GREAT BARRINGTON -- I love the Public Market in West Stockbridge. I mean I really love it. It opens at 5 a.m., which is just a little too late for my commute to Albany, N.Y., but most days, it's a great waypoint.
The new owner, Tim Walsh, is a terrific guy. He has lots of experience running things. He worked at the Ritz Carlton in South Beach, Florida. He owned a restaurant in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. He opened a restaurant for the famous chef, Wolfgang Puck, in Seattle. That's the city where he met his wife, Andrea, a Richmond native and one of the famous Harrington clan.
After spending three years in Boston, they moved to Washington, D.C., where she earned her law degree at American University. While in Washington working in landscaping, Tim was not far from the Pentagon when the hijacked plane crashed on 9/11. He knew then that he wanted a less complicated life. Washington wasn't for him so he and Andrea came back to the loving arms of their extended family. Andrea got a job in a Great Barrington law firm and Tim followed his dream and opened a country store.
Tim's sister, Kate, has been a foodie all her life. She has been gaining fame handling the prepared food end of things at the market. Kate is a terrific and personable lady who makes sure that if you've got two working partners in a household, you can stop by and get good, wholesome food to feed the family.
At least a few nights a week I'll stop in and get a rotisserie chicken, an old Chartock favorite. It feeds all of us -- including Murray the dog who long ago said, "You have to put something on top of the dry dog food or I ain't eating it." Frequently, I'll cut up some veggies, boil some water and make a soup with the leftovers. It couldn't be easier.
The place is a virtual gallery of food. In addition to all kinds of nouveau drinks made for health nuts, Tim carries meat like steaks and prepared hamburgers which, if cooked properly (rare), are fantastic and take just a few minutes to make.
Tim says that while he loves all his customers, he is particularly anxious to please the all-year-round group. The store is like a community center. Whenever you go in, you'll find a gaggle of people discussing local and world affairs.
One morning I walked in at a few minutes after five and a guy said to me, "We were just talking about you." I had no idea whether this was good or bad and I didn't have the guts to ask under the premise that if you break it, you own it.
Since West Stockbridge is known for its sometimes fractious politics, I asked Tim whether or not the various sides tried to recruit him. He acknowledged that has happened but he stays out of it and is "nice to everyone."
Tim and Andrea have two little children attending the local schools and Tim says that he is in it for the long run. "Last stop," says the man who has done everything. He hopes the kids may want to run the store when he's done. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it really doesn't work that way.
The kids who work there -- Annie, Sam, Ryan and Bryan and Craig -- are great. In an age when most places hire part-time help in order to keep expenses down, Tim provides everyone with a full-time job. Salaries are his No. 2 expense, right behind paying the utility bills for heating and air conditioning.
You owe it to yourself to check the place out. Oh, and don't forget to say hello to the yellow tabby, who is now part of the furniture.
Alan Chartock, a Great Barrington resident, is president and CEO of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and a professor emeritus of communications at SUNY-Albany.