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Hilltown Mourns Loss of 172-year-old Business

June 8, 1991

CHESTERFIELD, Mass. (AP) _ For 172 years, even during the Great Depression of the 1930s, the Bisbee family sold the lumber that built the homes of this hilltown. But it could not weather the recession of the 1990s.

The four Bisbee brothers - Russell, William, Henry and Charles Jr. - announced this week that their lumber yard and hardware store will close this summer.

The decision strikes a blow to both the economy and the pride of this 229- year-old Berkshire Mountain town and its 1,000 residents.

″Just about everyone that’s come in today asked if I had heard about it,″ postmaster Joan Healy said Friday. ″It’s been here for so many years, run by the family. It’s an institution.″

Earlier in the day, Charles Bisbee Jr. stood at the hardware store’s front door, staring out at an empty country road. ″It’s not a happy day,″ he said.

The histories of his family and Chesterfield are inseparable. An ancestor, Gideon Bisbee, is credited with founding the town.

″He came ... to chop wood,″ Russell Bisbee said Friday in his paneled office atop the hardware store.

On the road below, a convertible had its top down and its back seat was full of wood from Bisbee Brothers. It wended its way up the hillside, past the corner of Bisbee Road.

A few minutes later, yard upon yard of lumber was neatly stacked, untouched, under five metal sheds behind the store.

The Bisbee brothers’ great-great-grandfather, Elisha, started the forerunner of this place, a sawmill, in 1819. A century later, their father, Charles Sr., joined with uncle Homer to create the business that now employs 11 people including the brothers.

The family also shaped the town’s political history. Charles Jr. served in the state legislature for 18 years; Russell was town moderator for three decades. Over the years, suburban life with its home-improvement centers began to creep into the Connecticut River Valley to the east. The recession then began to batter the local building industry just as the four brothers began reaching retirement age.

At 73, Charles Jr. is the oldest. The youngest is Henry, 61.

Though several prospective buyers showed interest in the business, none could put together financing.

″I would much rather have sold it and driven by the next day and seen it operate,″ said Russell. ″That’s the part that’s going to be the hardest to take.″

They plan to close their doors to general business at the end of June and hold an inventory clearance sale in July.

For Dora Emerson, who has managed the books for 32 years, it means looking for a new job. ″It’s the end of an era,″ she said. ″But there’s a new beginning out there somewhere.″

Other residents fret over having to drive eight miles to the next closest hardware store.

″It’s a big hit for tradition, and it makes for a long ride for a nail now,″ selectman Donald Houghton said.

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