Every community has at least one person who becomes a staple of the place — a human embodiment of a name on a map. Crossing guards, teachers, radio personalities, brewers and bakers — people that are seen regularly by many. Have you ever taken a moment to think what it must be like to be that community staple? Francis Prouty of Clifton Park can tell you all about it.
Though it only opened its doors a few years, the Vischer Ferry General Store on Riverview Road has made its name as a pillar of the community, serving as a meeting place for friends, a gallery of local artists, quality food and unique gifts. The store has also become a second home of sorts to one of the community’s most recognizable, and until now relatively anonymous, faces — 69-year-old biking enthusiast Francis Prouty.
Anyone who has sat in traffic in Clifton Park has likely seen Prouty cruising past on his red, 7-speed bike with a basket on the back, often collecting bottles and cans. According to Prouty, he’s ridden a bike every day of his life, rain or shine, for over 50 years.
“I was raised on a bike. Why would I give it up now?” he asked. Though a family member gave Prouty his first bike, he had to teach himself how to ride. “I just climbed on a bike and started pedaling,” he said. “Took me awhile — kept losing my balance but I said ‘I’m gonna do it!’ ” he added.
Since then, Prouty has taken to the road on two wheels every day regardless of icy roads, blistering sun or sideways rain. He estimates he bikes about 30 miles a day. “The weather don’t bother me if I’m prepared,” said Prouty. “Some people look out the window and stay in the house when it’s raining. I just put my rain gear on and take off.”
In his five-plus decades of biking Prouty said he’s had two near-fatal accidents, the last of which saw him fly through a car’s windshield in 2003. Still, not even a brush with death could keep Prouty away from his bike for long. “I’m not afraid to ride a bike. Some people give up riding but I gotta get out there,” he said.
About a month ago I ran into Prouty at the general store and he pointed out a stack of red t-shirts in the corner of the store. The shirts all had his face on them. “They’re selling like hotcakes,” he told me with a grin spread across his face, and we agreed to meet up again so he could tell me the whole story.
The idea behind the shirts started with a joke. “It was a crazy idea I had back in June,” said Prouty. Still, he wondered what store co-owner Louise McManus would think of the idea. “Would Louise approve of it? I hesitated. Do I have the courage to ask her?” he reminisced over a cup of coffee at the General Store, wearing both a Vischer Ferry General Store hat and sweatshirt.
The purpose behind the t-shirts, according to Prouty, “is to bring people down [to the general store].” For Prouty, no other place compares to the Vischer Ferry General Store. He appreciates the old-fashioned community atmosphere and the remoteness of the surrounding area. “People know who you are. If you miss a day they want to know where you are,” he said.
He’s right — people would certainly notice if Prouty missed a day at the general store. McManus said Prouty arrives before 7a.m. most days the store is open to help her get everything up and running by 8 a.m.
Time passed and nothing more was said about the shirts until one day when Prouty walked in the store — Louise and two others who worked in the store were all lined up behind the counter with the red t-shirts. “We stood behind the counter and waited for him to notice,” said McManus. She added, when “the lightbulb went off… he was so tickled.”
“When I first seen it I was pretty shocked. It was like a dream,” said Prouty. “When I first saw them I thought, they ain’t going to sell. Now we can’t keep them in the store!” he smiled. As of the mid-December, McManus said they’ve sold 50 Francis Prouty shirts. The store recently held an autograph signing event where Prouty signed about 20 shirts.
“It’s about time for me to liven up the place,” Prouty said with a mischievous chuckle.
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Categories: Life and Arts