Iconic Victorian up for sale for $1.8 million: Featured in Rockwell's Stockbridge holiday classic

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STOCKBRIDGE During the 25 years he spent in Stockbridge, Norman Rockwell lived two doors down from Harriet Sossner's house on South Street and was a frequent visitor to her antique store on Main Street. So, it's no surprise that Sossner's business serves as the antique store in Rockwell's classic holiday painting "Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas," which includes seven buildings located on the south side of the town's main thoroughfare.

Now, that 19th century three-story Victorian-style building at 44 Main St. is for sale, listed at $1.795 million by William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty. Operated by the same family since the 1960s, this is the second time the structure could change hands since Rockwell's famous painting first appeared in McCall's Magazine in 1967, and the first time since 1981.

"The decision to sell was not easy," said the late Sossner's grandson, Kyle Haver of New York City, who manages Seven Arts Management LLC, the entity that owns the building.

He is one of the six grandsons of Sossner's two sons, Sandy and Thomas Haver, who currently own the store. The grandsons have all left the Berkshires. One of the three other Havers listed in the limited liability company's ownership papers filed with the Secretary of State's office lives in suburban Boston, but the two others live in Oregon and Pennsylvania.

"We have tried to run it according to Harriet's best wishes," Kyle Haver said in an email. "Now, each of us has our own families ... Harriet's great-grandchildren are spread across the country and not in a position to ensure the building continues to capture the essence of Rockwell's America. So the family made the difficult choice to offer the building to someone who will preserve its stature and maintain its role as an anchor for America's small towns."

Built in 1870, the three-story structure currently houses a real estate office and 7 Arts Gift Shop, a business that grew out of Sossner's business, which was known as "7 Arts Antique Store." Located less than a block from the equally iconic Red Lion Inn, the building at 44 Main St. includes three retail spaces, an office/residence space on the second floor, three bedrooms and rentable space on the third floor. The building contains 8,770 square feet and is zoned for both residential and commercial use, according to Kyle Haver.

The third floor was once the home of the Stockbridge Free Masons, who were first charted in 1777, and met at several different town locations before moving to 44 Main St., according to Haver.

"The dome in the grand room on the third floor was especially designed for the Grand Masons," Haver said, "where you can still hear your voice echo from one end to the next."

Realtor Steven Weisz of William Pitt Sotheby's International Realty believes the building contains the quintessential New England charm that people love about Stockbridge.

"Without a doubt, it's an iconic building," Weisz said. "It demonstrates the idea back in the late 1800s-early 1900s that small town commercial centers could have the same type of architectural presence that homes had. A lot of that has been lost in modern times."

In 1983, a brouhaha over the antique store broke out, when the Stockbridge Select Board denied Sossner's request to convert a storage area on the property into into another retail space. Reporter Stephen Fay summed up the controversy in The Eagle by describing Stockbridge as a town "where they would, if they could, regulate the way you blow your nose."

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Sossner, who died at age 82 in February 1987 while vacationing in Florida, was an artist who ran her antique store on the building's first floor. Active in local politics and a district organizer for several antiwar peace demonstrations, Sossner played a key part in "efforts to revitalize the town" during her younger years, according to Eagle archives. She was both a neighbor and confidant of Rockwell, who lived in Stockbridge from 1953 until his death in 1978. She told her grandsons to refer to him as "Mr. Rockwell."

"Harriet knew Norman very well," said Haver, adding that Rockwell was a regular visitor to his grandmother's antique store. "Not only did he carry signed prints of his painting to sell in the shop, Harriet told us he (was) often borrowing items from the antique shop to serve as props for his sketches and paintings.

"And, yes, Mr. Rockwell talked with Harriet about the Main Street painting," he said.

During one of those conversations, Rockwell told Sossner that he included her French poodle Tiffany in the painting, according to Haver. Rockwell placed the dog in a station wagon that is parked in front of the antique store, he said.

"We were all very proud of how Rockwell captured the antique shop so well in his painting," Haver said. "And it was a real sign of his friendship with with our grandmother; he also included her dog."

Beginning in the 1960s, Sossner rented the three-story building from Stockbridge's former postmaster David Braman, a member of the Stockbridge Masons for over 40 years, who had lived on the second floor. She didn't actually purchase the structure until 1981 (the area on Main Street that is included in Rockwell's painting is known as the "Braman Block").

Her store attracted an impressive clientele. Pianist Van Cliburn often stopped by to play the pump organ. Psychologist Erik Erikson and his wife, Joan, came in to talk about books. Alice Brock, of Alice's Restaurant fame, often brought food, Haver said. The original Alice's Restaurant was also located on the Braman Block, between the antique store and The Red Lion Inn.

"Musicians, actors and performers who came to the Berkshires each summer stopped by to see what was new," Haver said.

When they lived in the Berkshires, Sossner's two sons and six grandsons acted as a focused "buying team" for the store, and were frequently dispatched to auctions, flea markets and house sales in search of items that could be sold, according to Kyle Haver.

All of these memories are hard to let go.

"They loved the building," Weisz said, referring to the Havers. "But just like any other building it requires a lot of management and maintenance, and that takes a lot of time and personal presence. They felt it was just too difficult for members of the family. They don't want to sell, it but at this point it's just easier to have someone on the premises."

Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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