WILMINGTON — There is some serious brainstorming going on when it comes to a contest offering $20,000 to whomever comes up with the best business plan for a downtown location.
"I really do like the idea of having a store where everything is plaid," said Paul Pabst, a producer from "The Dan Patrick Show" who donated the contest money to the downtown organization Wilmington Works after winning "Sports Jeopardy."
His other idea made a little more sense to attendees of an idea jam last Thursday: Half the store is ski gear and the other half is everyday clothing. Pabst lives in Fairfield, Conn., and has owned a second home in town for three years.
Jamie Brunn, of Wilmington, suggested creating an antique mall.
"I like your car wash idea better," said Diane Chapman, who owns an antique store downtown, referring to a project Brunn had brought before the Wilmington Development Review Board a few days earlier.
Meg Streeter, a real estate agent, would like to see a noodle restaurant. But she is not proposing to be the owner or manager.
"I would patronize this," she said.
Other ideas included a pet supply store, a place to host art classes, a sporting goods store, a bakery, a brewery, a shoe store, and a business center with access to fax or copy machines.
Town Manager Scott Tucker floated the idea of having a building used as an "eclectic flea market" — where things like jewelry and clothes could be sold — "particularly businesses we don't have here."
Pabst originally wanted to call the contest "Moose Tank" in a nod to the television show "Shark Tank," which offers participants an opportunity to win money for their business ideas.
"I still like it," he said during a kick-off event at Historic Memorial Hall before the idea jam.
Plans for Make it on Main Street: The Wilmington Downtown Business Challenge will be accepted on WilmingtonWorksVT.com until July 16. Up to five contestants will be selected as semi-finalists who will receive help from a business development mentor. They will need to submit a full business plan by Oct. 1. Then one winner will get the cash prize on Oct. 18, as long as they open in downtown Wilmington within a year of the award. Wilmington Works Board Chairwoman Lisa Sullivan sees the contest as a way to "showcase Wilmington as a great place to live, work and play."
"We, at Wilmington Works along with all our sponsors, believe this is really the beginning of the next phase of our downtown history," said Meg Staloff, program coordinator at Wilmington Works. "This is for someone to put down roots, start a business and do it in Wilmington."
The contest is open to anyone but scores are based on how well the idea will serve the entire community — meaning locals, second homeowners and tourists.
Other sponsorships come from the town's event fund, the Richards Group, Brattleboro Savings & Loan and the Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. The Deerfield Valley News and the Southern Vermont Deerfield Valley Chamber of Commerce will provide assistance via advertising. Staloff is also reaching out to national news outlets to spread the word. Brett Long, deputy commissioner of the Vermont Department of Economic Development, called the community "particularly beautiful and particularly attractive."
"Our community development folks have designated it a downtown and that's one of the fundamental issues we're trying to promote," he said, referring to the Vermont Downtown Program which allows for special funding opportunities. "We're trying to see development in downtowns."
Having been a business owner himself, Long encouraged people to "take the plunge and take advantage of all the resources out there." His group can help with employee training costs, business growth and exporting/importing. Gretchen Havreluk, economic development consultant for the town, said she can identify potential locations. She also can assist with finding tax credits, applying to the town's revolving loan fund and setting up a tax stabilization plan with the town.
"We know that there really is only one winner but I do look forward to working with those others who really want to move on even though they didn't win," she said, later noting that there are not a lot of leasing options downtown but she could connect contestants with developers. A few buildings are up for sale and "a few others are in play now."
Streeter said the Old School Enrichment Center, formerly Twin Valley High School, has about 45,000 square feet of space available with reasonable rental fees, different sized rooms and a big gym.
"And it is walk-able," she said, as scores for the contest will be higher the closer the location is to the traffic light at the center of downtown. "I made my kids walk there every day."
Reach staff writer Chris Mays
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