A downtown retailer is closing her Langdon Street gift shop after nine years, a decision she attributes, in part, to the delay in building a hotel and parking garage project that she hoped would generate the additional visitor traffic needed to sustain and grow her business.
Yvonne Baab said she enjoyed being part of the Montpelier retail community but grew weary of “pushing a boulder up a hill without any real sense that I could count on things turning around.”
She had hoped that the turnaround might come from a proposal by the owners of Capitol Plaza to build an 81-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel and conference center on land behind the new transit center.
The project hinged on the construction of a separate $10.5 million parking structure that would be owned by the city and paid for without raising property taxes, city officials have said.
Voters approved a bond issue for the four-story, 348-space garage in November 2018 by a vote of 2,459-1,877. A group of residents appealed the city’s zoning approval for the project to the state environmental court, where motions are being exchanged pending a May trial date.
Only two of the original 18 appellants, city residents Les Blomberg and John Russell, were granted party status to continue the appeal; however, the 17 remaining members of the group Friends of Montpelier are still active in opposing the project, according to a letter to the editor by Sandra Vitzthum (see page 23).
Baab and several other downtown merchants have been outspoken in defending the hotel and conference center project as vital to increasing the number of visitors to the Capital City’s downtown. They have expressed frustration with the appeal that has blocked the building of the garage, without which the developers say the hotel project cannot proceed.
“When the parking garage and hotel was approved by voters I was really excited about rethinking my business,” Baab said. “I began to work on a survey to send out to my local customers to get a better idea about how to meet their needs, and I knew that with more visitors in town my business would be thriving again because I always do well when there are more bus tours and events happening in town.”
She said uncertainty over the project and declining sales figures soon dampened the optimism.
“The appeal kept dragging on, and I kept trying to put more effort into finishing the survey and renovating some things in the store, but my heart wasn’t in it,” she said.
Baab said she considered selling the business but decided to move on and pursue a career as a wholesale representative, either independently or for another firm.
“Once the decision was made, I went through a grieving process around it and then I felt relief and excitement about doing something new,” she said.
Baab credits the Montpelier Business Association, Montpelier Alive, and city officials with providing support for merchants and has no regrets about her experience as a store owner. She plans to remain in town and to continue serving as coordinator of the Montpelier Art Walk event.
“It was a great experience,” she said of being a business owner. “I love being part of the community and a part of the merchant community. I loved stocking the store with beautiful and interesting things for people to buy.”
The storefront at 9 Langdon Street won’t be vacant for long, as the owners of The Getup Vintage clothing store will take over.
Hannah Bean, who owns Getup with Jeff Thomson, said they will move inventory from their current shared space in Buch Spieler to the Global Gifts location as soon as a few renovations are made.
“Our business is growing,” Bean said. “We’re bursting at the seams!”
Baab said the closing of her store could serve as a cautionary tale for local online shoppers that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
“I hope that, if nothing else, my closing makes people not take their favorite business for granted, or any of the downtown businesses.”