New owner has fresh ideas for centuries-old Cracker Barrel store in Hopkinton


Monitor staff

Published: 02-20-2019 6:01 PM

One of Hopkinton’s oldest stores is generating a fresh buzz around town.

The Cracker Barrel, a general store built in 1790 on Main Street near town hall, was recently purchased by new owners and will get a significant makeover in the coming weeks, as well as some new offerings in its inventory.

Shaun Geary, a 35-year-old Hopkinton resident and property investor, recently bought the general store that sits across from the town green.

Geary owns several rental properties in towns west of Concord, but the Cracker Barrel is his first retail business.

“It was never initially in our plans to buy a store and run it, but I look for properties that have potential, and this sure had it,” Geary told the Monitor as his 3-year-old son, Bennett, pushed a shopping cart around the store with his toy trucks inside.

A former Florida police officer and a Massachusetts native, Geary moved to Gilmanton with his family about five years ago and then to Hopkinton two years ago. He entered the real estate business, purchasing properties around the region west of Concord and renting them out.

Around the time that Geary and his family settled into Hopkinton, he visited the Cracker Barrel – which is not affiliated with the national restaurant chain – and quickly became interested in reviving the historic corner store. But Geary held off, partially due to his lack in retail experience.

“The first day I came in and looked at it, I was overwhelmed by all of the moving parts going on with the store,” he said. “So I waited two years and watched the price.”

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Geary bought the building on Jan. 24 for $329,000. The property’s latest assessed value was $196,600, according to town records.

He plans to close the store for about two weeks in March to renovate the interior with new coolers, shelving, floors and a seating area near the front windows that look out onto Main Street. The building will get a fresh coat of paint later in the spring.

While Geary wants to revamp the store’s cosmetics, he also aims to restore the rustic 19th-century ambiance that drew him to the store in the first place. He hopes to uncover the original floorboards to help capture that atmosphere.

“I’ve always had a love for older buildings, and I want the store to invoke the old general store feeling,” he said.

Perhaps more important than capturing the historic significance of the Cracker Barrel, Geary’s main goal is to revive the store as a community hub where people can get a cup of coffee and catch up.

“I want the general store to be that place where people go and talk and gather, just like it was back in the 1800s,” he said.

Geary broke the news to the community through a Facebook post last week announcing he and his wife purchased the business. He asked followers to suggest new items to bring to the store, and he was met with a flood of recommendations.

Shortly after he took ownership, Geary said several customers asked for doughnuts to be added to the menu of baked goods. It wasn’t long before fried treats from Brothers Donuts in Franklin showed up in the Cracker Barrel’s display case.

Brooke Heiser, whose been greeting customers at the checkout counter for five years, said the doughnuts have been selling out early. In a Facebook post last weekend, the store said it would increase its inventory.

Heiser said the staff was thrilled by the strong and positive response it received on social media.

“It blew us away,” she said. “We weren’t expecting it.”

Customers are asking for more healthy foods as well. Pizza and sandwiches will continue to be staples of the Cracker Barrel’s menu, but Geary plans to add gluten-free options and “offer a more well-rounded healthy balance to our prepared foods,” he said.

The transition to new owners had a few bumps along the way. Lottery tickets couldn’t be sold for a few days, and some deliveries were delayed. Geary said things are mostly back in order, thanks in large part to the knowledgeable staff he retained from the previous owner.

Heiser started working there when she was a senior at Concord High and stuck with it while attending NHTI. She said she is looking forward to seeing Geary’s ideas for the store come to life.

“We’re very lucky he wanted to keep us on as his staff and keep it going as the Cracker Barrel because there is so much history with it,” she said. “Shaun has been so pleasant about everything. It’s been the best transition you could ask for.”

Geary is inviting members of the community to gather at the store on Thursday at 6 p.m. to give him more input in what people want to see from the store in the future. He said the support from customers so far has further increased his confidence in his investment.

“There is a loyal base here that is already keeping this place afloat,” Geary said. “It is a movement in New Hampshire of people wanting to go local, and I think we’re starting to better appreciate old buildings and businesses that need fresh ideas.”

Hopkinton resident George Carroll has been stopping by the Cracker Barrel for lunch going back 15 years. He said the food is already good – he’s a fan of the haddock chowder and fish and chips – but he’s interested in to see the store transition to a new era.

“Places get a little tired over time and it helps to refresh it every once in a while,” he said. “It’s a great little neighborhood stop.”