Wayside Furniture closes, but gets a new life

Swanton Wayside-web

May 2018—

On April 15, 1980, HFA member Swanton Wayside Furniture opened its doors in in Swanton, Vt. Thirty-eight years later to the day, the store closed its doors.

It wasn’t planned that way, said John MacDonald, Wayside’s owner. “The stars lined up on that one,” he said. The stars also lined up to help Swanton’s youth (more on that later).

Since announcing the store was closing, MacDonald had a prepared answer for all his loyal customers who showed up wanting to know why. “We’ve been in business for 38 years, that’s why,” he said, and laughed.

MacDonald had been considering retirement for a few years.

Each of those years, he’d tell his wife Lise, “Okay, this is going to be my last year.” And then, the next year: “This will be my last year.” Year after year it went, but 2018 was different.

Lise said the Swanton Teen Center might have been a nudging factor in making that promise a reality.

A redevelopment deal in downtown Swanton is displacing the village’s teen center from the building it had called home for nearly two decades.

Lise said the couple approached village officials and told them they might have a place for the teen center to relocate – their store.

Despite “a lot of hiccups” along the way, Lise said, a deal is now in place, and what was once a family furniture store for 38 years will now become a safe place for teens to hang out.

It gets even better: The MacDonalds donated one percent of the proceeds from the Wayside’s going out of business sale to the teen center, a move Lise called “passing the torch.”

The MacDonalds received that torch themselves more than 38 years ago, the result of a chance meeting.

A man in St. Johnsbury, a nearby Vermont village, was running his own furniture store out of the building at the time. The building had previously housed a grocery store and meat locker, until he turned it into a seasonal furniture store, closing shop for a Florida retreat in the colder months.

John MacDonald had been working as a purchasing agent for a company in Massachusetts. The housing market was suffering, and the MacDonalds had been unable to sell their home, leaving John traveling between Massachusetts and the couple’s home in Shelburne, Vt., every weekend.

Six months of that was enough. John took a job with the U.S. Census Bureau, out of Burlington, Vt., a job that sent him, one October morning, to Swanton — and most importantly, to the furniture store.

“I walked in this building with a clipboard in hand,” John remembered, “and the owner said, ‘Oh, I thought you were here to buy it.’”

A few months later John did just that.

Lise remembered John coming home and saying, “I think I found a business.”

Thirty-eight years later, there’s a new chapter in the MacDonalds’ life. There are no plans to retire somewhere warmer. Both Lise and John are avid cyclists. They love the routes that cycling routes that lace New England. John is a member of a cycling club. One route took he and his fellow cyclists from Swanton to Old Orchard Beach in Maine.

Aside from those trips, John said, “We wouldn’t move for the world.”