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Montpelier, Vermont - July 7, 2010

When Montpelier celebrated Independence Day this year, a family store in town had its own reason to cheer.

"I am proud we are able to keep going," Kent Bigglestone said.

Capitol Stationers marked 60 years in business downtown. Brothers Kent and Eric Bigglestone now run the store, filled floor to ceiling with cards, stationery and office supplies

"Really my whole life I planned on working here," Kent Bigglestone said.

It's a third generation business and it's rare. Nationally, about 40 percent of businesses make it to the second generation, only 13 percent make it to the third.

Reporter Kristin Carlson: Have you ever heard the saying the first generation builds it, the second generation grows it and the third generation ruins it?

Eric Bigglestone: Destroys it. I have never heard that.

"Possibly the third generation takes it for granted," Eric Bigglestone continued. "They may not have put the sweat in that was needed to get it going. I've certainly put a lot of sweat in so maybe I do appreciate it more than your average third-generation business owner."

Both started working at the store as kids making pennies pricing inventory; work computers now do.

"And my grandfather would say I'll give you a penny for every item you price and so the more you priced the more you got paid," Eric Bigglestone recalled. "That would have been the fifties."

Their grandfather taught them about hard work but he won't see this milestone, he passed away.

"I think he's proud... I get choked up here-- 60 years... you know," Eric Bigglestone said. "I think about him a lot lately going through the old articles and memorabilia... and I think he'd be very, very proud."

But over the 60 years there have been dark days. The flood of 1992 wiped out hundreds of thousands of dollars of inventory and the Bigglestones filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

"It was a huge financial burden by all means and that was the nail in the coffin that forced us to Chapter 11... but we went through it and in a year re-emerged," Eric Bigglestone said.

They closed several stores leaving only the Montpelier location.

"It really strikes home when you are closing a location that this is not forever, anything can happen tomorrow," Eric Bigglestone said.

In 1996 Capitol Stationers moved across the street. The space is smaller and they stopped selling books; a need that was being met by other local stores.

"You have to change with the times and it's either go under or reinvent yourself. We decided to reinvent ourselves," Kent Bigglestone said.

Few people send letters anymore; many print their own invitations. So the store has added backpacks and items to attract tourists like T-shirts and chocolates.

"Per square foot-- Lake Champlain Chocolates. We sell more out of a four-foot rack than probably anything in the store," Eric Bigglestone said.

Kristin Carlson: Do you think your grandfather would recognize the store?

Eric Bigglestone: No, I don't think so.

"I think small independent businesses are going to have to find the right niche to survive," said Robert Letovsky, a business professor at St. Michael's College.

Letovsky says small stores can't always compete on price, but can win on customer service. Independents can respond faster to sell what people want.

"They've also built up personal relationships with their customers and they use that-- and I'm recalling my own visits to that store-- they use those relationships to try to remember what customers need and want," Letovsky explained.

"You cannot find this paper anywhere else... one guy will come in-- I always get my paper here... and we have it," Kent Bigglestone said.

Business at the store was down 10 percent last year but now has leveled off. The brothers laid off a worker and have not had a pay increase in years.

"When times get tough you tighten your belt and work more hours," Eric Bigglestone said. "I don't have a problem with that. You have each other to rely on."

The Bigglestones have a stubborn optimism that carries down to the fourth generation. Kent's 11-year-old son is named after his great-grandfather who started the store, William.

"I want to carry it on maybe for my kids until finally it stops if it stops," William Bigglestone said.

And the family legacy of selling paper goes even further back then Will's great-grandfather; his great-great-grandfather was a paper salesman in Boston.

Kristin Carlson - WCAX News

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