Letter to the editor: Room for local department store?

“I miss Lazarus!” I heard this statement while waiting for a school concert to start a couple months ago. I personally grew up with Montgomery Ward in Fair Haven, Vt., and I can say that I miss Montgomery Ward. I also enjoyed having Ames in walking distance when my family moved to Middlebury in the mid-1990s. How I lamented the closure of Ames in 2002. Since then, the nearest department stores have been in Rutland City and in Chittenden County.
Sure other stores in town have filled some of the void left by Lazarus and Ames. However, much of the department store-style shopping has gone to e-commerce in the last decade or so. I for one would rather support local businesses with my purchases. I often have limited funds to spend, but I would like the option to keep them local rather than send them to some Internet monolith based 2,000-plus miles away. I don’t like driving far distances or going online to buy something that was made thousands of mile away in Asia if I can help it.
I would rather have a locally owned business that makes a concerted effort to support economically responsible, locally made (in the USA) products whenever possible. I am not naïve and think that all products in a store could be that way right away. But over time, with local support, perhaps more local entrepreneurs could see their business ideas become reality.
When I hear statements like “I miss Lazarus,” I feel like I am in good company. I feel this even more when I see in the newspaper that residents of little Vermont towns like Ferrisburgh or Shoreham are not happy seeing businesses like Dollar General moving into their communities. I will admit that there are times where these stores can come in handy. Overall, though, these stores are doing more harm than good.
I have felt for a few years now that it might be worth trying to reintegrate some kind of department store into the Addison County community. My first thought for siting was obviously Middlebury, but it could likely be in any town with the desire, space, and infrastructure to support such a business. If done right, it could bring some much needed economic growth to this part of Vermont.
I know that such a venture can be very risky to undertake in the current economic climate, especially on the traditional scale that department stores have existed. One or a small group of people would have to be very daring, have a strong financial base and be very committed to creating such a venture. This is why I would like to suggest a cooperative partnership of (many) like-minded people to create such a community-invested business. If enough of us share this desire, maybe this dream could become a reality some day. The more that share in the outlay, the lighter the burden could be for all.
It would obviously take a lot of time and effort, but the end rewards could be very beneficial for the whole county, and even state. If it were created in a true cooperative style, the business could likely start off relatively small. If demand were strong enough, then growth of the business could happen.
When I see how many different cooperatives are in the state of Vermont, and Addison County especially, I think this could be the place to make it happen. Middlebury alone is home to cooperatives for food, energy, banking, insurance, and agriculture. There has even been a cooperative child-care center. Why not a cooperative retail department store? It would also be a great way to take back the power of our purchases. If it were a true cooperative, it could be another support mechanism for local commerce. If what I have shared strikes a chord with you, please send me an email at addison[email protected]. I would love to hear your thoughts.
Ian Ross

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