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Summer business peaks in area

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By JOHN FLOWERS

ADDISON COUNTY — A soggy spring put an early damper on summer sales for many local businesses, but a strong July and August helped them rebound to close out the season on a strong note.

“It was kind of a slow beginning, but August showed some really good signs,” said Jeff Costello, general manager of the Middlebury Inn. “We saw walk-in business that we hadn’t seen in a few years.”

Costello’s appraisal was echoed not only by several county business owners, but by Vermont Tourism & Marketing Commissioner Bruce Hyde. Hyde is also an inn owner and former Republican House member whose district included Granville.

“Business was soft due to a wet, cool May and June,” Hyde said during a telephone interview on Tuesday. “But things seemed to come alive after July 4, through August.”

Linda Cook, owner of Linda’s Apparel & Gifts of Vergennes, reported a stellar season.

“I had an excellent summer with lots of tourists,” Cook said. “Every month, I was up.”

Particularly in demand were “Very Vineyard” ladies’ tops, bottoms and dresses, according to Cook.

Children’s wear also sold briskly, she said, with people spending freely.

“I really didn’t have too many people paying attention to price,” said Cook, who has operated the store for a year and a half.

David Disque, owner of Middlebury’s Forth ’N Goal Sports, also saw a lot of tourists during the summer.

“I noticed some local people avoiding the downtown due to traffic issues,” Disque said, alluding to ongoing road construction in downtown Middlebury. “Tourists were particularly present.”

Some of those tourists apparently made road trips to Addison County from Lake Placid and Lake George, according to Disque.

He said summer was “probably pretty even” for Forth ’N Goal sales, compared to last year.

Paula Simons, general manager of the Alpine Shop in downtown Middlebury, said the summer “started off slowly. We had rain in May and June, but we ended up having a very solid July and August.”

Casual clothing lines turned out to be among the Alpine Shop’s hottest products this summer, according to Simons. Patagonia, Columbia and Horny Toad clothing brands generated particular interest, as did men’s swimsuits, footwear and Maui-brand sunglasses.

As for those buying the wares, Simons said “we had a pretty even mix. But I would say this summer, we saw more locals. Locals were carrying our business early on.”

The business picture wasn’t quite as upbeat in Bristol.

“I feel it was a little slower than in years past,” said Carol Wells, an owner of Deerleap Books and chairperson of the Five-Town Business Council. “I think things are down from what I’ve heard, but picking up. We are all looking forward to a good foliage season.”

Indeed, the first two weekends of October tend to be the biggest of the year for many businesses in the Green Mountain State, according to Hyde. Foliage is often at its peak during that timeframe, spawning a cornucopia of colors that draws leaf-peepers from all corners of the country.

The first two weekends of October 2005 were marked by lackluster colors and torrential downpours, Hyde recalled. But there is a rosier forecast for this October, according to Hyde, who said a good balance of sun and moisture has apparently created good foliage conditions.

“All the reports we’ve been getting indicate it’s going to be an incredible foliage year,” he said.

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