WILMINGTON -- As the streets start to fill up with snow and cars, a little restaurant on the corner of Main Street begins a second life.
Dot's Restaurant at 3 East Main St. is back in action and owner John Reagan says it's been very hectic and busy since the doors reopened on Dec. 12.
[SLIDESHOW: Take a look around the new and improved Dot's, here.]
For 30 years, the building has been in Reagan's family.
"It was a family business," he said. "My mother originally owned the building. We had bought it from her in 2001."
Flooding from Tropical Storm Irene had destroyed the building, which sits along the Deerfield River in Wilmington. Reagan and his wife Patty had employed 20 people at the time.
As the rebuilding efforts began, architects from Stevens and Associates assisted with designing the building differently with flood mitigation in mind.
"We worked on plans for probably six or seven months," said Reagan. "It felt like four years."
He told the Reformer that if the tide comes in, similar to the way it did with Irene, the building would still get wet but the effects wouldn't be as dramatic. The design is meant to be flood proof up to the bottom of the windows.
"It will just be a matter of ripping out some sheetrock and painting," said Reagan, referring to another flood event. "The basement is designed to take in water. It's got six valves I believe. When the water rises, these valves rise and turn on a sump pump."
Water that gets into the basement will then be discharged back into the river.
There is a concrete wall on the back of the building that Reagan calls a bunker. It wraps around the building and is 8-feet high and a foot thick.
"If the water gets like it did during Irene, it will hit the concrete, go down the driveway and down the river," said Reagan. "Of course, if the water gets as high as it did, we may get water back inside but the damage should be contained.
After Irene hit, the Reagans went into hiding. Wilmington Economic Development Consultant Gretchen Havreluk was persistent. She kept calling even though the couple was not answering any calls.
Finally, they answered because they knew she wasn't going to give up.
Havreluk told the Reagans that there were people who wanted to help. She set up a meeting between them and the Wilmington Fund and Friends of the Valley, two non-profit organizations that were created to assist with post-flood recovery in and around Wilmington.
From there, Reagan said the efforts to rebuild really took off.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont joined in and drafts for a new building design were discussed. One of the biggest obstacles during all the rebuilding efforts had been coming up with a flood-proof plan.
"Without it, we would never have been able to get flood insurance, which is key when you're in the location we're in," he added. "We had flooded out many times in the basement but it had never gotten into the first floor before. That was a new one for us."
Throughout the entire process, locals and visitors chipped in. They donated money and labor.
"We had a tremendous amount of support from local people, visitors and second homeowners who I consider local people," said Reagan. "The support from everyone was just phenomenal."
The non-profit organizations held benefit events for the construction efforts. But money was also being raised to buy new supplies that had been ruined in the flood or were no longer good.
RebuildDots.com was a website that the Preservation Trust had created for people to donate to the cause. Through it, various donations came in from people living in 26 states as well as a small Middle Eastern country.
The Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation assisted with finding various grant opportunities.
According to Reagan, it cost north of $900,000 to reopen Dot's Restaurant.
"I wouldn't be surprised if it hit the seven figure mark to open the door," he added.
After completely paying off their previous mortgage, the Reagans took out another mortgage and put proceeds of their flood insurance policy toward the reopening costs.
Reagan told the Reformer that two years and three months had gone by without seeing the people who frequented the restaurant.
"It was really heartwarming to have them come back," he said. "Our customers were very generous to us. It wouldn't have been done without all the help we received."
Eight employees who had been employed by Dot's in the past returned for their jobs. Many of the other employees who did not return were part-time young adults.
"That's pretty gratifying for us," said Reagan. "After them not having this job for two years, everybody had other jobs. But when they found out we decided to rebuild, they were like, ‘We're coming back.'"
When a customer asked one of the waitresses if she was happy to be back, she smiled and said, "Yup."
Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.