South Woodstock Country Store and ECFiber team up to create first-ever Internet cafe
One of the first things you realize when you move to South Woodstock — like so many towns tucked into Green Mountain valleys — is that there’s zero cell phone reception and the Internet might best be renamed the Iffynet.
The community-minded South Woodstock Country Store and spunky utility EC Fiber are doing something about that. In addition to providing everything from Olympic-class egg sandwiches, groceries sourced from Upper Valley farms and all manner of maple syrup, the store is now the site of ECFiber’s first Internet cafe — an event they will mark with a celebration Monday at 3 p.m.
Simran Johnston was born in South Woodstock and, with her sister, owns the store.
“It’s the hub of the village,” says Johnston.
She’s got that right. Walk into the store in the morning and you’ll find a group of guys nursing cups of joe and swapping insights at a table inside the front door. Lunchtime sees a group of older women filling a table with food and lively laughter. All day long, parents, their kids and sometimes their dogs stride across the wood plank floors for homemade oatmeal raisin cookies, bottles of milk and the latest community chatter.
This being the 21st century, though, people are also hungry for a different kind of communication — firing up their phones and laptops to download family photos, upload work projects, fire off emails. As ECFiber expands service down the Route 106, the store is now a place where customers can get broadband at no charge.
“Internet is so important,” says Johnston, a 27-year-old sculptor who graduated from Sarah Lawrence College and ran an artist’s gallery in Brooklyn before returning to her hometown. “If you want young people to move to rural areas, you have to have Internet.”
Will the store become a place where everyone’s staring at their screens all day long and never interacting with their neighbors in the old-fashioned way? That seems unlikely. On the day I stopped by to see Johnston, a neighbor stopped by to show her some century-old photos of the inn (where Johnston’s family is doing an extensive restaurant renovation) and a now-defunct dance hall.
Jane Soule, whose family dates back about eight generations in Woodstock, pointed out a set of stalls. She says, “That’s where people who came to dance could keep their horses.”
Jane Soule shows century-old pictures to Simran Johnston and Joe Boisvert at South Woodstock Country Store.
From one century to the next, a general store provides for all kinds of communication, says Johnston.
“When you live in a rural place, it’s important to have a social hub where people can pop in and get the lowdown.”
- Jeffrey Good
Jeffrey Good recently moved to South Woodstock and will be roaming Woodstock and surrounding towns in coming weeks, chronicling his discoveries. Got a cool place, fascinating person or intriguing issue you'd like him to check out? Email him at Woodstockblogger@gmail.com.