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Saturday, Dec 2, 2023

Old Stone Mill Sale Forces Student Users to Find New Home

Old Stone Mill, the college’s hub for student entrepreneurs, innovators and student makers, was sold for $500,000 to Community Barn Ventures, a local consulting firm for growing businesses. 

The closing date on the sale of the historic building in downtown Middlebury is Jan. 7, which leaves students a month to move out of the space. At that time, the Old Stone Mill programs will relocate to 82 Weybridge Street.

According to college treasurer David Provost, the sale does not represent a change in the college’s commitment to the students involved in Old Stone Mill projects, but rather a financial necessity. The building needed between $2 and $2.5 million worth of changes to bring it up to the college’s safety and accessibility standards. 

Meanwhile, the college has $100 million worth of projects that it has already prioritized, including the renovation of Warner, Johnson and Munroe, building a new academic building, a new residence hall to replace Battell and a new museum.

Provost said that the college is committed to finding both an interim space for the spring of 2019 and a space that will accommodate all of the Old Stone Mill’s projects in the long term. 

On Dec. 1, the Innovation Hub announced that the Old Stone Mill programs will be moving to 82 Weybridge Street in the short term.

82 Weybridge Street is up the hill from the current space, 3 Mill Street. It has three apartments, which will continue to accommodate the needs of the Old Stone Mill tenants in conjunction with the Annex space on campus. The Annex space is above the ceramics house on Adirondack Street and already serves as an extra space for Old Stone Mill tenants.

The college purchased the Old Stone Mill in January 2008. In the last 10 years, it has served as a creativity incubator for students seeking a space away from their dorm rooms to build and innovate. Each year, the Old Stone Mill has functioned as that much-needed space for hundreds of student tenants.

“Old Stone Mill is unique in that it is not exclusively a business incubator and it is not a space dedicated for specific academic work,” said Heather Neuwirth, associate director of the center for social entrepreneurship. 

“We blend a focus on innovation in the liberal arts with an emphasis on opening up space for creativity,” she said.

The projects of student tenants vary greatly from using the space to write poetry to cooking dinner for the Dinner with Strangers program, to managing well-established businesses. Some of these student-run businesses include Share to Wear, Overeasy, BeachIt, SheFly and PatchyTs.

Share To Wear, a dress rental exchange system for femme-identifying students, was founded in 2016, and leader Greta Hulleberg ’19 attributes much of their positive development to the Old Stone Mill space. Currently, the company stores over 700 dresses in the space, making it laborious to move while keeping them clean and organized.

Hulleberg hopes that the new space will still offer opportunities for collaboration. The founders of Share To Wear regularly collaborated and bounced their ideas off of the leaders of Overeasy and other tenants when working together in the shared work space.

Similarly, the founders of PatchyTs, a t-shirt company that irons custom patches designed by collaborative artists onto their shirts, hope that this sharing will continue in the new space. 

Ryan Feldman ’21 said they were disappointed to hear of the Old Stone Mill’s closing because they had fully moved their operation into the work space and had enjoyed making friends with and learning from the leaders of Overeasy and Share to Wear. They are looking forward to moving into the new building.

The space is also home to M Gallery, a gallery designed to give students who create art an alternative space to show their work that is distinct from studio art classes. 

According to M Gallery Board Member Leila Markosian ’21, their biggest concern was finding another common area that would fit their needs. They are unsure that they will receive the same reparations since they operate slightly more independently from the rest of the Old Stone Mill tenants. They are excited by the news of the move to 82 Weybridge Street and considerations of Meeker basement because of its accessibility.

In spite of the wide diversity of projects, student tenants and board members of the Old Stone Mill have continually remarked on this rich spirit of collaboration within the space. They all expressed their hope that this atmosphere of sharing and the excitement for innovation that currently exists in the building will be replicated at 82 Weybridge Street.

“It’s the end of the building, not the program,” said Old Stone Mill board member Sarah Haedrich ’19.5, who has assured tenants of the continued success of the program. 

“We are trying to look at it as an opportunity to make the space better,” Haedrich said.

Hulleberg similarly expressed her gratitude for the college’s support of creativity and innovation and how lucky she feels that they have and will continue to have a space for their dresses, which they once had to store in a suite.

Opportunities still exist for students to engage with the Old Stone Mill space under its new owners.

“We believe we have found a buyer in Community Barn Ventures who will utilize the building to create a hub for innovation and creativity that will align well with Middlebury’s mission,” Provost said. 

“It will create a community space that the students, faculty and staff of the college will benefit from greatly once complete,” he said.

The future owners hope to create a community space that will engage as many members of the community as possible on a daily basis. They plan to build a restaurant on the first floor to replace Storm Café, which closed on Nov. 11, a “public market” on the second floor with various vendors selling different products, a co-working space and private working spaces and lodging spaces on the top floors.

The last tenant showcase in the Old Stone Mill space will take place today from 6-8 p.m.