Recently, Samantha and I traveled up to New York state to see her family. It had been over a year since we’d seen them and it felt good to get out of town for a while. We had a lovely time – we didn’t go down into the City due to the curtain of COVID’s Delta variant falling around us. Besides, it just felt better to spend our time relaxing at the semi-rural Crawford home on the border of Westchester and Putnam counties. We did take a few short trips during our week-long visit, though.
One morning, Sam’s brother Caleb took me north to the village of Millerton. It’s a small town with an EXCELLENT diner – simple offerings with locally-sourced ingredients. Everything was delicious; well worth the drive! Afterwards, we walked around the Main Street area. It’s a beautiful little town.
One storefront in particular caught my attention. The shop was closed and a paper sign was taped to the door:
When I stepped back and looked at the building as a whole, I was amazed. It told quite a story in and of itself: the shape, the siding, the signage. I wanted to know more, so when I got home I did some research to find out who Philip J Terni was. What I found was a multi-generational institution and a pillar of the community.
Terni’s General Store was founded in 1919 by Paul Terni. Paul’s actual first name was Leopoldo – he emigrated to the New World from Italy in 1893 when he was 21 years old. He opened several small businesses in the region before coming to Millerton, buying the shuttered G.W. Brown’s store at the age of 47.
The shop on the corner of Main Street became a town gathering place. You could get the latest news, pick out some penny candy, or just whittle away the day at the counter. Paul died suddenly in 1927 – his wife, Assunta, took the reins of the store with her sons Arthur and Stephen. “Gramma” Terni kept it going – with Art adding a sporting goods store in 1934. His son Phil was born in 1943. His first responsibility as a youngster was gathering the evening papers from the train and bringing them back to the store.
Phil learned to work the register before the age of 10 and later recalled the early morning farmer traffic that made the store their first stop of the day. “When I was a kid this was primarily an agricultural area, and one of my fondest memories was seeing the farmers come in early in the morning looking for their tobacco and cigarettes and jokingly shouting, ‘Here ya go Terni! I gotta get to work!’” Phil took over operations of the store in 1971.
The world changed over the decades and Terni’s found a place in each new iteration. The strong connection to the community meant that locals made sure to stop in to trade – and to visit, of course. Phil became an integral part of Millerton and shepherded his family’s store past a century of service. He retired in 2020 and passed in March. I am sad that I didn’t get the chance to meet him.