Downtown Wilmington. (Chris Mays/Reformer file photo)
Downtown Wilmington. (Chris Mays/Reformer file photo)

WILMINGTON -- Recovery began at home, with residents picking up the pieces after Tropical Storm Irene and help came along the way.

Now, with the assistance of funds secured through Wilmington being part of the Vermont Downtown Program, there are more recovery plans in the town's future.

On Sept. 13, the Downtown Action Team presented its findings and recommendations at Memorial Hall. Two days earlier, there was a similar meeting, where the team listened to residents and town officials to get an idea of how Wilmington could be improved.

The team's project manager, Tripp Muldrow, explained that the five themes essential to the town's recovery would be cultivating the market and enhancing the experience, preparing the assets, telling the town's story and motivating investment.

In just a week of conducting surveys through nine participating business owners, data from 687 customer visits were collected from 406 unique American zip codes, including 30 states and three foreign countries.

One of the major points emphasized was that people should be seizing the opportunity to gain more local business. Of all the other towns the team worked with, Wilmington had the second lowest amount of local traffic in its stores. Only 12 percent of the sales came from local consumers, including Dover and Whitingham.

"We can view that as glass full or half empty," said Muldrow. "We know folks are going to the Family Dollar and Shaw's. We also know folks are going to Brattleboro."

He pointed out that new businesses in the future should perhaps look to satisfy more of the local consumers' needs, which segued into a recommendation that called for building on commerce with home furnishing, office supplies, dining, outdoors and "exploring missing pieces and niches."

Muldrow said it is still important to remember that one in every four houses is a locally-owned or lived-in house. Three out of that four are owned by a second home owner or rented out.

"This is the highest we've seen and we've worked in similar markets," he added.

The team did say that one of the most important things would be getting all the storefronts active. The downtown group, Wilmington Works, was commended for its building of a detailed inventory of space as well as Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which has been assisting with that venture.

The team also applauded the efforts of the town in general, when it came to the new footbridge, the parking lot behind Craft's Inn and the constant work of the Beautification Committee.

There were recommendations for paving the sidewalks and walkways with distinct color schemes or styles so that pedestrians would stand out to drivers. The team suggested additional crosswalks and sidewalks in locations where it was not clear that pedestrians used that portion of the road.

"Get a tree everywhere you can," said one member of the team, who specialized in design plans.

It was said that small trees could hide buildings. The Pettee Memorial Library was used as an example of a building where small trees had covered its aesthetic value.

The team also suggested that building owners in the downtown consider maintenance more regularly, as repairs often cost more once there is significant damage than general maintenance.

Muldrow told the crowd that the Downtown Action Team would be returning for several follow-up visits in October and December.

"Since we arrived, there are pieces we have not had time to address," he said. "If you see gaps in the presentation, it's because we couldn't get there quite yet."

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.