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Fox Market to Expand into Barre City

Fox Market and Bar — an LGBTQ+ friendly gourmet food market that also serves prepared foods and drinks — will soon open a second location in the Wheelock House, an iconic downtown Barre building. Owners Liv Dunton and Doni Kane won the bid after a process that included dozens of testimonials at a packed Barre City Council meeting last week.

It was standing room only in the council chambers on April 11, with 100 people on Zoom (and reports of many more who tried to log in but couldn’t because the city’s account caps at 100 participants). Ultimately, the council opted to sell the building to Fox Market over a bid from the Wheelock House, LLC — a local group of investors that included city councilor and developer Thom Lauzon. While Dunton and Kane offered the city’s asking price of $155,000, the Wheelock House, LLC offered $50,000 and a plan to fund extensive renovations on the historic building with tax credits, grants, and private investor funds, with a promise to give the building to the much-loved downtown revitalization nonprofit, the Barre Partnership, after renovations were complete. The Barre Partnership has been renting its office space at the Wheelock House for the past several years.

“We felt really positive about everything. It felt like such an outpouring of love on both sides,” Dunton said about the council meeting.

Over the two years Fox Market has been open in East Montpelier, customers say they have found a LGBTQ+ supportive environment that hosts queer dance parties, queer speed dating, “bring your own vinyl” nights, game nights, and specialty dinners including a Korean five-course dinner, shakshuka, and posole, not to mention highly acclaimed breakfast sandwiches and gourmet foods.

“The strongest point in (Fox Market’s) favor is if you look at the space they have already created in East Montpelier and how vibrant it is, and how many folks that draws, not only local to East Montpelier, but in surrounding townships as well. That speaks volumes to what they could do in Barre,” Trish Fenton said to the Barre City Council.

Fox Market has already reached out to the Barre Partnership to offer them office space on the building’s third floor, said Tracie Lewis, executive director of the partnership. Her board will meet soon and will discuss the offer and other next steps, she said.

In the meantime, “I’m sad,” Lewis told The Bridge. “This has been my home for almost four years, and I really want to keep it. It wasn’t about not wanting Fox Market to come to our community. It was the plan that we had to take this building and get grants and bring it back to its natural beauty — it needs so much work, and our plan would have done that, and then we would have housed different organizations here.” Lewis said that while she is the only person in the office at the Main Street building, the Barre Partnership houses a huge number of supplies including “90 pieces of lighted garland … the Santa and reindeer, 50 flower pots that go out in the summer, and hundreds of banners that go on poles, Christmas lights … there is so much stuff here.”

“We love the Barre Partnership — the vibe and the energy [at the council meeting] was just heartwarming,” Kane said in an interview with The Bridge. He also said that, while he and Dunton aim for an opening in the Wheelock House this fall, they’re not in a rush.

“We want to make sure the Barre Partnership has time to find a new place. We’re not looking to displace anybody. It is important that we find a timeline that works for them,” Kane said.