Larry Bearfield, Robin Emerson embody Carlisle’s community spirit
Ferns co-proprietors Robin Emerson (left) and Larry Bearfield stand outside the store during the expansion project to create an area for wine and beer sales.
(2009 file photo by Mollie McPhee Ho)
Larry Bearfield and Robin Emerson. Those names are synonymous with community involvement. Who are they? Well, besides being the proprietors of Ferns Country Store, Larry and Robin are mainstays of the Carlisle community. No last names needed, just the mention of those two names provides instant recognition.
All great couples start with a story. And this story is not hard to imagine. Robin was running her own ad agency in the Boston area. Larry worked for one of her clients. She says he was bigheaded. He says he was astute. Whatever the word, Larry wore her down and eventually they became partners in their own agency which they owned for 25 years.
The majority of the accounts in their agency centered around snow and skiing, but with the advent of desktop publishing software, clients started to go at it alone and the industry got senseless. The thrill was gone and other adventures awaited. Retirement ensued.
An opportunity appears
Never ones to sit back, a few years after retiring from their agency, the couple contemplated “so what now?” A friend suggested buying Daisy’s Market. Although they had no retail grocery experience, and the fact that Daisy’s wasn’t technically up for sale, they didn’t let that deter them. In hindsight, not being in the business was a benefit, said Larry. With their marketing knowledge in tow, Larry and Robin set about shaping a business and on January 10, 2004, opened Ferns Country Store.
But what was once a general store became something more. They saw a need for more conveniences and as Larry says, “Don’t close your eyes to possibilities.” They added a farmer’s porch and a piazza with outdoor seating where, on occasion, guest speakers hold court for interested residents.
Keeping in line with their vision, and because they like a challenge, they decided to tackle the 150-year dry spell of Carlisle and start the process to “undry the town.” That is, liquor sales. Not an easy process, it takes six years to undry a town. But six years later they opened the beer and wine section of Ferns to the delight of many thirsty residents.
Fast forward 19 years, a change in paint color, an expansion, and Ferns has become a hubbub of village center activity. In the early morning hours commuters pop in for their java jolt and breakfast pastry. The afternoon brings in construction workers for a bite to eat and school kids for a treat before heading home. In the evening hours you might find someone visiting the wine section looking for something to pair with dinner.
How can a small town country store perpetuate such a strong fellowship? Larry and Robin say that having the right employees, the right products and being genuine just makes for good business sense. They’ve developed strong bonds with their customers, enjoying with them the highs of life and sometimes the lows. Friends of Ferns can be found far and wide. As the story goes, Larry was visiting a friend in a distant area of Montana and was invited to a ceremonial pow-wow at an Indian reservation. Donning his Ferns cap as he made his way through the crowd he heard someone shout, “Ferns! I love that place!” It appears a person at the gathering was from a surrounding community and frequented Ferns.
Larry and Robin are very adamant about charitable giving and donate and support many organizations. Ferns has served as an official water stop for the Wounded Warrior Soldier Ride. And each year Larry and Robin donate a portion of Ferns profits to the community. Their generosity and organizational talents have enhanced traditional Carlisle events such as Halloween in the Village Center and Christmas on the Commons. Families gather in town center during these occasions, catching up, watching kids grow and sharing in the community spirit. This sense of bringing community together is what keeps residents connected and is a source of pride.
Larry and Robin have benefited in return. They take pleasure in watching the youth of Carlisle grow up into adults. Often times these young adults come back to say hello when passing through or visiting family. One young bride chose the porch at Ferns for her engagement photo. To her, that was a part of home. After 14 years of store ownership, Larry and Robin have a lot of good stories and memories to share.
Being a small community puts Ferns, and Larry and Robin, front and center—the face of Carlisle. They are what newcomers and visitors see and experience first. It’s no wonder then, they have won the New England Store of the Year Award from the New England Convenience Store Association. Not once, but twice.
The next chapter
But as Carlisle has enjoyed the benefits of Larry and Robin’s generosity, it’s time for the pair to enjoy some of Carlisle’s quieter life. What began as happenstance, an opportunity to try something new, will now be for a new owner to maneuver, as Ferns Country Store is up for sale. Although Larry and Robin will miss visiting with school kids and customers on a daily basis, they are looking forward to retirement, when they can garden, travel and pursue their hobbies. But you’ll still see them about—you can count on it. ∆