Horton is bullish on business in Vergennes
I do think there is upside, not just in that particular business, but in downtown Vergennes. It’s due for some good things to come.
— Ned Horton
VERGENNES — When Middlebury native and Nashville, Tenn., resident Ned Horton took over the Otter Creek Bakery in January 2020 he couldn’t foresee the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on the shop’s bottom line.
But when Horton in December bought the empty Vergennes building at 187 Main St. that once housed a Marble Works Pharmacy Branch, and then in January purchased the Vergennes Wine & Beverage business a block west, he had a much clearer picture of the prospects.
Horton, a 60-year-old marketing entrepreneur, took the twin plunges in Vergennes anyway.
Now splitting his time between Middlebury and Nashville, Horton said he has faith not only in the wine, liquor and beverage store, but also in the city itself.
“That shop has been very steady, and I do think there is upside, not just in that particular business, but in downtown Vergennes,” Horton said. “It’s due for some good things to come.”
Horton is transitioning from Tennessee to Addison County in part because he likes the area and in part because two of his three children are in New England colleges, one at Middlebury College. His third is nearing the end of high school in Nashville.
Horton was in the radio business for many years, but transitioned to digital marketing during the 1990s. He sold his firm, The Horton Group, in 2019, and began making investments in Addison County, starting with the Otter Creek Bakery.
While Horton leases the Vergennes Wine space, he will look to be a landlord at the single-unit building at 187 Main St. He believes the investment in a slot between lulu ice cream and Rockers Pizzeria will pay off because he’s confident in Vergennes.
Horton spoke of “the chatter I hear from people who want to live there,” and of how the city’s proximity to Chittenden County and Lake Champlain bodes well for its demographic future.
Local real estate broker Scott Hardy played a major role in helping the Vergennes Wine deal come together. Hardy was showing Horton a number of businesses and also represented former shop owner Paul Kerin. Horton said he felt Kerin was looking for a “good match” for the business as well as a financially qualified buyer.
“Every time I talked to him (Hardy) they were doing great, and one thing led to another and I ended up acquiring the shop,” Horton said.
Hardy also introduced Horton to new store manager Scott Hirschberg, whose family had moved to Waterbury from New Jersey and was looking for a home in the Vergennes area. Hirschberg had restaurant and bar management experience, and Horton agreed with Hardy he would be a good fit at Vergennes Wine.
Horton cited Hirschberg’s energy, customer-service skills, and knowledge of wine and craft beer.
“He’s a great find,” Horton said. “He is excited to make a positive impact.”
Hirschberg, while having his picture taken this past weekend, noted Hardy also helped him find a home.
Horton is also happy that longtime Vergennes Wine employees Bill Joos and Megan Morse plan to stay on board. He’s pleased to retain their customer service skills, which he said will be a point of emphasis at the shop.
“Bill and Megan are very friendly and good with the customers,” he said.
Horton said he and Hirschberg will probably expand craft beer offerings, upgrade the shelving, maybe touch up the paint, add cheese and bread offerings (the latter from Otter Creek Bakery) and consider a name change.
But Horton — who has also owned and operated two coffee shops in Nashville — said he likes the space, and physical changes will be cosmetic only.
“Wood floor, a little bit of exposed brick, a tall ceiling — it’s a nice shop,” he said.
And on the business side he believes there’s room for growth.
“That’s been a business that’s been pretty steady, and has some upside, too, I think,” Horton said.
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