Neighbors team up to keep Middlebury moving during construction

Published: May. 30, 2019 at 5:40 PM EDT
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A bridge and rail project is fast approaching in Middlebury. It's intended to bring more people to town in the long run, but business owners are concerned constructions could scare off customers.

To address those fears, the community has created a collaborative team of neighbors to keep Middlebury moving even while it's under construction. Our Christina Guessferd went to there to learn how.

The 10-week construction plan is set to begin this time next year, and it will make part of Middlebury completely impassable, cutting the town in half. Business owners and residents are banding together to mitigate those impacts.

"It's the height of our season here, so it's definitely concerning. I'm right at the cross section of the action or inaction," said Nancie Dunn of Sweet Cecily.

"I'm not worried about it at all... we have such a strong community. We work really well together, and we'll find ways to make everything work," said Lisa Phelps of Parlour.

Some business owners are prepared to weather the storm, but others are worried the construction will sink their ship.

"It's access, parking and signage. Without that, I don't think we have a chance of getting people to stop here once they see big detour signs," Dunn said.

Karen Duguay is part of the group working to prevent that problem by creating a plan aimed at protecting the community's vitality and accessibility during the rail and bridge project. "Neighbors, Together" is comprised of local leaders representing the town's churches, schools, organizations, and businesses.

"We have special events like free concerts and a block party. We have a marketing initiative to try to attract visitors, we have shopping promotions and deals of the week," Duguay said. "Motivate people to continue to come into the downtown, to continue to shop, to continue to dine, and come and enjoy all the things that Middlebury has to offer."

The plan also includes a pop-up event space called Bundle, which will host multiple events per month, and aesthetic upkeep, like fence art and flower arrangements.

"I'm very grateful for what 'Neighbors, Together' and 'Experience Middlebury' are doing what they're doing. They really have the heart and soul in mind of the town," Dunn said.

"Small businesses are very important to the town and it's what keeps the town alive," Phelps said.

VTrans has scheduled a meeting at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Middlebury next Tuesday at 7 p.m., where officials will detail the construction plan and its impacts. It's there residents and business owners can voice their concerns and ask any questions.