THE WINDHAM COUNTRY STORE
Coffee, Donuts, Conversation & Ray Barlow
There was once a wonderful gathering place in Windham, where the townspeople met to discuss politics and all of the interesting goings on in town. Back then, in the 1970s, Windham was still, a genuine, “rural oasis” and the morning meeting of the town notables was presided over by the venerable Ray Barlow, who often cut to the quick, with his wry wit and conversational abilities. I recently came across this article, from the Lawrence Eagle Tribune, August 9, 1979 announcing Ray’s retirement and sale of the store.
“WINDHAM, NH.— Ray and Grace Barlow are the Windham Country Store. But come the morning of Sept. 5, the familiar faces of the couple who have owned and operated one of Windham’s favorite spots for the past 7 1/2 years will be replaced by those of the Thomas Klemm family.”
“ ‘When I bought the store I said to Gracie ‘8 years and we’ll get out,’ Ray Barlow 55 stated. ‘It’s 7 1/2 years later and we’re selling out.’ ” But in those 7 1/2 years the Barlows have built a business that caters to 2,500 customers daily, seven days a week. Eleven hundred of those are regular customers, and all told, from 5 a.m. when the Country Store opens its doors until 9:30 p.m. when the Barlows finally head home, 30 dozen doughnuts and 600 cups of coffee plus a variety of grocery goods, cigarettes, newspapers and magazines, wine, shiners (over 6,700 dozen were sold to fishermen last winter) and worms are sold to patrons.”
“Originally, the Windham Country Store was a house that was converted into a small store in the 1950s. It catered to the summer trade and was closed during the winter.”
The Barlows, thanks to what Ray refers to as simple ‘Yankee ingenuity,’ took that small store, expanded it at least four times the original size, bought milk trucks and converted them into cooler compartments, took the garage and made it into a storage room, and took the sheep shed and made it into a coffee-klatch room.”
“ ‘People who come in every morning now have a place to sit without having to get dressed up,’ Barlow said. ‘We’ve got construction workers, businessmen and housewives who come in for a cup of coffee and chat.’ The conversation covers a wide variety of topics
‘We fired Nixon three weeks before he had the brains to resign,’ Barlow recalled. ‘This is not a gossip shop. It’s above that. The people that come in here have a wider spectrum than just Windham.’ ”
“The Barlows run the Country Store as a family business. Ray puts in 84 hours each week and Grace works 77 hours. The Barlows’ son-in-law Gary Carpenter, sic. (Carbonneau) helps to run the store, and their daughter Nancy Guilfoyle, runs the food stand just to the side.”
“ ‘We’ve only been on four two-week vacations together since we came here,’ Barlow said. ‘It never was a second home. It’s all been fun— every day has been enjoyable — because it’s always been different.’ ” Barlow has had five different and distinct careers since World War II. After his discharge he worked for H.P. Hood as a bottle washer, working his way up to head foreman. Then he had a lumber hauling business. After that he became an administrative supervisor for Sanders Associates in Nashua. He developed Windham Estates, building 100 homes. Certain things stick in Barlow’s mind.”
“ ‘Rosalynn Carter came in here back in 1976 and told Gracie it was too cold to use the pay phone outside and wanted to use the store phone,’ Barlow recalled. ‘Gracie told her no one used the store phone, kicked her out and told her to go outside and use the booth. Mrs. Carter told Grace her husband was running for president, but that didn’t make any difference to Grace. When she saw Mrs. Carter on TV later as the president’s wife, she nearly died.’ ”
Barlow continued, ‘Then one day Bob Newhart came in and had coffee with us. We had a heck of a time.’ He was staying at Cobbett’s Pond for a week.”
Ray is a collector of and lecturer on Sandwich Glass. After the store is sold he will devote full time to writing six volumes on that subject.” Karen Breehey, Granite State Reporter. And Ray did go on to write his Magnum Opus on Sandwich Glass.