Six new businesses get Kick Start in Middlebury
This idea of bringing people in for things beyond shopping is really important to a modern industry.
— Karen Duguay of BMP
MIDDLEBURY — Art supplies, refurbished furniture, an old-fashioned ice cream parlor experience, home-and-lifestyle products, arts education and physical fitness are among the goods and services that will be offered by a half-dozen new enterprises setting up shop in Middlebury.
All plan to open before the end of this year, thanks to an economic development incentive program spearheaded by the Better Middlebury Partnership (BMP).
The six new businesses will each be awarded a grant of $15,000-$20,000 — along with a wide range of support services — to occupy some of the Middlebury storefront vacancies created last year by the COVID-19 pandemic, construction on the downtown rail tunnel, and market forces.
“This program was intended to be a catalyst for revitalization, and we believe this mix of new and expanding businesses will do exactly that,” said BMP Executive Director Karen Duguay. “These businesses will provide people an opportunity to come into the downtown often for shopping, dining and experiences, and they complement our existing businesses that do the same. We feel very positive about our future in Middlebury as we all work to bring vitality to the heart of our community.”
The new ventures — named and described briefly below — competed for $120,000 in start-up grants through the “Kick Start Middlebury” program. The money and complementary support services are aimed at giving the selected entrepreneurs an extra helping hand in bringing their plans to fruition in what can be a complicated and expensive market.
Kick Start resources were provided by the town of Middlebury ($50,000), a charitable nonprofit called “Table 21 ($50,000),” $10,000 from Middlebury Rotary Club, and a $10,000 anonymous donation.
Kick Start Middlebury garnered 40 letters of interest from both new entrepreneurs and established businesses. A review committee made up of local business owners, community members, and economic development professionals narrowed the field to 12 applicants who were asked to provide greater detail. The committee conferred grants and supports to six of those businesses.
Awardees must begin operations within six months of signing the grant agreements, according to Kick Start rules.
The review committee judged each application based on nine criteria that included quality of business plan, financial projections, viability and sustainability, economic diversity, social diversity, job creation, location, impact on the downtown, and match with available space.
Kick Start officials took a particular shine to applicants who showed a willingness to diversify their operations. For example, businesses willing to host classes and workshops that mesh with the products and services they are selling. This kind of thinking, Kick Start organizers believe, will be key to driving traffic downtown, to the benefit of everyone.
“This idea of bringing people in for things beyond shopping is really important to a modern industry,” Duguay said.
Duguay said the reviewers wanted to make sure the winners were set up for long-term success. That’s why the 12 semi-finalists were asked to produce full business plans, with financial projections, as part of the evaluation.
“It was a lot of work we were asking people to put in,” Duguay said, but added, “We want to create a spark for revitalization, but we also want to set people up for success.”
The required work and detail gave a wake-up call to some applicants.
“I realize I’m not quite ready,” was the feedback Duguay reported getting from some who ultimately withdrew from the process.
Several of the Kick Start winners are still negotiating storefront leases, so BMP officials aren’t yet disclosing where the new businesses will likely be located. But it’s clear most will be in the downtown, where vacancies have been most conspicuous.
Here’s some basic information about the winners. The Independent will do more elaborate reporting on each new business once they are up and running:
Will provide home and lifestyle products, and also offer design services. Folks have already gotten a taste of Addison West through its downtown Middlebury pop-up venture, and in its online incarnation.
“We care a lot about ensuring we have a variety of products at price points that are accessible to everyone, as well as offering products that are different and complementary to other businesses in town,” Addison West owner Monique Bonner said. “Our products are both new and vintage, locally made and imported. In our expanded location we hope to offer workshops, a makers showcase and flexible space that can be used for other community needs.”
Bonner began looking for permanent expansion space for Addison West this spring.
She praised the Kick Start program for providing important resources and guidance for entrepreneurs.
“The Kick Start team understands Middlebury, what works, and what the town needs,” Bonner said. “It is a strong sign of support for our business and what we offer.”
Is a restaurant that will pay tribute to the former Calvi’s that once operated on Main Street, a business fondly remembered by local residents, visitors, and Middlebury College alumni. It will be a 1920s-style ice cream parlor/soda fountain as well as a creperie with a fun atmosphere appealing to visitors, students and locals of all ages, according to owner/operator Helen Hall.
Nostalgia and good products and service will be the calling cards, but Hall also promised a “modern twist.”
“(Calvi’s) was a much-loved place where the community could gather in a fun/unique environment,” she said.
Hall has been searching for a place to rent for three months, and Kick Start became a “major game changer” for her effort.
“It will not only give me great financial help in starting my business, especially with rent and renovations, but there will be amazing opportunity for business growth with this aid,” Hall said.
Downtown Middlebury is where she wants Calvi’s to be.
“That was where Calvi’s originally opened and it would be weird to have it anywhere other than downtown,” she added. “Also, I feel that the type of restaurant I am opening fits more into a downtown area rather than on the outskirts of town.”
Midd Rock Bouldering Center
Will be an “inclusive, welcoming, active community center” featuring rock climbing, fitness training, youth programming and special events, according to the business’s narrative. Owners Deena Greenman and Matt Wooten said they want to take advantage of the recent exponential growth in rock climbing to contribute to the vibrancy of Middlebury.
Greenman said she and Wooten have been thinking about a climbing gym for about 18 months, casually looking for the perfect space.
“Since applying for the Kick Start program, we have started to seek a building in earnest,” she said. “We have a few leads on potentially excellent spots, and hope to nail it down by the end of the summer to get going outfitting it and creating an awesome bouldering gym.”
She called the Kick Start support “significant for us, both financially but also in receiving such a strong vote of confidence from a group of skilled and knowledgeable local folks. We are thrilled to know that the Kick Start team believes in us and in our idea.”
Being located in Middlebury was essential, according to Greenman.
“Geographically, the climbing market is untapped in Addison County and the community here is ripe for an indoor climbing facility,” she said. “Both locals and the college will benefit from an indoor activity that provides exercise, community and fun.”
Middlebury Studio School
Has long provided arts education experiences for people of all ages at its headquarters off Route 7 South. The Kick Start grant will now allow the Studio School to open a second location, specifically for its non-clay programs.
Middlebury Studio School offers classes for young children, teens and adults in a wide range of mediums, including pottery, painting, drawing and more. The organization also hosts private events like birthday parties, and the new downtown location will allow it to expand the breadth of its programming, according to Sarah Briggs, the newly appointed executive director of the school.
Briggs noted this will be somewhat of a homecoming for MSS, which functioned in downtown Middlebury from its founding in 2009 until 2015.
“Since the move (to Route 7), we have been able to grow thanks to the space of our building, but have missed the community downtown and the collaborations with other businesses that location facilitates,” Briggs said. “The location we plan to move into has everything we have been looking for, importantly including accessible parking and bathrooms.”
She added the Kick Start grant will go far in helping the Studio School establish its new location.
“We… cannot wait to welcome everyone in Middlebury to paint, draw and craft with us,” Briggs said.
Sparrow Art Supply
This business will promote itself as “Central Vermont’s go-to shop for all art, craft, and creative needs, from oil paints to markers to pottery tools,” according to owner Beth Svenningsen, a lifelong artist herself.
“I am passionate about helping others find their creative voice, so we will be ready to answer any questions and assist customers to find the right materials for their projects,” she said. “And we are more than just a retail shop. The space will not only carry art supplies, but will also be a community center for creative workshops, gallery opportunities to exhibit artwork, and club meetings.”
Svenningsen called the Kick Start support “essential, both monetarily and symbolically. This grant is going to cover much of the steep costs of starting a new business. And to have the town believe in this idea by awarding this grant money, it’s incredibly motivating, validating and exciting.”
She called her business plan “made for Middlebury,” noting the many arts organizations in town and the surrounding area.
“An art supply store is the missing puzzle piece to complete the Middlebury arts community,” Svenningsen said. “I absolutely love my new hometown, so to have this opportunity to join the historic and picturesque downtown scene, it is beyond amazing.”
Your Home Too
Is a “vintage and vintage-inspired lifestyle shop” that will offer an ever-changing selection of used, refurbished and re-imagined furniture and home design pieces, according to business partners Alicia Standridge and Sheila Collette. The store will also carry a mix of houseplants for decorating purposes, Dixie Belle chalk furniture paint, as well as a “great line of furniture transfers, stamps and embellishments from Prima Re Design.”
In addition to retail, they’ll offer an array of classes and workshops geared toward helping people create the home they’ve always desired.
Bristol residents already know about Standridge and Collette’s wares and services, as that town has been home to “Your Home” for a while.
“It’s been in our plans for several years, but we couldn’t quite find the right location,” Collette said of Your Home’s Middlebury expansion plans. “There were a few spots that would have worked for our store, but they were already occupied, so we waited.”
The Kick Start program gave the duo the extra push they needed to reconsider Middlebury. The grant will allow them a small cushion to get the new store up and running after a stressful year dealing with COVID-19 restrictions, according to Collette.
“We are so excited to be opening our doors in downtown Middlebury,” she said. “We have always enjoyed shopping and dining in Middlebury. It will be so nice to have new stores opening downtown and we are looking forward to being a part of this fun adventure.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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