Pool World to close its doors; building to be removed

MIDDLEBURY — Pool World this month will close its Middlebury location after a 24-year run at 30 MacIntyre Lane, a building slated to be demolished before June 1 in order to create more parking for the adjacent Greg’s Market.
Pool World owner Tom Booska said he was unable to pin down a satisfactory, new Middlebury location for his business, which will continue to operate its flagship store at 16 Austin Drive in Burlington and a second location in Barre. Booska won’t close the door on a possible return to Addison County’s shire town if the right space at a reasonable rent were to become available.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re leaving Middlebury; our employees don’t want to, I don’t want to, and our customers don’t want us to,” Booska said during a Monday phone interview. “We’ve been fortunate to make a lot of good friends in Middlebury.”
Booska said Pool World would have been content to stay at 30 MacIntyre Lane, which during its 107-year history once served as a storage structure for coal and grain. Booska’s late father worked at Wayne Feed, which once occupied the building.
The Pool World building, erected back in 1912, had been featured on the state Register of Historic Places in spite of what some might call a dubious architectural pedigree and a deteriorating condition. Local businessman Tony Neri acquired 30 MacIntyre Lane and the neighboring Greg’s Market building at auction during the summer of 2017 from TD Bank. Neri vowed to rekindle the very popular Greg’s, which has stood dormant since April 2015, when its former owner Bart Litvin filed for bankruptcy protection and closed it.
Neri successfully petitioned the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation to have the Pool World building delisted from the state register, thus paving the way for its demolition.
The Middlebury Development Review Board last December gave Neri conditional permission to reopen Greg’s Market. His plan calls for razing the Pool World building before June 1 in order to create an additional 37 parking spots for an already busy lot that also serves nearby Nino’s Sicilian Pizza, Middlebury Discount Beverage and Cole’s Flowers.
Neri has targeted May 15 for reopening Greg’s. He told the Independent he made it clear to Pool World officials soon after he bought the property that their headquarters would be removed.
“After the (auction), I told them the building’s got to go,” Neri said. “The building is absolutely rotten.”
But Booska disputed Neri’s recollection. Booska said it was this past February that Neri told him he was working with the town to remove the Pool World building. Booska said he received a letter from Neri’s attorney on April 1 confirming the official termination of Pool World’s lease as of May 1, according to Booska.
Neri, according to Booska, offered Pool World two separate relocation options:
•A 2,500-square-foot vacancy at 656 Exchange St., a building that currently houses Yolo Snacks and Fastenal.
Booska said the space isn’t appropriate for Pool World.
“Exchange Street is an industrial area,” Booska said, adding he didn’t believe his retail store would do well there.
•A spot in a building at 55 Middle Road that Neri plans to rehab and expand. Neri has shown his plans to the Middlebury DRB, but he doesn’t yet have permission to begin construction.
Booska said he was willing to execute a five-year lease for a spot at 55 Middle Road, but ultimately balked because the building wouldn’t be ready for occupancy soon enough to meet Pool World’s needs.
Pool World, according to Booska, has explored other spots in Middlebury, none of which have worked out due to insufficient space, the amount of rent, and/or location. Booska has wanted to keep the business in or close to the downtown and in a retail setting.
Neri has argued that Pool World, with its specialty products, would be sought out by its customers no matter where it lays down roots.
But that’s not necessarily true, according to Booska. He said Pool World — like most retail ventures — is losing ground to internet-based sales. People can order many of the same pool and billiard supplies online and have them delivered to their door, often at a lower price because of the lower overhead for web-based companies.
So Pool World has learned to remain viable through good customer service, Booska said. For example, it launched a policy around eight years ago that it would repair any of the products it sells, for free; the customer only has to pay for parts.
“We are being forced to work with smaller margins,” he said.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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