances.
The building and the institution of the George D Garris General Store dates back to the early days of Stillwater. George D Garris fought in the Civil War and his mustering out money was used to buy the lot, build the building and start the business which opened in 1876.
“I like to restore old buildings,” Voris said, “So with a little prompting from some of my friends, some friends did caution me to stay away however, I decided to jump in to the restoration and preserve this part of the township's history in honor of the Garris family. I'm glad that I did, as during the demolition phase of the construction, I determined that the building would have collapsed soon, being that many studs and joists had been cut during alterations in the past, had I not come in.”
The process involved the Health Department, Architect Frank Warr of HQW Architecture and Thomas Rivara of Rivara Nicomini Construction, to determine what it would take to implement the required changes.
“As I was mulling the decision over, a few friends prompted me to move forward, basically they provided verbal solutions to my reasons for not doing it,” Voris said. “Of course it helped, or at least boosted my ego, when I stood outside looking at the building, and Mayor Chammings came up to me and said 'if anybody can do this Dean, you can.'”
In October, 2016, a new roof was put on and after that they worked from the bottom up removing and improving.
“The first order of business was to move the post office from the front of the building into a new and secure office within the addition,” Voris said. “Those were difficult days, minimal heat and dusty conditions, but they never closed for a day and came out of it with a brand new office. The whole building is barrier free, the ramp, the doors, the post office and of course the bathroom, that alone took a lot of time and resources.”
The entire building was upgraded to a 2020 standard with new heat, air conditioning, plumbing and electric. Counters were built in out of sycamore that Voris and his sons sawmilled years ago and they added a backsplash of American Chestnut from a shelf Voris found in the upstairs of the building.
“Some of the wood integrated into the tables was sawmilled by Gus Roof, another local and prominent friend of mine,” Voris said. “Lawrence assisted in the construction of the newel posts, which were built from an ancient copper beach that was taken down at Whitehall a few years back. The wood in the floors was harvested, milled and processed by Castners Sawmill, I know the woods that the trees came out of up in Fredon.”
In establishing the nature of the store and the menu, Voris went to the community.
“They wanted to preserve the building, a place to eat, get their mail, pick up some general goods, but most importantly a place of local connection and fellowship, we will have all of that,” he said. “Likewise, they want accessibility to the post office and they may want it seven days a week. In the beginning, until the waters are tested, we will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.. As we see what the needs are, we can tailor our hours, make them longer or shorter wherever needed.”
Garris' will start by serving breakfast and hot and cold lunch. Taylor Constantine, a trained pastry chef who studied at Johnson and Wales and comes from Boston's Ritz Carlton, is on board. Garris' is starting by offering breakfast and hot and cold lunch. The menu will grow and evolve, and ice cream will be coming with the warmer months. Plans for a pizza oven are also in the works.
“Chef Taylors passion is baking, as soon as we get a handle on breakfast and lunch, she will develop into baking fresh pastries, pies and of course her passion of the passion: bread,” Voris said.
“This project will probably jump start our little village, kind of a renaissance, you know,” Voris siad. “If there is a place to come, enjoy and relax, people will come and do it.”
Monday, January 6th was a very exciting day for Stillwater Township,” said The Historical Society of Stillwater Township's President, Deborah Drumm. “Casper Shafer settled Stillwater in 1743 when most residents grew their own food or relied on traveling into Newton for provisions. One hundred thirty years later, in 1873, when George D. Garris opened his general store, there were no cars, telephones or internet. Stillwater residents moved on foot or relied on horses and buggies to get around. The George D. Garris General Store was an icon of the community, a gathering place, where neighbors not only bought food and supplies, but also ran into each other, were introduced to the newcomers, and found out what was going on in the local community.”
Patience has been a virtue, and the Voris was steadfast on not being tempted to open until everything was perfect.
“He could have opened the structure a few weeks ago once he had all the permits,” Chammings said. “But the Board of Health permit finally allowed him to prepare food. Now Taylor enters picture and adds her expertise to the opening. This too takes time. So instead of opening a day here and there between holidays it was best to wait and open on Monday. We as a town are excited for our end of town to have 'our' post office back.”
“The residents of Stillwater are excited that after four long years in the making, the George D. Garris General Store has once again re-opened,” Drumm said. “Many thanks to the vision and handwork of Dean Voris (and friends), who have diligently renovated the building, restoring it to the quality and detail associated with prestigious builders from years past.”
George D. Garris General Store is located at 912 Main Street in Stillwater. For further information, visit the facebook page at, https://www.facebook.com/garrissgeneralstore.