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Positive changes in the village

Wilmington sees an uptick in new businesses

WILMINGTON—After standing vacant for months, or sometimes years, a number of properties have sold in Wilmington’s historic village, including the grande dame of West Main Street: The Vermont House.

Recent property sales mark a positive trend for the village socked by a down economy complicated by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

At a point after Irene, the downtown had more than 20 vacant buildings, said Adam Grinold, executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Not all those buildings were empty due to the flood. Some businesses had closed prior to Irene because of a tight economy. Others closed only temporarily after the storm.

In recent months, however, the village has seen strong movement.

Four buildings in the village center have been bought, and the new owners plan to renovate them, including the former Poncho’s Wreck restaurant building on South Main Street, said Grinold.

The Vermont House was purchased last week by the Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Co, LLC (HIRE), according to land records at the Town Clerk’s office.

Jim Barnes, the main force behind HIRE, also owns the former Haystack ski area, which he has converted into the Hermitage Club at Haystack Mountain, a private luxury resort.

After extensive renovations and flood-proofing measures, Dot’s Restaurant re-opened in December, leading the restaurant’s breakfast and chili fans to rejoice.

Isabelle and Roger Alvarado have bought and are renovating a property at 20 West Main St. that they plan to open later this year.

The professional building across the street from the town offices sold earlier this month.

Also under renovation: the historic Parmalee and Howe Building, 4 N. Main St., overlooking the Deerfield River. The two-story brick building will house a farm-to-plate restaurant called Cask & Kiln Kitchen.

Grinold added that other new businesses are up and running, such as Pizzapalooza, a pizza restaurant and micro pub at 19 South Main St.

Most of the new downtown businesses focus on food or retail, said Grinold. He explained that these are the type of businesses that probably always will gravitate to the village.

Tourism has long been Wilmington’s bread and butter. The winter-season economy has not proved reliable in recent years. Many economic efforts have focused on creating a four-season economy.

Grinold agrees that, overall, the region’s economy should diversify. The chamber and other economic development organizations, such as the Southeast Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS), work together on expanding the region’s economy.

Grinold points to the Southern Vermont Sustainable Marketing Initiative, a collaboration of organizations based in Windham and Bennington counties, as an example of coordinated regional action.

Expanding the area’s broadband capabilities, and improving workforce development are enhancements Grinold suggests can attract investors and businesses to the region.

Some weekends as many as 12,000 people visit the Mount Snow Resort, said Grinold. And riding those ski lifts are CEOs, entrepreneurs, and small business owners who gaze across the valley and imagine how great it would be to live and do business here, he said.

The region needs to reach those people and help them realize that Southern Vermont is a great place to do business, he added.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #241 (Wednesday, February 12, 2014). This story appeared on page C1.

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