MONT VERNON, N.H. As the Republican presidential candidates crisscross New Hampshire, they intercept voters in grocery stores, diners, and town squares. The tiny southern New Hampshire town of Mont Vernon didn’t have a meeting place until last week when a Massachusetts couple opened a new general store.
Mont Vernon is home to more than 2,000 people. They mostly live in well-kept farm-style homes on large plots of land. After it gets dark, some of the only lights in town come from the Fishbones’ General Store.
This Saturday, three girls around the age of 11 walked into the store without their parents. They looked determined: they wanted hot chocolate.
“Hi girls. How are you?” said Kristin O’Brien, who owns the place with her husband.
“I’m well. How are you?” the girls replied.
“You didn’t come in for your birthday,” O’Brien said. “So get some candy, misses.”
The girls say that before Fishbones’ opened, if they wanted a glass of milk or hot chocolate, their parents had to drive them half an hour to the nearest store.
The building has been around since the Civil War. The last owners closed shop two years ago, and the building fell apart. So, O’Brien, and her husband, “Wild” Bill Croteau, bought the property last year and set out to restore it. What started as a three-month project ended up taking a year.
Croteau said he was inspired to start the business by President Obama and something he said the year before on television.
“That all Americans have to try, just have to do something,” Croteau recalled.
Croteau hoped to attract some presidential primary candidates to the store, especially the front-runner, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
“Newt can stay home,” Croteau said. “I like Romney. I like President Obama. He’s the one who inspired me to build this store.”
Since they were only open 10 days before the primary, the store did not get a candidate visit this year.
If Romney or another candidate were to come to Fishbones’ General Store, he’d find a diverse set of opinions. During the last presidential primary in Mont Vernon, slightly more residents voted Republican than Democrat.
“I really like Ron Paul right now,” said Zoe Fimbel, “and Rick Santorum has been my second.”
Fimbel came into the store Saturday to buy a Moxie soda. She’s heard many of the candidates speak, including Romney.
“I’m concerned about him because he seems to be a Democrat in Republican clothing,” she said.
Fimbel wants a candidate who believes life starts at conception and who will jump start the economy.
“We want someone who truly loves America,” Fimbel said. “Somebody who will lead us in a good way without burdening us with ridiculous taxes and stickin’ their nose where it doesn’t belong.”
Scott Heinlein and his son are buying sports drinks and checking out the DVDs for rent. They just spent the day listening to Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul speak on behalf of his father, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who is running second in the polls. Heinlein’s 15-year-old son, Connor, worships Ron Paul and his libertarian leanings.
“Why do I like him? I don’t know, I just like everything he says. I’m a libertarian, too,” said Connor Heinlein.
Scott Heinlein said he appreciates Paul but objects to his foreign policy plans to pull out of Afghanistan and not intervene in foreign conflicts. So Heinlein plans to vote for Romney.
“For me, it’s leadership,” Scott Heinlein said. “I think Washington right now has a lack of leadership. I think he is the candidate that has the most leadership qualities, the most skills, based on his experience. I think he could go in and hopefully stop some of the gridlock.”
The residents of Mont Vernon may not agree on which candidates to support, but there is one thing everyone is happy about: having a place to gather, a place to buy a coke, a place to talk politics. A place, perhaps next time around, where they could meet presidential contenders. They say now that the general store is back, it feels like a town again.