Middlebury offering cash to spur new downtown businesses

Published: Mar. 24, 2021 at 4:16 PM EDT
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MIDDLEBURY, Vt. (WCAX) - The town of Middlebury wants you to start your business there, and they’re offering grant funding to help get the ball rolling.

When Helen Hall returned to Middlebury after being away for 16 years, she noticed something different about the area she knew as a kid. “A lot of businesses have been closed,” she said.

And she’s not wrong. The multi-year VTrans bridge construction project and the pandemic has turned Merchant’s Row into a row of empty storefronts. “It was a perfect storm for landlords and tenants alike to call it quits,” said Amey Ryan, chair of the Better Middlebury Partnership. The group, along with other local businesses, community and economic organizations, has teamed up to create Kick Start Middlebury, a program offering money to people who want to open, expand, or relocate a business in town. It’s an idea modeled from Willmington’s Make it on Main Street campaign a few years ago.

“It’s successful, and that’s our goal. We want to give them the resources that they need to be successful down the road, not just day one, but six months and a couple of years from now,” Ryan said.

Interested businesses have until April 9th to submit a letter of interest. From those letters, 10 will be selected to start the application process. Three businesses will then be selected, each receiving a $10,000 grant and $5,000 in discounts and services from businesses within the community.

“The business that I want to create would be a really great contribution to Middlebury,” said Helen Hall, who wants to reopen Calvi’s, a 1920′s style soda fountain and ice cream shop that was a staple in Middlebury for years. “I’ve always wanted someone to revive that and I think that would be me.” Hall is looking to add a modern twist, selling crepes and salads in addition to having a casual space with occasional live music.

“If there’s one thing you have to be in business, it’s nimble. You have to be able to change with what’s happening,” said Nancie Dunn, who has run Sweet Cecily for 32 years, in the former spot of Calvi’s. “It’s a very supportive community and I think everybody that has a business in this town feels the same way. I think it’s an awesome opportunity.”

“Middlebury is a really cool town and I think it has a lot of potential. Places need to come back in, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity at the same time,” Hall said.

And a kickstart is just what this town needs to call it a comeback.

Interested businesses are encouraged to apply no mattter how along in the process they are.

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