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February 12, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — The developer of The Center shopping plaza in Middlebury wants to build a Starbucks Coffee shop that would be erected at the site of the former Route 7 Car Wash, next to McDonald’s Restaurant.

Plans on file with the Middlebury Planning Commission show a 1,749-square-foot Starbucks shop that would feature 25 parking spaces and drive-through service.

Representatives of Myron M. Hunt Inc. and Mill Bridge Construction — the prospective contractor for the project — are scheduled to discuss their plans with the Middlebury Planning Commission on Monday, Feb. 12.

“We are very excited about doing this,” said Chris Hunt, a partner in Myron Hunt Inc. “We see it as a big improvement over the car wash property as it exists today, and as a great amenity for the town.”

The Route 7 Car Wash closed down a few years ago. Myron Hunt Inc. purchased the property “within the past year,” according to Hunt. The car wash would be eliminated with the Starbucks erected in its place. Myron Hunt Inc. would own the new building and lease it to Starbucks.

The new coffee shop would feature an as-yet unspecified number of indoor and outdoor seats for patrons. Hunt said he has worked with architects and Starbucks to make sure the building does not feature cookie-cutter, franchise-style architecture so common among retail and restaurant chains.

“The initial prototype design forwarded to us (by Starbucks) was nice, but our feeling was it would be suitable to an environment like Williston, and not appropriate for Middlebury” Hunt said.

As a result, the Hunts, Mill Bridge and Buffalo, N.Y.-based architects Lauer-Manguso Associates worked on a more conventional design that Starbucks has embraced for the proposed Middlebury location, according to Hunt.

“The building design blends classic lines with contemporary finishes and a subtle color scheme,” reads a project narrative prepared by Mill Bridge Construction partner John Tenny. “The gable end of the building faces Route 7 on the narrow lot, with the longer facades presented to the east and west. The interior will feature vaulted ceilings in the public areas to improve the volume of a small building footprint.”

Hunt said he would like to secure permitting in time to begin construction on the project this summer.

Starbucks is one of the largest and most successful business franchises in the world. The coffee vending giant has a presence in all 50 states, with 5,668 company-operated shops and 3,168 licensed locations. Starbucks currently operates four shops in Vermont — three in Burlington and one in Williston.

The company also operates 1,434 coffeehouses in 36 other countries throughout the world.

Starbucks sells more than 30 blends and single-origin coffees, as well as pastries, sandwiches and salads. Some Starbucks outlets also sell coffee making machines and accessories, along with mugs, compact discs and assorted gift items. Hunt said he does not yet know the full extent of products that would be offered at the Middlebury Starbucks.

The opening of a local Starbucks could be bad news for some current Middlebury businesses, such as Carol’s Hungry Mind Café. The Merchants Row coffee shop has spent the past few years building up a faithful clientele in downtown Middlebury. John Melanson, owner of Carol’s, said he is optimistic his devoted customers will continue to choose his business over the more corporate image of Starbucks.

“We are a town of local businesses and they are a big chain, and people may tend to come to us for that reason,” Melanson said.

Melanson added his main concern is how the presence of another major chain entity could affect the “quaint,” village atmosphere of Middlebury.

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