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Fairlee community revitalizes space where commercial complex burned down

Published: Oct. 3, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT
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FAIRLEE, Vt. (WCAX) - Folks in Fairlee are giving the town a facelift, digging up and beautifying an eyesore downtown.

“We watched it burn in front of Chapman’s across the road, kind of hoping it didn’t go any further,” said Berne Traendly of Chapman’s General Store.

Traendly is reflecting on when he witnessed the old Colby Block building burn down 14 years ago. The two-story commercial complex was home to small businesses, apartments and a grocery store, to name a few

“We watched multiple businesses really disappear in a day,” said Traendly.

Fortunately, Chapman’s General Store, right across the street from the blaze, wasn’t one of them. But Traendly says the loss was still a major blow to the community. The dirt lot, the remnants of what was once the Colby Block building, has been vacant ever since.

“Several people have looked at it and the economics of what they were doing didn’t work out. It’s no small feat to develop a lot like this,” said Traendly.

But Traendly and his cousins are taking on the challenge. The family owns Chapman’s General Store. They, along with business partner Deecie Denison, collaborated to purchase the lonely lot for $85,000. They have a vision to make it a central part of this Vermont town.

“And granted we have other building plans. We’re looking for ways to increase housing here, but every time we talk, these young men say it’s about community,” said partner Deecie Denison.

Residents like Miranda Clemson say they’re looking forward to the finished product.

“I’m just excited about what’s happening in Fairlee, I really am,” said Clemson. “I was here when the previous building, the Colby Block, burned down, and this is a wonderful way of putting new life into this part of town.”

On Saturday, the property partners completed the first phase of the project. They crowdfunded roughly $7,500 in donations to plant trees and beautify the space.

Landscape designer Kyle Barrett says this is just the beginning of the revitalization.

“There’s a lot of really great energy around town about how there’s trees going in across the street from Chapman’s, and this place is coming alive now,” said Barrett.

This past summer, the community saw just how much potential the space has after hosting a successful concert series. And the future is looking even brighter for this dark spot on Route 5.

“We’re hoping to get some additional property. One of the cousins is building and expanding on that white building over there for housing, so it isn’t just this open space. We’re really looking for it as an economic development,” said Denison.

The property partners say they hope they’re making Fairlee a better place to live and work, one project at a time.

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