Daily Grind closes; services will transfer to Shafer’s

It’s a great location; it’s just a challenging environment.
— Doug Nedde, building owner

MIDDLEBURY — For the second time in a year, a coffee shop has closed at 24 Merchants Row in Middlebury.
Only this time, the shop owner has cited trouble finding and retaining workers, as opposed to experiencing budget problems.
Adam Shafer’s “Daily Grind” coffee shop succeeded Carol’s Hungry Mind Café last August after the latter closed following a 13-year run. Carol’s owner John Melanson threw in the towel due to mounting debts and declining receipts that he attributed in part to downtown Middlebury construction disruption.
Shafer — co-owner of Shafer’s Market & Deli at 54 College St. — decided to take a shot at making the coffee shop work at the same location under a new name. Shafer said while the venture was making money, it struggled to draw and maintain staffing. The Daily Grind needed a rotation of six to eight workers in order to succeed, according to Shafer, who often found himself down to three or four employees.
State statistics confirm a full and competitive labor market.
Vermont’s unemployment rate in July held steady at 2.1 percent, appreciably lower than the national average of 3.7 percent for the same month. The July unemployment rates for Vermont’s 17 labor market areas ranged from 1.7 percent in White River Junction to 3.4 percent in Derby
The Middlebury unemployment rate was 2.4 percent in July, down 0.5 percent from the 2.9-percent jobless rate in the area at the same time last year.
Unable to fill all shifts, Shafer made the difficult decision around three weeks ago to close the Daily Grind. But he’s going to incorporate many of the coffee shop features — such as baked goods, smoothies and premium coffee service — at the Shafer’s Market & Deli location.
He stressed the Daily Grind would’ve have remained open were it not for staffing issues.
“We had a lot of regulars, and tourists,” Shafer said. “The customer side was not our issue.”
Doug Nedde, owner of the Battell Block, will now try to fill what would normally be considered a very desirable downtown retail location. But it’ll be a tougher sell for portions of the next two years, when work intensifies on a $72 million project to replace the Merchants Row and Main Street bridges of the railroad with a concrete tunnel. Merchants Row and Main Street will both close for 10 weeks next summer while the tunnel is installed.
Nedde acquired the Battell Block during the fall of 2016. Built between 1892 and 1898 by the legendary Joseph Battell, the multi-story complex includes a combined total of 68,000 gross square feet of space at the nexus of Merchants Row and Main Street. Approximately 52,000 square feet of the complex is rented to a variety of retail, office and residential enterprises.
“It’s a great location; it’s just a challenging environment,” Nedde of the former Daily Grind spot.
So challenging that Nedde believes the town should reduce taxes for downtown property owners during the rail bridges project. Nedde said that conversely, his annual property tax bill for the Battell Block is slated to rise in wake of Middlebury’s recent town-wide reappraisal.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay noted Nedde has appealed the new property valuation assigned to the Battell Block. She added an inspection committee has been formed to scrutinize the Battell property and provide evidence to the Middlebury Board of Civil Authority as it considers Nedde’s appeal.
Appeal aside, Nedde believes the town should be doing more right now to help property owners.
“In my mind, it’s not just a tax break, it should be like a tax abatement for the construction period,” Nedde said. “It needs to be substantial — $500 or $1,000 isn’t going to help.”
Nedde said he could pass along a property tax break to his commercial tenants “that are being affected by this construction process.”
Ramsay said the selectboard has thus far not discussed the concept of abating taxes for downtown property owners during construction. Middlebury officials have expressed frustration over the lack of state or federal compensation for merchants and property owners who experience revenue losses directly attributable to a major transportation project. The selectboard did help secure a $228,750 state grant to help promote and market affected downtown businesses during the next few years.
Nedde has been able to secure compensation on another front. The Vermont Agency of Transportation recently paid Battell Block LLC $532,500 for a series of easements needed for the downtown rail bridges project. Two of them will be permanent — each 3,000 square feet needed for relocation of municipal water and sewerage lines.
Other property owners receiving state compensation for project easements included the Marble Works Partnership ($143,050), the National Bank of Middlebury and its holding company (a combined $83,050), and St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church ($51,600). Still other affected property owners have received lesser amounts, according to documents provided by VTrans. In all, the state has awarded a combined total of $942,0250 in compensation for easements to more than two-dozen property owners associated with the Middlebury rail bridges project.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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