“A long slow color is green.”
(This quote, from a poem by Faye, was engraved on a wooden medallion which greeted guests above the entrance to what was once Southern Vermont’s natural living Mecca~Klara Simpla. This interview took place in 1997 in Faye’s apartment above the shop on Main Street in Wilmington.)
Fay, tell me the story of how Klara Simpla got its start…
Well, this was the Wee Ski Shop, and Wee Moran ran it. I had just moved in up the street and happened to walk by. Wee was out on the sidewalk, looking very glum, and told me that his wife had just been dropped in the hospital and had broken her spine. And I, never having been in a ski shop in my life, said, Well, is there anything that I can do?
That was December 15, 1965.
So I came in to help with getting the equipment out and for sale. On Friday nights, there would be a line of young people down the block because (don’t forget) this was the only ski shop in town when Mount Snow opened. We’d work all night just to keep things going.
Sometimes those people coming in late were hungry, and I began to think that maybe it would be nice if we had something here. So I took three hundred dollars and bought honey and peanut butter from Walnut Acres in Pennsylvannia. And then, they’d say, “Do you have any bread?” So I started ordering organic bread from Canada.
And that’s what made it grow.
So how did you end up in Vermont selling organic foods?
My father was an organic farmer and a bee keeper in Virginia. He helped other people learn organic farming, and that interested me. I studied very practical things in college… how fibers and food were made, and how to test them, so I had a good background for this.
Coming to Vermont, over thirty years ago, was a real turning point for me. I didn’t know a soul, but it felt like I should be here. It was one of those things that you don’t have to think about it–you just feel very right without putting a whole lot of [mental] handicaps in your way.
You know some people use their minds to figure everything out. I’m not that kind of person. How can the heart speak if the mind is busy?
I heard that the locals wouldn’t set foot in here when you first got started.
Yes, it was a very weird beginning. The people in the town walked on the other side of the street because they didn’t want to come near me. I heard that they thought I was a witch!
I first had a big herb table in the ski shop. The police would come in, with their hands behind their backs, and walk around and look at it out of the corner of their eye. As a matter of fact, they arrested a young man who was going out with a bag of herbs. So it was scary for me. I couldn’t see the humor in it then.
What turned things around?
When Wee died in ‘72, he left no will, and I was faced with eviction. I had been living here and taking care of everything. It was a monumental task but he needed the help.
People began to hear that this place might be lost. (By that time it was almost a full-fledged health food store as it is now.) And people came in… there was a crippled man from up North who brought in a check for me to use to pay the lawyers; and there was a wealthy woman in Brattleboro who heard what was happening and sent another big check–without knowing how I would pay her back.
That’s what let me know how important this place was to people.
So many people write you and call you or want to come to visit. At eighty years old, how do you keep up with it all?
Well, I think a lot of the people who correspond with me must think I’m dead by now!
I actually have a lot to do to keep things going here, but I don’t try to put it all in one basket, I spread it out.
Here’s a quick question that I know a lot of people would like the answer to: Why aren’t you listed in the phone book under Klara Simpla?
I don’t know, it’s not important to me. [We both laugh as the phone rings on cue.]
Some people are really overwhelmed the first time they walk into this store…
[Fay laughs as recalls this incident.]
I used to have some chairs out front in the summertime and I would sit out there. One afternoon a girl sat down beside me; she was about twelve years old, and she looked at me and said, “Do you work here?”
And I said, “Yes.”
And she said, “How do you stand it?”
And I said, “What do you mean?”
And she said, “It smells so awful in there.”
Fay, what’s going to happen to Klara Simpla when you’re gone?
I have no idea; whatever needs to happen, I guess. That’s a nice way for it to grow.
I thought you were going to ask me about the books.
I do love your book collection.
You know when I first put the books in the store, somebody said to me, “You’ll never sell books like that in this town!” But in a short time, there were people coming from Boston to buy books here.
People would say, “Oh I love this shop; I could just live here!” And I used to sort of giggle inside; because I used to sleep in the book department before there was this space upstairs. I would just uncover a cot that had books on it during the day and lay down there at night. I loved the feeling of the books around me. (They were my salvation growing up.)
Is there anything that you’d want me to say or not to say in my article about Klara Simpla?
I’d want it to say what’s real. I can think of an article that was done here where everything seemed flowery and nicer than it was–embellished–as though that was necessary. That’s a handicap, when you embellish things and then try to live up to something that isn’t real.
Klara Simpla has touched so many lives. What has this meant to you?
If I make a difference and it’s positive, that pleases me.
I feel very lucky for the chain of events that brought, even us, together. I have a lot of love in my heart for Vermont and the people here. I think it’s a great place to be. There’s a freedom in this state; it’s a real haven for having yourself expressed and getting to know yourself.
Kelly Salasin, Wilmington 1997