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Daily Chocolate set to expand

VERGENNES CHOCOLATIER DAWN Wagner will soon move her shop, but not far. It will remain at 7 Green St., but head upstairs from its longtime basement home to a ground-level space that is now being renovated in the same building. Independent photo/Steve James

VERGENNES — If all goes to plan, 16-year-old Vergennes shop Daily Chocolate will have a new home by the beginning of February.

But city resident Dawn Wagner’s growing business is not moving far. In fact, its 7 Green St. address will remain the same.

The difference will be that customers will no longer have to walk down a steep flight of stairs to a basement store, and then after that remember there is one more step down inside to navigate before inspecting the store’s cases of specialty chocolates. Instead, they’ll be able to stroll right into the shop one story above its current home. 

Daily Chocolate’s impending move up in the world became possible in October, when the shop’s fellow 7 Green St. tenant, One Credit Union, chose to relocate to nearby 48 Green St. That decision created the vacancy immediately over Wagner’s shop, plus additional office space one floor higher. 

Wagner, a 1995 Vergennes Union High School graduate with two daughters now in city schools, then negotiated a long-term lease for those slots with building owner Mark Koenig. 

She said that the shop’s upward mobility will create a number of benefits: better customer access and public exposure, more efficient retail and work space, more counter space and storage, a break room for staff and even easier maintenance — the basement’s exposed stone and beams create problems for food prep and storage, Wagner explained.

Because the stone, brick walls and wood are porous surfaces and hard to clean, sanitation laws make about half of her current space off-limits for production, she said, and even with the same footprint in the main space upstairs, “We are reorganizing in a way that makes more sense.”

One reason Daily Chocolate needs more efficient space is that its business volume has roughly doubled after she bought it in December 2020 from Jen Roberts and Judd Markowski. That’s because, Wagner said, she heavily invested in online and social media promotion and ordering, particularly in the business’s wholesale end. 

A longtime chocolatier as well as stage manager in New York City and around the country, Wagner had worked for Roberts in the shop for about five years after moving back to her native Vergennes before agreeing to buy the business.

“I launched a brand-new website and market on the day we closed on the business deal,” said Wagner, who now has 11 employees, mostly part-time, but two fulltime. “And that was Christmastime. And that just opened up a whole new market for me. And we were flooded with orders.”

The target date for the move is Feb. 1, she said, “so we can get rolling for Valentine’s Day,” one of the busiest times of the year for chocolatiers, along with the December holidays and Easter. She expects to be closed for only a few days during the transition.

Originally she had hoped to be make the transition just after Christmas, but the nature of renovations in an older building, especially given the different needs of banks and food production, slowed the timetable.

“We’re going to push it and just wait until my HVAC people say this is the day my plumbing is going in,” Wagner said. 

OFFERINGS LIKE THESE from Daily Chocolate and owner Dawn Wagner will still be available at 7 Green St. in Vergennes, but patrons will soon no longer have to walk downstairs to a basement shop to find them. Wagner is moving her storefront to a ground-level space in the same building.
Independent photo/Steve James

She will miss the aesthetics of the basement’s exposed stone, brick and wood, but has plans to make the former bank space appealing. 

“We have a few timbers and a vaulted ceiling, so it’s still an interesting and fun space in a pretty historic building,” Wagner said. 

Contracting for the roughly $80,000 renovation is local. JW & DE Ryan Plumbing & Heating and Peck Electric are handling their specialties, and Wagner is happy to say her friends and former business owners, Roberts and Markowski, are taking care of the rest.

“They know my business so well. They know my machinery,” she said. “They understand why I’m doing something the way I am.”

Still the price tag was more than originally anticipated with the older building and the increasing cost of construction projects this year. 

“Even with good planning and no surprises, things are just more expensive than you think it was going to be,” she said.

But Wagner got breaks with financing that also has local angles. The Addison County Economic Development Corp. helped Wagner obtain a $9,000 Building Communities Grant from the Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services.

And in November the Vergennes City Council approved a $50,000 loan from the Vergennes Revolving Loan Fund to Daily Chocolate to be paid back over 10 years, with a favorable interest rate and the first six months of payments being interest only.

Wagner said she was looking to bank financing, but was persuaded to reach out to the city.

“I was actually encouraged by other business owners in town. They were, like, it’s such a great opportunity to have this money and the support of the city,” she said. “The city was super supportive.”

Wagner said she also appreciates her co-workers — she mentioned “dancing and singing” in the shop — and her now fulltime vocation.

“I’m still having fun with this. I started making chocolate in ’96, ’97, so I’ve been doing it for a long time. It’s always been my side hustle while I was supporting my theater career, ” Wagner said. “So it’s still pretty exciting to be doing it and doing it in my hometown.”

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