There are many people who flee or avoid small towns because they don’t want to know everyone. They want a little anonymity. When a favorite Northampton business owner died suddenly last week, I was reminded how glad I am to live in a place where everyone is connected to everyone else, where small businesses are at its center, and where the entire community steps forward in support when there is a loss.
Serio’s is one of those businesses that makes Northampton Northampton. It’s a small but full-service grocery store, literally something from another era. It’s packed in a space not much bigger than a 7-11, but you can still get everything you need. It’s my go-to place for local produce—in the past month, I’ve been there almost every day to satisfy my fresh asparagus addiction. They’ve got a full-service deli and meat counter and some of the best homemade soups in town. I could get through winter on their beef stew alone. They’ve got products I can’t find anywhere else, like fantastic slightly sweet Gundelsheim barrel pickles, and delicious locally made zucchini relish. They even sell Tab. (I know this thanks to a friend’s secret addiction.)
I stop by Serio’s several times a week – to restock our bananas and apples or to pick up ingredients for dinner. I’ve been known to go there two or three times in a given day: I like to think it makes me very European, but I’m really just forgetful. When I stop in, I’m guaranteed to see someone I know, or my friends’ kids, who work there now. They even have a delivery service, and their radio jingle is a charming throwback: “Customers are friends and friends are customers… Serio’s.’”
When Chris died suddenly last Friday, the response from the community was quick, overwhelming, and extraordinarily touching. Word spread quickly on Facebook and there was an immediate outpouring of grief and shock on my newsfeed. It was a front page story in the Daily Hampshire Gazette. DJs on our radio station expressed their condolences, playing specific songs for Chris’ husband. People poured into the store to give support. One friend posted on Facebook that she stopped in at lunch on Monday to give Gary a hug and found a line of others waiting to do the same. I heard from friends that the line at the funeral home for today’s wake was out the door and down the street.
I didn’t know Chris well. She had rung up my groceries hundreds of times, and we’d often have a little small talk. For the past two years I arranged with her to donate apples to the bake sale at the Nothampton Education Foundation Spelling Bee. She gave us a giant crate of beautiful local apples to balance out the piles of baked goods. A few weeks ago I was in the store and asked her if they had the new Ben and Jerry’s Cores. Chuck had been lobbying for them for days. Chris hadn’t heard of these, but said she’d look into it. She then pointed me toward the pints of Sweet Scoops, a New Hampshire frozen yogurt, on sale – buy one get one free. I took her advice and picked up a pint of ginger and a pint of coffee. They were just as good as she said they would be.
Tonight I stopped into Serio’s for the usual reason: bananas, apples, and lettuce. I wrote in the memory book they had put out for customers, just below the entry written by my friend Sarah, who had clearly been in the store moments earlier. Just before checking out, I went back to the freezer and got a pint of the Sweet Scoops, in memory of Chris, and in honor of her wonderful store.