Avery’s sold, but legacy continues

  • A.L. Avery & Son general store in Charlemont. Recorder file photo/Paul Franz

  • Front row: Barbara and Jim Sinclair are the new owners of A.L. Avery & Son. Behind them are Dennis Avery and Karen Hogness, who have run the store for 42 years. RECORDER PHOTO/DIANE BRONCACCIO

  • Barbara and Jim Sinclair, the new owners of A.L. Avery & Son. RECORDER PHOTO/DIANE BRONCACCIO

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, November 23, 2016

CHARLEMONT — Where else could you buy goods ranging from lawnmowers to freshly cut meats other than at A.L. Avery & Son — a general store that “sells everything” — and has done so for 155 years.

Dennis Avery and his wife, Karen Hogness, are the fifth generation of Averys to run this hardware/grocery/clothing store and fresh meat counter. And they have been running it for the past 42 years. But the store has been for sale “off and on” for the past eight years, and now has found new owners, Barbara and James Sinclair of Charlemont.

“Dennis and I feel really positive about Jim and Barb,” said Hogness. “It feels right: Waiting this long to find the perfect owners was the right thing to do. We wondered how we could move the store forward for the town, without making our kids take it over. We feel like Jim and Barb are the perfect fit.”

Barbara (MacLean) Sinclair grew up in Charlemont, where Avery’s was an everyday part of life. “We grew up here, coming to Avery’s,” she said.

“When we became aware it was for sale,” we were planning to move back into this area,” said Jim Sinclair, who grew up in Greenfield. For a while, the Sinclairs had discussed buying a shop with another couple, near their home at the time, in Vermont.

When they moved back into Charlemont, they met with Avery and Hogness and had many discussions about the store before buying it. For the past two months, the Sinclairs have been working with the Averys to learn the business. They value the employees, who have “100 years’ experience between them,” according to Avery.

“A cool part of this is, it’s where we grew up. What Avery’s stands for — that is the big appeal. There is this great history and tradition of community that it stands for,” said Sinclair.

“We’ve been here a couple of months,” he added. “Every day I come in here, and I look, and I see something new.”

He said customers have told him, “if you can’t find it at Avery’s, it doesn’t exist.”

When the store began, it mostly sold dry goods, cloth, and non-perishable food staples, because people would have bought their eggs and produce from their neighbors. Oxen yokes, harnesses and farming tools would have been standard. The meat counter started after World War II, when fewer farmers sold meat directly to neighbors.

“Dennis and I made huge changes, compared to the store his father ran,” said Hogness. Their website says that the fifth-generation of Averys expanded the hardware section by four times and made room for clothing and shoes for the increasing number of outdoor recreation enthusiasts who visit the area.

One behind-the-scenes factor in the store’s success is the computer technology to track the store’s huge inventory and to access markets that many smaller stores don’t have access to. Another strength is long-standing relationships between Avery’s and its suppliers.

“The business model is that, with every new generation, changes were made that reflected the changing community,” said Hogness.

“Our commitment is that we want to keep Avery’s as Avery’s,” said Jim Sinclair. “The core business of hardware, groceries and meat counter will stay the same. But with Karen and Dennis’s help, we may make some minor changes.”

One of those changes may be the hours of operation. For now the store is still open from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. But the Sinclairs may expand the hours or even open on Sundays in the summer when many people are coming to Charlemont for outdoor activities.

After they stop working in the store, Dennis and Karen plan to stay in Charlemont, “but we hope to have a different sense of time that is not so controlled by business hours,” Karen Hogness said.

She said people have thanked them for keeping Avery’s going, even during tough economic times. “If people would like to show gratitude for what Denny and I have done, they can do it by coming in and meeting Jim and Barb, and shopping here,” said Hogness. “The success of the store is the greatest gift of gratitude we could get.”