Randolph shops got a welcome visit from the federal government on Monday. Darcy Carter, Vermont district director for the federal Small Business Administration, brought a small entourage—including U.S. Sen. Peter Welch—to Randolph this week to meet with Main Street business owners and promote the Small Business Saturday ethos of shopping locally.
Just as Thanksgiving signals to many a chance for family to get together and break bread, for merchants throughout the nation it means the start to the holiday season—the life blood of commerce, where retailers hope to make up for slow times earlier in the year. Traditionally, the post-Thanksgiving shopping craze orbits around Black Friday, but over the past several years American Express and the SBA have put efforts into promoting what they call Small Business Saturday, a day where shoppers are encouraged to visit their hometown shops and spend money locally.
Though Mondays are famously difficult to find open businesses in the Randolph downtown, the group charted a course through the village, stopping at a handful of shops and chatting with the owners. At each one, they found people happy to talk about how business was going and why they chose to give it a go in Randolph.
The morning started with a stop at Short Notice on Main Street, where Carter and Welch met owners Randi Taylor and Lucas Battey. Battey grew up in Chelsea and the couple met in Antarctica, where they were both working, he as a chef and she as a baker.
Originally from southern California, Taylor said “I didn’t want to go back to Ohio,” where her family had settled, “and Lucas wanted to come home. I said ‘I’ve never been to Vermont,’” and the rest was history.
Welch, who spent time at the Chelsea courthouse when he was a public defender, reminisced with Battey about life there. It also turned out that Welch’s wife had been Battey’s teacher at the Sharon Academy years ago. The Senator talked with Taylor about her family in California while she showed him around the bar, which they built new with help from family.
Short Notice opened just in May and Battey said “summer was spectacular” for the business. September was slow, but going into the holiday season, they’ve been getting increasingly busy, they said, and have hired a new staff member as of last week.
From Short Notice, the parade of visitors meandered down Main Street toward New Moon, where they were greeted by owner Brigitta Zimmer Martin and her staff, including Kelly Fullam.
Zimmer recounted how she worked at the boutique— called Blue Moon at the time—for Jan Reis in the 1980s and ’90s and, though she’s now retired, she bought the business to keep it operating a few years ago.
“Christmas traffic hasn’t started yet,” said Zimmer, “but we’re hopeful.” She noted that for Black Friday, New Moon isn’t any busier than normal, “but for Small Business Saturday, we should be pretty good.”
Zimmer pointed to the number of stores that don’t keep hours on Monday and said she’d like to see that change in Randolph. Welch noted the great difficulty businesses have had lately in finding and keeping employees to keep their doors open. Zimmer noted that her own staff has been tremendous. Fullam, she said has worked in town for 30 years, “so she knows everyone,” and another key employee, Keya Olson, started working at the former Blue Moon decades ago, when she was just a teen. “We’re lucky here,” she said.
After chatting, Welch, Carter, and others spread around the store to peruse the merchandise and several found items to add to their holiday shopping. Fullam helped Welch find a colorful Guatemalan sweater for his 17-month-old nephew, which he held up for a photo, beaming.
Across the street, Mark Rosalbo, the town’s economic development director, stumbled upon Carter and Sen. Welch. He invited the group to meet RACDC’s Laura Di Piazza and Kevin Harty from the White River Craft Center who were being interviewed near the train stop by Channel 5 for an upcoming feature on Randolph.
“All roads lead to Randolph,” joked Welch.
They chatted and snapped photos together while awaiting the arrival of Amtrak’s Vermonter.
Carter, who hails from Middlebury, has been with the SBA for 32 years.
“It’s really nice to see these new businesses coming in,” she said. Her office keeps a census of Vermont businesses and she was pleased to report that throughout the pandemic, more businesses opened than closed.
The next stop was to Merchants Row, where Carter, Welch, and company met Ian Stewart and Nathan Johnston, two of the three employee owners of the Vermont Computing Cooperative.
Welch immediately took to Johnston’s ValleyNet shirt— extolling the entity that founded local internet service provider ECFiber.
Johnston told Welch and Carter that he’d come to Vermont from the Chicago area and stayed here in part because of ECFiber. He had been impressed with the idea “that two guys in a storage container in South Royalton could start their own internet service provider and bring thousands of Vermonters online when they wouldn’t get connected otherwise.” He knew this must be a strange and special place.
Welch agreed. He was supportive of ECFiber, helping to find funding in the early days, and Stewart has been Bethel’s representative to the ECFiber board since the beginning.
Stewart shared the history of the Vermont Computing business as it transformed from a sole proprietor operation to an employee-owned cooperative in 2014. The computer business, he said ebbs and flows, but he highlighted the success of the store’s regular card and fantasy events, which they run through the name Pixels and Bricks.
On evenings throughout the year, passersby can see a lit-up storefront filled with avid players of Magic the Gathering or Dungeons and Dragons on Merchants Row.
Before they left, Johnston called Welch over to a Lenovo laptop at the sales counter and he explained how he was able to repurpose heavily locked-down Chromebooks, which can quickly become e-waste, into fully functional computers for those who need something for basic web browsing and office work by removing a screw that locks the bootloader and installing a light-weight Linux operating system. That, Johnston said, lets Vermont Computing “practically give away” a functional laptop rather than asking those without much income to drop $600 or more on a machine.
The final stop on the SBA tour of Randolph was at Phil Godenschwager’s Atlantic Art, Glass and Design on Weston Street. At the former site of Tewksbury’s Store, Godenschwager’s studio is crammed full of projects, designs, and inspiration for his elaborate stained glass, sculptures, drawings, political cartoons, and assemblies.
Godenschwager answered questions about the stained glass process—he colors his own glass and sets it in high-temperature kilns. Ancient Egyptians used a similar process 2,500 years ago, he said and the color of the glass today looks just like that when it was made.
The visitors were wowed by Godenschwager’s public art—including the sculpture on the Waterbury train trestle, which they’d all seen.
“I’m a finalist for another public art project,” at the Burlington airport, Godenschwager noted. He’s in the final stages of developing his concept for “postcards from Vermont”-themed sculpture that would feature five-foot-tall, intricately painted letters welcoming travelers into the Green Mountain State.
Carter, Welch, and their crews were happy to see that even on a slow day, there’s a lot going on in Randolph and emphasized that supporting local businesses is an important part of supporting one’s community.
Story Written by Tim Calabro, The Herald