After several years of shuttered windows, things are moving again at 50 Main Street in Montpelier.
Amy Leventhal, the owner of Studio Zenith, leads a noontime, boot camp-style work out, one of the many classes she offers at her new studio.
"I've been a personal trainer for seven years. I've built up my entirely own clientele, so I have about 300 people in and out every month before this space. So, I just needed a space for people to come into," Leventhal said.
Leventhal's business is a forerunner of more than half-a-dozen new businesses that have taken up residency in recent months.
Most of the new ventures have something in common-- they're all properties owned by local real estate magnate Jeff Jacobs. Jacobs, who has a long history of rubbing some tenants the wrong way, owns 20 properties here. And over the past several years, many of the more prominent ones on Main and State streets have gone vacant.
"I think it's a really difficult thing, a challenge. Particularly here where it appeared to be adequate demand for the properties and they just weren't-- for whatever reason-- being rented," Montpelier Mayor John Hollar said.
But in the past year, with many of the daily duties of the family real estate company now in the hands of Jacobs' son, Jesse, the downtown has become an incubator of new ventures. From a handmade chocolate shop and a popular Thai eatery, to a second branch of the Asiana House set to open soon in the former Chittenden Bank building. Despite a sluggish economy, the younger Jacobs has been aggressive in coming up with partnerships.
"I guess we've had to be a little more creative nowadays than we had had to be in the past. The internet wasn't as much of a giant, box stores didn't exist up the block, there's was no T.J. Maxx, there was no Wal-Mart, people weren't driving to Williston. So, yeah, the climate has changed and we've been trying to change with it," said Jesse Jacobs of Montpelier Property Management.
Whether the criticisms of his father are warranted or not, Jacobs credits his dad with the Montpelier of today.
"I don't think you can build a career as long as he's had without breaking some eggs and making people upset," Jesse Jacobs said.
Many of the new tenants like what they see.
"He helped us arrive at this spot and anything we've needed he's responded extremely well and we're really happy," said Wally Delia of Cocoa Bean.
"I deal with Jesse and he's just wonderful to deal with," Leventhal said.
"I think that's terrific news and I think the landowner is going to be making money off his property, it's going to make Montpellier more vibrant, so I think everybody should come out ahead on this one," Hollar said.
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