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Middlebury and the Chocolate Bar

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December 27, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College officials hope to reopen the former Eat Good Food space on Main Street by this coming February, using it for a “chocolate bar,” student night spot, small-scale retail venture and as a spot for town-gown activities.

Tim Spears, dean of students for the college, confirmed the news last week. It was back in August that the institution signed a short-term lease on the 2,700-square-foot space, seeing it as a good spot in which to open a venture that could boost student activity in downtown Middlebury while not competing with current businesses. The college has spent the past four months soliciting campus and public feedback on how to use the former restaurant space, along with sorting how the enterprise will be configured and managed.

Spears said that most of the outstanding issues have now been resolved.

“We’re trying to find a happy medium,” Spears said of the varied uses planned for the prominent Main Street spot. “I think this is definitely an experiment worth taking.”

College officials are currently getting the space ready for:

•  A “chocolate bar.” As its name implies, the bar would serve a wide variety of chocolates — both international and local. Spears anticipates the bar will also sell tea, coffee, biscuits and hot chocolate. He believes the chocolate bar could fill at least some of the void left by Calvi’s, an old-fashioned ice cream shop that was a Main Street fixture for decades.

Spears conceded there will be some overlap in products offered by the chocolate shop and Carol’s Hungry Mind Café, also located in the Battell Block.

“We hope that it is not going to step on their toes too much,” Spears said, adding the college will reach out to involve Carol’s in programming at the space.

Efforts to reach Carol’s owner John Melanson were unsuccessful as the Addison Independent went to press.

Bruce Hiland, owner of the Battell Block in which the storefront is located, was pleased with the college’s plans on two fronts.

“We are delighted to be working with Dean Spears and his colleagues at the college, and look forward to collaborating with them on ways to make best use of the former restaurant space,” Hiland said.

As president of the Middlebury Business Association (MBA), Hiland said he believes the college’s plan shows great potential as a magnet for student-related commerce.

“The MBA welcomes the college’s initiative and imagination in finding ways to better connect the college and town communities,” Hiland said. “MBA members look forward to finding creative ways to cooperate with and support these efforts and welcome the prospect of increased student, faculty and staff contact with the town’s business community.”

•  A student lounge or night spot that would open during the evening on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Spears said beer and wine would be available to customers of a legal drinking age, the bulk of whom he anticipates will be college students. He stressed the lounge would also be open to non-college patrons, including those under 21. Officials are exploring the possibility of offering live entertainment in the space during early evenings.

“We want it to feel completely different from what you find on campus,” Spears said of the desired ambiance of the new nightspot, which he envisions as being more intimate than current campus entertainment venues.

He said the college may install “digital media” into the space, including media feeds from cities throughout the world. That international flavor could become quite popular among students attending the college’s summer language schools, Spears noted.

•  A spot in which the college and Middlebury communities could work on common projects. For example, college officials have cited the possibility of students working with kids attending the town’s new youth center. College President Ron Liebowitz has stated, as one of his priorities, opening up new avenues for Middlebury College’s students to share their skills, energy and spirit of public services with the community at large.

•  A small retail establishment. Spears said featured items may periodically include faculty members’ new books or a student singing ensemble’s CD. Spears said the intent is to create an environment where people can learn about the college and its mission without necessarily seeing “a flood of paper documents abut the college.”

Work crews are currently taking out a platform area in the venue to allow for maximum use of the space, Spears said. The institution has also determined how the new business will be managed.

“We have resolved that the college will run the space,” Spears said. “We had been exploring third-party management, but that was way too complicated.”

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