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Winter 2013 • SO Vermont Arts & Living

7 Feb

Wilmington Strong

Posted on Sep 27, 2013

By Katherine P. Cox

Out of the Rubble: Wilmington Two Years After Irene

Wilmington

Raging waters tear through Wilmington as Tropical Storm Irene moves through the region in 2011

Unless you were there, just by looking around, it’s hard to fathom that barely two years ago the heavy rains of Tropical Storm Irene unleashed devastating floodwaters that raged through Wilmington, ravaged downtown, and left no business untouched.

But many were there. That’s why, today, the town is just a bit more cheered by its abundant flowers and plants delighting from planters and window boxes throughout town, and why merchants so warmly welcome visitors into the storefronts they’ve rescued — and revitalized — from the ruins.

Wilmington6

Two years later, Wilmington continues to rebuild itself and its community economy with the help of efforts like the Wilmington Fund VT.

Their stories, and the efforts of so many affected on Aug. 28, 2011, are a testament to the resiliency of the townspeople and the fierce community spirit that some say have made Wilmington even better than before.

The Fashion Plate consignment shop cleans out after the flood

The Fashion Plate consignment shop cleans out after the flood

Long before the ground was dry the volunteers came by the hundreds, said Al Wurzberger, who owns the 1836 Country Store on West Main Street. His wife, Sue, owns the historic Norton House, a quilt and fabric store, next door.

The floodwaters had reached halfway up the buildings. “Everything was lost; half a million dollars lost, at least,” Al Wurzberger said.

“They [the volunteers] were tall, they were short, they were skinny, they were fat, they were young, they were old. They were black, they were white, they were Catholics, agnostics, and atheists. And they argued and debated with each other as they gutted and rebuilt the Norton House and the 1836 Country Store. If it weren’t for the volunteers, none of us could have survived,” he said.

Dot's Restaurant, damage severely in the flood, but expected to reopen this fall.

Dot’s Restaurant, damage severely in the flood, but expected to reopen this fall.

Ann Manwaring, a Wilmington resident of more than 40 years and a state representative for the past seven, agrees: “The volunteers that showed up were just extraordinary. They started showing up in droves.”

Everyone recalls how the Chamber of Commerce set to work matching volunteers with the many businesses that needed help digging out, cleaning off, stacking debris, rescuing what they could. Livelihoods were washed out; traditions flooded out.

Streep

Meryl Streep and Tamara Kilmurray. Photo copyright Carolyn L. Bates.

Every business was affected. Some 40 businesses and 100 employees were out of jobs; some 20 apartments were damaged, leaving many homeless, Manwaring says.

Beyond the army of volunteers, Manwaring lauds Mount Snow, which provided temporary housing to some of those left homeless following the flood.

As vital as that army of volunteers was to the cleanup effort, Dan and Tamara Kilmurray, who have owned a home in Wilmington for 10 years, and have vacationed in the area for 30, knew more had to be done — that more aid would be needed in the months and years to come.

“The damage was extreme,” Dan Killmurray said.

Many people had no flood insurance, and Irene had come on the heels of the recession, compounding the misery for many facing downtown’s already-boarded-up buildings. And so the Kilmurrays felt the town needed economic stimulus.

Wilmington Fund VT goes to work

Organizing a board of directors, they established the Wilmington Fund VT (www.thewilmingtonfundvt.org), aimed at supporting Wilmington’s recovery by raising funds to help repair damaged buildings and to promote commerce and business.

Wilmington5Their tools: grants, low interest loans, real estate ownership, other investment opportunities, and partnerships with like-minded entities. Their goal was to promote job growth and economic opportunity for area residents.

Phone calls, letters and fund-raisers — including a Joan Osborne concert and a private dinner with Meryl Streep — have enough capital to allow the Wilmington Fund VT to provide grants, help attract new businesses to town, and help build a new municipal parking lot.

One fund-raiser last summer was dedicated to help Dot’s Restaurant recover. This popular gathering place had been severely damaged. Not to worry: an outdoor barbecue and concert netted $26,000, Kilmurray said.

“We’re doing a lot of work to help support the economic vitality of Wilmington,” Kilmurray said, “but there are still a lot of unoccupied buildings. Our biggest problem: we don’t have enough people looking for grants that want to start a business in the village.”

According to Kilmurray, the grant process requires that applicants have a business plan, a well-thought-out proposal, and startup capital.

Although the Kilmurrays were the driving force behind the Wilmington Fund VT, they’re quick to note it’s not just a one-, two-, or nine-person effort, considering the number of people serving on the Fund’s board:

Many have donated time and money, they said, and the organization is all volunteer.

“Every penny of donated money has gone into the fund to build the economy of the town. We do all the events ourselves and review the grants ourselves,” Tamara Kilmurray said.

Julie Lineberger, who, with her husband, architect Joseph Cincotta of the architecture firm LineSync in Wilmington, serves on the board of directors of the Wilmington Fund VT.

She attributes part of the success of high-end fund-raisers such as the Streep dinner to the fact that “the community is larger than we thought it was, and the second-home owners really stepped up,” she said, noting that the appeal came from “a combination of Meryl Streep and helping our community heal.”

Lineberger points to a renewed Main Street, and names all of its success stories, businesses returned and just starting out: Bartleby’s Books, the 1836 Country Store, the Norton House, the Incurable Romantic, Jim McGrath Gallery, Chapman’s In-Town Antiques, and more.

“It’s a start,” says Lineberger, who envisions an economically viable historic district that provides full-time jobs year-round. “Through the Wilmington Fund [VT], we hope to inspire others to establish or re-establish business in the village. It takes vision, inspiration, a lot of hard work, and some capital. We need someone who’s willing to take a chance,” she says.

On her wish list: a bike shop, a camera shop, and a bakery.

Like many others in Wilmington, she describes herself as hopeful: “I see people trying. I see people working together.”

Beyond Imagination imagines

Melinda Coombs is one of the beneficiaries of the Wilmington Fund VT. She opened Beyond Imagination, a clothing and home goods store on North Main Street last September, partially at the urging of the Kilmurrays and others who felt a boutique was needed in town after Manyu’s, a clothing store here, was wiped out by the flood.

Coombs had worked at Manyu’s, and has a personal stake in the vitality of Wilmington. She’s from Wilmington, as are her grandparents, parents, child, and grandchildren.

“It was not an option to just move,” she says.

Coombs says she was encouraged by other businesses that had been damaged and had come back:

“It made me realize that the more businesses there are, the better it is for everybody. And it may be an incentive for others.”

The support from the Wilmington Fund VT was important, she said. “I feel confident that eventually the town will be better than before. There’s a new energy in town.”

In-Town Antiques sets up shop

Len and Diane Chapman, longtime residents of Wilmington, also decided to invest in downtown, with partners David and Joann Manning and assistance from the Wilmington Fund VT.

“We had an antiques shop in a big barn [outside of town] and we were only doing weekends. The four of us got together and said, ‘Why don’t we open something in town?’” Len Chapman recalls.

Chapman’s In-Town Antiques opened on West Main Street last October. In addition to providing a more visible location for their antiques business, the Chapmans said they wanted to help the town.

Len Chapman has lived in Wilmington for 40 years.

“The town has been good to me. I wanted to return the favor. I have great friends and neighbors here,” he said.

Moving downtown has been worth the investment, he reports, and it has helped the antiques shop that’s still in the barn a few miles away.

Rescuing Bartleby’s

Bartleby’s Books, like its neighbors on West Main Street, suffered heavy damage from the flood.

“Bartleby’s had about four feet of water flow through the main floor of the store,” said owner Lisa Sullivan. “We lost 90 percent of our inventory and all of our shelving. The building sustained damage to its electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems, as well as windows, façade, and drywall.”

Some of her close friends, as well as customers and people they’d never met, showed up to pitch in with repairs to the building.

“So many people helped! We renovated with an eye for flood mitigation and reopened three months after the flood,” she explains.

And like her neighbors, she is optimistic about the future of the town.

Meanwhile, folks have come together to forge a path for the future in ways that they had not considered previously.

Wilmington Works

The town recently attained downtown designation status and formed a downtown organization named Wilmington Works, essentially a subcommittee of the Wilmington Fund VT and composed of 11 members representing downtown businesses, local government, and the Chamber of Commerce.

This new organization will help organize and drive activities critical to making downtown Wilmington a vibrant and vital place, Sullivan predicts.

Ann Coleman innovated — artfully

Artist Ann Coleman arguably was the most dramatically affected by the storm, and her plans for a new gallery may be among the most innovative — and symbolic — of the future of Wilmington.

In her art gallery on West Main Street, she showcased her own paintings and prints in addition to the work of other artists and artisans. She and her husband were finishing up renovations to the space when Irene hit.

When the rains stopped, she went downtown to see the damage. At the barricades downtown, a policewoman told her, “Prepare yourself. It’s not good.”

“I looked down and saw an empty hole where the gallery had been,” Coleman said. “I was expecting that I got flooded. I didn’t expect it would be gone.”

Ann Coleman Gallery was swept down the flooded Deerfield River, taking with it original paintings spanning 33 years of work, over 400 prints, and the works of the other artists.

Coleman set up temporary digs at various sites in the aftermath, and last February reopened her gallery in a storefront on North Main Street.

She’s contemplating building a new place where her previous gallery sat, of course. If the plans go through, the new building will float, too — it’s designed to — but it will float in place.

That’s thanks to Wilmington architect Joseph Cincotta, who’s designed a structure that works with floods, like a boat dock. The building is anchored on heavy metal piers, and when the waters rise the electricity snaps off, plumbing stops up, and the structure, untroubled, bobs.

’People came together…’

Fellow artist Jim McGrath watched the storm from his nearby apartment, and painted the rain and the water rising against the buildings: another kind of landscape.

He had recently closed his gallery, but had stored some 50 original paintings and his tools and paint brushes in the basement of the Parmalee and Howe building at the center of town.

The basement and first floor of the brick building were flooded, and McGrath lost all his work.

That said, what he talks about today is not loss, but praise for his fellow townspeople:

“People came together. Everyone came out of the woodwork to help. Everyone — locals and second-home owners — got on the same page. That was something to see.”

Today he has a gallery again, on West Main Street, and is among the many businesses along the street that are back in operation. He says he’s optimistic: Better things are in store for Wilmington.

“There’s a sense that with a couple of nudges in the right direction, we’ll have something going again,” he adds.

From Nantucket to Wilmington, with coffee

Things are already moving in that direction. Dot’s Restaurant has reopened; a sign on the historic Parmalee and Howe Building promises a new restaurant and bar; and a coffee shop — Folly Foods — has opened at 33 West Main St.

Peter Wallace, who owns Folly Foods with his wife, Kathleen, describes the place as a coffee bar, juice bar, and dairy bar.

Restaurateurs on Nantucket for more than 30 years, the Wallaces sold their restaurant on the island and have become year-round Wilmington residents.

Fresh-baked goods, ice cream and some retail food — such as local honey — are also offered at Folly’s Foods.

Wallace says he hopes to fill the void left when a former coffee shop closed after the storm.

“We’re really excited about it,” he said, explaining that he and his wife, like so many others, were inspired by the many stores that were damaged by the flood and have rebounded.

“We wanted to join the community and bring it back to life. We want to encourage the future of Wilmington by helping it become the vibrant, cool place that it is,” he said.

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14 December 2103 – New York Times

14 Dec
Wilmington Journal

In Vermont, a Town That Would Not Let Its Diner Go

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times:  John Reagan eying orders in the kitchen during the lunch rush.
By JANE GOTTLIEB

WILMINGTON, Vt. — In the months after the Deerfield River overtook their diner, Patty and John Reagan began to imagine letting it go after more than 30 years of greeting people for breakfast, saying good night after the dinner shift and hearing their stories during the many hours in between.

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times: A waitress (Annabel Tobey) greeting a customer at Dot’s Restaurant.

“We once entertained the idea of not opening till 6:30 a.m. but knew our regulars would be here at 5:30 anyway,” Mrs. Reagan said recently, seated at a gleaming oak table in an empty Dot’s Restaurant. “They’d break in. It happened once, when we were late during an ice storm.”

Perched over the river at Wilmington’s only intersection, the building housing the diner has stood since 1832. It has often been the only place on this stretch of Main Street to buy a cup of coffee, and, in fact, is one of the few year-round stops along the quiet Green Mountains roadway that winds from Bennington to Brattleboro.

The Reagans are Dot’s owners, but everyone, it seems, has a claim. Patrons dissect local issues here; travelers count on it. Not long ago, a couple passing through on their second honeymoon were able to order the same Dot’s breakfast they had enjoyed on their first, 50 years earlier. Every Vermont governor since at least 1980 has appeared for a photo op at Dot’s, and Gourmet magazine once called the berry-berry pancakes a “national treasure.”

But Tropical Storm Irene taught the Reagans something new about Dot’s: that the joy of ownership carried the burden of keeping it going — no matter what. Patrons who would not put up with a later opening time certainly were not prepared to let it disappear, even if an insurance adjuster declared the building “finished.”

“We’d have other shop owners say, ‘We knew you were a draw for the town but didn’t realize how much of a draw. Is there any way you can rebuild?’ ” recalled Mr. Reagan, 60, who like many residents first came to the area to ski. “We had to say that basically there was nothing we could do. ‘Look at it, what would you do?’ It was really hard.”

Irene pummeled southern Vermont on Aug. 28, 2011. That Sunday morning, water rose eight feet in 15 minutes. The Reagans grabbed what they could, cut the power to the small gray saltbox and joined onlookers watching their buildings succumb. Dot’s was shoved off its foundation and walls toppled. Water even lifted all nine oak tables and deposited them at the front door. “They were still set, too, with all the silverware,” Mrs. Reagan said.

Dot’s was among 48 businesses along this classic New England streetscape that were flooded out. Two floated away; 32 have since reopened.

First, the Reagans adjusted to losing contact with customers they had seen every day for decades. Then, months of decisions began. With the flood insurance settlement they could afford to pay the mortgage and walk away, but not to rebuild. The diner was not only battered and saturated, but also out of compliance with every modern building code.

“We could have gotten other jobs,” said Mr. Reagan, who has worked in restaurants since age 14. “I wanted to bring a food truck here. We could use the property and earn an income and still be off all winter.”

But it was too costly for the Reagans to demolish Dot’s themselves. Then they were rejected for a buyout that would have paid them to demolish and leave. With no way to rebuild and no building to sell, Dot’s was done.

The couple stood outside the restaurant and sold off their supply of Dot’s T-shirts, hats and sweatshirts. They expected people would not ask too many questions. “People figured we were out of business and stopped by out of the goodness of their hearts,” Mr. Reagan said. “After all, how many T-shirts do you need?”

In fact, the town was just getting organized. Gretchen Havreluk, an economic development consultant, got the Preservation Trust of Vermont interested. The organization brought in engineers, pledged money and established a recovery fund.

Dan and Tamara Kilmurray, who own a second home here, started the Wilmington Fund Vermont to provide financing to bring businesses back. That organization was among many that sponsored fund drives for Dot’s. With generosity came hope.

“We wondered, ‘Why should someone donate to open a business? ” Mr. Reagan said. “We have certainly donated a lot to people in need. We never thought of ourselves as the people who need help.”

Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times:  Patty Reagan with customers.
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times:  A photo the Reagans took while the flooding raged in August 2011 shows how high the waters reached. Dot’s was left a ruin.
Nathaniel Brooks for The New York Times:  John Reagan, the owner, came out of the kitchen to see customers on the day Dot’s reopened.
The New York Times:  On a road that meanders from Bennington to Brattleboro.

Gov. Peter Shumlin was on hand in March to announce that Dot’s would be back. But the work had just begun. Estimates seemed to rise $100,000 every time an engineer looked at the project.

To qualify for historic grants, the original walls, twisted in the storm, needed to be straightened so they could be contained within new walls. To meet flood-resistant standards, the restaurant had to become what Mrs. Reagan called a “diner on Botox,” with a concrete basement and retaining walls befitting a bunker.

“They once wrote me a thank-you note for the help and it made me sick because I wondered ‘Did I put them in this situation?’ Ms. Havreluk said. “I worked with them to rebuild, but I was earning a paycheck. I’m not the one who has to pay their debt back.”

Rebuilding meant having a crane hoist Dot’s skyward and set it down after a foundation was built. It meant hearing people grumble that Dot’s did not warrant the fanfare and expense.

Even as the next chapter of Dot’s was being written, Mr. Reagan was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer. His condition required radiation five days a week 40 miles away. But once again Dot’s prevailed. It was too late to stop. The diner helped the couple, who met there when Patty was a waitress. “It kept us busy and focused on what we had to do,” said Mrs. Reagan, 52.

Dot’s reopened on Thursday, a $1 million diner. Fund-raising generated $200,000, with the project receiving $90,000 in tax credits. There was also free tile work and carpentry, the contractor who simply came by one evening and stripped the damaged siding and the stores that gave discounts without being asked. Donated materials and labor saved $300,000.

Even so, they reopened $400,000 in debt, more than berry-berry pancakes will ever generate.

“It will never be worth the money. But in a way this place is not really ours,” said Mrs. Reagan, whose family has been in the region for generations. “It’s a gift to the community. If we didn’t rebuild it would never be again.”

A version of this article appears in print on December 14, 2013, on page A11 of the New York edition with the headline: The Town That Would Not Let Its Diner Go.

The Wilmington Fund VT • Video Link

16 Aug

Please check out the video produced for The Wilmington Fund VT!

On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene caused flooding the tore through Wilmington, Vermont. The devastation was staggering. But Wilmington’s community sprung into action. Before long, the Wilmington Fund VT was born. Its mission: support recovery and future development in the historic downtown. Watch the video to learn more about Wilmington Fund VT’s efforts and its plans for the future.

Thanks to Ann Manwaring for shepherding this project through to completion.  Video production by Mondo Mediaworks          mondomediaworks.com

Thank you!

New Credit Union in Brattleboro Supports Wilmington

18 Apr

Nice Press Release from the Vermont State Employees Credit Union!-1
Yvonne Garand, VP Marketing & Business Development
Ygarand@vsecu.com / 802 371 5197

BRATTELBORO, Vt., April 23, 2013— VSECU, the only state-wide credit union for all Vermonters, has not only expanded its branch access to Southern, Vermont, but has expanded its gifting with a $10,000 contribution to help finish the final phase of a downtown Wilmington project.

The gift  from VSECU along with a $10,000 grant from The Wilmington Fund VT will be used to pay for lighting and other completion work in a newly constructed parking lot and green space in downtown Wilmington.  The Wilmington Fund VT also contributed an additional $5,000 in 2012 for the parking lot itself in addition to the $10,000 match. The project is part of Wilmington’s Long-Term Community Recovery Plan resulting from the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

VSECU may be new to Southern Vermont but has something in common with the area. It knows very well the challenges of rebuilding after Hurricane Irene. The credit union lost its branch in Waterbury, Vermont from Irene and had to rebuild an entire new branch facility and also helped that community focus on residential rebuilding.

“Our credit union was heartbroken to see how many of our members were personally affected by Mother Nature, whether it was the loss of a home, vehicle, business or job because their employer couldn’t remain in business after Irene,” said Kate Paine, board member and chair of the Community Contributions Committee at VSECU.

“It was important to us to reach out beyond the Central Vermont area to support other communities we reside in and serve that are working so hard to finish the rebuilding and revitalization efforts from the storm.”

According to Board Members John Gannon & Julie Lineberger, the Wilmington Fund VT has made a total of seven grants totaling $155,000 to support the economic revitalization of downtown Wilmington. “The purpose of the grants is to encourage existing businesses to reopen, help new businesses launch and create jobs in Wilmington’s historic village center,” said John Gannon. As a result of these grants five local businesses have opened or are in the process of re-opening, including the iconic Dot’s Restaurant. “This gift from VSECU will bring to closure the funding needed to complete the project most needed to give people safe and convenient access
for parking.”

The project is expected to be completed this summer.

VSECU is a not for profit banking alternative for all Vermonters. The Brattleboro branch is located in the Price Chopper Plaza. For more information about VSECU, call 802/800 371-5162 or visit http://www.vsecu.com.

Wilmington receives downtown designation • 28 March story in the Deerfield Valley News

30 Mar
by Jack Deming
2 days ago | 522 views | 1 1 comments | 1 1 recommendations | email to a friend | print

 

WILMINGTON- After an 18-month-long application process, the VT Downtown program has given its stamp of approval, awarding Wilmington village downtown designation.

This paves the way for implementing Wilmington Works, a committee that will work to enhance the business and economic environment of the downtown. Wilmington Works will be a committee of the Wilmington Fund VT, which serves as the committee’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt financial sponsor, as required by the program. The Wilmington Selectboard has also committed funds to Wilmington Works for this, and next year’s, fiscal years, using matching grant funds.

After Tropical Storm Irene, FEMA worked with the town to establish a long-term community recovery plan, and identified approximately two dozen projects that could have positive impacts and help the town most in achieving recovery goals.

Downtown designation was chosen as a high priority by the town, and former selectboard chair Tom Consolino was named project champion. Consolino, town manager Scott Murphy, economic development specialist Gretchen Havreluk, and Wilmington Fund VT member John Gannon spent 18 months putting together the plan, and applying.

According to Murphy, Wilmington Works will provide structure and support for downtown businesses, and organize efforts to improve the town’s economy. This will be accomplished through four subcommittees that report to a board of nine to 11 volunteers. Those subcommittees will consist of organization, economic development, promotion, and design.

For business owners, Murphy says Wilmington Works will provide multiple benefits by consolidating the efforts of the many existing committees in town, which, he says, with time might evolve into parts of the subcommittees. “The one benefit they’re (business owners) going to see first and foremost is the organizational affect,” said Murphy. “Right now we have various committees that work randomly and not in conjunction with each other and this will pull them all together.”

Murphy also noted the financial impact of the program, which opens the town up to apply for more 50-50 match grants that are easily accessible, and were not available under the town’s former status as a village. “Now that we’re a designated downtown, when we apply for other state grants, they can look at that and it will help us get extra credit points toward getting more grants.

“This would also be an asset to someone looking to move into our downtown, and will help to create a vibrant downtown.”

Part of the program’s criteria was proper mapping of the proposed downtown, and with help from the Windham Regional Commission, the town was able to create maps for the application, a process which Murphy says was easy due to Wilmington’s well-defined downtown business area. The program requires that the proposed downtown area not stretch unreasonably past the downtown businesses in any direction.

The Wilmington Works board will be composed of two members designated by the Wilmington Fund VT, two designated by the selectboard, two property owners in the district, two business owners in the district, and a member of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, as well as other community members. The majority of Wilmington Works board members must also be residents of the town. Each position will be a three-year term, and Murphy says there has already been a great deal of interest.

The program application was supported by nearly 60 signatures from downtown business and property owners alike.

Read more: Deerfield Valley News – Wilmington receives downtown designation

 

Cracker Barrel Winter/Spring 2013 A part of Irene’s aftermath: The Wilmington Fund VT

9 Mar

One Part of Irene’s Economic Aftermath:  The Wilmington Fund VT

Two months ago Hurricane Sandy slammed through the Northeast.  Those of us in the Deerfield Valley had a true understanding of damage that can be left behind.  Our thoughts and prayers were with everyone harmed by the climactic event.

Nearly a year and a half ago (28 August 2011), Tropical Storm Irene ravaged many Vermont towns, including Wilmington.  By January, The Wilmington Fund VT was established and hard at work.

Founding:

Tamara and Dan Kilmurray, longtime Wimington second homeowners felt the losses and destruction of Wilmington’s village viscerally.  Throughout the clean up process in which they physically contributed, they discussed what could be done on a long term basis.  Dan communicated with Deborah Emmet Pike, another second home owner who had introduced him to the valley over three decades ago.  Deborah put Dan in touch with local business owner Julie Lineberger as someone who could assist him in gathering a group of people to create a long term difference.

By February 2012 the full Board was established including Dan as President, State House Representative Ann Manwaring as Vice President, financial planner Bruce Mullen as Treasurer and Julie as Secretary of the Board.  Rounding out the group were Tamara Kilmurray, Deborah Emmet Pike, attorney Robert Fisher, business owner John Gannon and innkeeper John Pilcher who, reluctantly, resigned from the Board in November.

Recently the Board created an Advisory Council to assist in with the mission through brainstorming fundraising ideas, acting as ambassadors to The Wilmington Fund VT.  This group includes Mount Snow Partner Dick Deutsch, West Dover second homeowner Bob Kaufman, Halifax second homeowner Walter Jones, local active volunteer Alice Greenspan, and Wilmington second homeowner Sophie Ackert who raised a significant amount of money for The Wilmington Fund VT through her Bat Mitzvah project.

Grant Process

The primary mission of The Wilmington Fund VT is to contribute to the the economic vitality in the area by encouraging established pre-Irene businesses to reopen, help new businesses launch and create jobs in Wilmington’s historic village center.  This includes shrinking the number of empty storefronts in the village.  Steadily, albeit slowly, we are advancing towards these goals.

In order to accomplish the above goals, The Wilmington Fund VT established parameters and protocols for grant applications and approval.  Each project is evaluated on its own particular set of circumstances by our general requirements that include submission of a complete business plan to establish, or reestablish, a business in the Village.  Part of the requirement is that any submission must include a substantial financial investment on the part of the applicant business owner.

Once a letter requesting funds accompanied by a completed business plan is submitted, a small group of our Board vets the project through interview and other due diligence measures.  When approved by the small group, the project is brought to the full Board of Directors for discussion.

So far, the Wilmington Fund VT invested $145,000 in the approval and distribution of  and distribution six grants.  The recipient business owners are on target to invest in excess of $1 million in their respective projects.  This multiplier effect is a key requirement for any grant application and approval of The Wilmington Fund VT.

Progress

The grants distributed include five businesses and an infrastructural project to support all village businesses.  The businesses that either opened, or are in the process of reopening, are well funded and have solid articulated business plans.  The Wilmington Fund VT is highly confident of their success and believe that a total of 30 local jobs will be created.

North Star Bowl – REOPENED. The center for local activity offering both bowling and informal food is owned by Steve Butler and Bev Lemaire.  Over 75% of this structure was destroyed in the storm.  Although not technically in Wilmington’s Village Center, we felt this business to be a significant contributor to the economic vitality of the area.

• Dot’s Restaurant – REOPENING SOON.  The iconic breakfast to dinner restaurant is owned by Patty and John Reagan.  http://www.rebuilddots.com

Note:  Funding and elbow grease from many individuals and many groups, most notably the Friends of the Valley, is what enabled both North Star and Dot’s to even think of reopening.  The Wilmington Fund VT was but one aspect of the reestablishment of these businesses.

Beyond Imagination – OPENED. A beautifully designed women’s clothing and household furnishings boutique is owned by Melinda and Bill Coombs.  http://www.beyondimagination.com

Chapman’s InTown Antiques – OPENED. Diane and Len Chapman have been running an antique business on their Medburyville property just outside of town for many years.  Along with neighbors JoAnn and David Manning, they decided to open a store in the village.  With assistance from The Wilmington Fund VT, the team of four renovated a storm ravaged building and are offering both antiques and local Vermont crafts.

Restaurant in the historic Parmelee & Howe Building – OPENING SOON. The Wilmington Fund VT purchased and began renovating this anchor building on the corner of Routes 9 & 100.  Mid-way through we were approached by a local individual with a vision and an interest in purchasing the property.  Acknowledging the ample investment and undertaking by the purchaser, as a demonstration of support the accepted negotiated price was less than our investment. The Wilmington Fund VT is pleased to have accomplished its goal with the sale of the Historic Parmelee & Howe building and look forward to its success.

• Village Walkway – PARTIALLY COMPLETED.  Led by the Long Term Recovery Parking and Green space Committee of Carolyn Palmer, Lilias Hart and Sue Spengler, the project links a new parking lot with Main Street with a soon to be lit walkway.

Future Challenges:

Because of these early successes, morale in the village is recovering and the ambiance greatly improved.  The robust Village Stroll Committee is working diligently to create various events to entice people downtown.  In addition, the increase in tourist traffic this fall was very encouraging.

However, there remain numerous damaged and empty buildings requiring a great deal of work.  The scope of these future projects is larger than our accomplishments to date, and 80 or so jobs still need to be restored.  The Board is exploring various options, including the establishment of a revolving loan fund, to stimulate economic growth in the village.

The Wilmington Fund VT has been prudent stewards of donated capital.  Close to 100% of fund donations go to economic vitality efforts with a minimal amount used for insurance and accounting fees.  All Board Members work voluntarily, truly a tireless effort by a talented group of individuals.

To continue our work, The Wilmington Fund VT is in a constant mode of fundraising.  We are also establishing two annual fundraisers.  The Summer Event of 2012 was extremely successful.  This included an art show curated by Mary Wright of Gallery Wright, a Pig Roast Dinner at the home of the Kilmurrays, and a Memorial Hall concert produced with great support of Dale Doucette.  Plans for the 13 July 2013 Summer Event are in currently in the works.

The Wilmington Fund VT is also in the midst of working with Mount Snow to create an annual Winter Event.

The long term success of our cause will ultimately be determined by continued strong governance, solid decision making and, of course, successful fundraising.  All are invited to keep on top of our progress through http://www.TheWilmingtonFundVT.org

New Stores Bring Hope To Town Hit By Flood And Recession – VPR Broadcast

28 Sep

Friday, 09/28/12 5:50pm

Nancy Eve Cohen

VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
Beyond Imagination is one of two new businesses that just opened in downtown Wilmington.

When the flood hit Wilmington a year ago the local economy was already on its knees. But just this month, with the help of a local non-profit two new businesses are opening in the downtown and a once flood-damaged building was sold.

The wail of a skill saw is annoying in some places, but in Wilmington it’s like a beautiful aria. Dots, the iconic restaurant which Irene destroyed in the center of town, is getting rebuilt.

“You can see the foundation’s being poured. They’re starting to do the framing of it right now.” said Julie Lineberger from the Wilmington Fund VT.

The Fund has raised nearly $600,000 to invest in downtown businesses like Dots.

“You need the village to be economically vital and vibrant “in order to have people to come here and spend money here,” said Lineberger,

The Fund bought, fixed up and just sold a historic brick building that hugs the corner of Wilmington’s main intersection. The new owner plans to open a restaurant. The Fund also gave a grant to Beyond Imagination, a clothing boutique which is having its grand opening tonight.   Melinda Coombs is launching this store, despite the slow economy, for several reasons.

“To help the town as well as start a new business for myself, ” said Coombs. “But the main one is that I grew up in this town.”

So has her son and her granddaughter. But Coombs lost her job at another store a year ago after the downtown was nearly destroyed  by Irene.

“It’s like losing your home,” said Coombs tearing up. “The thought that you might have to go out of the area to live because the economy might not recover. The thought of that just isn’t an option for me. I love living here.”

Lenny Chapman is opening another new store in the village of Wilmington called Chapman’s In Town Antiques. He shows off a cake box from the early 1800s.

“They used to make cakes and put them in here and keep them so the mice wouldn’t get at them”

Chapman says he believes the economy is coming back. He has another antique business in a barn just down the road.

“We had a good summer out at the barn,” Chapman said. “That’s one of the reasons why we would try to open here.”

But some business owners who have been downtown a long time have a different view, such as Meg Streeter who has been a realtor here for nearly three decades. She’s also a member of Wilmington’s select-board.

“It’s really tough here, I feel.” said Streeter. “The recession has never ended here. It has never ended in the Mount Snow area.”

Eileen Ranslow, whose been selling carpet and tiling at the Wilmington Home Center for 42 years says she’s holding on, but just barely.

“The economy for the last 2 ½ years, 3 years has been non- existent” recalled Ranslow. “And then we had Irene pass through. That pretty well flattened us, We’re still doing business, but it has been very, very tough.”

The official numbers bear that out, but they also show a ray of light. Economist Richard Heaps of Northern Economic Consulting says before the flood the number of businesses in Wilmington fell by 16 percent. But he says in the past year there’s been a little shift in the right direction.

“Couple more businesses opened up, but the total employment fell and wages grew a little.  So there was a hint that Wilmington was beginning to see a turn.,” said Heaps. “And now, the recent news of a couple of businesses coming in is building on that. It’s not much, but it’s beginning to show that they’re turning the corner.”

Melinda Coombs is hoping for a domino effect as new businesses like hers attract more customers to the entire town.

“If word gets out that ‘Gosh, there are a lot of really nice shops in Wilmington. Maybe we’ll go there from Bennington or Brattleboro or other places,’ it’s just going to help everybody!”

No one here is predicting a quick turn around, but they’re planting seeds hoping a better economy will eventually take root.

www.beyondimaginationvt.com