COVID-19 Claims Nearly 100-Year-Old Vt. Dairy

Thomas Dairy, which supplied milk to shoppers in Vermont's Rutland County and beyond, said sales losses during the pandemic have been crippling

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This week marked the end of the line for a family business known to generations of grocery shoppers in a large part of Vermont.

The 99-year-old Thomas Dairy of Rutland said the crippling sales losses during COVID-19 were too costly for it to keep going.

"Thomas Dairy—best milk around Vermont, for real," said milk drinker Cole Webster of Florence, who told NECN he grew up drinking milk from Thomas Dairy. "My father-in-law loves it, my family love it, I love it."

The fourth-generation family business, founded in 1921, has sold milk that has been a staple in fridges around Vermont's Rutland County and beyond.

In a statement supplied to NECN, the Thomases said during the COVID-19 pandemic, the loss of sales to colleges, restaurants, and tourist spots forced this tough decision to shut down for good.

The family wrote that members were also approaching retirement age, noted they were facing costly equipment upgrades to their facilities and added that they have spent years seeing consumers reaching instead for milk alternatives made from almonds or soy.

"Timing and other factors were not on our side," the statement from the Thomas family read.

Brian Kamuda owns Kamuda's Country Market in Pittsford where he's now turning to another Vermont milk bottler, Monument Farms, to make sure his shelves stay stocked.

"It's tough to see good, strong family businesses just be hit," Kamuda said of Thomas Dairy. "It's just heartwrenching to kind of see things that are out of their control be impacting them negatively."

"We should celebrate the 99 years that they've contributed to the Vermont community," Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts said of Thomas Dairy.

Tebbetts called the loss of the family operation a reminder of the pressing and lasting impacts of the coronavirus.

"We are going to see legacy businesses struggle through this," Tebbetts observed.

Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vermont, said in an interview Wednesday that he wants more support for farmers in federal pandemic relief packages, as well as promotions of local agriculture—hoping to avoid more closures.

"In this age of social media, I think all of us are looking for more and more ways to connect," Welch said. "And having local farms, having local restaurants, which are under enormous pressure, having local performance spaces like [Rutland's] Paramount Theater—those things are incredibly important."

The Thomas family said in their written statement that they are now busy helping employees find new jobs and farmers identify new buyers for their raw milk.

The small business also thanked its loyal customers, writing, "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve this community."

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