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Bottom Line: Sharon general store being sold to Vermont convenience chain

  • A customer walks into the Sharon Trading Post in Sharon, Vt., on Saturday, Feb. 2, 2019. (Valley News - Joseph Ressler) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley News file photograph

  • John Lippman. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 1/4/2020 10:41:13 PM
Modified: 1/4/2020 10:40:46 PM

It is, White River Valley residents attest, a small country store. And yet, as an august statesman said of another beloved local institution, there are those who love it.

Sharon residents are talking about the Sharon Trading Post, the general store and gas station at the corner Route 132 and Route 14 just a skip from Exit 2 off Interstate 89.

For the past 32 years Rob and Cathy Romeo have owned and run the distinctive Sharon store fronted by four Tuscan-style columns, offering everything from Rob’s expertly butchered meats to the deli counter’s thick sandwiches, homemade meatloaf dinners and shepherd’s pie, assorted handcrafted products from area artisans and plant seedlings, along with the usual general store staples of milk, beer, bread and butter.

“Not commercial frozen junk,” assures the store’s Facebook page about the fresh to-go meals.

But the Sharon Trading Post is about to see its biggest transition in the store’s 204-year history as the Romeos, in anticipation of a hard-earned retirement, are in the process of selling their business and the adjacent residential property with a corner turret to R.L. Vallee Inc., the Vermont-based fast-growing chain of 50 Maplefields convenience stores and gas stations.

The prospect of Maplefields taking over Sharon Trading Post unsettles some longtime customers who are wary of a corporate chain — albeit one with Vermont roots that has battled box-store nemesis Costco in court — coming in and washing out Sharon Trading Post’s neighborly identity.

“They’re good people. You can’t beat them,” said retired plumber and Sharon resident Ron Thomas about the Romeos as he refilled a gas can with diesel fuel for his tractor at the store’s pumps on New Year’s Day.

“I don’t know about change. I don’t like it,” he said.

In Sharon, the Sharon Trading Post has long functioned as the town’s center of gravity in the way other general stores like Dan & Whit’s in Norwich and Coburns’ General Store in South Strafford both do in their communities: a locus for neighbors to run into each other, swap news, brag about their kids and be welcomed by the Romeos who, they say, exemplify an ethos from a bygone American era.

“Rob and Cathy have done a tremendous job of making (Sharon Trading Post) the cornerstone of the community,” said Sharon resident Holly Potter as she exited the store on New Year’s Day with a gallon of milk and armful of sandwiches wrapped in white paper.

Besides the “high-quality meats” Potter always has purchased there — “Rob wouldn’t let anything low-quality go out the door” — she praised how the Romeos would make sure the store incorporated the interests of community members, whether it is carrying local products such as Potter’s honey from her beehives or making space available for fundraising activities by the town’s Boy Scout troop.

Potter, who runs the student peer tutoring and study group program at Dartmouth, said she remembers the time her daughter was learning to drive and had some car trouble and Rob Romeo was there to help her.

“He looked out for the kids,” she said.

Those sentiments were echoed by John Lanza, a “semi-retired” carpenter and sound engineer who lives a few miles from the Sharon Trading Post, on Leon’s Lane across the White River.

Lanza said he bought “meat, fish and a lot of beer” at Sharon Trading Post. He noted that, if someone in town had suffered a loss or setback and needed help, there would always be a way to make a donation through the store.

“They are definitely going to be missed,” Lanza said.

Although the Romeos declined to comment — “we’re private people,” Rob Romeo said when contacted by a reporter — Skip Vallee, chief executive of R.L. Vallee Inc., sought to allay fears that the 19-century building would be bulldozed to make way for a sterile, modern convenience store.

“I think we’re almost the state experts in taking old state historical buildings and upgrading them internally and externally preserving them in the community,” Vallee said by phone on Thursday. He cited the company’s renovations of old buildings beginning with the first Maplefields store the company opened in Woodstock in 1996 and later with stores in Middlebury and Stowe.

Vallee said that, although the Maplefields team hasn’t reviewed the product mix inside Sharon Trading Post yet, “we always pay close attention if there are important things (the community wants) and we try to preserve that.”

(Many Maplefields stores include Amato’s pizza and Subway sandwich counters. Maplefields has its own in-house branded My Fresh Cafe coffee and doughnut counters).

As for whether Maplefields would keep the Sharon Trading Post name, Vallee called it a “good question” and for the purpose of the state’s liquor board license it may remain the same.

“We sort of like the Sharon Trading Post name as it is,” he said.

Comings & goings

■ Sorry, there will be no puppy in the window: Puppy Junction, Aimee Goodwin’s dog rescue and education project that was going to open in the former Kibby Equipment building in White River Junction, will not occupy the storefront building on Maple Street after all.

“The space didn’t work out,” Goodwin said last week, adding that she is looking for a new space.

It’s the second time Goodwin has seen a space for Puppy Junction fall through in White River Junction. She initially had planned to open in a storefront adjacent to Main Street Furniture at the corner of North Main Street and Bridge Street.

The former Kibby Equipment buildings are being redeveloped for retail space by Upper Valley landlord Mike Davidson.

Davidson’s building management firm Ledgeworks did not respond to request for comment.

■ Partners Steve Cary and Frank O’Donnell have sold their White River Junction-based Loewen Window Center of Vermont & New Hampshire to Marc Guillemette of Lyndonville, Vt.

Cary and O’Donnell, who opened their Loewen Window Center in 2006, which has been recognized as one of the top 20 Loewen dealerships in North America, will continue to work with Guillemette “for several months to assure a smooth handoff,” Cary said.

Guillemette, former building commissioner for the town of South Hadley, Mass., has extensive experience in construction and window industry, most recently as an architectural representative for A.W. Hastings & Co., which in October was acquired by Minnesota-based window and door maker and distributor Marvin Cos.

As for what’s next for Cary and O’Donnell, “each of us have some ideas — probably some consulting work and a little more fishing and golf. Both our better halves are still working, so won’t be laying on the beach full time,” Cary said via email.

■ Unique fixer-upper opportunity: the former Kleen laundry plant in the heart of downtown Lebanon is now listed for sale with an asking price of $1.35 million (which is a tad more than its assessed value of $1.3 million).

The 5.14-acre property with a total of 70,800 square feet divided between a 59,200-square-foot main mill building and an 11,700-square-foot warehouse/office building is being positioned as a “major redevelopment site in downtown Lebanon” with a “broad array of allowed uses, including multifamily, office, retail and hotel among many others,” according to its listing on commercial real estate agent Chip Brown’s BCR Brown Commercial Realty website.

“There has been some interest from potential developers so we are hopeful,” Greg Gosselin, whose family still owns the property, said via email.

The Gosselin family sold the Kleen business in 2006 to an investor group but retained ownership of the real estate. With roots that date back to the late 19th century, Kleen shut down last summer, a move that resulted in more than 100 people at the Lebanon plant losing their jobs.

■ Vermont Tech is the ticket: Six months after the 548 members of Vermont Technical College class of 2019 graduated, 67% of the graduates had jobs and 32% of them are continuing studies in graduate school, the Randolph Center-based school reported.

Some very technical number-crunching means that amounts to a “placement rate” of 99%, according to Vermont Tech, compared to the national average of 85.7%.

The most popular major at Vermont Tech? It’s an associate degree in nursing — by far. In 2019, 126 degrees in nursing were awarded, accounting for 22.9% of the 548 degrees awarded that year. Vermont Tech reported that 99.1% of two-year nursing majors, who take courses at nine locations across the state, got jobs in their field of study.

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My business is knowing your business! Let me know what you’re doing at jlippman@vnews.com.




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