By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Ben Franklin, one of downtown Middlebury’s largest retailers, is on the verge of being sold to a local family that plans to maintain it as a general merchandise store.
Bonnie Gridley, a broker/owner of RE/MAX Champlain Valley Properties, confirmed the potential transaction last week. She said she could not disclose the names of the buyers until the deal is finalized, which is likely to occur by the end of next month.
“They plan to keep the business pretty much status quo,” Gridley said, though the new owners may introduce some new items in addition to the household wares, fabric, toys, dry goods, candy and other odds and ends that have drawn area shoppers to Ben Franklin for the past 71 years.
“We hope people will continue to support the store,” Gridley said.
News of the store’s acquisition by a local family and word that it will remain retail space should come as good news to many Middlebury residents and town officials who feared the sizable Main Street spot could by carved up into condominiums or otherwise taken out of the downtown shopping mix.
The Duffany family acquired the Ben Franklin store in 1943 and has owned it ever since. Larry Duffany confirmed back in July that he was putting the 63 Main St. business — as well as the building in which it is located — on the market.
A Web-based listing of the property indicated an asking price of $649,000 for the two-story building and the 0.12 acres on which it sits. The listing described the building as having 7,832 square feet of office/retail space, along with two “very spacious” apartments on the second floor.
It is currently the largest retail space on Main Street and employs around a dozen full- and part-time workers.
Duffany, 65, explained he was selling the property because he wants to slow down his work schedule and have time to do other things, including traveling, skiing and boating.
The Duffanys continue to operate a Ben Franklin store in Fair Haven. They closed a store in Manchester in 1998.
Larry Duffany said last week he is not at liberty right now to say much about the potential sale of the store. But asked if he was heartened by the prospect of seeing the business continue under new ownership, he said, “Certainly, I would like to see that.”
Gridley said the prospective purchasers are from the Middlebury area, with a family background in retail. She added the store could be closed for a short time following the sale for a transition in inventory.
Sarah Stahl, president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, said she’s pleased Ben Franklin is poised to maintain its local retail tradition.
“It’s something that we need in this town,” Stahl said. “Ben Franklin has things that aren’t offered anywhere else in town. It’s one of those stores we need to keep in our community.”