Entrepreneurs could get $10,000 to open a business in Middlebury, Vermont, through a new program that aims to fill vacant storefronts downtown.
“I look at it as opportunity,” said Lisa Phelps, the owner of a Middlebury salon called Parlour. “Small businesses are part of the community — it’s what keeps us thriving.”
Phelps has been imagining what new businesses would be a good fit for the college town, such as a juice bar, clothing boutique or a family restaurant.
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There are nearly a dozen “for lease” signs in windows on or near Main Street — more at the moment than anyone can remember.
The vacancies follow blows from a major multi-year construction project, which has largely wrapped up, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Walking downtown, Middlebury doesn’t have the vibrancy it once had, and so what we’re looking to do is try to bring that back,” said Amey Ryan, the board president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, a civic group dedicated to boosting community vitality.
Ryan and her fellow board members are now promoting the launch of a program called Kick Start Middlebury.
Using town funds set aside for economic development, a coalition including property owners, local government officials and business leaders is offering a few incentive packages, hoping to lure entrepreneurs to open up shop here.
It’ll be a rigorous application process, with a panel picking winning proposals to get business coaching, startup services and a $10,000 grant.
“It’ll go a long way,” Ryan said of the grant money. “It probably won’t cover every expense, but that’s what we’re hoping for — is to give people the incentive to apply for the program.”
Full details on the application process are available here: https://www.kickstartmiddlebury.com.
Bethanie Farrell of The Giving Fridge will apply.
“These buildings are not just empty storefronts, they are historic gems,” she observed.
As NECN reported late last year, Farrell has been selling plants and other items out of a temporary space, using proceeds to buy chef-prepared meals for people affected by the pandemic.
Farrell said that the $10,000 could really help her set down permanent roots and grow her concept in Middlebury.
“The people really make it wonderful,” she said of her community.
At Parlour, Phelps is confident the high vacancy rate is just a hiccup.
The salon owner said she believes the start of the application process already is kick-starting new economic energy, which is so needed on Main streets everywhere, like Middlebury’s.
“I wouldn’t want to own a business anywhere else,” Phelps said. “It’s the best place to live.”