BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – The funny looking building, narrow in the front and wide at the rear, at the south end of Bellows Falls Square has held a number of businesses over its lifetime. It was originally a pharmacy, then a shoe store, and it has had other uses over the years. Official the “pharmacy building,” its informal name is the Flat Iron Building. In 2000 Rockingham Arts and Museum Project had a mural painted on the rear of the building. It depicts the square about 100 years ago before one passes into the square of today.
Since 2013, it has been a coffee shop known as The Flat Iron Exchange, and it became a center for the arts and crafters with art shows, readings, and entertainment. It closed last October in the wake of the pandemic. Now it is readying to reopen as The Flat Iron Cooperative under the direction of three dynamic local women that include former owner and creator of the original coffee shop, Jana Bryan.
Nationally known singer-songwriter Dar Williams who has performed at the Opera House wrote a book, “What I Found in a Thousand Towns.” Not only a biography of a touring performer, it is a sociological study of what makes a vibrant small town. She contends that a lively arts community and places where people can meet informally are vital. Coffee shops are one of her prime examples. With the recent opening of Rockingham Roasters coffee shop at the opposite north end of the square, downtown Bellows Falls will soon have two such places, each being unique in its own way.
Local singer-songwriter Emily Lyons, who most recently ran the Flat Iron’s open mic night, is excited about its return. She says, “It was a really amazing thing for the community.”
Each of the founding members brings varied talents. Bryan is a landscape artist. She relates her passion for “creating environments” to the coffee shop as well. The walls have been repainted in cream and turquoise.
New owner of the building, Bri Johnson, is an old friend of Bryan’s. A native of Vermont, she went to the Rhode Island School for Design where they met. She has been a public librarian in Rhode Island and Manhattan. She moved here in January and says it “should have been a lot longer ago.”
The third is Larisa Demos. She is a former retail manager and once ran her own cleaning business. Currently, she is a member owner of the Spinnery in Putney, and she is Board Chair of the Valley Alliance of Worker Cooperatives. She says this is a “phoenix coop,” a business coming back from Covid. It is a co-op but is also open to the public.
Demos was also a member of the knitting group that met regularly at the café. She says the group is excited about the reopening. She says, “I get asked all the time” about when it will happen.
Bryan says coffee was the biggest seller in the past, but they are planning a large variety of offerings, “more than baked goods.” She lists ready to go foods from local chefs with “unexpected options” for people with varied food intolerances. She says, “The aim is to have something for everyone.”
Art shows, entertainment, and hosting local meetings will all continue. For the official opening, Bryan wants to “do something flashy” perhaps in conjunction with a downtown event. Currently, they are collecting people’s stories of their relation to the building on social media. Anyone interested in that, being a vendor, or joining the co-op can contact them at email@example.com or find them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.