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Tasting center aimed at boosting Northeast Kingdom tourism - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Tasting center aimed at boosting Northeast Kingdom tourism

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NEWPORT, Vt. -

Cinta Ahrens loves to bake. Her latest sweet venture is Jocelyn and Cinta's Bake Shop in Newport.

"I've seen new faces, a lot of the old faces," Ahrens said.

It's one of five businesses coming together to form the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center.

"We talk about it as a local food market and culinary destination," Eleanor Leger said.

Leger came up with the idea when she needed to expand her business, Eden Ice Cider.

"All of us individually pay rent and then we collaborate, so we work together as a team," she explained.

Leger thought it would be a great way to showcase flavors of the Northeast Kingdom to locals and visitors. Everything from cheeses to meats are featured in the indoor market.

"We're working with Spring Hill Farm in Orleans," said Cosmo Tedone of the Brown Dog Butcher and Deli Shop.

But local products can come with a premium price tag. Leger says people are willing to pay to support local and tasty products, but some worry it might not be a viable business model for a region with a struggling economy.

"This is a tough road to hoe up here," shopper Kristy Griggs said. "We're not Stowe, you know?"

"If you want local producers to survive, you have to charge the prices that make that possible," Leger said.

While people are excited about the tasting center, there is an elephant in the room called winter. Some people worry the tasting center won't be able to do enough to pull people from the ski mountains into the downtown.

"It just seems like Jay Peak is trying to have everything self-contained and I don't know how we'll get them down," Ahrens said.

Jay Peak's owner, Bill Stenger, is the mastermind behind a $500 million economic revitalization of the Northeast Kingdom. It's through the EB-5 program, where foreign investors kick in cash and in return get green cards for themselves and their families. The massive development plan could bring up to 10,000 jobs to the Kingdom. But some say with so much money focused at the ski resorts, it could keep tourists from coming to town.

"I think Newport is on its way up and it's not going to be the EB-5 that does it. Everybody is behind it. I wouldn't give EB-5 all the credit," Ahrens said.

"We're committed to making this work whether or not that goes ahead," Leger said.

Hoping to give a taste of the Kingdom and a boost to the region.

Officials expect the tasting center to draw a lot of visitors from Canada.

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