"It has been said that Liza Bernard is a force of nature," according to Valley News, which noted that "at the very least, she's certainly a force of the local economy." Bernard and Penny McConnel, co-owners of the Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vt., have been key players in the "Local First" movement in Vermont and the Upper Valley since they founded the store in 1994.
"When we first opened, people thought we were a little crazy," said Bernard. But their vision was to "create a friendly place in the community centered on customers' desires and a 'curated selection of thoughtfully chosen books for everyone in the family,' " Valley News wrote.
"Books aren't just things; they're holders of great ideas," Bernard added. "We're really excited to share that with people.... I think one of the keys to a business like this is to be very in tune with what the community wants and very flexible to provide it. That's what makes it exciting--it's a new business every day."
After opening the bookstore, Bernard became deeply involved with the formation of Local First Vermont, now run by Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility. "Place is really important. To have a village, you need to support the businesses in the village," she said. "Keeping it local is important to the uniqueness of a place. We'll lose that personality if we don't support local businesses.... Everything comes around. The Norwich Bookstore is in a position to support Project Graduation because the school library purchases some of its books from us. Shopping locally helps create a cycle of financial health."
Bernard was a leading force in helping to launch the Upper Valley's Local First Alliance 10 years ago, with businesses in Vermont and New Hampshire bonding together. "I felt like I was leaving out half of my colleagues. I identify with the Upper Valley as a region, and that means crossing the border." A decade later, she observed: "Customers are coming in and telling me how important it is to shop local. That is such a great feeling."