Summer business has its own flavor

MIDDLEBURY — When June rolls around, Nancie Dunn makes sure her shop is stocked with paintings and cards of Vermont landscapes, and especially locally sourced pottery. That’s because Dunn, who has owned the Sweet Cecily shop in Main Street for the past 27 years, has picked up on trends in business that she can now anticipate as the warmer months approach.
She’s noticed, for instance, that students at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf School of English in particular appear to be on the prowl for artwork reflective of the Green Mountains — and are specifically drawn to paintings of Adirondack chairs.
Dunn isn’t alone. Merchants throughout downtown Middlebury notice a particular swing in business during the summer.
Tim Sweet of Otter Creek Bakery can generally tell students from Middlebury College Language Schools from tourists simply by listening to their conversations conducted in foreign languages. He notes that Language School students tend to order more espressos than students at any other time of the year.
At Vermont’s Own, manager Jamie Vezina said she incorporates bigger orders when preparing stock in anticipation of the summer’s traffic. She says there is a “huge difference from winter.”
Marie Hayyat, co-owner and manager of Sama’s Café, has noticed that Middlebury College summer students tend to eat later than other diners throughout the winter. The store and restaurant also tends to be busier in the morning.
“It keeps it exciting,” Hayyat said with a grin. “It’s change.”
For many Middlebury businesses, summer means increased business. Restaurants, delis and shops all see fresh faces each summer — but how much does the influx of summer visitors really change life around Middlebury?
A lot, seems to be the consensus.
Some businesses report twice the traffic in stores, some even three times — and while they vary, it seems most Middlebury businesses agree that with the warmer months come throngs of visitors.
Sweet at Otter Creek Bakery estimates that business increases three-fold come summer.
“It starts the week after graduation at the college, and we’re busy until fall” when tourists thin out after the leaves fall, he explained. To handle the influx of traffic in the bakery, Sweet says the business takes on more part-time employees for the summer.
John Melanson, owner of Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, noted that July 4th is often the turning point for summer tourists. In the earlier years of his business, Melanson would often go into debt over the winter and then pay it off through the summer boom. Now, thanks to a steady stream of students at Middlebury College during the winter, and an ever-increasing boom in tourists over the summer, he doesn’t have to worry so much.
“Summer time is my time,” Melanson said. “It’s almost like a switch goes off on July 4th. I’ve seen them coming up until the third week of June but once July 4th comes in, we get a lot of tourists.”
A lot of these tourists are what Melanson calls “short-term,” that is, they’re in town for a day or two, and then move on. This changes the pace of running a business, he explained, as the focus is on faster service.
“What you see (now) is a group of people coming in, a family, and they sit down and have sandwiches and beverages, and they stay for about 20 minutes or half an hour,” Melanson said. “The flow is a lot of short term. Winter’s long term.”
Despite the variable seasons, Dunn says she wouldn’t have it any other way. The flow of business is relatively steady until the summer months when it really takes off, and she likes the location.
“I feel very fortunate to live and work in Middlebury, and to have a business in this town,” she said. “Everything does well.”
Melanson echoed Dunn’s contentment, noting that while business does take off in the warmer months, he “would not be here without the college. I don’t know how many other stores wouldn’t either — I imagine a number of them. But I certainly wouldn’t.”
As for tourists, Kai Stanley, bartender at Two Brothers Tavern, pointed out that they are often drawn to Middlebury’s authentic small-town feel.
“They’re not looking for some Home Depot shopping,” he said. “They want to walk around and experience the downtown.”
Sophia Shoulson, a current Language School student and daughter of two professors at the Bread Loaf School of English, has been coming to Ripton every summer for the past nine years. Living on the Bread Loaf campus in Ripton, she tended to go down the mountain a few times a week, either for creemees at Sama’s or to Ben Franklin for “odds and ends.” Now a Language Student in Hebrew, she hopes she’ll be able to continue shopping in town.
“I imagine that, because the Language Schools have been around for so long, the shops around Middlebury can cater to students that can’t speak English,” she said.
MacNair Randall, a member of the staff at Bread Loaf’s Ripton campus, rarely goes down to Middlebury, but when she does, she says she heads for the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op.
Interestingly, Kira Winslow, an MNFC employee, has also noticed an influx in Bread Loaf students heading to the co-op over the summer.
“They certainly are here a lot,” she said. “The summer is such a funny thing here because you’ve got vacations, so families go away and then they come back and because the school’s not on … there is an ebb and flow. There’s folks that leave the area and then come back. It definitely has an impact on us, and it’s fun to hear the languages.”

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