A grant aimed at bringing vibrant businesses to Main Street has re-opened for a second round of applications, which will close on May 13.
The Kick Start Middlebury Grant, sponsored principally by the Town of Middlebury and the Better Middlebury Partnership, awarded between $15,000 and $20,000 to six business proposals in mid-2021.
Per the rules of the grant, two of the six recipients were unable to fulfill their business plans within a set time frame, so they had to return the funds. Winners of the second round of the grant will receive the unallocated money from the first round.
For the second round of the grant, recipients’ businesses must open by January 1, 2023.
According to Karen Duguay, executive director of the Better Middlebury Partnership, the idea for the Kick Start Grant came from a similar business plan contest in Wilmington, Vermont. Duguay pitched the concept in summer 2020 as a means of offering businesses an incentive to come into the vacant storefronts on Main Street.
“[The grant] encouraged businesses to come into these empty storefronts at a time that was really uncertain,” Duguay told The Campus.
The first round of grant applications generated 40 letters of interest, which the committee narrowed down to 12 applicants, who presented full business plans. Six businesses ultimately received the funds.
The Better Middlebury Partnership collected a total of $120,000 in funding to award to winners of the grant. That money included $50,000 from the town of Middlebury business development fund, $50,000 from a nonprofit grant provider called Table 21, $10,000 from the Rotary Club of Middlebury and $10,000 from the Sassano Donor Advised Fund.
Applications are reviewed by a panel of eight committee members, one of whom is a Middlebury College student. “We try to create a diverse panel that [feels] representative of the entire community, and not just one person,” Duguay added.
The business proposals are evaluated on criteria such as the quality of the business plan, the quality of the financial projections, social diversity, job creation and location, according to the Kick Start Middlebury website.
One recipient of the first round of grant money was the Middlebury Studio School, a nonprofit that provides arts and crafts education for people of all ages.
The Studio School has had a location on Route 7 since 2016, but the Kick Start funds allowed it to expand to a second location in Marble Works. The Marble Works location opened in November of 2021.
According to Sarah Briggs, executive director of the Studio School, the Route 7 location is primarily a pottery studio, while the Marble Works spot has been able to provide a wider variety of classes in oil painting, pastel and watercolor.
The business applied for the grant out of an interest in having a downtown presence that is walkable from both Main Street and the college, Briggs told The Campus.
“The grant really helped us be able to establish the space and then add classes over time,” she said.
Another recipient of the grant money, Helen Hall, applied with a proposal to open a new version of a long-beloved Middlebury business called Calvi’s.
The original Calvi’s was a 1920s-style soda fountain shop that served crepes and diner food, according to Hall. The shop was open from 1902 until 1998, when the owner at the time, Blaney Calvi Blodgett, passed away.
Hall said she came up with the idea of re-opening Calvi’s about a year ago, and the possibility of a grant to help fund the project moved things along.
“Middlebury needs more anchor businesses that can benefit [people] not just with food, but also [as] a really fun place to hang out,” Hall told The Campus.
She originally hoped to purchase a unit in Marble Works, but questions of budgets and finding employees led her to change course. Instead, she is now planning to begin with an ice cream stand located on Main Street near Frog Hollow Bikes, which she might expand to a larger store over time.
“It is less risky. There are more chances of having a successful business and not risk wasting the grant money,” Hall said.
Hall said her current goal is to open the stand in June. She envisions Calvi’s as a spot where college students, high school students, adults and families alike will flock for ice cream or a crepe over the summer.
Other winners of the grant’s first round of funding include Sparrow Art Supply, a shop for arts and crafts and creative needs, and Your Home Too, the second location of a vintage shop in Bristol.
Addison West, a home decor store, received funding to expand to a bigger storefront on Main Street. Complications with purchasing the space led owners to buy a building in Waitsfield instead, so they had to return the grant money. Middlebury Rock Bouldering Center ran into similar issues in finding a building that met its needs for ceiling height and other safety requirements, so their funding was also returned
The second round of grants has already received five applications, Duguay said, and she anticipates a couple more coming in before the May 13 deadline. Winners will be expected to move into their space within six months.
“People have great concepts and a lot of energy around this,” Duguay said.
More information about the Kick Start Middlebury grant, including the grant application can be found at https://www.kickstartmiddlebury.com.
Maggie Reynolds '24 is the Senior Local Editor.
She previously served as Local Editor and Staff Writer. Maggie spent this past summer in Vermont, covering arts & culture for Seven Days VT. She also interned as a news reporter with the Daily Gazette in Schenectady, NY during summer 2021.
Maggie is studying History with minors in Spanish and Political Science. She is also a member of the Women's Swimming & Diving team.