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Cornwall man wants to resurrect local store

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Posted on February 19, 2018 |
By John Flowers



CornwallStore1604.jpg
CAS CHLODNICKI STANDS on the site of the former Cornwall Store on Route 30. Chlodnicki purchased the property last summer and hopes to build a new store that would include food service and a rental apartment and/or office. Independent photo/Trent Campbell

CORNWALL — It’s been around two decades since the cash register last sang at the old Cornwall Store on Route 30.

If Cas Chlodnicki has his way, the old store will soon be back, better than ever and with a new business plan he believes will improve its viability for years to come. Last summer he purchased the property in the village next to the town office with plans to tear down the current, crumbling 1950 structure and replace it with a new building offering groceries, a dining counter, and rental space for an apartment and perhaps a small business office.

“In conversations with Cornwall residents, there appears to be significant support for a village store,” Chlodnicki said. “I have received tremendous encouragement from the Cornwall selectboard and the planning commission and I am reaching out to the state of Vermont for guidance.”

Chlodnicki is a part-time Cornwall resident who has frequently passed by the old store and wondered about its potential as a community hub for basic groceries, diner fare and occasional entertainment. He pointed to a town traffic study indicating around 4,500 vehicles pass along Route 30 each day. Chlodnicki was convinced that if done right, a new venture could more than hold its own at what is a prime village location, close to the local school, town offices and the intersection of Route 74.

A recent Sugarbush Real Estate posting showed the 2,240-square-foot store and the 1.4 acres on which it sits were for sale for $45,000. Chlodnicki knew the old store building was too far gone to save. He also knew the existing, on-site septic system was a very limiting factor in how the business could be resurrected or reimagined. But he bought the property anyway, seeing its potential as a community asset and not a huge moneymaker.

Chlodnicki is a financial software consultant and doesn’t plan on quitting his day job.

“I’m not changing careers,” he said. “And I have a footprint in Cornwall.”

He wants to make the new store building attractive and versatile.

“My plan is to emulate a traditional 19th-century Vermont building, with traditional architecture, where there was retail on the first floor, and upstairs you have a business office or apartments,” Chlodnicki said.

He believes the old “country store” model, where people visit sporadically to make basic grocery purchases, is no longer a viable enterprise and would be particularly ill-advised in a community that borders a shopping hub like Middlebury.

“It’s a tough proposition,” he said. “The margins are very low.”

So he drove around Vermont and did some research on small community stores. He learned the ones that were failing were those that depended exclusively on small retail transactions. The ones that were prospering had more to offer, according to Chlodnicki. The profitable stores derived extra income from tenants and served food with limited seating.

“The successful stores were creating an ambiance for the community,” he said.

Septic system limitations at the site will have to be solved before the Cornwall store can be resurrected, according to Chlodnicki.

Like a lot of Addison County communities, Cornwall is built on clay soils that are inhospitable to conventional septic systems. Septic woes proved to be the store’s undoing more than 20 years ago, according to Chlodnicki. Then-owner Bob Burton bought an acre of adjacent property to fortify the septic system to allow for a deli with four employees. But the store has remained closed. Burton sold it to Colin Kriwox, who has now sold it to Chlodnicki.

Even with the extra acre, the current septic system won’t allow the more diverse business plan that Chlodnicki said is essential to make the store self sustaining. So he’s working with Lincoln Applied Geology on some alternative systems that could receive an OK from state environmental officials.

Chlodnicki has also reached out to some adjacent landowners to see if they’d be willing to sell some land — or provide an easement — to accommodate a more effective septic system for a new Cornwall store.

“It’s still under discussion,” he said.

For the new venture to succeed, Chlodnicki knows he’ll need some buy-in from its future customers. With that in mind, he’s floating the idea of a cooperative. Much like the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op, folks would be invited to invest in store shares. This would provide financial stability for the business as a non-profit venture and give the greater community a sense of ownership. It would also give the shareholders greater incentive to shop there, Chlodnicki reasoned.

“Co-op or initial, patron-based financing in exchange for future discounts would give the community an opportunity to become involved, foster ownership, and anchor a client base,” he said.

Chlodnicki doesn’t want the store to become a liability, either to himself or the community.

“I want it to stand on its own two feet,” he said. “The goal is to make this thing successful,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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