For most people the American Dream is one of coming to a land of opportunity, hoping to work and create something more than what you had to begin with. A quick online search gives us a definition that the American Dream is: “...the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” Whether you’re a first-generation immigrant or the descendant of one, the American Dream is an idea that’s ingrained into our cultural fabric.
And the North Country - that tiny little nugget of New England, situated right on the Connecticut River around Littleton and St. Johnsbury - is a part of America where you can truly see the result of the dreams of people who call the North Country home. It’s part of the oldest section of America, so many dreams have been laid down around us.
One dream in particular is quickly becoming an integral part of our North Country fabric: the dream of Clare Brooks, owner of the Little Village Toy & Book Shop.
Found on Main Street in Littleton, the Little Village Toy & Book Shop has been an incredible resource for our area communities since opening in 2014. North Country Local had the opportunity to sit down with Clare to learn about her American Dream and the part she plays as small-business owner in the North Country.
If you’ve ever personally met Clare, you are immediately taken in by her sincerity and warmth. Her personality shines through to friend and customer alike with a worldly glow, and for good reason: she’s traipsed the globe more extensively than most, before eventually calling the North Country home. Born in South Africa, she and her family began the process of emigrating to America in the Nineties, when she was “12 or 13.” Clare’s father, a plastics engineer, was head-hunted by a company in California, so he was able to come to America and work on a special Visa. At that point they had been in Ireland for about a year. Clare, her mother, and her brother waited for about a year and won, as Clare put it, the Irish immigration lottery. They moved to California, where she went to high school, and after which she moved to Hawaii, where she spent time as a woodworker and housekeeper “for quite some time.”
Clare met a man in Hawaii, became a mother, and soon after moved back to where her husband was from originally: the North Country. Clare’s husband suggested a local business for Clare to apply at, one he remembered fondly from his childhood: the Village Book Store. Clare remembers that she actually moved here “to get a job there...and after applying about 80 times” finally got a job at the Village Book Store as their bookkeeper. The Village Book Store, for those who may not remember it, sat for decades right on Main Street where the Little Village Toy & Book Shop sits (mostly) now...a recessed brick entrance on Main Street many people can fondly remember using.
Clare worked there “5 or 6 years” and sadly, in 2014, received news that her mother was passing away, so Clare went to her in Ireland, for about 6 to 8 weeks, from Clare’s memory. Clare recalls that her mother was “very passionate about reading. She didn’t have a high school education but she was able to hold conversations with people who had PhD's in physics and you would never tell that she wasn’t college educated, she was so well-read.” Clare’s mom used to buy gift certificates for her family members and neighborhood children from the little village book shop that was in her village in Ireland, and as Clare’s mom was in the hospital, according to Clare, “all she cared about was me finishing up these last 6 gift certificates she had...which I did. She just wanted them to get to the kids.
“When I came back from Ireland, after my mom had died, I could see that Jeff, the previous owner of the Village Book Store, was planning on closing. Soon after I had a dream that my mother came to me and told me to open up another shop. So, I talked to my then-husband, the book buyer Stacey, and the old owner Jeff, and asked if it was okay if I opened up another shop once he closed down. A lot of people told me that was a bad idea, but as the bookkeeper, I knew where the store had potential. I negotiated rent space, and then about 3 months later we were open. We opened on June 13th, Friday the 13th, 2014.”
Clare's good news and American Dream takes a somber turn, though: “And that night, the night of my opening, was the night my husband decided he was divorcing me. He didn’t come home that night and within a few months he was out of the house, so pretty much since the beginning I’ve been a single woman with two kids, owning this business.”
The Little Village Toy & Book Shop has since undergone two expansions and when you visit, you’ll be really impressed at the variety of toys and games, for all ages, that are available right here in the North Country. Clare explains: “Our mission is to keep everyone reading. The best way for me to sustain a book store model in this area is to create a multi-use kind of business. I’m really big on our motto ‘Play. Laugh. Learn.’ Children learn through playing, the research is so obvious, and it’s our job as adults, in my opinion, to make sure kids are playing with things that are going to benefit them in learning, and they’ll still have fun. We try to supply quality toys and games that will keep them off-screen more, and keep them engaged, and keep families interacting around the dinner table and every other place. The idea is the toys will get them in the door and they’ll walk out with a book.”
Part of the North Country Local mission is to support our area by getting the word out to as many people as possible about locally-owned businesses in the North Country. There are no franchises, corporations, or businesses owned by people from afar...really, the mission of North Country Local is supporting the American Dream right here in the North Country - helping hard-working Americans in their pursuit of success and prosperity, folks with heart and determination and initiative.
“We're an immigrant-owned business. We're a woman-owned business. Living the American Dream. My parents moved me to America to have an opportunity to work hard and actually get somewhere with that. Where I was from, you could work hard and get nowhere. There you're working hard just to be able to drink water...whereas here, if you work hard, you can actually do something. I won't ever be rich owning a bookstore, but if you work hard, you can support yourself. I can support myself and my two kids without my husband, without any financial assistance from anyone. There's a lot more opportunity here than I would have had in other countries, so I'm grateful.”