The centerpiece of a small town's culture has throughout history been a mercantile gathering spot:  A place to catch up on the local news, gossip and tell tall fish tales while stocking up on daily provisions.

Since 1836, the "Village Store" in Gilford has operated as the town's primary trading post as well as a mecca for children with a sweet tooth or a craving for a snack. Some of the early merchants sold everything from yarn/sewing supplies, butter, salt, and other provisions, to musk squash (muskrat) skins and grammar books. Some of the original operators throughout the property's long history included the Jewett, Chase, Thing, Munsey, Weeks and Wadley families. That was all during the time when stagecoaches passed by the store on route to Gilmanton and the seacoast.

While the faces behind the counter and the wares inside the store have changed since 1836, the store has survived every economic cycle and the "family approach" to operating the business has endured.

Have you driven by the Village Store lately?

During the last 8 months, the store and the two apartments upstairs have undergone a major renovation - both outside and inside. The building features architecture from the Greek Revival period, typical of Northern New England. It's central doorway and flanking windows are now accented with a new outside porch and brick patio, supported by attractive columns. The classic white clapboard exterior has been redone, complete with new windows and new signage. The interior evokes a subtle nostalgia of days gone by with vintage music from the 1940's playing in the background. Classic features incorporated in the renovation including beadboard ceilings, original beam ceilings, pine floors, dark mahogany built-ins, and attractive wood shelving.

A lovely café area offers ample seating for twenty, with attractive antique tables, comfortable stuffed chairs, and a stone gas fireplace for NH's chilly winters.

In addition to daily convenience provisions, candy and other village store essentials, there are two glass-enclosed display cases full of various salads and pastries. Deli offerings include creative sandwiches and hot-pressed paninis such as the "Mo-fletta", the "Villager", and the "Belknap". The store offers homemade pizza and quiches, various soup specials, dinner items, and healthy to-go items such as yogurt parfait with homemade ginger granola.

Various local goods are displayed attractively throughout the store, which is also well stocked with a great selection of cold beers and a variety of wines.

Gilford residents love their caffeine and sweets, and the bakery and adjacent coffee bar is a huge hit at the store! Glass display cases show a wide selection of delicious, English-inspired muffins, croissants, pies, scones, puddings, and posh cookies of all types to compliment a great cup of coffee.

A large selection of breakfast sandwiches, quiches, and other healthy breakfast options are available - all freshly baked on-site at the store with wholesome ingredients.

The new, spacious kitchen includes all new stainless appliances and an exhaust ventilation system, plus a new pizza oven, new baking ovens, meat slicers, and freezers.

The two (2-bedroom) apartments on the second floor were totally renovated down to the studs. They are bright and sunny with lots of wood accents, new appliances, kitchens, and baths.

So, who are the new owners responsible for this great undertaking?

Malinda Laflamme and Alex Fraser are both Gilford residents. Both of their sons were in the same class in elementary school, and they became good friends. Two of Malinda's children are now at college and she was ready to take on a new challenge - something creative and on her own terms. Growing up, Malinda had spent a lot of time at her mother's deli in Laconia ("Piccalilli's") back in the late '80s and 90's. So she was no stranger to the industry. Alex, meanwhile, had been running her custom order baking company, "Posh Cookies", which catered to families and local clients and businesses. Alex was a familiar face at the Gilford Farmer's market where she sold her delicious cookies and pastries.

When the building came up for sale it was listed by Nancy Clark of Roche Realty Group. Norm Soucy had owned operated the previous store for many years and Malinda and Alex thought it would be an opportune time to merge their skills and start a partnership.

The two discussed the idea at length, and after a lot of brainstorming and cost estimates, they eventually decided to take the leap and purchase the store. Their families are very much involved. Malinda lives just a short stroll down the road in the Gilford Village historic district, and Alex and her family also live in Gilford. Both families each have 3 children, all of whom have gone through the Gilford school system.

Malinda commented, "having grown up in Gilford the old Gilford Village Store was a local landmark. We would visit the store frequently. Both Alex and I wanted to bring the store back as a centerpiece of the community; a place where people could catch up on everything and a place we could be proud of.” Malinda's husband Duke commutes from their home to Boston where he works at Eaton Vance, an investment management firm. Malinda and Duke went to school together at Colorado State University. They then came back to their hometown to raise their kids in the Lakes Region with grandparents and siblings nearby.

Malinda is also the designer extraordinaire who helped her two brothers, Scott, and Sean of "Native Timber Works Carpentry & Design," conceptualize the renovations for the village store. The building was in need of a complete overhaul. Malinda's vision, along with her brothers' carpentry skills brought new life to the store.

Alex Fraser and her husband Chris grew up in the suburbs of London and Oxford, England. Chris became a chartered accountant, England's version of a CPA. They moved to this country together in 1992 after Chris's job with TI Group (a British engineering company) brought him to the United States. Eventually, they became U.S. Citizens and after a few moves finally settled in the town of Gilford.

Alex remarked, "our family loves Gilford. My son is off to college, and my twin daughters are Juniors in high school and are active in sports. Gilford has a wonderful school system. Our children have made so many friends here, as have we."

For all of you anticipating the opening of the Village Store, the doors are now officially open, the food is delicious, and the atmosphere is relaxed and lovely. You should definitely stop in soon to check it out!

Frank Roche is the President of Roche Realty Group with two offices in Meredith (603) 279-7046, and Laconia (603) 528-0088. You can learn more about the company and research a wealth of real estate information at: www.rocherealty.com

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