Tom Mehuron was the owner and manager of Mehuron’s Market for just over 40 years. Last year he passed the baton to his stepson, Bruce Hyde Jr. who is the fourth generation of family to continuously own and operate the business. He and the Mehuron family are a big part of the history of this Valley. It has taken me a year and a half, however, to get my husband to be one of the subjects of my articles. He finally relented on a rainy day at camp when there wasn’t much else to do. But when he started reminiscing, he went on for a while, “Waitsfield in the 60s wasn’t much different than driving through downtown Roxbury now. One small store. A bunch of people doing whatever they could to make a living. And not a lot of fancy houses. Of course, we had a more scenic village but car-traffic-wise, not much different.
“I don’t remember anything before 1960. Route 100 was paved. Mehuron’s was a small general store (where the Artisans’ Gallery is now). I don’t think the aisles were more than 3-feet wide. We had these tiny shopping carts and two cash registers. There was a big comic book rack up front and a Coca Cola machine. There wasn’t much going on in Waitsfield. We could play in the middle of the streets. We could play hide and seek in the Bisbee’s warehouse.” (That was back when Bisbee’s Hardware was located near the covered bridge where Peasant Restaurant is now.) We played in abandoned houses — there were a couple behind the Masonic Hall. And no one was living in the building where Darrad is. There was a lot of nothingness in town.
“My family lived in the apartment above Mehuron’s until 1963. I was 8 years old when my parents built a house and we moved. Until then I did what most kids around there did. We played with our friends in our neighborhood but eventually our families expected us to be doing something to help out. I sorted eggs and flipped the wheels of aging cheddar that were down in the basement. My grandfather had me keep a notebook in my back pocket to keep track of my hours. Twenty-five cents an hour. I handed my tally over to him every couple weeks.
“That was the money I used to buy comic books and maybe buy a soda. That was on Saturday night. You could only get one soda.
VERY DIFFERENT THAN NOW
“Town was very different than it is now. I know kids growing up in Waitsfield think that this place is really small, but they have no idea what it was like in the 60s. It was a huge trip and a treat to go to Harry’s discount department store in Barre. And there was Gayne’s Shoppers World in Burlington. Montpelier had Fishman’s Five and Dime.
“I’m assuming more people got into the trades as Brother’s Building got more busy. I was a kid — there are only certain things you can pay attention to. I went to school at Waitsfield Elementary School. The same one that is there now. Grades one through six. Kindergarten hadn’t started yet. And then to Harwood. I think that the first graduating class of Harwood started in 1968 and I went in 1969 and graduated in 1973. Then UVM.
“There was an appliance store in town. Where the wine shop is. Alden Bettis ran it. You could buy a dishwasher, washer and drier, a water heater. I remember my father bought the first colored television in Waitsfield there. It was two weeks before I got to see it because every night my parent’s friends would be over watching the adult shows. Kids weren’t allowed in the room. It must have been 1961, 1962 somewhere in there.
“The area between the library and the Waitsfield United Church of Christ was all an open field. We used to have football and wiffleball games. Used to run around that whole thing. Play kickball. Everything we did was outside. Not like today. Unless it was raining, no kids spent time indoors. We were out riding our bikes or fishing.
FARMING WAY TOO HARD
“I remember being invited to different farmers’ houses, mostly the Barnard’s, to help out during their busy summer months. I learned that farming was way too hard a work for me to ever be interested in being a farmer.
“As I got older and started reading about different art and things to travel to and see, Waitsfield got really small. It took forever to get out of Vermont. They had not finished the interstate system. . . Route 89 didn’t get finished till the late 60s. To go visit relatives down in Boston, it would take six hours.”
“There were some skiers that I knew all my life. People would flock up on weekends. It was always busier then, even at the old tiny grocery store. But by the late 60s there were noticeably more customers. That’s why we needed a bigger store.”
After graduating from the University of Vermont with a degree in accounting, Tom came back home to work at Mehuron’s Market. That wasn’t his original plan. “I had a job lined up as an accountant in Boston. But I had a bunch of friends who had graduated college the year before I did. And they were coming up weekends to ski and party.
“They kept saying, ‘We’re working our butts off to be able to come up here, if you can figure out a way to stay, maybe that’s the way to go.’ So, I changed my mind and told my father I wanted to get into the grocery business. Which I’d never wanted to do before because I got sick of it growing up. Back then it demanded your whole life. We never went on vacation. We never did anything.
DID EVERY JOB
“But once I decided to come back I did every job at the store. You’d stock shelves at certain times of the day. Did office work. I don’t remember the exact progression of my job from year to year, but I would learn as I went. After my father died, I knew that when you run a family business you have to do something to establish yourself as the new generation. Otherwise, you’re sitting on someone else’s coat tails, and you get bored. Anytime you get bored you get sloppy, and if you get sloppy you go backwards. So, you’ve got to decide what you are going to do to generate your interest. I decided it was going to be about gourmet food and wine and trying to create a one-stop shopping experience. Where you could get meats and seafood and liquor and wine. Pretty much trying to match, in a small town, what you could get in the city. As much as we could. That was my intention.”
“Jackie Rose owned The Store, but it was over where Sportive is now. She’d moved down from Sugarbush Village. And she started having guest chefs. She’d also come to our store looking for certain ingredients. She’d lay out invitations for me to come to take cooking lessons with the guest chefs and I started doing that. I was the single 20-something-year-old guy in a room of 30-year-old women. It wasn’t bad.”
Traveling to buy food to bring into Mehuron’s has been a big part of my life with Tom. I asked him how all of that began. “I think I went to the International Fancy Food and Confection Show in Manhattan at the Jacob Javits Center in 1980 or 1981. Then the wholesalers started doing their own shows, so it wasn’t just that you could go out and learn about these foods that you couldn’t buy anywhere. Different brokerage houses were showing up and offering, maybe once-a-month, then once-a-week deliveries of specialty foods.”
MORE DIVERSE NOW
“The Valley now is way more diverse than it was. Nowhere near as impoverished either. There’s more opportunity for locals to make decent money — whether it’s running property care, a grocery store, or a restaurant. More and more people who are moving up here already have money too. I mean, none of the locals had any when I was growing up. They might have got some here and there but most everyone I knew accumulated wealth from buying extra land and then, eventually, selling that land to people who were moving up here. They sold off farmland that they had.”
Tom isn’t much of a talker, so I knew I was running out of time for this interview. There was one last thing I really wanted to know. I asked him if he had any advice to give our community moving forward. He grimaced. I was sure he didn’t think he was important enough to be giving that kind of advice.
I said, “If you had to pick one thing. One final thought.”
He was quiet for a few moments. “The Mad River Valley’s biggest challenge is liberalizing all of its zoning and building restrictions that have made it so exclusive. We need to try to make it so more people can afford to live here. We need to set up infrastructure that extends beyond helping just a few opportunistic property owners. Take the time to extend improvements to a wider range of people. That way you have a better chance of selling the idea to voters. Water rights, sewage treatment. We need to do better.”
Well, thank you, Tom Mehuron, for taking us back. I never thought I’d live to see the day you’d agree to this, but we sure appreciate it.