Former Greg’s market sold; new owner keen to re-establish grocery business
MIDDLEBURY — Longtime Middlebury businessman Tony Neri has purchased the former Greg’s Meat Market property at 3 Elm St. and hopes to return it to its former life as a neighborhood grocery store.
“It could happen in 60 days, it could take six months, but it’s going to happen,” Neri said on Monday of his effort to rekindle a supermarket operation that has been dormant since April 2015, when former Greg’s owner Bart Litvin filed for bankruptcy protection and closed the much-loved store after having owned it for six years.
Neri said he paid $380,000 to TD Bank for the Greg’s building and adjacent Pool World structure at 30 MacIntyre Lane. He wants to move or tear down the Pool World building and replace it with additional parking for his supermarket re-boot.
But Neri acknowledged his plan faces some potential challenges.
The Pool World building, erected in 1912, has been featured on the state Register of Historic Places since 1992, in spite of what some might call a dubious architectural pedigree. The structure is in “pretty rugged” shape, Neri said. The building, once much larger, was mainly used for feed and grain storage, according to state records.
Neri has requested that the Pool World building be delisted from the state register. And it looks like state officials will not stand in his way.
“Based on the site visit and additional historical research conducted by our office, it is our opinion that the building no longer retains its historic integrity and should be delisted from the State Register of Historic Places,” reads a June 29 letter to Neri from Devin Coleman, state architectural historian with the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation.
The town of Middlebury could choose to hold a hearing on whether to agree with the state’s assessment, but that would be an unusual step.
Middlebury Town Planner Jennifer Murray said Neri will need to receive conditional use approval to run the supermarket in what is a Village Residential-Commercial zone. That will include a site plan review in which access, parking, traffic circulation, lighting and other aspects of the plan will be considered, Murray said.
Providing additional parking figures to be key in Neri’s supermarket plans. He noted Greg’s was originally permitted in a different era when parking requirements were less stringent. Since he will essentially be applying to permit a new supermarket, Neri said he will have to get town approvals for a new parking scheme that will have to forego the handful of spaces currently in front of the Greg’s main entrance at the intersection of Elm and Exchange streets.
“I don’t think that’s fair,” Neri said of the loss of the spots in front or Greg’s.
Still, Neri sees great potential in the Greg’s property. He believes a revitalized supermarket could thrive at the Elm Street location, citing the hundreds of workers in Middlebury’s nearby industrial park who would again find a convenient place to shop, get a cup of coffee, or buy a sandwich for lunch. If done right, he believes the new supermarket could compete well in a town that already has the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, Shaw’s and Hannaford’s.
“I’ve gotten many calls about this,” Neri said of nudges he has received to buy and resurrect the former Greg’s.
He had some experts look through the building and pronounce it structurally sound, though he said it does need to be refurbished. Cleaning crews will go through the building stem to stern, tending to a couple years of neglect on the inside and outside. Some exterior damage — including some siding panels lost when a truck ran into the building several months ago — will be corrected.
But the most significant renovations will be determined by whomever Neri recruits to run the store.
“If I lease it, they will do the design,” Neri said.
He added he’s approached former Greg’s owner Greg Wry to see if he’d consider a full- or part-time role in the supermarket operation. He said Wry is not inclined to return to his old store, as he is now employed by Monument Farms.
Litvin and Lisa Hartman purchased the store from Wry in December of 2009. Wry established the supermarket in place of Stan’s Shop & Save back in 1981.
If Neri can’t find the right person or company, he is prepared to launch the supermarket himself.
“If I do, it will be similar to Greg’s,” he said.
And Neri has experience in the food service industry.
He and his wife, Nancy, own the A&W Restaurant on Route 7 South. They once owned the restaurant Angela’s at 86 Main St., and still own the building in which its successor restaurant — Two Brothers Tavern — is located. The Neris also own and operate Anthony J. Neri Rental Properties LLC and Tony & Nancy Enterprises Inc. Their holdings include four Middlebury industrial park properties that have provided long-term space for established businesses — such as Fastenal — and short-term incubator spaces for enterprises that have included Otter Creek Brewing.
Neri has been interested in acquiring the Greg’s/Pool World property since it came on the market.
TD Bank tried to sell the property off at a March 2016 auction that drew around a half-dozen bidders. But in the end, TD Bank consolidated its ownership of the Greg’s and Pool World properties with a high bid of $497,000. The two properties were available individually, or as a package, at the 2016 auction.
Following the auction, TD Bank commissioned a Rutland real estate agency to market the property. Neri’s lawyer, Eben Punderson, floated the $380,000 offer and it was accepted, according to Neri.
The Greg’s property consists of a 6,602-square-foot building that sits on roughly a third of an acre. It was valued at $493,500 by the town in 2016, according to municipal land records.
The Pool World property includes a 2,000-square-foot building on seven-tenths of an acre. It was most recently valued by the town at $223,600.
Better Middlebury Partnership Marketing Coordinator Karen Duguay likes the idea of returning a grocery store to 3 Elm St.
“The former Greg’s Meat Market property is in a centrally located space that’s convenient to both Exchange Street businesses and downtown businesses,” said Duguay. “Having an independently owned grocery store re-open in that location would serve to further connect the two areas, serving as a community hub and providing people a place to grab lunch, a convenient stop for a few dinner items on the way home from work or a local place to do regular grocery shopping. A successful small grocery store would be an asset to our community and a convenience for local employees.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]
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