By Emily Kaminsky.
Every day, a certain group of over 200 full-time workers arrives in downtown Barre by car, bus or bicycle. Some live in Barre, but most hail from Montpelier, Burlington or elsewhere. On the way in, some grab a coffee and breakfast at Espresso Bueno or drop by Maureen’s Sweet Treats. Others start their day at L&M Diner. Regardless of how they get to downtown Barre and when and where they fuel up, most of them end up crossing North Main Street from one of several designated parking lots to reach their shared destination: Barre City Place.
Open for business since March 2014, Barre City Place houses the Vermont Agency of Education and a division of the Agency of Human Services on the third and fourth floors, Central Vermont Medical Center administrative offices on the second floor, and The RehabGYM on the first floor. The front of the building remains vacant with the unconfirmed possibility of housing a locally-owned restaurant.
The Agency of Education’s move to Barre effectively consolidated offices from two locations: one in Berlin at the former Harry’s building and one in Montpelier, at the Department of Motor Vehicles building on State Street. The move was completed over two weekends in March. Jill Remick, communications director at the agency, contends that the work environment is better at City Place than at the agency’s former Montpelier location. “Now, we’re all in one place. If I have questions about a timesheet, I can walk upstairs, instead of before, when I had to rely on email, phone or drive over.” One downside, however, is the fact that some employees now have a longer commute, and those who were taking the bus from Burlington now have to switch buses in Montpelier to get to Barre or drive the whole way.
Sharon Gutwin, whose RehabGYM started slow in March but had a consistent schedule and a full complement of employees by April, formerly worked at the RehabGYM in Williston. “I’m pleasantly surprised how much I love Barre,” she says. “There’s a great sense of community in Barre. People are very friendly and genuine and I like that.” RehabGYM employs three clinicians and three office workers, and is hiring another physical therapist in September. “We’re doing exceedingly well here,” she reports—so well that she plans on leasing an additional 1,000 square feet on the first floor for various uses, including classes and possibly rental to community groups or other businesses that could use a multi-use space downtown.
With more workers in downtown Barre, business is looking up for many merchants. “When we host meetings, we give people the list of where things are,” says Remick. “When we first moved here, Barre Partnership gave us a map of where things are. It was very helpful.” With a laugh, she adds, “I feel like I spend all of my paycheck here in Barre, honestly.”
Dustin Smith, owner of Morse Block Delicatessen, reports that 40 percent of his business comes from City Place employees. Others farther away from City Place, like Two Loco Guys and Maureen’s Sweet Treats, are also benefiting. Chris Conti, owner of Ellie and Shirl’s Simply Delicious, at the Pinsley Depot, likewise appreciates the newcomers and their business. “They are just all really nice people,” she says, “and I think that they appreciate that we’ve welcomed them with open arms.”
Prior to the move and even in their first few months at City Place, there were many reports that Agency of Education employees were worried about safety and parking. According to Remick, agency employees have been pleasantly surprised at how well it has gone. “The reality is a lot less scary than the anticipation of it,” she puts it. “And I haven’t heard any of our guests complaining about parking, either.” She reports that whenever there has been a problem, it’s been quickly and effectively addressed by the landlord, Williston’s DEW Properties, or by city officials.
“I was one of those people who was concerned,” she continues. “You don’t know what you don’t know. There are always growing pains, but by this point people feel much better. I know I do.”