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Brian Doxtater has re-opened his family's grocery as an indoor farmers market.
Brian Doxtater has re-opened his family's grocery as an indoor farmers market.

Reviving the local grocer, with local food

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Drive through almost any hamlet or four corners in the North Country, and you will likely see a shuttered family grocer. The little shops were once the hub of gossip and community activity, as well as shopping for essentials, before they were eclipsed by chains of gas station convenience stores. A man in Jefferson County is reviving his family's grocery store in Pamelia Corners. In the process, he's giving local farmers an outlet for their products in the cold months between farmers' markets. David Sommerstein reports.

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Doxtater's is one of countless old family-owned groceries.  Most are long-since shuttered.

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Reported by

David Sommerstein
Reporter/ Producer

Down the road from the village of Evan Mills, just north of Watertown and Fort Drum, a squat old red building sits just off Pamelia Corners.  A sign reads Doxtater's and advertises a year-round farmers' market.

Inside, piles of artisan breads and foccaccias adorn a countertop.  Freezers are stocked with every cut of meat you can imagine.

In the back, a shy guy with a moustache cooks made-to-order pizzas in a brick oven.

[pizza arranging sound]

Hi, my name is Brian Doxtater.  I'm a bread baker running an indoor farmers' market in beautiful downtown Pamelia.

Hardly a high traffic corridor.  But the rent is free.  This is Doxtater's grandparents old grocery store, founded in 1962.

This is only half the building you're seeing right here.  We've got a huge walk-in coolerin back.  I'd like to clean all that out and get some people in here.  Make it a destination.

Doxtater started selling his breads at outdoor farmers markets last summer.  And he met farmers - mostly meat producers - who were desperate for a place to sell in the winter.

These people have no outlet.  I mean, Veronica, she has great beef, great lamb, but she has no place to sell it.  Danny Baker, with their stuff, they have no place to sell it.  If you want this stuff around, you gotta be able to sell it.  You gotta have a market for it somewhere.

The "buy local" movement continues to grow.  And books about health and animal welfare concerns at vast feedlots and slaughterhouses are best-sellers.  The market for local, free-range beef, chicken, pork, and lamb is on the rise.  Roz Cook is with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County.

I get phone calls in my office almost every day of people who are interested in finding where the local food is.  At this time of year, a lot of people are asking about meat.

North Country farmers are responding to the demand.  But distribution of their product is still in its infancy.  Danny Baker raises organic beef, pork, and goat at Cross Island farms on Wellesley Island.

There are farmers markets in the late spring, summer, and early fall, but there's nothing at this time of year, so when Brian offered to have us put our stock here, it was just such a wonderful opportunity.

Doxtater takes a 20% commission from the farmers' sales.  The fresh bread and pizzas get people in the door.

[door opening]

My mother, Ann Slate, told me they had the best homemade bread there is going here.  That lady bakes bread herself and it ain't too shabby.  I said, ma, if there's something better than yours, I'm gonna try it.

Ed Slate and Karen Levy of Theresa drop in and buy a loaf of potato-dill bread.  They remember the old Doxtaters.

This is the first time we've been in here, yes.  But we used to come in here all the time.  I used to deliver milk here in the 1980s.

Re-opening rural grocery stores is hardly a trend.  Doxtater's is swimming against the current of big boxes and brand names.  But Doxtater says his small store is making small steps forward.

I'm not doing bad right now, especially considering the time of year and we just opened.

Doxtater says his indoor farmers market is also a move toward regional self-sufficiency.

How many people in this area depend on the state or the government for their jobs, for their employment?  It's ridiculous.  People in Watertown feel that nothing's ever going to happen to Fort Drum, it's never gonna close.  And I just think that's nuts to put all your eggs in that basket.  And I think we just have to start standing up for ourselves.

With 8 farmers, a coffee roaster, a pretzel maker, and a couple maple syrup producers making even some mid-winter sales, Doxtater is reviving his family's grocery, and trying to rejuvenate a more local food economy.

For North Country Public Radio, I'm David Sommerstein in Pamelia Corners.

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