Photographed by Daria Bishop.
Gary Smith likes to talk about connections. As a prolific music producer who helped shape the rise of alternative rock in the ’80s, working with such artists as the Pixies, Throwing Muses and many others, Smith’s solid connections allowed him to uproot his business from Cambridge, Massachusetts, and move it in 2002 to Bellows Falls. The one-square-mile village of about 3,500 residents on the Connecticut River was not an obvious location for a commercial music studio, but it appealed to Smith. “Bellows Falls is a town of connections,” he said, “where river meets train and train meets road. I just fell in love with that.”
Popolo means “people,” and the restaurant’s owners have worked to create a social hub where everyone feels comfortable.
Bellows Falls also captivated Smith in other ways. “It has the most beautiful architectural collection,” he said, referring to the Italianate, Romanesque and Queen Anne buildings that radiate out from an extra-wide Main Street called “the square.” Dating back to the paper mill boom of the late 1800s and early 1900s, these buildings earned the downtown a spot on the National Register of Historic Places, but they also serve as time-worn symbols of yet another New England mill town struggling to reclaim economic vitality. Even that challenge proved a draw for Smith. “There is community zeal here, a core group of people who each in his or her way is bringing the arts and artisanal work to this community to give it new life,” Smith said. “It’s small enough where you can make a difference.” He set up a music venue and recording space in a roomy corner of the Georgian Revival–style former Windham Hotel and got down to work with artists like Natalie Merchant and Juliana