Brattleboro is the Perfect Escape on a Chilly Sunday in March

It was a Sunday driver’s Sunday morning, crisp and clear,  while the temperature was stubbornly sticking to the 30s. We were determined to make a beautiful day of it.  It was time to head north, shun-piking our way up to Brattleboro. The shun-pikers in colonial times avoided the local taxes imposed on pikes by taking the smaller dirt roads. While Routes 5&10 are now paved, this stretch of road north from Bernardston to the Vermont line is full of pretty scenes and some pretty dogpatch houses. Ramshackle is the word along this thoroughfare; farms with broken down trucks, unrepaired sagging sheds, and the sad corpse of a country music hall called the Hollywood, shuttered and done.

Brattleboro had a an invigorated energy when we arrived, parking on Elliot Street.  Right across the street we saw a restaurant that both Mary and I remember fondly, the Common Ground. Today all that’s left is a big sign on the parking lot side of the building but a locked door and boarded up windows.  We popped into a vintage clothing store called Boomerang, the friendly staff was pleased when we told them we’d heard their ads on WRSI.  Then around the corner we saw the biggest building in town, The Brooks House, with empty storefronts and boarded up windows. In 2011, a terrible fire destroyed this, the home of 10 businesses on the ground floor and 23 apartments upstairs.

But picking up the local newspaper, The Commons, told us the good news. Bob Stevens and partners are spending $20 million to renovate  the former hotel, and they’ve already rented 70% of the space!  Upstairs will be the same apartments but the building will be done to LEED specifications, which is amazing considering its age.

We shopped at Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, where there are probably more than 1000 different kinds of wool socks, and we popped into the Gallery in the Woods, where Haitian craftsman make beautiful sculpture out of discarded steel drums.  Mary was delighted to find so many pretty buttons to use on the sweater she’s knitting at Delectable Mountain fabrics.  Then before we left, we were pleased to see that Fireworks was about to open, so we took two seats at the bar for some  notably tasty salad and pizza.

On the way home, we crossed the river and passed the sad hulk of the closed Wal-Mart, which is unlikely to ever be used again. I mean, who can rent a store that big?   Inexplicably, three fireworks stores, all huge buildings, sat along Rte 63, and a sign said a fourth was just down the road!  Then we drove into the new Wal-Mart, an astounding 150,000 square feet, and managed to buy a single item, a broom, and nothing else. Then we enjoyed a leisurely drive through the countryside of Hinsdale, Northfield and Millers Falls.  A great day in a great little town!