Major changes in the works for downtown Middlebury retail scene

MIDDLEBURY — This summer is bringing some major retail changes to downtown Middlebury, with two Main Street stores moving; another closing; and a new shop opening on Merchants Row.
Conducting moving sales right now are Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel and Otter Creek Used Books, both located in the Lazarus Building at the corner of Main Street and Printer’s Alley.
Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel at the end of the month will move to The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South, into a spot formerly occupied by a portion of the Fashion Bug store.
Angie Wade, owner of Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel, said the move is in anticipation of the replacement of two railroad overpasses in downtown Middlebury during the next few years. One of those overpasses is on Main Street, adjacent to the store.
“When that construction is done, it would put me out of business,” Wade said on Monday.
She scoured the downtown for a replacement location, but said she couldn’t find one big enough for her store.
“We considered the Marble Works, but they were full,” Wade said.
Her search ultimately led her to The Centre and a spot next to Supercuts. It’s a location that Wade said would provide ample parking, handicap access and good customer traffic.
“I hope to see all our loyal customers over there,” said Wade, whose relocated store will open Aug. 2.
Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel opened in 20 Main St. in 1997. Wade later opened a second store on Bristol’s Main Street. That store will continue to operate.
Meanwhile, Wade’s longtime neighbor in the Lazarus Building is also preparing to move. Otter Creek Used Books has been at 20 Main St. since 1985, noted current storeowner Barbara Harding. She acquired the business from David Hearne in 2006, when it was known as “Otter Creek Used and Rare Books.” Harding left her job as travel and marketing director for the Addison County Chamber of Commerce to run the business full-time in 2007.
The shelves at Otter Creek Used Books are lined with tomes as far as the eye can see. Harding still isn’t sure how many books are in her enormous collection, which is in constant flux as new entries are rotated in and out.
“I have a lot,” she said with a smile.
But she explained the current configuration of her store has made it a challenge for some of her less mobile customers. Some of them can’t negotiate the stairwell that leads from the Main Street entrance to the main floor of books below.
And, Harding added, customers can find it a challenge to find parking close to the store.
So, Harding has decided to move her store a virtual stone’s throw away, to a spot in the Marble Works most recently occupied by the Art House. The new location, Harding said, provides single-level access to clients while affording ample parking.
“The only downside is I am leaving a Main Street location,” Harding said, though she added, “used book stores are a destination.”
Harding believes the business will continue to prosper at its new location, where she plans to be operating by Labor Day.
“I am confident in the Marble Works,” Harding said. “They are increasing their marketing as a collective group. I feel the Marble Works is prime for retail.”
Harding stressed her present landlords — the Stanton Lazarus Real Estate Trust — were very attentive to her business’s needs over the years.
Attorney Jim Swift represents the Stanton Lazarus Real Estate Trust. He said the trust will be seeking one or more tenants to re-fill the building.
“We would like to see retail continue there,” Swift said of the location, which the late Stanton Lazarus ran as a general store for many years.
A portion of rents derived from the building is earmarked for the nonprofit Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects and for a high school scholarship program.
The Lazarus Building has drawn scrutiny through the years from some town officials who have talked about the prospect of acquiring the structure and razing it, to among other things provide better access to the Marble Works through Printer’s Alley.
Swift acknowledged that debate but stressed, “The building is not for sale, but it is for rent.”
While two downtown storefronts will soon be vacant, an empty spot at 32 Merchants Row in the Battell Block has just been filled.
Moonlit Alpacas recently opened its store in the long-vacant, former home of Bank North. The space — once slated to host a new dental center serving low-income clients, among others — now offers a cornucopia of alpaca-related items, including scarves, hats and clothing made from fiber harvested from the 90 animals at the 450-acre Moonlit Alpacas Farm in Cornwall. Cass and Carol Tillman own the farm, and they see the new Merchants Row store as a more public venue in which to display and sell their wares that until now had been available at the Route 125 farm.
“The store has always done well on the farm, but we knew it had a lot more potential than the (Cornwall) location is going to give us,” Carol Tillman said.
She noted the farm is currently for sale, though the Tillmans plan to retain at portion of their herd at a smaller location.
“We are ready to downsize, with two kids in college,” Tillman said.
She expects her two daughters will put in some time at the store from time to time during summers.
While the main store is alpaca-centric, the Tillmans have reserved two rooms as galleries featuring artwork for sale. Among the featured artists from the Tillmans’ collection are Patrick Nagel, John Akers and Emry Clark.
Store hours are currently 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Tillman anticipates some closing days that will be announced later.
Last week marked the closing of the Blue Moon store at 46 Main St. Ellen Walter established the clothing and gift store in Bristol back in 1993 as “Bristol Cottons.” Two years later, she moved it to Middlebury with a name change.
Walter explained she decided to close the store in order to deal with some health issues. She has been a hands-on owner and decided to close the store rather than keep it open under new management for a lengthy period of time.
“I loved the store and my customers,” said Walter, who noted her daughter, Alison, essentially grew up at Blue Moon. “(Middlebury) was a great place to have a store,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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