New Stores Bring Hope To Town Hit By Flood And Recession
09/28/12 5:50PM By Nancy Eve Cohen  Download MP3
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.