Addison country store spans generations — finally
ADDISON — On Sept. 19, 2009, college sweethearts Cheri Franklin and Scott Petrin tied the knot. While they were fulfilling their dreams of marriage, another plan was also falling into place: They had recently reached an agreement in principle to buy the West Addison General Store from Cheri’s parents, Dana and Lorraine Franklin.
Dana and Lorraine Franklin had operated the West Addison fixture since 1989, and they had grown it into a successful operation by, among other things, improving and enlarging its deli, adding a pizza oven, and, according to Lorraine, taking care of their patrons.
“We kept expanding the inventory, kept expanding what was offered, having a little bit of everything for everybody,” Lorraine said. “If a customer would ask for something, we would get it in.”
But after two decades, the Franklins had decided they might be ready for a change and thought about selling the store.
“We kind of put feelers out there,” said Lorraine Franklin, a 56-year-old New Jersey native whose family moved to the area when she was 15. “We felt it was time … We just wanted to do something different.”
It wasn’t too long before their daughter and son-in-law told them to put a hold on the feelers. Cheri Petrin, at that point still Cheri Franklin, said they might be interested. Scott Petrin, who had signed on for, but according to Cheri not really enjoyed, a corporate job in New Hampshire, started working at the store to see if it might be a long-term fit.
Turned out it could be, said Cheri, who like her husband is now 29.
“He’s always kind of wanted his own business,” Cheri said. “(Working at the store) was like a no-obligation thing, but he ended up loving it. He gets up every day enjoying it.”
So while plans for the wedding were being drawn up, so also were the plans for a store transfer.
Then suddenly things got complicated, as they did for many business owners, farmers, residents and commuters on both sides of Lake Champlain in the region: Less than a month after the wedding, on Oct. 16, 2009, officials suddenly condemned and closed the Lake Champlain Bridge.
A major part of the West Addison General Store’s revenue was lost, and the financial future of two generations of the Franklin family was at risk.
“All of a sudden it felt like that everything we worked for had gone,” said Lorraine.
Cheri, who was managing the Vermont’s Own Products Inc. store on Main Street in Middlebury, also owned by Dana and Lorraine Franklin, said she and Scott felt worse for her parents because she and her husband had less at stake.
“At that point we had just got married. We hadn’t started a family yet … We had jobs. It was making sure the business survived, it was everything they had built up,” Cheri said.
Those who followed the citizen activism that helped spark the relatively quick construction of a new bridge know that Lorraine Franklin became an organizer and an outspoken advocate for government to act promptly to restore the vital commercial link between New York and Vermont.
She and Dana, 55, who became friends as students at Vergennes Union High School and kindled a romance after she graduated from the University of Vermont, were thinking of Cheri and Scott.
“We felt very worried, not only for us, but for our kids,” Lorraine said. “That’s why I was so outspoken. Needless to say, the mama bear came out.”
PROTECTING THE LEGACY
But Lorraine and Dana also wanted to protect what they had worked so long to build.
When the Franklins bought what many now call “WAGS,” it had changed hands several times in the 1970s and 1980s, including two years of ownership by Dana’s parents, Gordon and Flora Franklin. In 1986, Lorraine and Dana, then owners of a dairy farm, took advantage of the “whole herd buyout” program to leave farming and started a Vermont’s Own Products store in Shelburne.
In 1989, they opted to buy WAGS, located on Route 17 about two miles from the bridge, instead of expand their other business into the University Mall, and Lorraine has since also run Champ’s Trading Post on their former farm property, which lies between WAGS and the bridge.
Lorraine said Dana had worked for his parents at the store and already had ideas of how to make it successful.
“He knew what the store needed,” she said. “He saw the potential for growth.”
On Nov. 7, 2011, the new bridge came online. While Lorraine said nothing will ever restore the losses WAGS and other area businesses suffered, the cash flow is now as good or better than ever with the status quo restored.
“Not long after the bridge re-opened, things went well, in some cases better than it was,” Franklin said.
And after a years-long unplanned delay, the family deal got back on track. With a combination of owner and bank financing, on Friday, June 21, Cheri and Scott Petrin bought the WAGS business from Dana and Lorraine Franklin in an agreement that includes an option to purchase the real estate down the road.
Lorraine said she and Dana are thrilled to finally pass on WAGS to the next generation.
“Every parent would like to see their children carry on … their legacy,” Franklin said. “It’s hugely satisfying.”
Cheri said she and Scott are thrilled to see what they have worked toward actually happen, even if it was a dream deferred.
“We’re very happy. It’s only been a few days … but it’s all coming together,” she said on Monday.
But there’s even more to the story — the Franklin family works together happily on several ventures.
Cheri and Scott have a nine-month-old son, Chace, and she decided to give up managing Vermont’s Own Products in Middlebury. Enter Jamie Vezina, Dana and Lorraine Franklin’s son Stephen’s girlfriend, who is now running a Main Street store that Lorraine said is thriving.
Meanwhile, Dana and Stephen will work together to grow the Internet side of the Vermont’s Own business. And Lorraine and Cheri are partners in a wedding planning venture, An Affair By The Lake, and already have several 2014 bookings for a Victorian property the family owns near the east end of the bridge.
Cheri said the family ventures all seem to run smoothly, for which she “very much” feels lucky.
“We kind of all have our own thing. We work together, but we each have our own space, too,” she said. “We get along really well, and it just seems to work.”
And despite all the difficulties and delay, so did the deal for WAGS.
“It all had a happy ending,” Cheri said.
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