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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Liv, Love, Local: The Stone Mill

Coming soon to The Stone Mill is the official opening of the wine bar in the Public Market, repurposing the area previously occupied by The Lost Monarch.
Coming soon to The Stone Mill is the official opening of the wine bar in the Public Market, repurposing the area previously occupied by The Lost Monarch.

Mary Cullinane and Stacey Rainey opened the Stone Mill in 2019 with the intention of bringing their different experiences together under one roof and providing a unique hub for the community. The Stone Mill is a mixed-use building located on Mill Street, housing The Mad Taco, office spaces available for annual lease, four hotel rooms and a public market with retailers including Addison West, Dedalus Wine and Cheese Shop and the Stone Mill Collection. 

Rainey moved to Weybridge, Vt. with her family before to her longtime friend Cullinane, but she too eventually made the move to Vermont as well in 2016, marking a transition in her career to be more community-focused.

Once the two were living in the same state, they founded Community Barn Ventures in 2017 — a consultancy that works with small businesses in the northeast to provide strategy advice, financial analysis and other services. 

Cullinane said Rainey’s and her skill sets and professional experiences complement one another, working as business partners. Cullinane praised Rainey’s ability to execute on projects, while she is better at strategy, motivating others and initially taking on projects. 

“That being said, we also wanted to not only just be consultants, we wanted to do it, and be a small business in the community that we’ve lived in,” Cullinane told The Campus.

When the college put the Stone Mill up for sale in 2019 — a location which used to be used by Middlebury students for experiential learning projects — the pair seized on the opportunity to repurpose the space and put their consulting insights into practice.

“Because Vermont and its downtowns are so small, you need to focus on experiences, not transactions, and you need multiple reasons for people to come,” Cullinane said. 

Cullinane described their inspiration for the business model of the Stone Mill as The Shed, a  store located in Napa Valley, Calif. While The Shed has since closed, Cullinane said they appreciated the store’s ethos focused on quality and providing goods and services that would otherwise be difficult to find.

“We wanted some type of retail that allowed us to bring to Middlebury things that otherwise might be difficult to get, like the Dedalus wine selection,” Cullinane said. 

Dedalus Wine and Cheese, which has a wine bar location in Burlington, specializes in wine from producers that have low intervention with their grapes, and that produce small batches not available at most grocery stores. 

The pair personally curate the items found in the Stone Mill Collection, which includes stationary, stickers, pens and small books. 

Cullinane described the easy access to other local businesses as a key benefit of working in Vermont. 

“You can access the people who are making the decisions very easily,” she said. “Here, owners are picking up the phone.” 

Cullinane and Rainey were able to directly approach Sarah Phaneauf, owner of the SLATE home goods store based in Burlington, and one of the Stone Mill’s first partners. 

Despite the convenience of the Vermont community, operating the Stone Mill does not come without its challenges, chief among them being staffing — it can be difficult to hire people to clean the hotel rooms, Cullinane said.

While she and Rainey are committed to stepping in as much as possible to keep the Stone Mill operating, they have other responsibilities at Community Barn Ventures, making the balance of managing both businesses difficult on days when staffing is low.

“Right now we have an advertisement out for cleaners upstairs, it's $30 an hour to clean a hotel room. And we might not get a response. That makes it really, really hard,” Cullinane said.

In addition to some staffing challenges, the Stone Mill has weathered physical challenges in recent years. Last summer’s flooding caused thousands of dollars of damage to The Mad Taco, which is located on the basement level of the building. 

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The Stone Mill closed for a period in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but the business has been successful in recovering from these challenges amidst high interest rates and inflation. Cullinane described the business landscape of Midlebury and a strong community response as having played a pivotal role in helping the Stone Mill bounce back from the pandemic.

According to Cullinane, downtown Middlebury is a place where fellow owners are very friendly and supportive of each other. “We’re all incredibly committed to each other’s success. That is so important. To be operating in an environment where you feel like people are rooting for you — rather than competing against you — makes it a lot more fun,” she said.

She added that Middlebury has a particularly close knit business community.

“It’s important for folks to realize that anything that you can do to contribute to the vibrancy of Main Street, the economic foundation… is very important.” 

Because of the mixed use of the space, the customer base at the Stone Mill is broad, from Middlebury students eating at the Mad Taco, to visitors to the college staying in the hotel rooms to shoppers at the Public Market. This customer base encompasses locals, tourists and students alike, Cullinane said. 

“I think it's a little bit different than anything else in Middlebury,” she added. “That's been fun, to see other people appreciate it.”

Cullinane and Rainey aim to keep the Stone Mill space dynamic and constantly evolving. Cullinane and Rainey renovated the space in January, partnering with Bethanie Farrell, owner of the Giving Fridge, who provided the plants now displayed around the Stone Mill. 

Coming soon is the official opening of the Dedalus-sourced wine bar in the Public Market, which will repurpose the area formerly occupied by the Lost Monarch Coffee Bar. The wine bar has been approved by the Vermont Department of Health and will open pending full approval from the liquor department. 

In addition to the wine bar and indoor wine tasting events, summer will bring expanded programming for the Stone Mill. “Having programs with Dedalus doing things outside; it’s going to be great,” Cullinane said. “We’re looking forward to a really strong summer.”


Olivia Mueller

Olivia Mueller '24 (she/her) is a News Editor.

Previously an Arts and Culture editor, Olivia is an International Politics and Economics major with a Spanish minor. Outside of the Campus, she is a spin instructor for YouPower, an avid runner and hiker, and a member of the Middlebury Mischords a cappella group. 


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