Just days into their tenure, the Elmore Store’s newest caretakers faced their first crisis.
The Elmore Post Office — a collection of P.O. boxes that have occupied the store nearly as long as it has existed, since the early 19th century — were suddenly, existentially threatened when the U.S. Postal Service planned not to renew its contract in January.
But it was in the flames of this fire that Kate Gluckman and Michael Stanley proved their mettle as the new stewards of a centuries-old tradition.
“It was really a shock,” Stanley said. “On our fifth day, we got news that they were going to close it. So, it was like this big scramble. We were petitioning and writing the Legislature and working with (Elmore Community Trust) and spreading the word. It was five weeks of intense focus on the store, but it was worth it.”
While some bigger questions remain, the Elmore community can breathe a sigh of relief as negotiations with the postal service resume.
The whole Elmore community and then some came out when Rep. Peter Welch paid a visit to the small town to announce that he, along with Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy and the town’s residents, had successfully lobbied the postal service and helped ensure the post office’s survival.
That freezing cold day was the community’s first time meeting Gluckman and Stanley as they expressed their gratitude alongside the politicians. After the event ended, Gluckman returned to the store to ring up endless cups of coffee while Stanley doled out handcrafted meatball sandwiches.
“Everybody really rallied together, and we saw great support,” Stanley said. “It was a really excellent way to get to know our community in a way that we probably wouldn’t have if it worked out differently.”
“The community really saw how Mike and Kate stepped up and responded to the challenge. They were extremely engaged the whole time and were very keen to point out how important the post office was to the community in general, and they are part of the community,” Trevor Braun, secretary of the Elmore Community Trust, said.
Warren Miller with Gov. Phil Scott on a 2018 campaign swing at the Elmore Store.
The trust was formed in 2020 to ensure the longevity of the historic store after the death of Warren Miller who, along with his wife Kathy, had owned the store since 1986. With money raised among the Elmore community and from state and federal grants, the trust purchased the store the following year and began a search for new storekeepers, a search that eventually led to Gluckman and Stanley.
It wasn’t necessarily Gluckman’s pedigree that sealed the deal either, though being born in Morristown and graduating from Peoples Academy probably didn’t hurt her chances. Braun said the trust interviewed numerous candidates, but it became clear at the end that Gluckman and Stanley showed the deepest investment and long-term commitment of all the interviewees.
So, it was with winter setting in at the end of 2021 that the couple packed up their belongings and moved from the Mississippi Delta, where Stanley was teaching and Gluckman was running a small bagel bakery, and drove north to their new life as caretakers of the Elmore Store, the only commercial business in a town of approximately 900 people.
Not only did taking up stewardship of the store fit with the couple’s long-term plans and personal interests, but the choice to return to Vermont was a deeply personal one for Gluckman, whose father, Larry, died last year.
“I’m not a religious person, but I did feel my dad’s presence in helping this transition and clearing the way for all the challenges that we had getting back here,” Gluckman said. “We just always wanted to move back to Vermont and then with Dad passing it was like, ‘OK, now I really want to go as soon as we can.’ Then this opportunity came and everything sort of fell into place.”
Larry Gluckman earned a spot rowing on the U.S. national team after beginning the sport as a walk-on at Northeastern University. He went on to coach at prestigious college programs like Princeton and Dartmouth, worked for the rowing machine producer Concept2 and still found time to help coach Peoples Academy basketball teams.
“Larry Gluckman was a well-loved man and one of the best people I’ve ever met,” Stanley said. “His death was really sudden, unexpected, and it just sort of shook her world. When your wife is struggling, hurting like that, and she comes to you with this idea, you listen.”
Now the couple lives down the road from Gluckman’s hometown and equidistant between her sister in Burlington and mother in Glover.
Gluckman applied for the role of storekeeper after seeing it mentioned on social media by Elmore Mountain Bread, the bakery whose owner, Blair Marvin, is also president of the Elmore Community Trust’s board of trustees.
Stanley, a sculptor who specializes in large-scale, outdoor works in a variety of mediums, also taught art professionally at Iowa State University and most recently at Delta State University. Though he enjoyed teaching, there was much about the teaching life he didn’t enjoy. While a great deal of his energy is being directed toward maintaining the store right now, he does have a studio in Wolcott where he continues his work.
Stanley hails from similarly rural but much flatter northwestern Iowa, an area of the country where hogs outnumber people, by some estimates. While Gluckman was coaching basketball at Grinnell College and Stanley at Iowa State, the couple ended up getting together after meeting online.
Now, by taking up the mantle from the Millers, Gluckman and Stanley have not only assumed responsibility of an institution but remade their marriage and their lives around the stewardship of the store.
The couple leases the Elmore Store and the second-floor residence from the trust, which retains ownership over the building. Having a built-in rental that came with the business helped ease the transition into Vermont and its tight housing market, but it hasn’t exactly allowed for much separation between work and the rest of their lives.
“We understood that the proximity was going to be both a blessing and a curse in a lot of ways,” Gluckman said. “Even though the store has been here for a long time, we’re in startup mode. We came knowing the kind of hours we were going to have to put in for our long-term vision of having a more sustainable sort of work-life balance, but right now it’s all rockets firing.”
The storekeepers took a well-deserved break and closed the store this week. Though they’re supported by a rotating cast of younger employees, Stanley and Gluckman are actively looking for adult-aged employees to help carry the burden of store management so they might claw a bit of their personal lives back.
Already, Gluckman and Stanley are shifting the store to meet their own modern vision of what the local “genny” should be, taking cues from successful neighbors like the Craftsbury General Store. They’ve broadened the selection of craft beer and organic wine available at the store and started stocking locally produced coffee, cookies and other goods.
But their ambitions expand beyond the store’s shelves. As soon as they took over, Stanley heard from many in Elmore about the need for meal options somewhere closer than Montpelier. Soon he began serving hot lunch specials to compliment Fire Tower Pizza, which operates out of the store during the weekends.
Now Stanley is expanding this operation into a full-fledged deli, with signature sandwiches and a customized roll baked specifically for the store by Elmore Mountain Bread. Capitalizing on Gluckman’s experience with bagel production, the store will soon begin baking and selling its own bagels.
There are also plans in the works to expand the side-ramp and use the back deck of the store, which looks out over the scenic vistas of Lake Elmore and the mountain beyond. Along with making for a bucolic outdoor seating space, plans are underway to hold an outdoor concert series as well.
Despite their grand plans and modernizing changes, Stanley and Gluckman are sensitive to the democratic process through which the Elmore Store was preserved. They’re always open to and fielding feedback from the community, including Kathy Miller, who still visits the store daily.
“People in this community raised the money to save this place, so I feel like they should have a voice and I love it,” Stanley said. “It gives us clear direction. We can’t be everything to everyone, but it gives us great ideas.”
It’s this democratic yet forward-thinking attitude that made Gluckman and Stanley exactly what Elmore trustees were looking for in the Millers’ successors and made them a perfect fit for the town.
“I think the idea of finding a new operator that could run the store but run it in a way that would keep all the existing patrons happy, but also bring in new patrons that may not have known about the store, seemed really daunting, like potentially one of the hardest parts of the whole project. We were pretty anxious about it,” Braun said. “But as soon as we started talking with Kate and Mike, we knew that they were going to be a really good fit.”