Wilmington Businesses Want To Forget Irene, But Can't

07/09/12 7:50AM By Nancy Eve Cohen
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VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
More than a dozen businesses in the historic village of Wilmington, Vermont have rebuilt and reopened.

In Wilmington a lot of business owners are ready to put the flood behind them. But some customers won't let them.

Wilmington's economy depends on visitors: tourists, second homeowners and especially skiers. But there weren't many of them this winter. Adam Grinold of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce said it's been an extraordinarily difficult year.

"First the flood followed by the snow-less winter has really put a lot of people up against the wall," said Grinold  "We're at that make it or break it point."

But Grinold is seeing signs Wilmington could make it. Forty percent of businesses are still closed. But a new walkway leading to a new parking lot was just constructed. Grinold points out a bookstore, two bars, a Baptist church, a liquor store, two galleries, a real estate office and the Chamber of Commerce that have all undergone major repairs and renovations since the flood.

"If you take a sober look at what we've done," he said looking down West Main Street, "then you start to have that hope again."

VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
The Crafts Inn in Wilmington spent nearly $750,000 repairing the bottom floor which was severely flooded by Irene.
Sitting on the wide porch of the historic Crafts Inn, Manager Alice Richter says the Inn poured nearly $750,000 into repairing damage caused by Irene. She says the town is getting better.

"Several businesses are back. Several folded, but a lot of new people  are coming into the valley," Richter said. "I think it's going to take three to four years to get back on our feet, but we're going to do it."

One new business is a jewelry store, called Beadz Needs.

"I'm going to restring it," the new owner, Veronica DeMio told a customer who had brought in a broken necklace. "It will be good as new."

DeMio opened this store at Christmas. She said it was a tough winter and spring, but customers like this one, from California, are making her optimistic.

"Now that the weather is getting nice a lot more people are in town," said DeMio. "It's really nice to see the cars going by. I'm getting a lot more foot traffic. It's starting to pick up a little bit better."

Outside, on foot, Maggie Martin and her two young daughters are poking through a bargain bin in front of Bartleby's Books on West Main Street.

"It's to me  very nostalgic New England," said Martin about Wilmington's historic village. "It's small, but it does seem like it's alive! It's really cute. We've been having a great time!"

Martin, whose parents just bought a new home in West Dover, is visiting from Florida. She hasn't noticed any impact from the flood,

Unless it's pointed out to her.

VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
Businesses in Wilmington declare to visitors that they're back in business.

"I don't see any remnants of damage," she said, "Anything that has happened looks as though they are making a lot of progress in fixing everything up." 

Although some visitors don't see any damage, others don't even know there was any or how bad it was.

"Some people come in and say ‘did you get some water in this store?', said  Lisa Sullivan, owner of  Bartleby's Books, where the water rose at least four feet and ate most of the inventory.

"So we're constantly telling our story about rebuilding." she said.

That re-telling is wearing on some. Adam Grinold from the Chamber of Commerce also owns two apartment buildings and a restaurant that were badly damaged in the flood.

"We'd been doing all the work in the spring and I was just so ready to be done with this," Grinold said. "We had written the last check. I was angry again. And we just wanted to close that book and be done and not have any  signs or anything about Irene."

But his customers at his restaurant have questions.

"Car after car just kept coming in and saying,  ‘Oh, we're so glad to  see you here! Tell us what happened!'  And these people are our second homeowners," said Grinold. "What we realized is they needed to process this, just as we have for the last eight months.  So while we were ready to close that book we've had to keep it open."

Wilmington is planning events to mark the anniversary of the flood that reflect these dueling perspectives. Such as a community pot luck where people can share their stories. And a candlelight service where residents can place flowers in the Deerfield River and be invited to make peace with it.

VPR/Nancy Eve Cohen
Flags fly outside one of the Wilmington businesses that has reopened.

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