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Business Notes: East Randolph Farm Equipment Store Closes



Valley News Business Writer
Sunday, July 01, 2018

Since 1929, there has been a farm equipment supplier at the corner of Route 14 and Chelsea Mountain Road in East Randolph. The business weathered the Great Depression and the Great Recession, but modern agriculture economics, the lack of skilled workers and poor internet service presented a whole other order of challenges that became impossible to overcome.

Champlain Valley Equipment, one of Vermont’s biggest dealers in agriculture and light industrial equipment, closed its East Randolph location last Saturday and has consolidated its operations and staff 29 miles north with its Berlin location near Montpelier, citing a host of factors.

“Changes in the Ag economy, manufacturer’s constraints and the challenges of finding skilled employees and reliable internet have affected our ability to grow in the East Randolph store,” the company said in a letter sent to customers. “While this was not planned for at this time, there are considerations that made this the right thing to do for customer service and our employees.”

Champlain Valley Equipment’s eight employees in East Randolph have joined the approximately dozen at the Berlin location, said Nancy Howe, director of marketing for the Middlebury-based company. She said the dealership is weighing the possibility of running a “parts shuttle” from Berlin to East Randolph to continue serving customers in the Upper Valley and Central Vermont area.

Howe said several economic and societal trends had come together to lead to the decision to close the Champlain Valley Equipment’s East Randolph location, including declining milk prices for dairy farmers sending them to the internet in search of better deals on equipment purchases; the trend of young mechanics coming out of tech programs getting scooped up by the large truck industry; inconsistent delivery schedules by shippers to rural areas and unreliable internet service.

“When Comcast went down we were without phones, computers, everything,” she said.

Howe said that combining the East Randolph’s staff expertise in agriculture with the Berlin’s staff expertise in the Kabota product line — East Randolph did not have the Orange County Kabota franchise — will bring those strengths together under one roof. She emphasized the consolidation will mean no disruption to the important relations Champlain Valley Equipment has with its equipment manufacturers.

But the consolidation at the Berlin location is only for the short-term. Champlain Valley Equipment, which also has locations in Middlebury, Derby and St. Albans, is in the site approval and permitting process to build a new, expanded location in Berlin at Exit 6 on Interstate-89.

Champlain Valley Equipment acquired the East Randolph location in 2014, which was formerly known as L.W. Greenwood & Sons. The building and real estate is still owned by Greenwood family members.

New ‘Boutique Diner’Opens on Route 4

Those in the Woodstock and Bridgewater area who may be craving a solid breakfast of French toast with challah bread (house-made raspberry compote available on the side) or an “insane” Murphy burger (topped with cheddar cheese, buttermilk-fried onions and spicy mayo) for lunch are in luck: Eat Woodstock, a new “boutique diner” has opened on Route 4 about halfway between the two towns. 

White River Junction residents Brandon Sharkey and his wife, Darcy Sharkey, recently opened their 50-seat restaurant on the roadside site that previously had been Woodbridge Cafe Restaurant and earlier for many years Cole Farm Restaurant. Brandon Sharkey is the chef while Darcy Sharkey manages the front end of the house.

“We’re only going to do a few things, but do them exceptionally well,” said Brandon Sharkey last week. “Breakfast, burgers, things like that.”

No breakfast menu items are above $8.50 and most fall within the $5 to $7 range. Lunch items range from $5 for grilled cheese to $12 for the “signature burgers.”

Breakfast — which includes buttermilk pancakes, a Southwestern burrito and classic breakfast sandwiches on English muffin — is served all day.

Hours are 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day except Wednesday, which Brandon Sharkey says he takes off to spend with his and Darcy’s 1-year-old daughter, Rainey.

Brandon Sharkey, a 2005 graduate of Lebanon High School, has worked as a chef in the kitchens of a who’s who of Upper Valley Valley restaurants, most recently Molly’s in Hanover but also Bentley’s in Woodstock, Stella’s in Lyme and the Kedron Valley Inn, among others.

Sharkey trained as a sous chef under the highly regarded chef Barry Snyder, owner of farmers market food vendor and caterer Salubre and former owner of Salubre Tattoria in Hanover.

Two Nonprofits BenefitFrom State Tax Credits

The New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority has awarded a total of $434,000 in tax credits to two Upper Valley nonprofits, which will enable each organization to proceed with building and technical upgrading projects, respectively.

Workforce housing provider Twin Pines Housing received two awards from CDFA: $250,000 in tax credits that will be applied to financing the construction of an approximately a new community building at its Village at Craft Hills residential complex in West Lebanon and another $29,000 in tax credits that will go toward commissioning the nonprofit’s upcoming strategic plan.

Michelle Kersey, manager of development and communications for Twin Pines, said the planned 900- to 1,000-square-foot community building at the 200-resident complex will function as a hub for services offered to residents as well as a new location for laundry facilities. The new strategic plan, which is updated every few years, will be done by Full Circle Consulting, of Concord, she said.

Lebanon Opera House also received $155,000 in tax credits that it will use to purchase a sound system and a new digital projector. Joe Clifford, executive director of LOH, said in a news release that the new sound system will make the venue a “premiere location” to hear “quality live music” and the digital projector system provides LOH “an opportunity to return to its roots as a movie house and support the growing demand of multimedia live performances.”

CDFA tax credits allow nonprofits to raise funds by exchanging the tax credits for donations from businesses and investors, who can than apply the tax credits to lessen their own tax burden.

Systems Plus Relocates

Lebanon — After 20 years at Centerra Marketplace on Route 120 in Lebanon, computer retailer and service provider Systems Plus Computers Inc. is moving to a new location along Miracle Mile.

Systems Plus currently is fitting out a new showroom and tech offices in the space formerly occupied by United Flooring and adjacent to the Entertainment Cinemas movie theaters.

Chris McAndrew, owner of Systems Plus, said he is looking forward to relocating his 20-employee company into the 5,000-square foot space “within the next four to five weeks, depending on how soon the construction happens.”

McAndrew, who acquired former partner Jake Blum’s share of the business last year, said the relocation has been precipitated by being unable to come to a satisfactory renewal on his lease at Centerra Marketplace.

“All leases are written with increases,” McAndrew said. “We couldn’t negotiate a better lease ... so we were forced to look at other options.”

But McAndrew said he is upbeat about Systems Plus’ new address, predicting the Miracle Mile location will be better for business.

“We’re going to lose about 1,000-square feet, but that’s okay. We’ve been swimming in this place for quite awhile. I actually look at it (as) a much better location for traffic,” he said.

He emphasized that Systems Plus will continue to sell and service Apple, Lenovo and HP brands in addition to providing and consulting clients on IT infrastructure and systems. The company also is beginning to offer the next wave in the wired world: “smart home” technology that allows homeowners to control heating, lighting and security via a phone app or online.

This will be the third location for Systems Plus since it was founded in 1988 by computer enthusiasts McAndrew, Blum and Josh Kahan (Kahan is now information technology director for the city of Lebanon).

The business was initially located in the so-called Boiler House building at the Rivermill complex on Mechanic Street in Lebanon before moving to Centerra Marketplace when it opened in the late 1990s.

Real estate and investment firm Crosspoint Associates, of Waltham, Mass., bought the Centerra Marketplace parcel in 2016, which is also home to Hanover Co-op, New Hampshire Liquor and Wine Outlet, a recently opened D-H Pharmacy at Centerra and Margarita’s Restaurant for $15.6 million, according to city assessing records.

News items of interest to the local business community are published in the Business & Money section of the Sunday Valley News. Submissions may be sent by email to: biznotes@vnews.com (high-resolution photographs may be attached in .jpg format). Items are edited for clarity and space.