Guilford Country Store backers seek proprietor
GUILFORD -- Inside the newly renovated Guilford Country Store, amenities include energy-efficient coolers, commercial kitchen equipment, a brand-new propane furnace and a public rest room.
But there's a key element missing -- an owner/operator to reopen a business that's been shuttered since 2010.
So Friends of Algiers Village Inc., a nonprofit that owns the historic Broad Brook House that includes the first-floor country store, is issuing a call for a "dynamic entrepreneur" who might be interested in running the business.
"I know the right person is out there," said Anne Rider, a member of Guilford Selectboard and Friends of Algiers. "It's about finding that person."
The nonprofit bought Broad Brook House in August 2010 and has been fundraising and renovating since. The project is substantially complete, with only finishing touches needed in the coming weeks.
Store advocates had hoped to have the business open by this time. But long-term, serious talks with a potential operator fell through, and no solid leads have emerged since.
Rider said a sluggish economy may be a factor.
"We've had a lot of people express interest," she said. "But it's the nature of a bad economy. The economy has generated a lot of fear in people."
Friends of Algiers administrators also are hoping to find a person who has a mix of retail and kitchen experience: The goal is to open a store that offers "groceries and sundries" along with a small cafe featuring home-cooked food.
"We really think the deli and prepared foods will be the most successful part of the business," said Eric Morse, Friends of Algiers president.
He and others involved with the effort list a variety of reasons they believe the store can be successful, including:
-- The building sits at Route 5 and Guilford Center Road, with an average of 5,200 cars passing by daily.
-- The Delta Business Campus is just up the road. Occupants include Commonwealth Dairy, a growing yogurt maker that is supporting the Guilford Country Store project.
-- The Broad Brook House property also hosts a bus stop, mail boxes and a recycling center, bringing more potential customers to the door. Also, Windham & Windsor Housing Trust is building 17 new apartments nearby.
-- There is no other place in Guilford to purchase food, so "there's a lot of opportunity there," said Katie Buckley, town administrator.
Friends of Algiers is looking for someone to take advantage of that opportunity by both owning and operating the store business; the proprietor would lease space from the nonprofit.
There would be some startup costs, including purchasing inventory and finishing the kitchen.
But Morse said most building-related expenses have been borne by Friends of Algiers. On Tuesday, he showed off newly installed coolers and a freezer along with kitchen equipment that's been stashed against a side wall.
"We have ovens and stoves and cabinets and sinks," Morse said. "We have most of what's needed for a commercial kitchen."
Friends of Algiers also has extensively renovated the 195-year-old building.
In the basement, there is a new heating system and floor supports. Inside the store, there is a public rest room and a cafe area filled with natural light from recently uncovered windows facing Route 5.
"These windows have not been open in anyone's memory," Morse said. "So now, we have this great cafe space with a view of the busiest intersection in town."
Rider said that, if the search for an owner/operator is unsuccessful, Friends of Algiers will not allow the store to sit vacant. One option could be to find someone to simply manage the store while also seeking investors to bankroll it.
"That's plan B," she said. "And we will start actively pursuing that even as we look for an owner/operator."
But nonprofit members still are hoping to stick with the original business plan. They're asking for letters of interest to be sent to Friends of Algiers Village Inc., 638 Coolidge Highway, Guilford VT 05301.
Phone and e-mail contacts, as well as many more details on the store, are available at www.guilfordvermontcountrystore.com.
"Once this place is open, I think that, from day one, they're going to be busy," Morse said. "And there's going to be cash flow."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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