Beloved Vermont restaurant rebuilding after Irene
MONTPELIER -- Spring was gloomy in the Vermont ski town of Wilmington, following a winter with little snow on top of the damage and despair caused by Tropical Storm Irene that pummeled the town last August.
Streets were quiet, some businesses were barely hanging on, still struggling to rebuild after the flood waters tore through the historic village.
"This spring I felt like sticking my head in the sand and wanted it all to go away," said Adam Grinold, executive director of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce. "It's difficult. ... And it was hard to keep believing that everything would be OK."
But, as summer has set in, things have started to look up. July Fourth was busy, and the signs of renewal are everywhere, from the reopening of the badly flooded Baptist church to indications of a new business going into another building that was restored, to the rebuilding of Dot's Restaurant, considered the heart of the southern Vermont town.
"They took an absolute direct hit. They were in the river," Grinold said of the owners of Dot's. "And they could easily have just folded up, and taken their money and said ‘Thank you, we're out of here.' And they've decided to put themselves in debt, and do the hard work of fundraising, and ... rebuilding to continue their passion."
Dot's -- both a coffee klatsch and community gathering place -- is a landmark that has seemingly been around forever. The building dates to 1832, when it served as a post office, and later became a general store and then a diner in 1930. But that was destroyed by flooding in 1938 and rebuilt.
The side of the building hangs over the Deerfield River, which turned into a raging torrent last August, tearing through the family-style restaurant, nearly reaching the second story.
For John Reagan, who bought the diner in 1980, and his wife Patty, the prospects of rebuilding were daunting. But, they've decided to take it on with some critical changes to make the building flood-proof. On Tuesday, a crane raised the building off the foundation and placed it in a back parking lot where it will be renovated while a higher foundation is built.
The entire renovation and rebuilding project is expected to cost $800,000. The Reagans have taken out a loan and need to raise $275,000 more.
"We have chosen this path to rebuild Dot's as a way to preserve the heart of Wilmington, preserve past memories, and the opportunity for future generations to have the Dot's experience," they said on the restaurant's website. "We look at this as more of a stewardship than ownership, in helping to keep the traditions for many, many people alive."
The Reagans, who were getting ready for the construction and could not be reached for comment, hope to reopen in November.
But it could take four to five years for the town to fully recover, said Lynn Bucossi, of the Friends of the Valley Foundation, which is holding a raffle for Dot's and plans a possible fundraiser in Manhattan. Proceeds from a concert last weekend also will go to Dot's.
The Preservation Trust of Vermont, which is focused on building stronger village centers and downtowns, is also helping to raise money to rebuild Dot's.
Money poured into Wilmington from second homeowners and visitors and Vermonters to help businesses rebuild after Irene hit last Aug. 28. Grinold estimates that $3 million has gone into restoring businesses in the village, so far.
Besides the flooding fixes, a new parking lot was just finished in town -- a plan that's been years in the making -- and a river walk is being completed.
"So there's definitely a new sense of optimism that definitely wasn't there this spring coming off that hard winter," Grinold said.
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