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Residents Worry Chelsea Is Losing Its Core Institutions

  • Customers frequent Will's Store in Chelsea, Vt., while the Chelsea Country Store sits closed on Jan. 17, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Phyllis Hayward of Chelsea, Vt., walks through the family sugarbush on Jan. 17, 2018. Hayward was preparing a new section of the woods for the upcoming season. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chelsea Public Library Director Elizabeth Morrison returns books to their shelves on Jan. 17, 2018 in Chelsea, Vt.(Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Chelsea, Vt., resident Russell Martin at his home on Jan. 18, 2018. Martin has lived in Chelsea since 2003. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Phyllis Hayward works in a new section of the family sugarbush in Chelsea, Vt., on Jan. 17, 2018. They are adding new taps, bringing the number to 3,000. The sugarbush has been used by the family for three generations. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rhoda Ackerman, of Chelsea, Vt., talks with Library Director Elizabeth Morrison at the library on Jan. 17, 2018. Ackerman owns a bed and breakfast in town. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Saturday, January 20, 2018

Chelsea — Marty Gratz has lived in Chelsea for most of her life. Now 70, the paraeducator at the Chelsea Public School has seen the cycles of boom, bust and stasis that most small towns experience.

But in the past year, Chelsea has watched as two of its local stores, Flanders Market and Quik Stop, have closed. What used to be the Country Store now is being used as a church. The gas station at Quik Stop also is shut down, while Dixie’s II restaurant on Route 110, the central road through town, closes its doors for good at the end of the month, according to the Town Clerk’s Office.

And voters in Chelsea and Tunbridge have approved a school merger that would create the First Branch Unified School District. The high school in Chelsea will close, and the town will offer choice to high schoolers.

“The town is at a crossroads, which is always very exciting because there’s so much potential, but it’s also very scary. We’ve had to roll with the punches,” Gratz said.

Gratz was one of some 60 people attending a potluck supper held last week at the Chelsea Town Hall, organized by Carrie Caouette-Delallo, who has lived off and on in town for the last 20 years.

“The community is concerned about what’s going to happen. What’s next for us?” Caouette-Delallo said.

The focus of the evening was the town’s future. What are its strengths? What is it lacking? And what kind of ideas do residents have for the future? The idea behind the gathering was not to propose definitive solutions in one evening but to spark conversation.

The population in town since the last U.S. Census, in 2010, has remained relatively stable; there was a small increase to roughly 1,274 in 2016 from 1,238 in 2010, as estimated by the American Community Survey. The town voter checklist is 941, according to the Town Office.

But some townspeople are still worried. “This town needs a lot of help getting a jump-start into the 21st century,” said Phyllis Hayward, who has lived and farmed with her family in Chelsea for 40 years.

“I’m interested in having the town broaden,” Hayward added.

Caouette-Delallo invited people attending to write down on poster boards what they liked about Chelsea and what they would like to see happen. Positives included the two scenic town commons, the availability of the Town Hall for public events, the farmers market and the mix of residents.

The wish list included a grocery store, a gas station, a restaurant and bakery, a community newsletter, bike and walking paths, greater use of the town commons, and a July Fourth celebration, among others.

“The town desperately needs a store back,” said Susan Morse, who has lived in Chelsea for 32 years.

“We’ve got to get a gas station,” Gratz said. Currently, people living in Chelsea have to drive to Vershire, South Royalton, Corinth, Washington or Williamstown to put gas in their cars.

Russell Martin said he hoped that the high school building could be put to other community uses. More widely available and better internet service was a need identified by Mary Ellen Parkman, who was at the supper with Hayward, her mother.

What the town currently lacks by way of small businesses, the lifeblood of any small town, it partially compensates for with a vital, helpful community of people.

Ben and Meg Canonica, the parents of twin infant girls, have lived in town for nearly nine years. They moved to Chelsea because it offered more affordable land than surrounding towns in Orange County.

“We were really welcomed,” Meg Canonica said. Ben Canonica noted that other young families also have been migrating to Chelsea.

Elizabeth Morrison moved to Chelsea in April with her husband, a native Vermonter. Originally from the suburbs of Cleveland, she is now the town librarian, and is completing her master’s in library science.

Chelsea is “such a great community,” she said. People are “passionate about helping each other.”

Raye Brevdawells, a young farmer who lives on the Chelsea/Washington line, surveyed the crowd at the supper. She grew up in Monkton and lived previously in Vergennes but moved to Orange County looking for more affordable housing.

“I’m starting to reach out and meet more people,” she said. “Seeing this happen was great. I’d love to see more of this kind of thing.”

Chelsea has a “really rich history of farming and family values,” said Eliza Hale, who originally is from Rochester, N.Y., and who moved to town seven years ago. She is president of the town’s farmers market board and is an organizer with the Burlington-based Vermont Workers Center.

But, she added, “I have a sense that there’s a divisive atmosphere that still pervades the area. Hippies vs. old-timers. I think that narrative needs to change.”

It’s sometimes a hard thing to do, she said, but people showing up at events, like the potluck, would be a way to begin talking about local initiatives.

“We’re opening up all kinds of doors for people to come in. We’re just tired of talking about what we’ve lost,” Morse said.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.

 Corrections

Wards Garage on Route  113 in Vershire has a gas pump. An earlier version of this story failed to mention Wards as a nearby option. Marty Gratz works full time as a paraeducator at the Chelsea Public School. Her employment status and the spelling of her last name were reported incorrectly in an earlier version.