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Greg Dennis: Notes on downtown parking and upcountry music

Random thoughts and miscellany this week:
Why do Middlebury officials persist in blocking off several much needed parking places outside the post office? The blocked spaces are reserved for buses that stop there only occasionally. This during a time when downtown businesses are closing due in part to — you guessed it — a lack of parking. 
Do town officials secretly like looking at empty stores? Of course they don’t. But they continue to push things in that direction by failing to provide for more accessible parking to support the downtown.
There’s a nice bus stop just two or three blocks from the heart of downtown, and it’s sufficient for the few people who actually ride the bus. I recognize a very few have mobility issues that make it harder for them to get from the nice Academy Street bus stop to elsewhere in the downtown. But the danger is that by accommodating these very few individuals, town officials are hurting the larger whole. 
With vacant storefronts and several businesses already on the brink, one can almost envision a day when the town of Middlebury has a slogan as unfortunate as the current strangling of downtown during bridge construction:
“Welcome to Middlebury, where we have no downtown businesses — but we’ve got plenty of parking for people who ride the bus.”
• • • • •
I’m one of many people who will be sorry to see The Diner close at the end of this month. A fixture for decades now, The Diner is yet another business that has felt the damaging effects of the downtown infrastructure work. The property has been sold to the adjacent Town Hall Theater.
I’m sad to see the loss of a place with reliably good food and a business that provided jobs for a number of Addison County residents — including a hardworking wait staff that would sometimes even call you “hon.”
Plus I’m really going to miss the Irish Eggs Benedict.
• • • • •
All hail to the Ripton Community Coffee House. This first-Saturday-of-every-month musical and miscellany gathering just celebrated its 23rd birthday. In addition to tasty live music and baked goods, the coffee house in the classic old Ripton Community House always feels like ungentrified Vermont, with more than a little of the ’70s hippies-and-farmers-together vibe. (See www.rcch.org for more info on the nonprofit concert series including a schedule of future shows.)
And did I mention how good the music is? It goes well beyond the usual quality one expects from “well meaning folks with guitars,” to borrow a line from a Richard Ruane song. 
This past Saturday’s coffee house featured the CD launch party of the latest from Ruane and his musical partner, Beth Duquette. Richard and Beth have for many years been coffee house stalwarts, both as organizers and performers. Along with various Riptonians and many other county residents and businesses, they’ve also done an incredible amount of work to help the Festival on-the-Green prosper and provide years of free music.
Ruane and Duquette’s wonderful new CD has references to local roads, Burlington streets, and the “I Spy” ads in Seven Days. It’s appropriately titled “Notch Road,” after the winding way from Route 116 up to Lincoln. (A shout-out to Win Colwell for the CD’s lovely graphic design. See www.ruaneduquette.com for more on the music.)
• • • • •
Speaking of coffee houses: Carol’s Hungry mind is still open despite downtown construction. With The Diner closing, Carol’s remains one of the few local spots for “coffee, conversation and community.” I hope you’ll stop in and spend a couple bucks to enjoy the cafe and keep this essential gathering place open and thriving.
• • • • •
I’m old enough to remember when Oliver North was a convicted felon. Now he’s the new president of the National Rifle Association.
North was convicted of various evil-doing for his role in the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan Administration, with his convictions vacated only on a technicality. North, who has since then been a fixture on right-wing talk radio, takes the presidency of the NRA at time when the organization is increasingly out of touch with mainstream thinking. The organization continues to offer its dangerous defense of an unfettered right to use any kind of gun, even in the wake of the Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland school shootings, the Las Vegas massacre and other tragedies.
This is a local issue, too. Fair Haven appears to have narrowly escaped a school shooting — a situation so scary that it frightened even our pro-gun governor, Phil Scott, into supporting minor new gun-safety laws. 
The NRA has long worked its way into our public schools. Seven Days recently reported the gun lobby group has “donated more than $212,000 to Vermont programs over five years, including tens of thousands of dollars to public institutions serving young people.” The University of Vermont is among those institutions still accepting handouts from the NRA, as is the Boy Scouts of American Green Mountain Council.
Which leads me to wonder: Do UVM and our state’s Boy Scouts still want to be associated with a group that is headed by a convicted felon and routinely opposes gun safety measures while the carnage continues?
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis. 

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