by Patrick Hussey, Community Journalist
HARDWICK – A dream envisioned during the depths of the COVID outbreak saw the light of day in downtown Hardwick this past summer with the arrival of the Civic Standard.
Interesting name: The Civic Standard. So what is exactly the Civic Standard? Well, in a nutshell, it’s a venture started by three women who have the interests of the community at heart. They want the Civic Standard to be whatever the community wants it to be. There is no set direction, no mandate from its founders, it will go wherever the community wants to take it.
The three partners involved in the formation of the business, Rose Friedman, Tara Reese and Erica Heilman, confess the most difficult chore they faced was agreeing upon a name for their venture. What helped is they are all civic minded and want to serve the community any way they can.
The second winter of COVID was basically a starting point for the venture. It was during that winter that Heilman did a podcast story on Friedman’s free soup venture. Tara Reese and Friedman had developed a strong friendship by then and Heilman had done podcasts on both women, including her Peabody award winning podcast, “Finn and the Bell.”
Friedman has a long history of community involvement as director of Modern Times Theater. In that winter of 2021, she and a few other volunteers started cooking free meals for the community. The group, with local donations of food and money, helped provide 50 to 100 free meals per week on Wednesdays, cooking them at a church in Greensboro and handing them out free to people from the Grange in East Hardwick.
Reese was involved in Friedman’s effort. While cooking, the two had long conversations in the kitchen about what they could continue to do to serve the community. They shared a passion for community involvement along with Heilman.
In the intervening months that passed, Reese inquired about running a community project from the South Walden Church, but COVID got in the way. Friedman was also looking for a better space because the Grange in East Hardwick had limited parking and closes in the winter. Heilman supported them both, using her medium to help any way she could.
Their dreams and ideas, discussed over and over again, brought them to many places over the ensuing months. “We thought about how could we possibly have a space that we could sustain throughout the year,” said Friedman. “We thought about how many shows would we have to do a week to pay the bills, you know, that kind of puzzle. But then Tara started talking about it being bigger than just an event venue.”
“After, Tara and I started talking about it in a much bigger way, you know, food, shows, and just a place that people could come into,” continued Friedman.
After missing out on the Brochu Citgo building, the three approached Ray Small about renting the Gazette offices after it closed. The ladies had several conversations with Small about the building and each one ended with a better outcome.
They first talked about leasing the building, but their limited budget couldn’t afford it. Small wanted to sell the building to them, but again, not enough funds. Finally the group offered to cover the building’s expenses to at least relieve Small of that burden.
They got together again later on and the group decided they would like a two year lease on the building. More talks ensued, and eventually Small offered the group the building at no cost. “I think we annoyed Ray into just giving us the building” laughed Friedman.
The group is now in the process of setting up non-profit status. Until they finish that undertaking, they will lease the building. Once they establish the non-profit, Small will hand them over the building and take the tax deduction as payment.
Friedman couldn’t stress enough how lucky they feel to land a downtown commercial location. They love the fact they are centered in the middle of town and are located between both the elementary and high school. They will oversee the venture from the Gazette office, but if needed, they will run their activities at various other locations.
The Civic Standard is in the business of building a united community. Their first project saw them handing out free cupcakes to elementary and high school students on the first day of school. They have also been invited to co-facilitate a class at Hazen Union with faculty member Reeve Basom entitled “The Recipe for Human Connection.”
October was filled with events. Every Thursday during the month they held Halloween costume exchanges. They had Hardwick Town Manager Opie Upson in for informal discussions with the community, they hosted a stationary social where people were invited to write letters and had a paper mache day to help with Halloween costumes. These were all events suggested by members of the community.
November activities are also filling up fast: Turkey Bingo, knitting events and more afternoons hosting Upson at the Civic Standard.
“We like the openness of listening to other people’s ideas,” said Friedman about the venture’s direction. “I don’t think we would have come up with that letter writing thing if someone hadn’t come in and asked us to do it. We really want to be open to the ideas that we can’t imagine.”
“It’s nice to not only respond to people’s needs,” added Reese. “It’s also nice to invite people into the process. And we are not chasing down volunteers, we feel like people are showing themselves in, which is very exciting.”
Friedman said the venture “is a dream come true.”
“I was just thinking the other day that this is what I was meant to be doing,” added Reese. “I mean, l think I was just sweeping the steps or something, and I was just thinking to myself, this is just so great.”
This group seems committed to bringing community involvement to a whole new level and are hopeful the participation of its residents will get them there.