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Delia-Lôbo running for Middlebury board

MATTHEW DELIA-LÔBO has set his sights on one of three Middlebury selectboard posts up for grabs on March 1. Independent photo/John Flowers

“There have been a lot of economic incentives to open businesses … but (we) still have empty businesses and under-utilized spaces in the community; that hurts everyone.”

— Matthew Delia-Lôbo

MIDDLEBURY — Matthew Delia-Lôbo is already well known among Middlebury’s coffee connoisseurs; he and his wife Aless co-own and operate the Royal Oak and Lost Monarch coffee establishments that are earning a nice following in Addison County’s shire town.

But Delia-Lôbo wants you to know that he’s not just a dexterous barista with a gift for gab. Delia-Lôbo, 33, has developed considerable affection for his family’s adopted home of Middlebury and wants to make it more of a destination for young folks.

With that in mind, he’s brewing up a campaign for one of the three Middlebury selectboard spots up for grabs on March 1.

There are four people running for those three, three-year positions: Incumbents Heather Seeley and Esther Thomas, as well as Andy Hooper and Delia-Lôbo.

This will be Delia-Lôbo’s first run for local office. The eager entrepreneur and his spouse — who now have a baby daughter named Frances — moved to Middlebury in 2018 from the Boston area. They had developed an affinity for Middlebury during frequent visits with Matt’s mom, Nancy Harris, over the course of six years. They now live in the Middlebury home where she once resided.

Conversation and coffee seem to go hand-in-hand, so the Delia-Lôbos have connected with a lot of people between pours. Invariably, that talk has branched into local politics.

“People wanted me to run (for the selectboard) last year, but that was right when we were having a baby,” Delia-Lôbo recalled. “I didn’t think then that I was the best person for the job.”

Instead, Delia-Lôbo backed Thomas in her bid for a seat. He feels a kinship with Thomas, given they’re around the same age and are both people of color.

“She definitely represents the way we feel about things, and it’s exciting to run alongside her,” he said of this year’s election.

While having not resided in Middlebury very long, Delia-Lôbo has been following town affairs and believes he could bring a multi-faceted perspective to the selectboard as a resident of color who knows what it’s like to run a local business; two of them, in fact. He wants to shape town policies that could make Middlebury a more attractive settlement area for young families, in what is currently one of the oldest states in the union.

That effort should include development of more affordable housing, more jobs and a vibrant downtown, he said.

Middlebury is exploring ways to increase the town’s affordable housing stock. Officials are, among things, looking at zoning changes to serve as a catalyst. Delia-Lôbo said the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fact that young families can’t afford rents or mortgages for the limited housing stock available.

“When the pandemic started, we had two couples who are friends of ours who effectively became homeless and had to leave the state,” he said. “It was because the people renting to them had changed the deal, basically. And then they tried to find other places to live, but the prices were so wild because of the influx of wealthy people leaving cities. People were snatching up anything.

“Anyone of lower income is just out of the game.”

Along with adopting zoning changes, Delia-Lôbo said he’d like to see the town work with developers to ensure future subdivisions and apartment complexes include some affordable units.

BOOST BUSINESS ACTIVITY

Young locals and transplants are looking for activities and diverse shopping experiences, according to Delia-Lôbo, and that speaks to the urgency of filling vacant storefronts. With the Middlebury rail tunnel project now completed, he believes Middlebury needs to shift its focus to revitalizing its downtown.

Delia-Lôbo is convinced the younger set would become more involved with the community if there were more businesses and activities catering to their interests and demographics. So having 100% occupancy of all downtown Middlebury’s storefronts should be a priority, he said.

He acknowledged the Better Middlebury Partnership has made strides in filling spots through a “Kick Start” program that’s provided seed money for sound business plans. But a handful of vacancies remain, the most prominent being the former 51 Main restaurant and Ben Franklin spots.

“How do we work with the people who own the buildings to figure out how (to fill them),” he asked. “If something is sitting there empty for years, there’s got to be a reason why people aren’t jumping on that. There have been a lot of economic incentives to open businesses … When you have that, but still have empty businesses and under-utilized spaces in the community, that hurts everyone.”

Promoting diversity and understanding is another one of Delia-Lôbo’s priorities, and he’s already participated in efforts to promote those ideals. He helped draft and deliver an Oct. 13, 2020, presentation to the Middlebury selectboard about systemic racism in the U.S. and its current-day impacts in local communities. He’s a member of IDEAL (Invest Divest Educate Abolish Liberate) Middlebury group.

Delia-Lôbo believes Middlebury is generally a friendly place for all, but notes there are still ways the community could be more accepting and cognizant of individuals of different colors and creeds. He said he sometimes feels the added stigma of being biracial.

“Someone told me that the tragic mulatto is like an archetype; you’re part of neither thing,” he said. “I’m not perceived as a Black person and I’m not perceived as a white person. “I grew up feeling confused and out of place, all the time.”

Race relations can be a tough subject to confront and discuss, Delia-Lôbo noted, but he’s up for the challenge.

“There’s something in confronting issues that are hard, that I don’t have a problem with, and I’m not afraid of doing it,” he said. “I love talking about social issues and things having to do with race and politics.”

But Delia-Lôbo believes his over-arching objective has universal appeal.

“I want to see everyone thriving,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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