Editorial: Better Middlebury Partnership takes a leap forward
When faced with solving a problem, the first step is admitting there is one.
The Better Middlebury Partnership presented the Middlebury selectboard Tuesday night with a request to boost town funding for the organization by an overly modest $5,000 — from $25,000 to $30,000 — to help a retail community battered beyond recognition by three years of road construction, the crippling effects of the pandemic and a shift in consumer shopping habits to online retailers. The hard reality is that Middlebury’s downtown — once thriving — has more than a dozen prime storefront vacancies, eight of those on Main Street and Merchants Row.
The situation is dire, the need is critical.
You need not have lived here long to remember when Skihaus (later the Alpine Shop), dominated the corner of Main and Merchants Row with two floors of ladies, men’s and kid’s apparel, winter ski gear, summer bikes and swim suits, men’s khakis, shirts and jeans, luxurious women’s sweaters and tops, shoes and basics, and friendly faces that had you dropping by just to say hello. Four or five other apparel and sporting good stores filled the downtown, as did stores with gifts and a Ben Franklin store filled with the necessary goods for school, home and office supplies. A lively diner, the bank, Town Hall Theater, vital restaurants, the Marquis and others rounded out what was a lively retail scene that was a joy to patronize.
Those days seem of another era and one wonders if such vitality can be recaptured.
The BMP hopes that it can be, and is seeking additional financing to help them make it happen. Middlebury residents and selectboard should wholeheartedly agree, as should neighboring towns that are being asked to contribute a modest $1,000 each. The organization’s goal is to raise an annual $100,000 budget (see story on Page 1A) to add staff capacity, create additional programming and events, as well as a small budget for marketing.
It will take much more, but the BMP is making a solid start to reverse what is a significant decline in the downtown’s retail vitality and, by extension, its community appeal.
As importantly, area residents can play an important role by rallying around local retail businesses this holiday season that are withstanding what, for many, are some of the toughest years they have faced. You can wear a mask, social distance, and still enjoy shopping locally — all with the knowledge you’re also helping recreate a vibrant community center.