Letter to the editor: Middlebury’s retail woes beckon co-op department store

I said it before and I will say it again: Thank you to anyone who was involved in the success that Carol’s Hungry Mind Café had over the last 13 years. I also thank everyone who supported the Hungry Mind in any way over the years. You all helped the lifelong dream of a wonderful woman come true, and carry on her legacy for over a decade after her untimely passing.
To John Melanson, I don’t have enough words to express my gratitude for carrying on my mother’s dream for so long. There were plenty of times you could have walked away, and I would never have blamed you for doing so. I still remember when mom’s lawyer said the pragmatic side of her wanted to encourage you not to open the business at all. This Ross family and, I believe, thousands of other people are extremely grateful that you did not heed those words. I know you would have liked to continue the Hungry Mind for years to come, as I would have loved to have seen. But all things must come to an end, and I think you had one hell of a run! Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
As heartbroken I am over the loss of Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, I knew the time was coming and I understand. It is also understandable that so many other businesses in Middlebury have left this year, too. I am not saying I wanted to see them go. Much to the contrary, I would love to see all reasonable local businesses thrive.
There are a few key ingredients needed to keep a successful business running, though. Given Middlebury has been struggling on a couple of those fronts in recent years, I am not surprised that businesses like Clays, Ollie’s Other Place, and Ben Franklin have closed this year. Although, in some cases more effort could have been put into keeping a current supply. I fully agree that the long build up to what will be a long construction process in the heart of Middlebury is by no means helping these entrepreneur’s situations. That is a problem exacerbated by the state’s unwillingness to assist the businesses on the front line of this project. It seems counterproductive to the need for more jobs that our governor has been espousing for the last two years. While I hope it’s not the case, I would not be surprised if Carol’s and the Diner were just among the first real casualties of the Rail/tunnel project.
Another huge hit that many towns across the country and now in Addison County have incurred is the onslaught of e-commerce. I wrote extensively about my feelings on this issue in my last letter, which appeared in one of April’s Independents. That seems to be a very tough issue to deal with, especially when it affects businesses like the Sears home store and Green Mountain Shoe and Apparel. I very much prefer to shop as close to home as possible and keep my spending as local as I can.
I could not help but notice a letter in the May 3 Independent that seemed to respond to some of what I had said in that April letter. I would like to clarify that I was not trying to insinuate that Montgomery Ward and Ames were local businesses. They were businesses that I grew up with and missed. I always knew that Ames was a chain, and only learned the same about Montgomery Ward as an adult. My journey toward advocating for local shopping did not begin until after both those businesses closed. I apologize for any confusion I may have caused.
After reading Mr. Jim Morisseau’s letter, I wanted to learn more about those chains. So I conducted my own Wikipedia search. I found that while Ames was not exactly local, it was regionally based. Being founded in Southbridge, Mass., and headquartered in Rocky Hill, Conn., made Ames solidly based in the New England region; Certainly more local than the likes of Walmart, Target or Amazon.
Montgomery Ward, while based further away from Vermont, still was filling a need at the time. There were communities across the United States being underserved or not served at all when Montgomery Ward started his mail order business. In some cases, the one local business either would not carry something people wanted or were overcharging. I believe some healthy competition is good for all business.
I do not agree with a few giant corporations gouging prices and mistreating what employees they do have to increase the consolidation of wealth for a tiny portion of our population. That wealth imbalance has dramatically increased throughout my lifetime, and has forced a growing number of people at the lower income levels to continually seek the cheapest options when shopping. We are in a devastating repeating cycle. That’s a trend I feel many Vermonters are trying to buck, particularly in Addison County.
That is why I had made the suggestion of perhaps starting a Cooperative department store in my last letter. I still invite Mr. Morisseau or anyone else to share their thoughts regarding these issues with me at [email protected]. I am a little low tech in that email is still my main mode of communication.
Ian Ross

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