I’d like to add another facet to the economic development discussion that I don’t think has been talked about as much as other aspects.
I moved here over 40 years ago. At that point, I think Wilmington Village was about 50/50 – businesses such as Quaigh Design and the 1836 Country Store that catered to tourists and those that were used mainly by locals – Parmelee and Howe, O.O. Ware, Barber & Jarvis Insurance, Clover Farms, to name just a few. There were also businesses frequented by both – Ponchos, Vermont House, and Mountain Jeanery come to mind.
Over the years other businesses that focused on locals have come and gone or moved out of the Historic Review District – Wee Moran and Klara Simpla, Golden Bear Photo, Merchants Bank, the Home Center.
Now, there are hardly any businesses in the Historic Review District that are used by locals on a regular basis. I am not in any way knocking the businesses that sell mainly to tourists or second-home owners – I try to go to them for special things. I’m just saying that we’ve lost something in this shift.
We have lost a sense of activity and community, especially midweek – locals greeting friends on the way into the bank, the “regulars” at Dot’s, people getting a few necessities at a couple places before heading home from work.
We have also suffered economically as more and more locals have to spend their money outside of the valley. Last spring I went to four stores in Wilmington trying to find a packet of butternut squash seeds. No luck. I had to drive to Brattleboro, for a packet of seeds! And, because I was spending time and gas money I bought other items that might have been purchased here. Instead of getting simple craft items at the old True Value I now drive to Keene to go to Michaels. I want to “shop local” and I know that the money will never come back to the valley. But I have no choice – I can’t find those things here. Sure, each purchase isn’t much but all those dribs and drabs add up.
We say we want to attract new residents. But if people live and work here but have to spend their income out of the valley then we all lose, both economically and by a lower quality of life.
So, as we think of economic development in Wilmington and specifically in the village, let’s find out what locals want and need and get it in town. Let’s encourage businesses that are relevant to those of us who make small purchases all year long. We are a tourist town but we are also a community where people live. I would like a village where I can buy items in shops on a regular basis. We need goods and services close by that make our lives better and that keep our hard-earned money going back into the businesses of our neighbors.