PORTRAIT OF A SMALL TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I live in Easton, Connecticut, a small (8000 people), rural/suburban town in Fairfield County. I came here for summers from the day I was born in 1949 to the day I moved here full-time in 1991. We used to be called a ‘bedroom community’ because our residents commuted to work in nearby cities like New York, Stamford, and New Haven.

Small waterfall in my backyard

The town is strictly residential. Zoning doesn’t allow commercial enterprises that can’t be grandfathered into a business that existed in the mid 20th century. There have been constant fights over the years to allow some commercial zoning so we could reduce our exorbitant real estate taxes. But the town purists, including me, have always prevailed. So there are at least six working farms in town, four farm stands, and only two small general stores.

The food stands sell more than just produce these days. They all sell baked goods and milk. Some sell jams, dressings and sauces, and other condiments as well as honey and other specialty items. Two sell locally cured bacon and other pork products.

One of the farms that has a large farm stand/store, is called Silverman’s Farm. It’s been around since maybe the 1930’s. The founder, Silverman, Sr., came here from Russia and I think he was the first Jew in town. My grandfather was also Jewish and from Russia and he spent summers in Easton from the time I was born, in 1949. I used to love to listen to Grandpa and Silverman, Sr. talk in Russian and Yiddish. I also loved Silverman’s five daughters who all helped in the store. I was heartbroken when one got married and moved away.

For many decades, the farm stand used to just sell produce. The property had apple and peach trees which supplied summer and fall fruit. Around the 1980’s or 90’s, old man Silverman turned the business over to his youngest son, Irv, who is my age. Irv extended the building and added a nursery, a florist (the florist is gone now), and a Christmas tree farm. (There are several others in town).

He also limited his produce items but expanded his inventory in other directions. This included delicious house-baked pies, plus jams, bottled dressings, sauces, salsa, etc., maple sugar products, apple cider, ice cream, candies and a wall of baked goods.

Part of Silverman’s store with an orchard in the background

His brownies, cider donuts, and oatmeal raisin cookies are the best I’ve ever had. And his Fruits of the Forest pie is unique. I serve it often and everyone raves about it.

Silverman’s also has a section that sells rustic, country chatchkis and plaques. And Irv created a large and very popular petting zoo across the street from the store. This attracts crowds of families on weekends and in the summer. He also used to give apple cider making demonstrations that attracted local school children as well as tourists from other towns.

The business is thriving. Silverman’s is written up as a tourist attraction in local as well as New York City papers and magazines. Lines of cars jam his road in the fall when he advertises ‘pick your own apples’ and sells pumpkins for Halloween. Plus he has a large number of year-round customers, like me.

Apples and other fall fruits on display

Irv’s kids don’t want to take over the business and Irv is past retirement age. I hope he can find a new owner who will run it as well and as lovingly as he has.

Another local farm is Sherwood Farm. In season, they grow their own vegetables and make their own honey. They sell locally made pastries and fabulous fresh baked bread. Also locally produced milk and yogurt. They sell eggs from their own chickens. They have a large greenhouse and keep goats and cows on the farm.

I go here several times a week for a good part of the year. I’m addicted to their bread and Tom loves their fresh milk and their locally made mozzarella, which he eats with the farm’s homegrown tomatoes. He’s also crazy about their creamy, flavorful ice cream, which is made at a farm in upstate New York. They have interesting flavors like Banana Chocolate Chip, Black Raspberry, and Pumpkin.

This place looks and smells the most like a real farm! In the summer it’s great to see bags of corn or beans being brought in from the fields and dumped on the counters.

You can also talk to the farmer about which crops are good this year, when flat beans will be in season and what the difference is between the different squashes.

One of the two stores in town used to be my grandmother’s butcher and general store. We called it ‘Halzak’s’ because that was the name of the two brothers who owned it and ran it for maybe 50 years, starting in the 1940’s. It used to sell a little of everything, like a true, old-world general store. And everyone stood around chatting with the brothers before, during and after their purchases. So buying meat and groceries was a social event for my grandparents.

About twenty years ago, the brothers sold the business and it was modernized into The Easton Village Store. After much wrangling with the zoning board, the new owners were allowed to expand the store into the back rooms that used to store the meat when it was still a butcher shop. But not much was done to change the interior décor or set up.

Five years ago it was sold again and totally redesigned and modernized. These owners went through another battle with the zoning board and finally obtained the right to have tables for people to sit down and eat on premises.

This was not in the original zoning permit or the past usage. So the town said that this was not a valid feature. Hence the zoning battle. Fortunately, the store finally won and now has granite counters in the back as well as a few wood tables in the front.

The grocery store items are limited and The Village Store functions primarily as a deli. It also has a pizza oven and sells some fresh baked goods that we like (mainly scones, muffins and bagels). It also sells coffee from those big metal canisters. Not very good but it was the only game in town.

The other local store in town has just undergone a major transformation. I’m so excited about it, I’m going to dedicate a separate blog to my new favorite place in town. I think I’m going to call it ‘Cappuccinos Come to Easton.’

13 thoughts on “PORTRAIT OF A SMALL TOWN – BY ELLIN CURLEY”

    1. We have enough small stores in town so we don’t have to go to the supermarket every week if we don’t want to. And the nearest supermarket is at least a 20 minute drive each way. So I try to go every 10 days or so.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Wonderful piece, Ellin. We need to visit some of these places with you and Tommy in the good, old summertime. Thank you, and hope you’re having a grand Thanksgiving.

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    1. It’s a wonderful place but our real estate taxes have been going up steadily anad dramatically and we pay a lot for the privilege of living in a town with no services. The Fire Dept is volunteer! We do have a Post Office, but that’s the federal government, not the town. The only thing we have is schools, which are run badly and have declined in quality over the years. But it is beautiful!

      Liked by 2 people

  1. Oh boy, this is just so über-wonderful! Every line you wrote made me go ‘aaah, oooh’ those shops, their display, the produce, the freshness – make your last feature an espresso shop (instead of cappuccino ‘heaven’) and I would have to consider visiting you…. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are fighting to preserve this wonderful old world, rural quality of the town. But there are people who are trying to get commercial zoning so we could have businesses and more stores in town. The argument is that it would bring tax dollars to town and ease our financial burden. Our town taxes are astronomical! I’m torn but in the end, I would rather preserve our character and life style and eschew the convenience and financial support of more businesses in town.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, I see exactly what’s going on – it’s an eternal battle – conscience and goodwill (what’s best for everybody, not just MY wallet) and the (more prelevant) ‘After me, the deluge’ attitude. I visited a VERY LONG time ago your area and I very much loved it but even then it was already too expensive for ‘Joe Normal’ and the job my husband was offered wasn’t – in the end – what he wanted.

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    1. It’s such a pity that two of the second generation run family businesses in town will not stay in the family much longer. The children of the two businesses didn’t want to take over the running of the stores so they will go to strangers. Hopefully they will love the store and keep the character and quality going. The one I’m writing about next, went to a wonderful woman who has great ideas and loves the country vibe and friendly atmosphere. So I’m thrilled with that transfer.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Uxbridge is a town. It was actually a much bigger one 100 years ago when the mills were operating. It has shrunk to half the population and many businesses are gone. Shopping mostly means going to another town or the mall in Millbury or Bellingham — both of which are quite a distance. Other than a grocery store and donut shops, we have a few hairdressers and barbers. A few banks and a big lumberyard that is half a home depot and also rents equipment, like plows and bobcats and other farming stuff. What’s great about it is NOT having to go to Home Depot and the people there actually know something about their products. You ask a question, you get a sensible answer. This has become the rarest of all shopping experiences. Even though it cost more at Koopman’s, I know the guy. We all pretty much know each other.

    What happened to Uxbridge and most towns in the area is the population took a dive, but the physical size of the towns got larger as smaller communities asked to join bigger towns where there were schools and fire departments.

    The problem is that these area included people, but no business so it merely increased the number of people needing services without increasing tax revenue. Each year, fewer services are available. Basically, tax revenue is the same as whatever we pay on our property, minus the chunk Massachusetts keeps for itself and the other larger cities. For such a rural area where few services are provided, taxes are high. There are no reductions for seniors or anyone. It’s the only way to keep the schools running. The state collects taxes and “distributes” the money to the towns and cities. We don’t even get back the amount we put in. Boston and its suburbs suck up most of it and bigger cities get a bigger bite than we do.

    Many small towns are disappearing because of this. There’s no work, so kids leave. The community does not grow as everyone gets old. Eventually, even the few businesses that exist begin to close for want of customers. You’ve done pretty well, but most small towns are not doing well.

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