By Brenda Sullivan | Editor HTNP News
After five years of providing a cozy gathering place with Sunday brunch and live music, the owners of the Mansfield General Store are officially closing their doors at the end of business on Saturday, Feb. 16.
The following week, they will be packing up in preparation for moving to a new location, under a new name and with a new theme.
According to co-owner Keleigh Shumbo, the new business – Lady Chatelaine’s/Lady C’s Chocolates – will be found in the bright yellow building (also home to the Victorian Association) next door to Fred’s Horned Toad Café blues and BBQ restaurant at 875 Main St. in downtown Willimantic.
Shumbo and her sister Lisa Rich took over the Mansfield General Store building in 2008.
The historic building across from the Mansfield Congregational Church had been closed for a long time after the owner, Ann Robb – then in her 80s – retired after 40 years. She and her husband, Willard Robb, were only the third owners of what used to be known as the Barrows & Burnham General Store.
Robb had been running the place single-handedly ever since her husband died in 1964, selling basics such as milk, bread and eggs and as well as local baked goods and homemade sandwiches at lunchtime. (See “Customers Say Goodbye to Old Friend,” By Brenda Sullivan at http://articles.courant.com/1997-08-18/news/9708180424_1_general-store-mrs-robb-twin-girls )
Other attempts to revive the store were short-lived.
The store – which in its early days hosted dances and lectures in the second-floor ballroom – took on new life when it was re-opened by Shumbo and Rich, serving brunch on Sundays with live music, and boosting the offerings for lunch. Half of the store, in a separate room, also offered vintage and antique items for sale.
As popular as the store became, it wasn’t quite enough to keep the business afloat, Shumbo said in an interview today.
With rent at $1,500 a month, electric bills ranging from $700 to $800, plus about $125 for heating, “We have struggled to meet our overhead,” Shumbo said.
“And there was no renegotiating the rent, at all,” with the Shafer family, she said.
Most disappointing of all, however, was the lack of support from Mansfield residents, Shumbo said.
“I am very sad. I am truly disappointed. We have about 50 very good, very loyal customers but most of them were not from Mansfield,” she said.
With two children attending Mansfield schools, Shumbo said, she often saw hundreds of town residents at school functions, “but we maybe saw 10 to 15 faces at the store,” she said.
“Just buy your milk once a week from us… It’s not just about supporting our store, a local business, but maybe help save an historic icon,” Shumbo said.
The store also took a hit when a coffee shop opened at the new Storrs Center complex, she said.
“We always struggled but we started losing business when Dog Lane Café opened… even if it’s just a matter of temporary interest (in a new business), we couldn’t take that kind of loss,” Shumbo said.
On the Mansfield General Store Facebook page, Shumbo writes:
We will not be having our usual Sunday Brunch this Sunday, and will not be hosting the much hoped for “last” musical brunch in the General Store which we had planned for the last Sunday of this month.
We need to close the store sooner than we had expected, as business has dropped off significantly this week.
Our doors will remain open during the next two weeks as we pack and organize for our new venture. We will be brewing coffee and we still have a few antiques and fixtures left to sell. PLEASE feel free to stop by and say hello …. or goodbye …. as we tearfully and excitedly prepare for our new venture.
The new location will sell homemade chocolates, as well as scones and cookies. Since there is no kitchen in the building, there won’t be any of the homemade soups and other dishes Mansfield General Store regulars looked forward to.
The shop also will sell fresh flowers, vintage jewelry, antiques and clothing. And there will be “an old-fashioned” penny-candy style area, Shumbo said.
“We also will continue to host music venues,” she said.
The goal is to open the new business on March 1, and then hold a grand opening event sometime in the spring, Shumbo said.
She added that she’s optimistic about the business because of its location. “We will have more foot traffic and we plan to market to the students (Eastern Connecticut State University), especially with the clothing,” Shumbo said.
In the meantime, fans of the Mansfield General Store are encouraged to stop by on Saturday to say good-bye and wish the owners good luck in their new venture. Visitors are also welcome to stop in next week and share a cup of coffee and some memories, as the owners prepare to move on.
For now, updates on the store and the move are being posted on the Mansfield General Store Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/MansfieldGeneralStore?ref=stream
Posted February 15, 2013
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