Top 10 stories from 2018: Longtime county businesses close up shop

In 2018 county residents bid adieu to businesses they had patronized faithfully, in some cases for decades.
In May Andy Li announced he would close Middlebury’s Ben Franklin Store; it had been for sale for three years and its inventory and space had been downsized. The variety store had been doing business on Main Street since 1943. The business finally closed its doors in September and the building remained vacant as 2019 arrived.
Also in May Francis Stevens announced he would close the Middlebury Antique Center on Route 7 in East Middlebury after 34 years. Stevens, 79, said business was fine, but that he’d like to wind down his work schedule.
At the end of May, Middlebury’s The Diner on Merchants Row closed. Its owners had been marketing it and did not have to look far for a buyer: The Town Hall Theater next door, in need of office and storage space, took it over in June. The change ended more than three-quarters of a century of bacon-and-egg breakfasts at the former longtime home of Steve’s Park Diner.
In June, Clay’s Clothing Store on Middlebury’s Main Street, part of a nine-store chain, shut down after 25 years. The chain also shuttered its Rutland branch. Clay’s district manager cited two years of declining sales and said the Middlebury store faced the additional challenges of limited parking and the ongoing downtown $72 million rail bridges project. Clay’s space also remains empty. 
At the same time Carol’s Hungry Mind Café owner John Melanson pulled the plug on his Route 7, New Haven, branch after three years. That site, where several eateries have come and gone, found a new tenant, Porky’s Backyard BBQ & Smokehouse.
Melanson had briefly closed his more popular than profitable Merchants Row, Middlebury, coffeehouse in May, but received enough donations to keep the 13-year-old Middlebury site open. But Melanson finally in August shut down in Middlebury. He said the beginning of the end came with the rail bridges project, which wiped out parking spots on the now one-way Merchants Row and disrupted the area. A new coffeehouse, The Daily Grind, took over the space.
 Both Bristol and Middlebury took a hit when Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel co-owner Angie Wade closed her stores in those towns, in Bristol earlier in 2018 after 17 years and in Middlebury’s The Centre plaza in August after 21 years. Wade offered a simple explanation: “I just can’t compete with the internet.” 
Then came more changes to the Middlebury restaurant scene. In September the owners of The Lobby on Bakery Lane sold to Matt and Caroline Corrente. Matt, a seasoned chef, opened up The Arcadian restaurant in the building, while Caroline used it to produce her Haymaker-brand buns.
The other change was less voluntary. In November, Storm Café owners John and Beth Hughes regretfully announced their restaurant would end its 25-year run in the Stone Mill in Middlebury’s Frog Hollow; they had run it for 13 years. Building owner Middlebury College said it would not renew their lease because it was entertaining new uses for the Stone Mill, and the college soon sold it. John soon found work cooking at the Salisbury Community School, where Beth already worked and his kids attended classes.
At about the same time Vergennes manufacturer Country Home Products’ Wisconsin parent company, Generac Power Systems Inc., announced that CHP would leave its Vergennes headquarters this coming spring, taking most of it jobs to an undisclosed South Burlington site and others to Wisconsin. CHP’s DR Power Equipment store at 1 North Main St. will remain behind.
Many workers will be offered the chance to remain with the company at new sites, and Generac promised those who don’t would receive severance packages.

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