A new surplus store in Johnson is bringing about second chances: one for a historic property that has lay dormant for years, the other to people fighting drug and alcohol addiction.
JP’s Promising Goods, funded by the founders of Jenna’s Promise and fully staffed by people in recovery, opened last week in the old Parker and Stearns lumberyard at the end of Railroad Street.
The quirky spot has a little bit of everything — bath and body care products, toys and sporting gear, auto accessories, vitamins and supplements, clothes and more.
There’s even a section stuffed with surplus medical supplies like wheelchairs and crutches.
According to store manager Shayne Spence, the shop invites repeat trips. That’s because its founders, Greg and Dawn Tatro, have an inside connection with one of the country’s largest surplus overstock buyers; the store’s inventory is relatively low overhead, but is subject to the whims of whatever comes in.
“You may never find the same thing in here twice,” Spence said. “One week we may have 50 types of shampoo, or maybe a bunch of different brands of cough drops. We don’t know until we open the boxes.”
What customers will find are items purposely priced lower than anywhere else, even a certain nationwide box store that quietly opened up on the outskirts of town a few years ago.
“The only people we are really going to be competing with is Dollar General, and I don’t have much of a problem with that,” Spence said.
On opening day, Eric Osgood, chair of the Johnson Selectboard, bought a set of jumper cables. He said the store fits in with the town’s demographics and its historic mission to put people to work — in the 1990s, Ben & Jerry’s had a scoop shop run fully by the teens at the Laraway School.
JP’s Promising Goods is very much a local business. As an offshoot of Jenna’s Promise, the recovery-centered organization the Tatros started in honor of their daughter who died two years ago of an opioid overdose, all of Promising Goods’ proceeds go right back into the organization.
The people who work there are also involved in the organization, and are in varying degrees of recovery.
Spence, who campaigned last year for election to the Vermont House of Representatives, has been sober for four years this week, on April 11. He said he was not open about his struggle for the first couple of years — he was addicted to a lot of things, mostly prescription drugs, “anything that could get my mind out of my head.”
In working with the Tatros, he said, he realized that he, too, could help break down stigmas around addiction and recovery.
He said that, first and foremost, Promising Goods is a store, a business like any other that provides goods for customers. But he also knows that, if people know the employee base is made up of people working to kick addiction, staff might be asked for advice or services by people who come in, too.
“I would treat it like another business,” Spence said. “The people who are working here, most of them are going to be in recovery and they may be at various points in their recovery. Some people aren’t as comfortable with talking about it as I am.”
Literature will be available for Jenna’s Promise, the North Central Vermont Recovery Center, and other resources, should someone want to learn more, Spence said.
Parker and Stearns had been operating continuously for more than 120 years when it closed in 2018.
The Tatros bought the sprawling five-acre lot this year and have designs for the other buildings on it — storage, for sure, and perhaps some workforce housing.
The idea is to have people in recovery start working at the store for a few hours, maybe 10 hours a week. There’s a synergy to the operation between sober living and sober working. A third of the rooms at the sober living home, Rae of Hope, are occupied by women in recovery.
There are also plans to open a café on Main Street, also to be staffed by people in recovery with living space upstairs — Rae of Hope’s location remains confidential to protect those escaping dangerous situations.
Leah Hollenberger, who was shopping on opening day, said she thinks it’s smart for Jenna’s Promise to diversify and add workforce training to its recovery and sober living aspirations.
“It’s a win on so many levels, because you all know you feel better when you have a purpose,” Hollenberger said.
Another man staffing the store, Kyle Tatro — no relation to the founding family — is six-and-a-half months sober.
A hard worker, he said he’s been waking up at 5 a.m., six days a week, since he was a kid.
He’s also faced addiction much of his life. When the pandemic started, things got bad.
“I’ve used my whole life, but then COVID hit and I just didn’t work for days and days,” he said. “You go two, three, four weeks straight of doing some you can’t come out of that not in trouble.”
In preparation for Promising Goods opening, he was busting his hump, working 77 hours “moving stuff around, boxes after boxes.”
“This has been a good outlet,” he said.