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Staples considers new store in Middlebury

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October 1, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury may soon become home to not only the world’s largest coffeehouse company — Starbucks — but also to the globe’s biggest office retail chain, Staples Inc.

Representatives of Myron Hunt Inc. confirmed on Thursday they will soon seek town permission to erect a 15,000-square-foot building in The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South that would host a Staples store.

“Staples is very interested in coming into the (Middlebury) market,” said Andy Hunt, vice president of Myron Hunt Inc., the Buffalo, N.Y.-based company that owns The Centre. He said Middlebury could expect to see a formal application “soon.”

Established in 1986, Staples currently operates 1,962 stores worldwide, with locations in North America, Canada and Europe. The chain’s Vermont stores are in Williston, Rutland and St. Albans.

Staples sells office supplies, furniture and electronics. The company’s workforce numbers 74,000. A “typical U.S.” Staples store carries 7,000 to 8,000 products, according to the company Web site, though Hunt acknowledged the planned 15,000-square-foot outlet in Middlebury would be small by Staples standards.

The Addison Independent made telephone and e-mail inquiries to Staples Program Manager Michael Black in an effort to glean details about the planned Middlebury store. Those inquiries did not bear fruit as the Independent went to press.

Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington confirmed his office has been contacted in recent weeks by Staples representatives inquiring about sign requirements for a new store. He said the company is eyeballing a building spot next to the Hannaford Supermarket location in The Centre.

“We have not received plans yet,” Dunnington said, though parties involved with the project have asked about potential dates on which they could unveil plans to the Middlebury Development Review Board.

Those plans are bound to draw mixed reactions from consumers and the downtown business community.

Devotees of Staples will undoubtedly be pleased with the prospect of a local outlet, thereby saving them trips to Rutland or Chittenden counties. But a Staples would be unsettling to local businesses that would suddenly face competition with deep pockets. Longtime downtown fixtures such as Main Street Stationery and Ben Franklin, along with area drug stores that carry office supplies, could see appreciable impacts on their respective bottom lines.

The application may also draw some fire from some local citizens who have already raised a red flag over national and international chains — such as Starbucks and the Aldi discount food store — looking to lay down footprints in Middlebury, which has had a tradition of small, homegrown businesses.

Middlebury’s town plan allows for the Development Review Board to consider a newly proposed retail venture’s potential impact on the downtown. But Dunnington noted that the town’s zoning rules do not address competition among individual businesses.

Middlebury Business Association Coordinator Gail Freidin said the arrival of a Staples store would increase the growing commercial/retail imbalance between the downtown and Route 7.

Freidin estimates there is a combined total of 210,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space in the core village of Middlebury.

She said the addition of a 15,000-square-foot Staples to The Centre would bring that complex and its neighboring businesses up to around 150,000 square feet. And she noted there are tens of thousands of additional commercial/retail/restaurant space in more distant sections of Route 7 within the town of Middlebury.

The more shopping destinations pop up outside of the downtown, the more the downtown will become less of a commercial focal point, Freidin reasoned.

“You want to grow or maintain your market share,” Freidin said. “Every time new commercial space is built outside of the downtown … you lose the critical mass.

“This has been happening for a while,” she added.

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