- Robert C. Jenks
- Green Mountain Trading Post staff, from left: Sharon Reihmer, Dorinda Michaud, Gary Lotspeich and Bill Thompson
Stop us if you've heard this one, but print media is dead. Or it's dying. Or it's got a bad cold or a hangnail or something. Given that Seven Days still publishes an actual newspaper and has some skin in the print game, we'll leave official proclamations of the demise of print to other cultural coroners. For evidence, one need only flip through the pages of an emaciated daily newspaper, google the names of shuttered altweeklies such as the Village Voice or the Boston Phoenix, or try to find a copy of Mad magazine on a newsstand. Or hell, try to find a newsstand, period.
Yet in some corners of the world, certain kinds of print publications have managed to hang on in the face of internet-fueled extinction and — at least to a modest degree — thrive. For one especially unusual example, take St. Johnsbury's biweekly penny saver-cum-literary mag, the Green Mountain Trading Post.
Need a good deal on a used car or parts for a hay baler? Got a few extra goats you'd like to trade for chickens? Hope to unload your extensive cache of Budweiser collectibles or a six-DVD set of Time Life's doo-wop series? Dream of waterfront property along one of the Northeast Kingdom's unspoiled lakes — and maybe a boat? Plunk down a dollar for the Trading Post. Since 1972, it's been the go-to for Kingdom residents looking to buy, sell or trade pretty much anything.
Equipped with a rudimentary website and online subscription option but primarily read in print, the paper is more than just an analog eBay. Otherwise, it might long ago have succumbed to online marketplaces like Craigslist, as have so many publications reliant on classifieds for survival. In addition to ads hawking woodstoves, hunting rifles and livestock, the Trading Post offers something most small-town rags don't: glimpses of life in the NEK through the literary and poetic musings of the people who live there.
The front half of each edition of the Trading Post is loaded with personal essays, short fiction, poems and photos submitted by readers. In an essay in the July 17 issue titled "Navy, College, and Photography," Newport photographer Fred Everson, whose portrait of his grandfather on his 93rd birthday graces the front cover, recounts the evolution of his craft through the lens of his experiences at Brookdale Community College and in the military. Frequent contributor Paul A. Mascitti of East Montpelier riffs on family and aging in a lengthy piece called "To Be Remembered." Burlington's Deborah Straw offers a brief poem, "Comfort at Ninety-Nine."
But here's something you won't find in the pages of the Trading Post: news.
"Our motto is 'No News Is Good News,'" explained Trading Post co-owner Sharon Reihmer, 68. That motto, which brackets a drawing of two hands shaking as if consummating a deal, has graced the paper's nameplate for close to five decades and serves as a guiding editorial principle. The Trading Post doesn't report news and accepts no submissions that are newsy, political or related to current events — aside from the events calendar on the back page, that is.
"Occasionally something will come in that, in my estimation, is too politically whiny or someone is on a soapbox," said co-owner Carol Michaud, 75.
"But we have such a broad readership, from every walk of life, that we're not pissing off anybody or giving anyone a platform," Sharon interjected.
The two women see that approach to content as one key to the paper's longevity. For the first several years, though, the Trading Post had no editorial content at all; it was, by design, strictly a penny saver.
"There were so many penny savers in southern New England," said Carol, "but there weren't any here. So we thought we could fill that void."
Carol and her then-husband, Dennis Michaud, started the paper in April 1972 with their friends John Rogers and his wife, Donna Jean Rogers. At the time, the Rogerses lived at Mad Brook Farm, a commune in East Charleston, while the Michauds lived in New Britain, Conn. Carol jokes that the Trading Post was a thinly veiled ploy by John to get his friends to move to the country. It worked. The Michauds joined the Rogerses in Vermont that summer.
In the mid-1970s, the two couples began publishing feature-like material in the front of the paper, mostly historical writings and remembrances solicited from readers.
"We are trying to maintain a way of life we don't think of as dying. It is still alive up here," Carol told Vermont Life freelance writer Candace Page in 1977. (Page is now an editor at Seven Days.) "We are a kind of halfway house," Carol continued. "We collect all this stuff and put it together into a paper and then send it back to the people."
And the people appreciated it. At its peak in the 1980s, the Trading Post circulated 14,000 papers every two weeks, packed with classifieds, stories and mostly hand-drawn business ads that Page aptly described in that 1977 piece as "minor work[s] of art with careful lettering and line drawings, antique cuts and fanciful borders gracing even the smallest ad."
That circulation number has dropped, though the current 9,000-paper run — plus another 700 online subscriptions — is respectable. You can find the Trading Post, which Sharon says "hovers solidly" at 24 pages per issue, at general stores and gas stations all over the northern third of Vermont, as well as along the northwestern border of New Hampshire.
The paper has undergone internal changes over the years, as well as fended off external challenges. At one point, St. Johnsbury-based daily the Caledonian Record offered to buy the Trading Post, but the paper's owners declined to sell.
"We have a responsibility to our people," Sharon said of that decision. "We just didn't want to lose the control of what we were and who we're for, which is everyone."
Three years after the Michauds divorced in 1977, Dennis got remarried ... to Sharon, who started working part time at the paper in 1986.
"I knew [Carol] before I knew him, and they were long divorced before I ever came along," said Sharon with a chuckle.
"It always sounds really lurid," added Carol, "but we've been best friends for years."
Dennis died in 2008, and John died in 2012. Since then, Carol and Sharon have been partners in the business. A team of about 10 part-timers, including Carol and Dennis' daughter, Dorinda Michaud, works part time to compile, produce and deliver the paper from the cluttered office on the first floor of Sharon's St. Johnsbury home, where she also runs a frame shop.
"You've got to wear a lot of hats to make a living here," said Sharon.
The Trading Post has remained pretty much the same for almost 50 years, though Carol noted that it's not immune to the changing world around it.
"We've had to go through a rediscovery, or redefinition, of who we are," she said, citing the rise of online classifieds forums such as Facebook Marketplace, eBay and Craigslist. Perhaps "reaffirmation" is a more fitting word, however. If anything, Sharon and Carol remain resolute in maintaining the Trading Post's ethos.
"Some people want us to be Craigslist," Sharon said. "We are never going to be Craigslist. And we don't want to be Craigslist."
For many Trading Post fans, that's just fine.
Michael Hahn is an NEK musician who's helped deliver the Trading Post for many years. He advertises his music in the paper and occasionally contributes writing of his own.
"Here in the Internet Age, many newspapers have gone out of business, but GMTP perseveres," Hahn wrote in an email, adding that the paper is a "unique Vermont treasure."
"The unlikely combination of original writing paired with classified ads has stood the test of time," he continued, and "the short story format fits into the busy schedules of people nowadays." Plus, he added, the Trading Post "travels to the beach or the bathroom better than a Kindle or a novel."