In Essex County, NY, Crown Point’s derelict Agway feed store, for decades a sad reminder of the decline of agriculture in the Champlain Valley, has been restored and is serving food, local beers, wine, craft cocktails and its own brand of spirits, War Cannon.
“This building was just sitting here, waiting to be brought back to life,” said War Cannon Spirits owner Paul Besignano. “Hopefully, this is part of a comeback for the entire area. We hope it will inspire others.”
(Coincidentally or not, Champlain Valley’s agricultural community is also returning to life, in large part because of young, college-educated farmers who can see a future in its old barns and fields.)
When he bought the property in 2017, Besignano’s plan was to turn the building – originally built in 1820 as a sawmill – into a distillery.
“The distillery had to have a brand and this building was to be that brand, or at least an essential part of it,” he said. “If interest in the building can attract the right amount of foot traffic, it will help sell the product beyond the Champlain Valley.”
In place of a distillery, the two-hundred-year-old, post-and-beam building now serves as the spirits tasting room, a bar, an event space, a retail store that specializes in New York State-sourced products, a coffee house and a restaurant.
“The restaurant menu is growing slowly,” said Besignano. “Originally, food was to be the least of War Cannon Spirits. The core business was to be the distillery. But you can’t serve just potato chips and beef jerky in a place as unique as this.”
In part because of its architectural and historical interest, the building has become something of an attraction, drawing people from places far beyond the southern Champlain Valley – Burlington and Middlebury, the North Country, Lake George, travelers from Long island, New Jersey and New England.
“This building is worthy of being a destination in its own right. It was worth the effort and the expense,” said Besignano.
“It’s a very delicate balancing act,” said Besignano. “We want the bar and restaurant to feel accessible to local residents, but for it to be a destination, a place that people will go out of their way to visit, their time here has to be elevated to the level of an experience.”
War Cannon Spirits is open Wednesday through Sunday, starting at 11 am and is located at 2849 State Highway 9N, in Crown Point, just south of Bridge Road (Rt. 185) and the Champlain Bridge to Addison County, Vermont. Some of its products will be available for sampling at this year’s Adirondack Wine & Food Festival, to be held this year at the Charles R. Wood Park in Lake George on June 24th and 25th.