Vermont B/A: Wilmington Pulls Together to bring its Historic Downtown Back to Life

17 Mar

Although there is not a digital copy available, if you see the current issue of Vermont B/A (formerly Builder Architect), there is a very nice article on The Wilmington Fund VT with photos by Carolyn Bates & Barker Willard including the two below.

Irene at Work, photo by Barker Willard

Irene at Work, photo by Barker Willard

Wilmington One Year Later, photo by Carolyn Bates

Wilmington One Year Later, photo by Carolyn Bates

 

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

Local Fund Helped out with Matching Grant

16 Jan

by Jack Deming – Deerfield Valley News 12.27.2012

The Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services has awarded the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce a $10,000 Regional Economic Development grant to help the chamber finish projects, as well as begin new ones. The Wilmington Fund provided a match so the chamber could meet grant application requirements, bringing the total to $20,000.

H9TJ_P1030913

According to chamber executive director Adam Grinold, the grant provides a win-win scenario for both the chamber and the Wilmington Fund, fulfilling their common goal of promoting commerce and business growth in town. “We only had a three-week window to apply,” said Grinold. “So we considered going to the town, but didn’t think they would be able to respond quick enough. I came to the Wilmington Fund out of nowhere, and they were willing to listen, and they immediately recognized it would double what they’re trying to do and what we’re trying to do.”

The money will be spent on two projects, beginning with the completion of the parking lot behind the businesses on the south side of West Main Street. The Wilmington Fund, which was established in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, earmarked the parking lot as a project they wanted their grant match to support. Grinold says the parking lot is in need of lighting, and the exploration of paving options.

Carolyn Palmer, owner of Roseate Creations on North Main Street and co-chair of the Wilmington Parking and Greenspace Committee, says the completion of the parking lot is imperative to the success of downtown Wilmington. “I’m fortunate to have off-street parking at my business, but most in town don’t,” said Palmer. “I don’t know how many times we hear people say there’s no parking, and after Irene, two building sales fell through because there was no parking. If we want Wilmington to recover we have to provide parking.”

The parking and greenspace committee has worked with volunteers and road crew, constructing a walkway, with mostly donated materials, from the lot to West Main Street along the side of Pickwell’s Barn, and plans to install an information kiosk where the walkway meets the lot. Railroad ties have been installed in the back of the lot to separate it from the Valley Trail, and plans for a walkway across the Deerfield River are in the works as well.

According to Palmer, lighting is a necessity to finishing the project, but may require an additional $10,000 to illuminate the lot, walkway, and the Valley Trail.

The other portion of the grant will be used to help facilitate new businesses moving to the area, including a database of business logistics, including traffic, sales, and lodging statistics. “If someone came to me now and said ‘I’m interested in a property on Route 100, how many cars drive by a day?’ we don’t have that answer by month or by season,” said Grinold. “So basically we lump that into business climate demographics, and all this information will be available for someone looking at a vacant building, and they can assess if there is the traffic and the potential business for their model to work.”

Grinold says the information will need to be collected first, citing the loss of any data the chamber had in Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding. It will be a time-consuming project, but one that Grinold says will facilitate the growth of valley commerce.

This strategy of attracting new business will include the production of videos that would provide a visual promotion of the area to prospective residents and business owners, to go along with business demographics. Grinold says the plan is aimed at helping every town in the valley succeed and continue recovering.

“There was a point in time after the flood, and from that point forward, that we had a sense of urgency,” said Grinold. “There may have been a need for this prior to the flood, but there is certainly a sense of urgency now, and I don’t think anyone doubts it’s there. Wilmington village is the gateway to the valley, and the village’s vibrancy in Wilmington is just as important to Dover and other towns.”

Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce & The Wilmington Fund VT win grant

27 Dec

Brattleboro Reformer Article

By Chris Mays/ Reformer Staff
Posted:   12/24/2012 03:00:00 AM EST

Monday December 24, 2012

WILMINGTON — The Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce received a grant award on Wednesday that will help complete a parking lot project in Wilmington as well gather data for economic development in the valley.

“We learned of the grant and then immediately set about finding a partner with matching dollars that could act fairly quickly,” Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold said.

The Chamber of Commerce needed a partner that could put together the money in two or three weeks before the deadline. With a shortage of time, Grinold approached the Wilmington Fund board about applying for this grant through the State of Vermont Department of Buildings and General Services.

Although, the Wilmington Fund board doesn’t usually go about projects on such short notice, its members thought the goal was worthwhile.

“They were very receptive of what we’re trying to do. We came at them from out of nowhere. This isn’t really their model of how to do things, but we explained that this is an opportunity, ‘If we have matching dollars, we can double our money.’”

The Wilmington Fund board wanted to put its money toward the completing a parking area behind the shopping district.

The board was very supportive, Grinold said, and it wanted to see the application get awarded, although the chamber is valleywide.

The Chamber of Commerce was trying to get more funding to study economic development in the Deerfield Valley. Its main job is to gather data for the entire valley.

“We’re trying to be able to provide potential businesses with some collateral information on what the demographics are.”

Grinold gave the Reformer specific examples of things a potential business owner would want to know when evaluating the business model in the valley. The list included getting traffic counts, rooms and meals receipts, tax receipts, a bed count in the valley and the ratios of second-homes to hotels to condominiums.

“Anything that we as a chamber had, went down the river with Irene. We need to rebuild that information. It’s something you need to stay on top of. The freshness of that data is very important.”

The chamber and the Wilmington Fund board worked together on filling out the grant application.

The board wanted to put $10,000 towards completing the parking lot behind the Sotheby’s International Realty and Pickwells Barn buildings, which was redone in the summer. Lighting for the lot is mostly what is left in terms of work to be done, which will be funded by this grant.

Its location has Riverwalk Trail going right through it. In the future, the Valley Trail, which starts in Dover, is slated to eventually meet the Riverwalk Trail.

The remaining $10,000, which comes from the state, is going to go towards data collection and producing a comprehensive report from that information.

The data will be helpful for gaining insight into marketing plans for businesses in the Deerfield Valley. It will be for potential businesses looking for a spot in the area, too.

A video will also be produced, “to highlight attributes of owning businesses in the valley and attracting new businesses,” Grinold said.

The ceremony was held at the State House in Montpelier. Senator Hartwell attended the event, who has been crucial to helping Vermont rebuild its economy after Irene. Lt. Gov. Phil Scott was there as well.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.

Donors for Dot’s!

28 Oct

Note:  This post was to be published in July, but was lost in cyberspace!  Apologies for the delay.

Thank you to all who supported the Concert to ReBuild Dot’s.  We raised over $20,000 for the effort!  Thank you to all who purchased tickets making it a very full house on a very hot night.  Thank yous also to:

Sponsors:

• Stephens & Associates – Brattleboro, VT

• Orvis – Manchester, VT

• The Haystack Club – Wilmington, VT

• SMR Contracting – Jacksonville, VT

• Mount Snow – West Dover, VT

Non Concert Going Donors:

Linda & Stephen Purdy – Harrison, NY & Wilmington, VT
Betty Emery – Enfield, CT & Wilmington, VT:  This is not for a concert ticket, but just a contribution to “Help Save Dot’s”.  We always loved Dot’s and look forward to it being reopened.  Thanks.
MaryLou & Doug LaPlante – Wilmington, VT:  Looking forward to having yoiu all back.  God’s Blessings, Pastor Doug & MaryLou
Lisa Coneeny & Leslie Fraser – Wilmington, VT: Enclosed please find a donation for the dinner and concert to rebuilt Dot’s.  We would have loved to attend the event but we are booked with other activities in the Valley this weekend (Tough Mudder & the Haystack Member Guest).          We hope it is a successful evening.
Beth & Kenneth Motschwiller – Rockville Center, NY & Wilmington, VT:  Good Luck with the Fundraiser
• Martha & Gordon Watson – Naples, FL & Wilmington VT:  We are unable to come to the Fundraiser on July14th.  What a wonderful effort has gone into re-building our lovely town.  And what a wonderful effort that continues.  Please let us know if we can be of help.
Volunteers:
• LineSync Architecture Bar Tenders:  Leah Decker, Ryan Edwards, Sybil Idelkope, Will Su
• Salads & Serving:  CarolAnn Lobo Johnson, Peter Johnson, Deborah Emmet-Pike, Katy Little
• SMS Contracting Clean Up Crew

Help Us Find the Lemonade Stand Donor!

26 Oct

THANK YOU to our anonymous Lemonade Stand Donor!!!  In late summer a second homeowner dropped of an envelope of $131.00 CASH that her step-daughter raised with friends in a summertime Lemonade Stand.

The folks at the Wilmington Town Offices did not get a name or contact information for this generous young contributor for us to properly thank.

If you have any information, please let us know.

THANK YOU THANK YOU

August – October Donor Thank Yous

26 Oct

• Mary Procter & Bill Matuszeski – Washington, DC & Whitingham, VT     We’re very grateful to this initiative to rebuild Wilmington and are happy to contribute this donation.          The project to rebuild Dot’s will delight locals & second homers & tourists.  I hope you can put the rebuilding of Ann Coleman’s Gallery next on your list.  She has made a real impact as an artist in the Deerfield Valley and encourages other artists.  And she is a poster child for the losses from Irene.          Sincerely, Mary Procter & Bill Matuszeski

Sophie Ackert delivers donations from her Charity Fashion Show to Benefit the People of the Deerfield Valley in Southern Vermont

 

• Sophie Ackert – Sandy Hook, CT

• Sandra Wavrick – Brooklyn, NY

• Patricia Frey-Gattinoni & Flavio Gattinoni – Newtown, CT

• Susan & Thomas Gomez – Oxford, CT

• Alan Linett – Sandy, UT

• Jacquelyn & Gregory Horkachuck – Sandy Hook, CT

 

 

 

 

• The Preservation Trust of Vermont:  Enclosed please find a $500 grant from our Robert Sincerbeaux Fund to assist you with the consultation you had with Debby Bergh Consulting.  I am glad that this worked out well for you.          Thank you for all The Wilmington Fund VT continues do do.  Sincerely, Paul Bruhn, Executive Director

• UBS Matching Gift Program: This is a grant of a restricted donation that arrived at our office.  It was a UBS matching gift for Amy Leff-Temple’s January contribution.         Thank you for all The Wilmington Fund VT continues to do.  Sincerely, Paul Bruhn, Executive Director

A Special Thank You to Sophie Ackert

26 Oct

A Fashionable Approach To Fundraising

By Nancy K. Crevier

Sophie Ackert, dressed in an outfit donated by Pac Sun, thanks supporters of her fashion show to benefit the town of Wilmington, Vt., still recovering from the August 2011 Tropical Storm Irene. —Katie Kent photosEnlarge image

Sophie Ackert, dressed in an outfit donated by Pac Sun, thanks supporters of her fashion show to benefit the town of Wilmington, Vt., still recovering from the August 2011 Tropical Storm Irene. —Katie Kent photos

Twelve-year-old Newtown resident Sophie Ackert put together her love of fashion and the love of her vacation hometown and came up with a highly successful fundraiser, held Sunday, September 9, at the Fraser Woods Montessori School on South Main Street.The fashion show was Sophie’s community project as she prepares for her Bat Mitzvah in October at B’Nai Israel Synagogue in Southbury, and the more than $3,000 dollars raised at the event — three times her goal — as well as four large boxes of clothing, will all benefit the community of Wilmington, Vt., where her parents, Eve and Dave Ackert, own a vacation home.

A year after Tropical Storm Irene swept through New England, Wilmington continues to recover from the devastating floods that knocked businesses and homes there off of foundations and battered other buildings. The loss of 40 businesses has contributed to the loss of jobs for nearly 200 residents of that town, said Eve Ackert.

Maya Neuhoff walks the runway at Fraser Woods School in an outfit assembled from Pac Sun donations.Enlarge image

Maya Neuhoff walks the runway at Fraser Woods School in an outfit assembled from Pac Sun donations.

The late August 2011 storm left Wilmington with contaminated soil, water, and air for many weeks, Ms Ackert said, and prevented the family from returning there until late December. Fortunately, their vacation home is situated on a hill and sustained no damage. But the ruins of the town that they have loved for the seven years they have been visiting were heartbreaking, she said.”I love Vermont,” Sophie said. “My memories of being there are so awesome. It’s so open, and my house there is really different from ours here,” she said. To see the ravaged town and favorite shops in such disrepair, and to see residents still waiting for help in repairing homes and businesses was hard, said Sophie. “They weren’t wealthy people to begin with,” she said.

The family wanted to help and discovered the Wilmington Fund, which is assisting in the rebuilding of businesses there. “Vermont needs the tourism, and counts on these small businesses,” Ms Ackert said, “and the Wilmington Fund is helping them to get loans and grants.”

The desire to aid Wilmington coincided with Sophie’s charge to come up with a Mitzvah project. She had had in mind hosting a fashion show to support charity ever since she started thinking about the project.

Sophie Ackert, far right, gathers with friends, from left, Michaela Stowell, Julia DiMartino, and Samantha Stanton to select outfits to model at the fashion benefit show she hosted Sunday, September 9, as her Bat Mitzvah project.Enlarge image

Sophie Ackert, far right, gathers with friends, from left, Michaela Stowell, Julia DiMartino, and Samantha Stanton to select outfits to model at the fashion benefit show she hosted Sunday, September 9, as her Bat Mitzvah project.

“I want to go into the fashion business,” Sophie said. “I’ve been sketching dresses for years and love it, and then I started sewing some of my own things at the South Norwalk Fashion School summer camps the past two summers,” she said.”She has always been a clotheshorse,” agreed her mother, who said that initially she did not support Sophie’s plan, believing it to be too complicated to undertake. But Sophie persisted and got her parents on board. Even so, said Ms Ackert, she did not anticipate that the project would get as large as it did.

Between 65 and 75 people attended the September 9 show to view and purchase clothing donated by dozens of top brand retailers.

“My dad helped me a lot to get going,” Sophie said. “He got a list of e-mails for top executives in merchandising from a list I made for him of brands I like, and I sent out lots of e-mails to different people at each company,” she said. She was thrilled to receive responses from nearly 90 percent of the companies she approached, and thinks that at least one-third of the companies were able to assist her with donations of clothing.

“I asked for sizes for 11- to 14-year-olds, because I knew that I and my friends would be modeling,” Sophie said. Bass and Tommy Hilfiger also sent men’s clothing, after ascertaining with Sophie that those items would work for her show. “I figured my dad and maybe some of his friends could model those, so it worked out,” she said.

It was the beginning of August when Sophie began soliciting donations. By mid-August the merchandise started arriving at the Ackert home, and by the time September arrived, a 200-square-foot space in their attic was packed with clothing for the fashion show and sale, as well as silent auction and drawing items, jewelry, and gift cards. It was not just national merchandisers supporting Sophie’s efforts, though.

“Almost every area business was willing to help out, with money or food or with things for the auction,” Sophie said. The buffet brunch served Sunday was also thanks to food and beverage donations from area businesses, such as Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, and Whole Foods, Ms Ackert said.

Entry to the fashion show and brunch was $15. Any clothing that Sophie and her friends had not selected to model for the fashion show were set up on tables for purchase. “One table had things for $10, and another one had clothes for $20,” Sophie said, bargain prices for the top-end merchandise. The silent auction items, such as a basket of Willa Skincare products ($150 value), a Hurley backpack filled with Hurley brand clothing ($300), a Michael Kors bag ($300), and select outfits ($75–$250) created great interest.

A slide show of information and photographs of the Tropical Storm Irene devastation provided by Craig Brandon, author of Goodnight Irene, as well as photographs of the Wilmington damage by Dave Ackert, was shown as guests enjoyed the breakfast buffet and settled in for the show. Thanks to the efforts of Fraser Woods custodians, a fashion runway was assembled in the school’s common room, allowing the models to properly show off the trendy outfits they had created.

Clothing that did not sell will be donated to Twice Blessed, a nonprofit consignment shop in Wilmington, when the Ackerts visit in late September. The consignment shop will try to match people in need with clothing, Ms Ackert said, at no cost to the resident. All of the money raised at Twice Blessed goes back into the community in some form, she added, which meshes nicely with Sophie’s Mitzvah.

Gift cards for food items and some of the cash will go to the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry, as well.

The generosity of companies that included Lee Jeans, Nike, Nautica, Pac Sun, Michael Kors, EMS, Anthropologie, Macy’s, Jensen Automotive, LL Bean, and many more was amazing, Sophie said. “To have executives of these huge companies e-mail me back and thank me for what I was doing was crazy,” She said.

“I never thought I would make as much as I did; I never even thought I would make the $1,000,” Sophie said. “It was fun, but more stressful than I anticipated, and a lot more fulfilling than I expected,” she said. “I’m really glad I went through with this project. Raising this much money for it was great. I feel really good that we found a place to give the clothes and that they will go to people who need them, or the money will go back into the community. It was awesome.”

 

 

 

Two Thank Yous from Beyond Imagination

10 Oct
When waters run deep. . .hearts open wide!  May the memories of Irene renew your faith in humanity.  (Card and artwork by Melinda Coombs)
We could not have done this without your generosity of time and money.  Thank-you from the bottom of our hearts.  Bill & Melinda Coombs
“BEYOND IMAGINATION”
10.4.12 Deerfield Valley News
Words cannot express thanks
To the Editor:Words cannot express how filled with gratitude I am for all the support in the opening of my new boutique Beyond Imagintation. The success is due to so many people,

The Wilmington Fund VT, without whom this would not have come to fruition. Ed Erhard for the renovations to his building, Bob Hall and his crew for all their hard work, Bill for his long hours of everything, Suzanne and Sara for all they did in help making the opening happen so quickly, Gretchen Havreluk for the help with the business plan and support, Manyu for teaching me so well, Meg Streeter for planting the seed, and friends and family for your help and support.

I feel blessed to be in such a supportive community and to be part of the rebirth of Wilmington. I look forward to seeing you all at Beyond Imagination.

Many thanks,

Melinda Coombs

Wilmington

Read more: Deerfield Valley News – Words cannot express thanks

BEYOND IMAGINATION • 10.4.12 Deerfield Valley News

10 Oct
New boutique owner says experience, support reasons behind venture     by Rachel Olstein Kaplan
Melinda Coombs is ready to welcome customers to her new business venture, Beyond Imagination.

Melinda Coombs is ready to welcome customers to her new business venture, Beyond Imagination.

WILMINGTON- On Friday, September 21, the streets of Wilmington came alive for the Vermont Wine and Harvest Festival Village Stroll. Residents and visitors strolled among the shops, tasting soup, wine and cheese, and enjoying the warm September evening. One of the main attractions of the evening was the grand opening of Beyond Imagination – the new clothing and home boutique that held its unofficial opening on the eve of the Village Stroll.

The boutique, at 6 North Main Street, was again bustling Friday for its official grand opening event. The store sells women’s clothing and jewelry as well as paintings and interior design services. Owner Melinda Coombs, of Whitingham, is an artist, designer, and seamstress who brings with her years of retail experience from working at Manyu’s Boutique as well as expertise in running a successful interior design business from her home. Coombs was inspired to open Beyond Imagination after witnessing the outpouring of support after Tropical Storm Irene; she hopes that the boutique will play a key role in revitalizing the community.

Explaining her motivation, Coombs said, “I’m doing this to help the town. The more shops, the more alive we are, the more people will come. I’m doing this for everybody; I really believe it will help all the businesses in town. I believe that the town of Wilmington can be even better than it was before.”

Until last summer, Coombs had worked for 16 years at Manyu’s, the well-known boutique in Wilmington, which stood in the Parmelee & Howe building before closing last year in the aftermath of the hurricane. Beyond Imagination will help fill the absence that many felt when Manyu’s closed, but the new store has a particular flare inspired by Coombs’ personal touch. In addition to clothing and accessories, for sale and on display at the shop are many of Coombs’ handmade jewelry and paintings.

Wilmington resident Julie Lineberger had frequently shopped at Manyu’s. She’s very excited about the opening of the new store. “It’s a little bit different and that’s good. (Coombs) offers home design services and has skill with making slipcovers, shades, and drapery. She has an entire homegoods section and original art work that Manyu didn’t have. It’s Melinda’s own shop.”

Suzanne Strattner, of Jacksonville, works full time at the boutique. When she heard that Melinda was opening the store, she called immediately to inquire about a position. Strattner describes Beyond Imagination as beautiful, spacious, and welcoming to all. “We even provide cushy chairs for gentlemen so they can relax while the ladies are shopping.”

According to Strattner, “There is not another store like this in town. There aren’t other stores that have such a wide range of clothing and fashion. From cozy sweaters to comfy jeans to the little black dress that every girl needs. We have it all, and in a wide range of sizes with price points for everyone.”

Coombs first thought of opening the store when she was approached by members of the Wilmington Fund VT in the spring of 2012. While hesitant at first, she quickly realized that her experience had prepared her for the venture. “I realized it was something that I definitely could do. That the town would benefit and I would benefit in the end. I missed Manyu’s as much as everybody else.”

The journey since spring has been challenging and Coombs has had to persevere to make the store a reality. The Parmelee & Howe building, where Coombs originally planned to open, was sold in mid-June. Coombs was forced to return merchandise she had purchased and scrambled to find a new location for the boutique. She eventually found retail space on North Main Street right next door to Manyu’s’ original location. While the owner renovated the building which had suffered major damages in Tropical Storm Irene, Coombs worked on her business plan and putting together finances for the endeavor.

Finding the resources to support the new business was a challenge. In addition to investing personally in Beyond Imagination, Coombs received a low-interest loan from Vermont Economic Development Authority and a generous grant from the Wilmington Fund VT.

The Wilmington Fund was set up in the fall of 2011 to help support Wilmington’s recovery and promote commerce and business activity. The board of directors is confident in Coombs’ abilities. According to Dan Kilmurray, the fund president, “She had been a manager at Manyu’s. She is a real talent and I am highly confident that she is going to be very, very successful.”

Lineberger, the fund secretary, described Coombs as a fantastic choice, adding, “I knew that she was Manyu’s right-hand person for so long. She has a very good design sense and I knew she would carry on the quality and caliber of Manyu’s, which is what we need. To draw people from surrounding areas, you need to have that same caliber of shop. She is doing something a little different but is striving for that same level of excellence.”

Customers, employees, and investors alike are excited about the business and many see it as a symbol of hope and revival in Wilmington. Strattner says, “When I first moved here, Wilmington was a real destination place. A walking town with cute little shops. People would come here and spend their whole day here, have lunch. It’s really great to be part of the rebirth of Wilmington. It needs to come back after the devastation from the flood.”

Coombs, who was nervous before embarking on the endeavor, added, “After being open for only three days, I am feeling a lot more confident. Most people are walking out of the store with a bag.”

By all indications, Beyond Imagination is on track to be a success. As Carol Grant, a longtime customer of Coombs’ interior design business assures, “Melinda always succeeds ‘Beyond MY Imagination!’.​​​​​​​​​​”

Visit Beyond Imagination at 6 North Main Street in Wilmington or online at http://www.beyondimaginationvt.com.

Read more: Deerfield Valley News – New boutique owner says experience support reasons behind venture