Carol’s preparing for construction disruptions

MIDDLEBURY — For the past 11 years, Middlebury residents and visitors have stepped into Carol’s Hungry Mind Café in downtown Middlebury for the coffee, baked goods and relaxed atmosphere to meet friends or do work.
But with major construction on the horizon for downtown, café owner John Melanson is doing his best to make sure his Merchants Row shop will weather the disruption.
“I’m planning on the worst, but hoping for the best,” he said.
The anticipated $40 million project slated to start next spring is expected to last for at least two years and will involve replacing the rapidly deteriorating Main Street and Merchants Row bridges over the railroad. It’s an undertaking that will result in temporary detours, dust, noise and loss of parking downtown.
Melanson said construction hasn’t been good for business in the past. Five years ago the coffee shop remained open while front windows were replaced. Parking in front was still available, but the windows were boarded up during the work. In the two and a half months, Melanson said he lost $3,000 in sales. 
Previously reported details on Middlebury’s rail bridges project include 20-hour workdays with noise, dust, detours and traffic lighting. Current plans are for the project to be completed by the end of 2018, though those are still in flux.
Melanson said he expects the disruption to be much larger and the potential losses to his business to be greater than the window replacement.
“Locals won’t want to park at the Marble Works and walk all the way here to hear machines jack hammering and pile-driving,” he said. “It’s just not conducive to a coffeehouse atmosphere. People walking in town won’t want to walk up a street with equipment in it.”
Last year, Melanson decided to open a second location in New Haven. While the Middlebury Carol’s is a popular sit-down establishment with a relaxed atmosphere, the second Carol’s at 7404 Route 7 in New Haven caters more to commuters, with a mobile app that allows clients to electronically pre-pay for their coffee and baked goods and pick them up on the go. 
“I’m trying to get that place profitable enough to support this place when the time comes,” he said. “They’ll be going fast and this’ll be going slow.”
Next month, Melanson plans to launch a fundraising campaign to support the New Haven location. For a $500 initial investment, customers will receive a free cup of coffee every day for a year.
Carol’s on Route 7 currently occupies only part of the building where it serves coffee on the go, but Melanson said he plans to expand into the rest of the 1,900-square-foot building to include a diner that will serve three meals a day. While traffic slows in downtown, he hopes traffic to New Haven increases.
“It’s got a beautiful view out back for dinner,” he said. 

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