Howard E. Shaw was born in Stowe on May 26, 1867. He worked on his father’s farm until he was 19 years old and became a school teacher for a few years. He was approached by Miles McMahon with an opportunity to work for him in the mercantile business which is where he spent the next seven years of his life. Once he had saved a little under $1000, he opened his own mercantile store with a man named C.A. Simmons in 1895.
The building they moved into was originally part of a large hotel on Main Street called Mt. Mansfield Hotel that burned down in 1889. Not much remained of the hotel besides its bowling alley. The building was dismantled, and moved to its current location where Shaw and Simmons began to operate it. The building was split into separate stores. Simmons sold clothing and an assortment of soft goods. Shaw sold hardware, farming equipment, paint, groceries, fishing supplies, stoves, and other general goods. Shaw moved into the upstairs of their half of the building with his family where his wife, Nina, gave birth to their son Gale in 1896 (he was born is what is currently a stock room for shoes). Howard became successful very quickly, and bought Simmons out after just a few years in the business. His success did not stop at owning the entire building. He later expanded by adding two butter tub factories, two saw mills, a grist mill (the only one in Stowe at that point), and numerous farms. Howard also started up a company called Stoware which manufactured wooden bowls, spoons, matches, and other wooden products.
It wasn’t always a fairy tale story for Howard, however. At 2:15 in the morning of April 1, 1908, The Shaw family and neighbors were woken up by a loud explosion. Howard poked his head out the window to investigate and saw four burglars leaving the post office across the street. He yelled at them, “What’s going on here?”, and was responded by multiple gun shots. One missed his head by only two inches and bore into the piano next to him. A search party was conducted for the men twenty minutes afterwards, but not a trace was found. The robbers blew the safe off and stole between $500-$600 in stamps, postal funds, and money orders. The spot where the bullet hit the building was marked later by third generation Ken Savela, and can still be seen from the sidewalk in front of the store.
Toward the end of his life, H.E. Shaw began running for U.S. Senate, but his candidacy was shortened when he died of polio in 1924. His son Gale took over the store and converted the basement of the store into Stowe’s first ski shop in 1936. He ran the store in the same fashion as his father did until he died in 1964. At this time, Ann Savela (Howard’s granddaughter) and her husband Ken did not have enough money to buy the store even though it was their life dream. Instead, the business went up for auction. Ann’s sister Barbara was able to gather enough money to pay for Shaw’s because her husband, Hilton Wick, was the president of the Chittenden Trust Foundation. After Barbara ran the store for two years, Ann and Ken had obtained enough money to buy the business from them. Ken did not appreciate selling groceries in his store, and was delighted when he heard of another grocery store opening in town and closed down their IGA two years after ownership. Gas pumps located in the front of the general store were also ripped out in the 1960s.
Ann and Ken noticed more tourists were coming into Stowe once Stowe Mountain Resort began making snow. This technology was the difference that made Stowe a booming tourist town every year. If no snow fell before this invention, Stowe was a ghost town during wintertime. The owners of Shaw’s changed their products available due to the change of customers. Ann and Ken began to focus on selling sporting goods. People could now get every type of clothing they needed to wear for the outdoor environment of Vermont. Actual sporting equipment could be purchased from the store as well. Ken took a leap of faith with a brand new sport by being the first retailer in Vermont to sell Burton Snowboards. Once the mountain became more populated, so did the road going up to the mountain. Sporting goods stores sprouted up all along Mountain Road, and the competition for the products offered at Shaw’s became too intense. They stopped selling equipment and focused on the clothing industry of outdoor sports. This is what the store still sells today.
Ann and Ken’s second oldest daughter, Anne-Marie, found her way back to the store soon after her oldest son was born. She was given a management title which was a new position offered at Shaw’s. Over the course of the next ten years she gained more responsibility with store operations and managing overhead. Finally, in the summer of 2005, Ann and Ken sold the store to her daughter, Anne-Marie Vespa, and her husband Sal.
After a year of ownership, Sal and Anne-Marie turned the basement of the store into a Life Is Good Neighborhood Shoppe. The Shoppe opened July 1, 2006. Other improvements done at this time were replacing old electric circuits and replacing the 40 year-old boiler.
Nothing else changed in the store for the next year and a half until the entire main floor was redone one piece at a time. Walls were torn down and all of the old metal hangers were replaced along with the metal cabinets used to house sweaters, dry goods, and other merchandise that dated back to the store when it was still an IGA. Before the summer of 2011, air conditioning was installed in the building for the first time. Ann Savela did not believe this should happen in order to keep the store to its old-fashioned ways.
Shaw’s shall continuously change in efforts to keep up with the times and the future generation. The store is now managed by the fifth generation of the Shaw family and the second generation of the Vespa family. There are only a handful of moments within the year where at least one of them isn’t in the store maintaining family tradition. Shaw’s General Store has had a strong past in the heart of Stowe, and is preparing for its 125th year in business for 2020. Make sure to come in during your next visit to experience a deeply rooted part of Stowe’s history.