The new spice merchants

Chiara Tosi-Nelson, Ben Nelson, Ingrid and David Lucier. The Claremont Spice and Dry Goods Store is changing hands after July 4, as the Luciers pass the store to the Nelsons.

CLAREMONT — In the summertime when the bell rings on the shop door, David has time to finish a conversation with one customer at the counter before the next one comes in. People are patient; they’ll stand waiting, listening in or joining the conversation, or they’ll wander back through the shelves to consider another purchase or two.

Ingrid works in the back, packing and shipping orders.

“When we first started, I was up front and he was in the back, and we realized it’s not going to work this way,” said Ingrid. “It needed more computer than I know; a lot of it is keeping track of everything on the computer.”

The Spice and Dry Goods shop is not only friendly, but the product is unique: the same spices everyone needs and buys, but fresh. Spices only sit on the shelves for three months at most. From his computer at the front, David manages a supply chain on the just-in-time delivery principle — spices take the most direct route to the store, instead of sitting in a warehouse for months or years.

“A lot of spice companies will buy the largest commercial size they can afford and then let it sit. We don’t do that,” said David. “There are about 600 or so spreadsheets driving this business that you’ll never see.”

Ben Nelson grew up in an agricultural family in Claremont, and he remembers the spice shop before it opened. “We were banging on the door to get in, and David and Ingrid were inside — they were still painting, there were ladders against the wall — and they said, ‘We’re not open yet.’

“We needed this store,” said Ben.

Ben grew up and went to Dartmouth, where as part of his history major he studied the history of spices, which is also the history of international commerce. He also met Chiara Tosi, an adjunct from northern Italy. Charismatic, friendly and enthusiastic about food and cooking, Chiara had a little background in retail as well as teaching. Her family had a small clothing store. When Chiara and Ben married several years later, they had two weddings: one in Moody Park, and one in Italy. They dreamed of opening a farm stand, perhaps in years to come.

Meanwhile, the Christmas rush was beginning to wear on David and Ingrid. “This time of year, two people can do it,” said David. “At Christmastime, it’s crazy. Ten would be good, but there isn’t enough room in the store for that many people.”

On May 30, the Luciers formally announced a change of owners. Ben and Chiara Tosi-Nelson will be taking over the store after the Fourth of July.

“We are happy to announce that the store will have new owners! After seven and a half years Ingrid and I are taking a step back and semi-retiring,” David wrote on the store’s Facebook page.

“When they approached us about buying the store, we were interested, but it took us a little while working on our own to build up enough to buy it,” said Ben.

“We are real fans of the shop since day one,” said Chiara. “Also we have been living in Hartland in Vermont until now, but we really really wanted to move to Claremont because a lot of Ben’s family is here. Being Italian, moving from Milan to here was a big transition, but I really love Claremont’s downtown. And we really didn’t want the Spice Shop to close.

“We think we are going to be very happy to keep the tradition they have of customer service going,” said Chiara. “People say that New Englanders are reserved, but when I walk outside everybody says Hi to me! Where I come from people do not do that.”

The Luciers will work alongside the Nelsons to ensure a smooth transition, and at least for now the Nelsons aren’t planning to change much.

“As they say in my country, you don’t want to change a winning team,” said Chiara.

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