Editorial: Driving downtown Middlebury's success
If you haven’t taken a walk through Middlebury’s downtown recently, go now, while the warm days of early autumn make casual strolls enjoyable. Go to take in the beauty of the revamped town Green, the Triangle and Lazarus Parks, and imagine the potential for an extension of Riverside Park from the Marble Works footbridge to the Cross Street Bridge.
Go now, too, to see a downtown being born again in new ways.
After the past couple of years of increasingly vacant storefronts in Middlebury’s downtown (over a dozen at the peak), new energy is flowing into those voids. A new realty company has spruced up a corner sport of the Battell Block; a new coffee house and café is soon to open next door where Carol’s Hungry Mind once was. A long-standing business that has served juices on the south end of town will liven up another spot on that Merchant’s Row block, appealing to a different, perhaps younger, clientele — all of which complements the other downtown gathering spots.
Those stores, with more coming, reinforce the long-standing businesses who have survived the four years of construction and are more than happy to welcome new businesses to what had once been Middlebury’s thriving retail hub.
Expectations from the community, nonetheless, must shift. In this era of online shopping, the bustling retail scene of the 1990s is unlikely to return. Rather, the pivot is to places friends and acquaintances can gather socially or for business, as well as to conduct business with professionals who benefit from higher profile locations. As community residents, it’s important to embrace the new energy for what it is, not bemoan what once was.
Other storefronts are yet to be filled, and more businesses have expressed interest, but key to everyone’s success is a supportive community that is eager to make the downtown a frequent and habitual destination. If area residents lead with their own energy, that will drive the downtown’s success.