Business owners taking stock in Granville, Hancock

GRANVILLE/HANCOCK — Though some might argue that it’s not an ideal time to open a store on Route 100 in Granville, with access still restricted by flood damage, Daniel Sargeant disagrees.
In fact, he said, the crowd that turned out to the grand opening of the Granville General Store on Thursday just goes to show how much the town-wide bonds have strengthened in the wake of the damage wrought by Tropical Storm Irene.
“I think that’s going to be the basis of this business,” said Sargeant, who owns the store.
Throughout Granville and Hancock, life is slowly stabilizing, and residents are turning from cleanup to rebuilding efforts.
Sargeant, whose plan to open the general store over Labor Day weekend was foiled by the Aug. 28 floods, said supply routes were finally stable enough that he could open up late last week.
“Even now we’re having a hard time getting things in,” he said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of support from the community.”
When Sargeant couldn’t get a technician in to get the store’s coolers working, people in town brought refrigerators. And townspeople brought chairs and tables to fill the seating area at the front of the store so that, on grand opening day, customers and the merely curious could sit, drink coffee and socialize.
Sargeant, a 21-year-old graduate of Vermont Technical College with a degree in business management, said Granville hasn’t had its own general store in more than 10 years. He’s been working to remedy that since April with help from his mother, Cheryl Sargeant, the chair of the town selectboard. Daniel Sargeant said the storm and the damage it wrought in the White River Valley confirmed his purpose.
“I guess the biggest idea was that we didn’t have any real community center,” he said. “This is an attempt to get that back.”
For the more established businesses in the valley, however, it may take some time to bounce back.
Diane Isaacson, owner of the Old Hancock Hotel at the intersection of Routes 100 and 125, said her establishment has racked up costs in damage and in lost business — how much, she can’t say yet. She’s been closed since the storm, and she can’t reopen until her heavily damaged well has been repaired.
“We’re going into our busiest season of the year … but without an approved water source, I can’t reopen,” said Isaacson.
For a business so heavily reliant on fall tourists, every day the hotel is closed and the roads are off limits makes it that much harder to operate.
“Winter is very quiet for us but we have high heating costs, so I need to make enough in October to try to make up for income shortening during the winter,” said Isaacson.
On Thursday Isaacson was waiting on bids from two well repair companies to fix the well damaged by the storm; but until repairs begin she won’t know whether the well is still salvageable.
Isaacson said that amidst the bad news of recent weeks, she’s gotten a lot of support.
After the roads were passable again, a friend took her up to the Mad River flood relief center in Waitsfield, where personnel helped her to apply for grants and loans through the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the U.S. Small Business Administration, walking her through the phone calls and paperwork she needed to fill out. That, said Isaacson, was just what she needed.
“It they’d handed me a list of phone numbers at that point, I would have just looked at it,” she said.
The following day, the center sent 25 volunteers down to Hancock to help her clear out her basement, where a foot and a half of seepage from the swollen river across the road had soaked dry kitchen supplies, linens and reams of paperwork in her office.
And the Vermont Preservation Trust has already given Isaacson a small grant to help her to repair the well.
“So many people have just been so wonderful,” said Isaacson.
Still, she’s not sure how it will work out — like many small businesses, she’s not sure how she would find the funds to pay back a long-term loan.
“You just barely squeak through, and the thought of additional debt burden through a loan is tough,” she said.
Isaacson said that as anxious as she is to see business come back to the valley, at this point it’s more detrimental for tourists to tackle the damaged mountain passes and inhibit the flow of road work.
“Right now, we don’t need heavy traffic,” she said.
Back in Granville, Sargeant’s general store is filling a need in the small town, especially now that it’s so difficult to reach a fully stocked grocery store. The store is a place where residents can buy basic food staples locally.
“It’s your basic necessities — anything you would need to feed your family,” said Sargeant.
But he, like Isaacson, is looking forward to the time when Route 100 opens back up to regular traffic and tourists can begin traveling through again. He’s hopeful that an open road will mean increased traffic to the store.
“I hope by mid-October we’ll really kick it off,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at [email protected].

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