Perhaps one can go home. At least that is what Beth Armitage Muller is trying to do as she re-establishes the Vine Valley General Store. First opened in 1898, by Charles A. Robeson, it served the Vine Valley community on the shore of Canandaigua Lake until her family finally closed it in the 1980’s. After a leap of faith and months of planning Beth and her husband, Fred, will celebrate a grand opening on June 16.
In its early years, the C.A. Robeson General Store was the hub of a thriving agricultural community. The fertile valley and surrounding hillsides produced fruit in abundance. For many years, the produce was transported to market via Canandaigua by steamboats. Over time Vine Valley transitioned to a resort community and home to many summer folks. The store continued to serve the residents with staples, newspapers, gasoline, and sundries. Charles died in 1968 over the ensuing years the store was operated by his son and daughter, Walter and Caroline.
Through the 1960’s the little store provided a summer highlight for hundreds of
Middlesex Valley Central School students attending swimming school at the Vine Valley beach.
Every summer the school provided weekly swim lessons in the shallow waters off the sandy beach. At assigned times, boisterous gaggles of shivering– wet kids were allowed to go into the store and ransack the long display of penny candy. Precious nickels and dimes were turned over to Caroline or Walter in exchange for little paper bags of root beer barrels, bubble gum, and jawbreakers.
Beth was one of those students tracking sand onto the worn wooden floor. She was also Caroline’s grand-niece. She grew up in nearby Middlesex and graduated from Middlesex Valley Central. Beth married and left the area for several years but returned to teach History and English in the Penn Yan School district until she retired in 2008. She completed her career in education as a Professor of American Literature at Kaiser University in Florida. Fred is continuing his long career in retail. He grew a small liquor store into a large convenience store serving his hometown of Bath. He has since sold that and now finds himself operating a store again.
“Finds himself” is an accurate term. In talking with Beth and Fred, they seem stunned to be in the midst of obtaining permits, finding suppliers, locating equipment and getting a 120-year-old building open for the public. This endeavor is not the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. They are both happily retired, busy with grandchildren and keeping a home in Bath and one in Florida. Although she acknowledges neither she nor Fred are ones to sit around; Beth blames her sisters, Mary Jane and Margaret, for planting the idea after a nostalgic visit to Vine Valley. Beth and Fred soon found themselves discussing the project with the Middlesex Town Board. They eventually submitted a bid to lease the store. Being the one and only bid: they “won.” Despite this bit of serendipity, they are excited to once again open the doors of this landmark to the public. They have had many friends, old and now new, stop in with encouragement and support. They have also had the support of the local and state governments.
With an eye toward preservation– the Town of Middlesex led then by Supervisor Don Liddiard purchased the Robeson property in 1984. Spearheaded by local residents Leigh Williams, and Robeson family member, Dan Robeson, a grant from the NY State Parks and Recreation Department was recently secured through NYS Sen. Tom O’Mara. There are now public restrooms to serve people enjoying the beach and lake. In September the boat launch will be improved and a new dock will be installed. These improvements and the re-opening of the store will once again make Vine Valley the place to be on a warm summer day. Beth is home again– re-living her youth with each piece of candy she hands across the counter.
At noon on June 16, Vine Valley residents will join State Senator O’Mara, along with Yates County and Town of Middlesex officials to help Beth and Fred celebrate as they help write a new chapter in the ongoing story of Vine Valley and Robeson’s Store. The store will be open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day. They will be selling groceries and some household supplies. They will have a deli with sub sandwiches, ice cream and they will be selling beer. They will have some fishing bait and supplies.