Cornwall store plan in works

CORNWALL — Cornwall Historical Society members have until December to present their selectboard with a plan to renovate the former Lavalley Store on Route 30 to the point where it could once again accommodate a small business.
The building, located right next door to the Cornwall town offices, was built in 1880. It ceased operating as a store back in 1940, but was maintained by the Lavalley family as a residence until 1997. The family gave the structure to the town in 2000, triggering a debate on how the community might use the structure, which is in need of more than $325,000 in repairs.
Cornwall residents at town meetings have expressed a desire to see the Lavalley Store remain standing, but have not been keen on seeing local tax dollars raised to fix the structure.
With that in mind, the Cornwall Historical Society has been working with experts to identify specific repairs needed to put the building back in commission as a store — and to do it without local tax dollars.
“We have a lot of challenges,” acknowledged Elizabeth Karnes Keefe, a leader of the Cornwall Historical Society’s Lavalley Store committee. She sees raising funds in a tight economy as the biggest challenge the committee faces.
But she is very optimistic.
“We have a lot to figure out, and we will,” said Karnes Keefe, who last week co-presented a project update to the Cornwall selectboard. That update included the results of a study by Lincoln Applied Geology indicating there is enough reserve septic capacity within a nearby, communal mound system to accommodate a small business at the Lavalley Store. That mound system currently serves the town offices and the neighboring DAR house.
Karnes Keefe and her colleagues are proposing a new well be drilled to serve the store building, town offices and DAR house.
Historical society members also reported completion of architectural plans for the Lavalley building, featured on the Vermont State Register of Historic Places. Karnes Keefe pointed to several reasons for getting the Lavalley Store repaired and put back in use. They include preserving a historic community asset; providing a local outlet for basic groceries that townspeople currently have to travel elsewhere to purchase; and living up to the spirit of Cornwall’s town plan, which recommends having a vital village center with homes, businesses and public services “that promote public gathering and interaction between people.”
“We would like a place for people to get together, see their neighbors and chat,” Karnes Keefe said.
Historical society members plan to start raising money through foundations, donations and state or federal grants to begin revitalizing the Lavalley building. The historical society would form a board of directors to oversee the store as a nonprofit venture, with profits used to support Cornwall organizations and projects. The board of directors would hire a manager for the store, which would stock such products as milk, newspapers, cleaning supplies, juices, wine, beer, pet food, crafts, baked goods and, perhaps, pre-made meals. Other amenities under consideration include free wireless Internet access, an Addison County Transit Resources bus stop, and a local meeting space.
Officials are optimistic the resurrected store would get some good traffic. A market analysis put together by the historical society indicates that the 467 households within a three-mile radius of the location spend an average $9,143 per year on groceries. If only 10 percent of those annual purchases were made at the Cornwall store, that would translate into $420,000 in annual revenues, according to the study. And the property already hosts a successful summer produce stand run by Earl and Beth Corey, noted Karnes Keefe.
Officials estimate it would cost $50,000 to $60,000 to launch the new business, with annual operating costs of $90,000 to $100,000. Organizers hope the business would break even during year one, while realizing a profit of 1 to 2 percent during each of the following two years.
Cornwall selectboard Chairman Bruce Hiland is looking forward to hearing more details about the project during the months ahead. The board is scheduled to decide in December whether to endorse the historical society’s plan in spirit.
“We have made it clear to them that this is not a project for the town to finance,” Hiland said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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