The White River Junction Co-op is a cream-colored food store and community hub just west of the Connecticut River in White River Junction, Vermont. It’s a unique store, in a unique place. Thanks to an art school, two co-ops, an old railroad station, and a main street lined with idiosyncratic businesses and restaurants, the village of WRJ is like a funky arts colony. (Moment of transparency: I live there.) The WRJ Co-op fits right in. The store serves a two-fold purpose: grocery store and local hangout.
Each time I go on vacation, something really cool happens back home in WRJ. It’s become so recurrent, I’ve come to count on it. So in some way, I was already expecting interesting news last weekend when I was at the tail end of a road trip and checked my email. The news from home surpassed even my high expectations.
This past Saturday, Tom Battles, a cheerful Co-op member and board member, married his long-time partner, Michele Chadburn, in WRJ. A wedding is always special, of course, though not necessarily newsworthy. But this wedding was different. The couple exchanged vows in the produce department of the WRJ Co-op.
“We decided that we would like a Civil Ceremony that would be fun, and yet, symbolic of commitment and trust,” Tom told me in an email. “The Co-op was an obvious choice for us. Our Co-op is steeped in a historical commitment to the Upper Valley community.”
Michele and Tom are new to the Upper Valley. Not long after purchasing their home in West Lebanon, NH, they began shopping at the WRJ Co-op. Tom was so impressed, he became a member, and then ran for the board of directors. He was elected to the board this past spring.
I first heard Tom speak at the Co-op annual meeting in April. He addressed a gathering of Co-op members, lauding the virtues of strong community. (He also raved about the Co-op’s new flash sales, and said he recently took advantage of one to stock up on his favorite variety of Ben & Jerry’s. Here is a man with his priorities in order, I thought to myself.)
Tom is easygoing, with a broad smile. He wears glasses and keeps his hair close-cropped, typically smiling as he speaks. I would describe him as a true original, with a carpe-diem way about him.
It didn’t surprise me that people as unique as Tom and Michele would get married in a produce department. The couple wasn’t just trying to be different. They share a strong sense of community, and wanted to find a way to honor that.
I asked my friend and colleague Cathy Moloney, manager of the store, what she thought of the service. She beamed. “We were so honored they wanted to have the wedding there,” she told me. “We all felt like we were part of something special.”
Michele and Tom know most of the store’s staff by name. They enjoy the personalized banter and advice whenever they shop. Michele, a breast cancer survivor, also relies on the store and its staff for her specialized dietary needs.
“The ambiance of the WRJV store exudes a commitment to the shoppers,” Tom said. “The staff’s treatment of us has built a bond of trust that is difficult to replicate in your typical grocer. So why wouldn’t we want this location as a symbolic representation of commitment and trust?”
NOURISH. CULTIVATE. COOPERATE.
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