Kennedy Brothers calls halt to retail

VERGENNES — Kennedy Brothers President Win Grant confirmed on Wednesday that he plans to end retail operations in his North Main Street, Vergennes, building after 50 years — for 41 of which he has overseen operations.
Grant, 67, said the move will affect Kennedy Brothers’ nine employees, two of whom are full-time, and 50 craft vendors, who rent between six and 50 square feet apiece in the building’s 10,000-square-foot marketplace.
Kennedy Brothers has sold gifts and crafts in Vergennes for five decades, but has twice downsized within the prominent 38,000-square-foot building in the past six years.
First, Grant closed a second-level antiques center, and then three years ago he consolidated about 19,000 square feet of first-floor retail operations into the brick portion of his building, a space about half the first level.
Grant said he and his wife have been wrestling with Kennedy Brothers’ future as sales have declined and their retirement has neared.
“It’s taken us three years to decide how to do this,” Grant said.
Grant, a Waltham resident, said he wants to spend more time with his family, including a granddaughter in Arizona, and in his Waltham vineyard.
“I’d like to do something different, and this seems to be the only viable way of changing my life so I can do the things I want to do,” he said.
At the same time, Grant said what was a “market-driven” move is intended to protect his family’s future — the business’s financial projections were not favorable, especially given larger economic woes.
“It just doesn’t work any more. We’re in excellent financial condition, and we’d like to stay that way,” he said. “We wouldn’t be in excellent financial condition if we kept on the same track.”
Grant plans a liquidation sale that will run from Nov. 26 until Jan. 8; it will include fixtures as well as inventory. In a letter he sent to vendors earlier this week, he advised them to clear out before that sale begins, according to R&K Woodworking owner Randy Ouellette, one of the Marketplace vendors.
Grant acknowledged the timing was not ideal for the vendors, but that he had to make the “extremely hard” decision of when to sell off his own inventory.
“Unfortunately, quite a few just joined us thinking Christmas would be quite good, but it is also the best time for us for liquidation,” he said. “My wife and I talked about this for a long time.”
Kennedy Brothers non-retail tenants will remain, Grant said. They include Vermont Sun Fitness, Vintage Fitness and Ancient Graffiti on the second floor and Champlain Creamery, a cheesemaker, on the mezzanine level overlooking the main entrance. That last business plans to expand, Grant said. The Willowell Foundation also has an office in the building, and Green Mountain Wireless has a broadcast tower and an equipment room.
“We’ve got some very good tenants in here,” Grant said.
The decision will clear out the first floor for a prospective buyer, Grant said. He has placed both the 4-acre property, which includes two smaller outbuildings, and an adjacent building with a hair salon and an apartment on the market.
“Our building is for sale, and we’re going to be divesting ourselves of our properties in Vergennes,” he said.
Vergennes recently adopted a new municipal plan, and zoning regulations that allow new uses in the building, including condominiums, Grant said.
Despite what he called the need for the decision, Grant said it was not a happy one. He noted the company was founded in 1937 and also manufactured its hand-turned woodware in Charlotte and Bristol before settling in Vergennes and turning to retail. Grant installed the marketplace concept in 1987, when other vendors began to rent and share booths.
“I think we’re going to have a lot of disappointed customers who are going to come back and wonder why Kennedy Brothers isn’t here anymore. That’s one of the sad sides of it,” he said.
Even sadder, Grant said, are the implications for Kennedy Brothers’ workers.
“I’ve got a lot of dedicated employees that are going to be impacted by this,” he said. “There are hard decisions in this economy.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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