Spates Block sale spurs Newport City reappraisal

Newport's Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Newport’s Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The $2.85-million sale of the Spates Block will change the face of downtown Newport.  It will also require the city to revalue all property on its Grand List.

According to a memo from City Assessor Spencer Potter, the sale, along with the $1.1-million sale of the properties on which the new Maplefields gas station is to be built, will bring a call from the state for mandatory reappraisal.

City Manager John Ward urged the aldermen to act quickly on the matter at the city council’s meeting Monday night.  They heeded his advice and unanimously agreed to proceed with a full reappraisal of Newport.

Mr. Ward said it is quite possible that new sales will drop the city’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) enough that the state will raise education tax rates to compensate.  The CLA is a measure the state uses to ensure fairness in the statewide tax by making sure appraisals in all towns generally match the results of actual sales.

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In Newport: Merchants get creative to compete with Internet

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices.  The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices. The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 4, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A random sampling of local merchants suggests they are experimenting with new ways to compete in what has become a global marketplace.
The beginning of the 2013 Christmas shopping season looked pretty good, they said, but they are all looking over their shoulders at their real competition — the Internet.

Like most of the other storeowners, Cindy Moylan of All About Home in Derby, said she faces stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.  Her solution is to match their discounted prices on an everyday basis.

“People are conscious about how they spend their money,” she said.

Ms. Moylan said her customers often come into the store looking for the kitchenware and appliances she stocks, and they’re armed with lists of the lowest prices available on the Internet.  Because she bases her prices on the lowest allowed by manufacturers, those informed shoppers know they’ve found a good deal, she said.

Although one might like to think people will be willing to part with a little extra money in order to support a local business, Ms. Moylan said most people just go with the lowest price.

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After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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Tenants prepare to leave historic Spates Block

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Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder.  It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city.  Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Betty McQuillen’s father, Harold Jenks, bought Farrant’s Flower Shop in 1927 from John Farrant the son of its founder. It was started in the nineteenth century and is the oldest continuously operating business in the city. Ms. McQuillen said it will be centered on Farrant Street after its Main Street shop closes in December. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — John Daggett carefully placed boxes, pieces of furniture and random possessions into the back of a box truck parked on Main Street here Friday.  Over the past couple of weeks, Mr. Daggett said he’s helped around five households move out of the strip of buildings on the south side of Main Street known as the Spates Block.

The buildings, which run from Center Street up to Second Street, will be demolished in late winter to make way for a retail and hotel complex known as the Renaissance Block.  In preparation, landlord Doug Spates is clearing them of their tenants.

Mr. Daggett said he moved out of the J.B. Police building not long ago and into a new apartment that is also owned by Mr. Spates.

The new apartment is “beautiful,” he said.   “It’s definitely going to be a big change from here.  Where I was living everything was included.  Now I have to pay my own heat and light.”

Mr. Spates is charging a lower rent for the new apartment than he was for the old one, Mr. Daggett said.  That will make it easier to afford the new bills.

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

On a warm September day John Daggett pauses for a moment as he loads a truck with the belongings of Spates Block residents who are rushing to move before their October 1 deadline. Photo by Joseph Gresser

“Sometimes I get a little behind on my rent,” he said, but he added that Mr. Spates is willing to work with his tenants.  He said Mr. Spates has given him odd jobs to help him out when he’s short, and he’s helped prepare new apartments for people who are being displaced from Main Street; he’s even helped some move.

Stephanie Forest also moved from the Spates Block recently.  She now lives in Derby Line in a bigger apartment that, at $500 a month, is $50 less than the one she rented in Newport.

Mr. Daggett said the change is going to be hard on some people, even if they get help from Mr. Spates.  For many, he said, “It’s definitely a tough adjustment.”

“With all these cutbacks it’s going to be hard on people the first year,” he said.  “I hope when they tear things down and put things up it straightens out the economy.”

Bill Stenger, the co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of those seeking to replace the Spates Block, told members of the press earlier this month that he hopes to contribute to an improvement in the city’s economy by building the Renaissance Block, a hotel and conference center on the site of Waterfront Plaza, and a biotech research and manufacturing facility on the site of the old Bogner building.

All of the projects are to be financed through the EB-5 visa program.  Foreign investors in a job-creating business are able to get a green card and eventual citizenship through this federal program.

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be.  Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

The Spates Block in 2013 is a faint echo of what it used to be. Soon even that echo will fade when the block is demolished this winter to make way for new shops and a hotel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

In order not to cause more harm than necessary to city businesses, Mr. Stenger said he will wait until after the Christmas season to take ownership of the Spates Block.

He said he wants to allow the businesses to get through the big retail season before they have to move.  When it comes time to build the Renaissance block, Mr. Stenger said the work will be done from the rear of the building to avoid creating traffic problems on Main Street and interfering with other businesses in the city.

“It will be like construction in New York City with the fence with holes in it to watch the workers,” he said.

When complete he said the hotel will boast 64 suites, a pool, a brew pub, and retail space on Main Street.  Mr. Stenger said he expects the hotel to appeal to researchers working on projects at the biotech center as well as regular visitors to Newport.

The building will be open for business in 2015, he said.

The Renaissance Block will replace a collection of buildings that have seen better days, but represent a significant chunk of Newport history.  When the city submitted its application to join the state’s designated downtown program, it prepared a listing of historic buildings in the Main Street area.

According to that document, the J.B. Police building, in which Mr. Daggett lived until recently, was one of the three oldest on the Spates’ Block.  It was built around 1900, 18 years before Newport was organized as a city.

The building was first called the Arlington Block, but received its current name after Police’s Fruit Store moved into the ground floor.  The store was owned by Gasper Borella, who moved from Italy to Plymouth, New Hampshire.  There he added Police to his name.

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant.  She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carol Bonneau cooks breakfast for Newport residents at Family Recipe, her restaurant. She plans to keep feeding people until she has to leave and, if possible, to go out with a big party on Main Street. Photo by Joseph Gresser

His son John B. Police took over the store when his father returned to his homeland.  His name is still emblazoned on the front of the building.  The Police family owned the building for the next 61 years.  The only store now open in that building, and one of only four businesses on the block, is Newport’s oldest continuously operating business, Farrant’s Flower Shop.

Betty McQuillen was minding the store on Monday.  Her father, Harold Jenks, bought the business from John Farrant in 1927, Ms. McQuillen said.

He, in turn, had it from his father, Thomas Farrant, who Ms. McQuillen said, came over from England and started selling flowers in the late nineteenth century.

“He owned all of Farrant’s Point,” she said.

She said she doesn’t see how her business will be able to afford to move back to Main Street once construction is done on the Renaissance Block.  Her plans call for basing the business on Farrant Street near its greenhouse.

That option won’t work for Carol Bonneau, the owner of Family Recipe, a restaurant that specializes in breakfasts and is only open mornings.  Ms. Bonneau said she’s seen business decline and thinks it’s because people don’t realize she’s still open.

She is and said she plans to stay open until December 1, the date she’s been given to leave the building.  Like Ms. McQuillen, Ms. Bonneau said she doesn’t think she can find another storefront to rent on Main Street.

Her plan is to keep serving breakfasts as long as she can and then to look for a job, she said.  When it comes time to shut her restaurant’s doors she said she wants to go out in style.

If the city allows it, “We’re going to throw a big party on Main Street,” she said.  “We’re going to give out some food.”

She plans to keep all her restaurant equipment and hopes to raise enough money to buy a food truck and take it around to events where she can again cook for people.

Ms. McQuillen said that not having the Main Street storefront will mean a loss of walk-in traffic.  But the business will be able to keep on delivering orders from customers, she said.

The Spates Block has been losing businesses for years.  The Great Outdoors of Newport, a sporting goods store that once occupied two storefronts, moved to Waterfront Plaza in 2006.

Other businesses closed more recently.  Myers Jewelry shut its doors earlier this year when its proprietor, David Myers, retired.

Jocelyn and Cinta’s Bake Shop moved across the street into the newly opened tasting center, and Debi Meade moved her store to the Hood Building on Coventry Street, in the process changing its name from Fabric to Ewe-phorium.

Aside from Family Recipe, the only businesses that remain open are a second-hand store run by Northeast Kingdom Community Action (NEKCA), and TNT Tattoos, which is located in the oldest building on the Spates Block, the mansion built by Converse Goodhue Goodrich around 1870.

Now it shows little trace of its origin, but it may have been the home of Mr. Goodrich and his wife, Almira, whose legacy is the library that bears their name.

The Goodrich mansion sits on the corner of Main and Second streets.  Over the years, it has been repeatedly refashioned.  The building appears as a home in an 1881 map.  By the turn of the century, though, it was home to a millinery business located on the first floor.  In 1925 there were three storefronts and apartments along Second Street.

The main storefront has been vacant since Your Name Here Embroidery was bought by the owners of Majestic Trophies and Northeast Kingdom Signs and moved across the street to their store.  TNT Tattoo, on the Second Street side of the building, is the only business operating in what was the old Goodrich mansion.

On Main Street, Mr. Daggett waited at the truck as a bare-chested man carried a large glass fish out of the building and entrusted it to his care.

He introduced himself as Shawn Hildreth.  Like Mr. Daggett he was helping people move their belongings to their new lodgings.

It was a matter of kindness, Mr. Hildreth said.  “I’m trying to help people.  It’s true, when you do that it comes back to you.”

Mr. Hildreth said he has lived in Newport for 30 years and stayed in Main Street apartments “off and on.”

Looking up at the buildings, he said. “I don’t want to see it go.  I think it’s bad news to see it go.”

Thinking it over for a moment, he added.  “Maybe it will help get some of the hoodlums off Main Street.”

Mr. Daggett smiled broadly and said, “I used to be one,” he said.

Mr. Hildreth laughed.  “So did I,” he said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Lafoe Logging wins F Division state championship

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The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament.  Photo courtesy of Scott Burdick

The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament. Photo courtesy of Scott Burdick

The Lafoe Logging men’s softball team won the F Division State Championship Tournament.  The tournament was held in Newport on July 27 and 28.  After a number of years of not competing in state tournaments, Lafoe Logging entered the F Division Tournament and spent two days working their way through the brackets and, ultimately, capturing the championship.  The team would like to thank Brian Lafoe from Lafoe Logging for his many years of sponsorship.   Pictured above, from left to right, in the front row, are:  Dave Bennett and Steve Devost.  In the middle row are:  Jessie Bennett, Jon Lafoe, Tanner Flynn, Joey Paxton, Jared Lafoe, and Tim Cloney.  In the back are: Justin Bursey, Doug Oliver, Travis Waterman, Eric Trucott, and Scott Burdick.  There are no plans to raise any money to go to the nationals or regionals.

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In Barton: Shooting strikes the heart of two communities

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Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Carlton Bickford of Glover pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of Rachel Coburn of Barton. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Carlton Bickford, 76, a retired electrician and well-liked longtime Glover resident, shambled into court in shackles Monday and pled innocent to first-degree murder in the shooting death on Friday of 72-year-old Rachel Coburn of Barton, who Mr. Bickford told police was his “girlfriend.”

Mr. Bickford, who has health and hearing problems, could not initially hear the court proceedings, and arrangements were made for a hearing device before the arraignment continued.

He will be held without bail, although public defender Jill Jourdan argued that he has a wife at home, children in the community, no prior criminal record and should be released on strict conditions and a $100,000 bond with $10,000 down.

The evidence of guilt is great, Judge Howard VanBenthuysen said as he ordered Mr. Bickford to return to prison in St. Johnsbury, where he will be held pending resolution of a case that has flatly shocked all those who know the accused and the victim.

What Mr. Bickford told police about what happened on Friday, the day of the shooting, is sometimes confused.  More than once he allegedly said he was worried that Ms. Coburn wanted to end their relationship, and if he couldn’t have her no one would.  He also said he feared Ms. Coburn would turn him in to police for threatening her, or for attempted murder, although he did not explain why she would accuse him of the latter.

He said there had never been violence between the two until that day.

Ms. Coburn, 72, worked in the cafeteria at Lake Region Union High School for about ten years.  Before that, she and her late husband, Lewis, owned Barton Cleaners until 2002 when it closed.  She’s described as a happy, hard-working, young-at-heart person.

“She was a really warm and friendly woman,” said Nicole Libby, Lake Region’s food service manager.  “She always had that smile on her face.  She was looking to try to make people happy.  She was a very thorough worker, and she had a wonderful, close relationship with a lot of the students.  A lot of the kids are really devastated by this.  She had a way of connecting with kids.

“Everybody is just floored,” Ms. Libby said.  “I had a great time working with her.  It just isn’t real.  She was one of those happy people; she just wanted to live life.”

Mr. Bickford turned himself in to the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon, allegedly saying he had just killed his girlfriend with a shotgun following an argument.  He said he had then tried to kill himself, but only managed to graze his shoulder.  He allegedly told police they would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her house, along with two bullet holes in the ceiling from his unsuccessful attempt to shoot himself.

Both the accused and the victim have an extensive network of friends and family that is intertwined, and that has contributed to the grief and bafflement that follows the tragedy.

“It’s totally unbelievable,” said Butch Currier of Glover, who has been friends with Mr. Bickford since the 1960s.  “I’m just dumfounded.  I don’t know why, and everybody else is wracking their brain trying to think of some reason why.  I even woke up the next morning and wondered if I’d had a bad dream.  I didn’t believe it.”

Mr. Currier said he has sugared with Mr. Bickford for 20 years.  “He did all my boiling for me.  We’ve done a lot together, fished, rabbit hunted, owned property together.  I just can’t say anything bad about him.  He was always funny, always doing something to make you laugh.”

The killing was doubly painful for Mr. Currier.  Rachel Coburn was his aunt.

“Again, you can’t get anybody to say anything bad about Rachel,” Mr. Currier said.  “She was happy go lucky.  She had four kids, loved her kids, her grandkids.”

State Police Detective Sergeant David Petersen’s affidavit describes a confused and distraught man who had been crying when he showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department Friday afternoon.  It also describes an extramarital relationship that started about four years ago when Mr. Bickford was doing some electrical work for Ms. Coburn.

The relationship, which Mr. Bickford said was nonsexual and “the least of what he wanted” when it started, was apparently on the rocks and went very wrong earlier on Friday.

Shortly after Mr. Bickford showed up at the Lyndonville Police Department, Officer Brandon Thrailkill notified State Police.  Mr. Bickford allegedly told Detective Petersen that he would find Ms. Coburn’s body in her West Street home in the hallway near the cellar stairs.

“…he started to tear up and said it was the dumbest thing he had ever done in his life,” the detective’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford said he’d had an argument Friday morning with Ms. Coburn, with whom he’d had a romantic relationship that his wife and son were aware of.  He said the two mostly drank coffee and played cribbage.  His wife had talked to Ms. Coburn about the trouble the relationship was causing.

Rachel Coburn.

Rachel Coburn.

He’d gone to Ms. Coburn’s about 8:30 Friday morning with his usual coffee and newspaper.  An argument had ensued, but he said he thought he could work things out.  A couple of hours later he left, thinking he could “think it over and keep things clear in his mind,” court records say.

When police asked if the argument was about ending the relationship, Mr. Bickford was initially vague, saying he did not think so, but perhaps Ms. Coburn had.  Later, he indicated that his distress was due, in part, to her wish to stop seeing him, the affidavit says.

He returned later that morning with a 12 gauge double barreled shotgun, which he told police he’d taken from his son’s house so his wife would not see him taking a gun from their own house.  When police interviewed Mr. Bickford’s wife, Mary Jane, she said that the guns at their house were locked up, and she had hidden the key.

Mr. Bickford apparently made no bones about the threat of violence when he returned to Ms. Coburn’s house that morning.  He said he loaded the gun in the driveway and put it on the stove while the two continued to talk.

“When asked if he made any threats to use the gun, C. Bickford remarked something to the effect of ‘I don’t know; I probably did to the point of if I couldn’t have her nobody’s ever,’” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

Mr. Bickford also told police he believed Ms. Coburn was going to turn him in for attempted murder and suggested he had no alternative but to kill her, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

In the midst of the couple’s second conversation that morning, the phone rang.  Mr. Bickford told Ms. Coburn not to answer, but when she made a dash for it, “that’s when I shot her,” he allegedly told police.

He did not want Ms. Coburn to answer the phone because “she was going to seek help,” court records say.

“She tried to get by me once to get out the door and I wouldn’t let her and then when the phone rung I just told her don’t answer the phone,” Mr. Bickford allegedly told police.  “Visit with me.  And she made one wild dash to go to the phone.  I guess that was it.”

“No, I didn’t intend to kill her,” he said, according to the affidavit.  “But when she started threatening me with having me arrested and all of that, I don’t know, I didn’t have much choice.”

He told police that when he returned with the gun, “I didn’t know just what was going to happen, but I wanted to be in control.”

He allegedly told Detective Petersen that he had “nothing to gain from shooting Coburn and should have walked away from the whole setup.”

Mr. Bickford said he believed he shot Ms. Coburn in the abdomen and chest area from a distance of ten or 15 feet, and he did not check on her after shooting her because he knew she was dead, Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

A babysitter at a neighbor’s house that day told police she heard two loud bangs, but did not see anything or anyone.  She said it sounded like someone was moving furniture.

Mr. Bickford told police that, at first, he had no intention of using the shotgun, but said that Ms. Coburn “ran her mouth about me using her the way I had been using her, and she was probably correct.”  He said he believed Ms. Coburn would find a way to “put him away for threatening her.”

“The lady’s dead.  I shot her and I’m guilty as hell,” he told Detective Petersen, according to the affidavit.

In a later interview that evening, Mr. Bickford told police Ms. Coburn had told him he could “get out.”

“He further noted, upon returning to Coburn’s house he told Coburn if I couldn’t have her nobody was going to,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.

“I was 100 percent wrong,” he told police.

Mr. Bickford frequently expressed remorse as he talked to police.  At one point, he said he would do anything to bring Ms. Coburn back, “but it was too late.”

“C. Bickford remarked he had more problems now than he did before,” Detective Petersen’s affidavit says.  It goes on to say that Mr. Bickford said he “wished he could go back and change the past.”

After the shooting, Mr. Bickford told police, he drove around Orleans and Caledonia counties for a while then went to the village office in Lyndonville, which he believed was the police station.  There he was given directions to the police station, where he turned himself in.

The murder has pretty much consumed the thoughts of many who knew the two.

“When I saw it on Facebook, I thought it was a hoax,” said Sue Squires of Glover.  “My mouth started getting wide open.  I’ve known Carlton all my life.  I don’t understand it.  He’d help you out in any way he could.”

“When you think of Carlton, you think of Carlton as a joker and with a smile on his face,” said Sharon Bickford.  “It’s such a tragedy.  You just sit here in a whirlwind trying to make something of it.

“I’ve known Rachel all my life,” Mrs. Bickford said.  “She was a nice lady, very friendly, cordial, always had a smile on her face, very personable.  She just loved life.  For everybody that knew both of them it’s an awful shock, for the whole community.”

Family and friends are simply trying to process the tragedy, Mrs. Bickford said.  “Never in a dog’s age, never, that’s not him,” she said about the charge against Mr. Bickford.

“What to hell happened?” Mr. Currier said.  “Chances are I’ll never see Carlton again.  Without a doubt I won’t.”

He said he wonders if the multiple medications Mr. Bickford took for a variety of health problems may have affected him.

Conviction on a first-degree murder charge carries a sentence of 35 years to life.

Mr. Bickford was denied the services of a public defender.  Judge VanBenthuysen said that because of his assets and income, he would have to retain an attorney himself.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com

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Newport team clinches softball D division title — headed to nationals

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Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday's tournament play.  Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play.   Photo by Richard Creaser

Rhonda Howard, pitching for the Newport-based D&D Electric softball team, delivers a pitch during Sunday’s tournament play. Short stop Ashley Gravel (background left) prepares for the play. Photo by Richard Creaser

by Richard Creaser 

NEWPORT — Solid defense and great team chemistry have propelled D&D Electric onto the national stage.  The Newport-based team has earned a berth at the Amateur Softball Association of America’s national eastern C and D division championships in Canton, Ohio, at the end of August.  D&D Electric earned the berth by winning the D division state tournament held at Gardner Park in Newport over the weekend.

D&D Electric defeated Accura Printing of Barre, 4-2 to clinch the title and remain undefeated throughout the tournament.  Coach and pitcher Rhonda Howard credits solid defense, particularly from fielders Krista Sargent and Christiane Brown, for keeping Accura off the board and securing the win.

“They had some really great catches to keep them off the bases,” Howard said.  “It was a really close game but we came out on top.”

Slow pitch softball is a game within a game.  The slow arc of the ball is deceptive in its movements.  Unlike a batting practice lob, the ball can be imbued with off-speed movement.  Controlling the arc and controlling its location are essential elements to the game.

“A good pitcher can have a great impact,” Dori Austin of The Rez in Waterbury said.  “A good pitcher can place the ball to make a hitter hit it where you want it to land.  That’s why you will hear the good pitchers moving their players around.”

The ability to dictate the flow of the game separates the good pitchers from the rest, Ms. Howard agreed.  It’s also a matter of learning the hitting habits of your opponents and playing to their weaknesses, she said.

“If you know the teams, you know where they are most likely to hit it,” Laura McClure of Burnett Scrap Metals from Burlington said.  “It does help to play against teams you normally would play.  You start out already knowing something about them.”

Playing against unfamiliar teams requires patience and a willingness to watch your rivals in action against other squads.  It was not unheard of for at least some opponents to watch games in progress, scouting out their rivals in preparation for the next round.

Slow pitch is less about big, dramatic hits and more about small ball — the art of generating hits and moving your players along the base paths.

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base.  Newport's Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America's state C and D division tournament over the weekend. Photo by Richard Creaser

Scottie Taylor (left) playing for McKees Pub & Grill in Winooski, makes a diving stab at an errant ball as Chelsea Trombley playing for Burnett Scrap Metals of Burlington reaches first base. Newport’s Gardner Park was the host site for the Vermont Amateur Softball Association of America’s state C and D division tournament over the weekend.
Photo by Richard Creaser

“Defense plays a huge part in this game,” Ms. Austin said.  “You need to work at getting people on base and taking advantage of any play that lets you score runners.  You have to earn every run.”

As competitive a sport as it might be, particularly at the state tournament level, no one has forgotten that having fun is also part of the equation.  Many of the players at the tournaments have not only played with their teammates for years, but they have also played against one another for years as well.

“When you get to a tournament like this, sure, it’s about winning games and moving on,” Ms. McClure said.  “But you also have that social aspect.  It’s about good friends meeting up with friends they haven’t seen in a while.”

softball cooler

Dori Austin, playing for The Rez out of Waterbury, rides on the must have cooler for tournament play. The cooler keep beverages cool and helps players navigate the tournament grounds ensuring they arrive at the dugout rested and refreshed.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Cans of beer, canopies and the smell of hot dogs give the tournament a festive air.  The fact that Ms. Austin is also driving around on a motorized cooler only adds to the carnival-like atmosphere.  The scooter-cooler is a handy way to get around and keep beverages cold, but it also has a story behind it, Ms. Austin said.

“I wrote a letter to talk show host Ellen Degeneres and she read it on air,” Ms. Austin said.  “A little while later they sent this cooler from her show.  They featured the Cruzin’ Cooler on her show and she sent us one.”

Ms. Howard, Ms. Austin and Ms. McClure have all been part of teams that have competed at the national level.  It is, they agreed, an incredible experience as players and fans of the game.

“The level of softball you see when you get to nationals is just phenomenal,” Ms. Howard said.

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday's tournament play at Gardner Park.  Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August.  D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre. Photo by Richard Creaser

Christiane Brown of Newport smashes a ball down the first base line during Sunday’s tournament play at Gardner Park. Ms. Brown and her teammates on D&D Electric, won the state D division and will advance to the eastern national tournament in Canton, Ohio, in late August. D&D Electric remained undefeated throughout the tournament and captured the title with a 4-2 win over Accura Printing from Barre.
Photo by Richard Creaser

Does that high level of play intimidate the Vermont teams at all?  Not in the least, Ms. Howard said.

She played on the Newport squad that went to nationals in 2007.

“The teams from the south, where they can play pretty much all year, yeah, they have some advantages,” Ms. Howard said.  “We play sometimes in the winter, in the snow.  But ball is ball.  You go out there, give it 100 percent and see what happens.”

Ms. McClure’s team, though relatively new, includes a core group that had participated in eight straight C division state titles.  Team chemistry matters as much as field time when it comes to tournament play, she said.

“It takes it to a whole other level,” Ms. McClure said of the national tournament experience.  “It’s an awesome experience and it’s just always great to be able to travel as a team.”

Winning the state tournament or being the runner-up is only part of the ticket to the national tournament.  Each team that advances to represent Vermont now faces less than a month to raise the money to get them to Ohio.  D&D Electric will hold a team meeting later this week to formulate a plan, Ms. Howard said.

“We don’t have anything definite planned right now but we have a few ideas,” she said.  “We are thinking of a big garage sale, holding a car wash, and approaching local businesses to sponsor us.”

Anyone interested in supporting D&D Electric in their bid for the eastern national C division title can contact Ms. Howard at (802) 673-4156 for more information.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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In Newport: New gallery features art reflecting social concerns

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Artists Sam Thurston and Abigail Meredith check out the artwork at the opening of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. The gallery will also serve as a meeting place for NEK 99%, a grassroots organization for social change. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A new addition to Newport’s art scene opened Sunday, offering an exhibit with a title — “Politically Incorrect” — that pointed out the path the gallery means to follow.

According to Diane Peel, its founder, the 99 Gallery is an outgrowth of NEK 99 %, an organization inspired by the Occupy protests of 2011 and made up of local activists.  The gallery is tucked into a lovely old carriage house on School Street, just off Main Street.

On Sunday the space was filled with artists — some of high school age — and visitors.  On the walls, a variety of works was displayed, most of them reflecting social concerns.

Abigail Meredith’s acrylic “Shockwave” shows a woman with her hair blowing back in a blast of intense white light.  The North Country Union High School junior said the painting was meant to remind viewers that the peril of nuclear weapons remains.

She said she came up with the image when she heard that the energy of an atomic bomb can burn the silhouette of a figure into a nearby wall.

In Ms. Meredith’s image, though, the figure is not the result of a catastrophe.

“I put it in the middle of the explosion rather than the aftermath,” she said.  “Movement is very interesting to me.”

Ms. Meredith, along with North Country freshman Ryland Brown, whose intricate pen and ink drawing of a skull and guitar also graced the new art space, is studying at the school’s Arts and Communications Academy.

One of their teachers, Natalie Guillette, also contributed a painting to the show, an eerie image of a face shrouded in a mask.  According to her artist’s statement, Ms. Guillette was moved to create a series of similar paintings by a visit to a World War II museum where gas masks were on exhibit.

Other artists from the community also brought their works for the initial show.  Jack Rogers showed a trio of pencil drawings, which included an image of a hand blocking the lens of a camera and Rodney King being menaced by the baton of a police officer.

In a very different vein, Sam Thurston of Lowell offered a drawing of a street life under a New York elevated train and a watercolor illustration of a verse by Percy Bysshe Shelley.

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon.  In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

An improptu manifesto was chalked on the sidewalk in front of the 99 Gallery Sunday afternoon. In addition to presenting art shows, the gallery will also provide a home for NEK 99 %, according to its founder, Diane Peel. Photo by Joseph Gresser

The 99 Gallery, while it offers a home to artists living in and around Newport, was created in large part to display the work of a painter and sculptor who spent very little of his life in the area.

Ms. Peel’s father, Donald William Peel, was an active artist for most of his 89 years.  He started making paintings in the magic realist style in the 1950s, moved on to abstract sculpture, and finally back to surrealist paintings in his final years.

Mr. Peel achieved recognition, especially on the West Coast, where he lived most of his life.  His work is represented in museums and university collections in the Pacific Northwest.

Ms. Peel said that after her mother, a fashion designer, died in 2001 she wanted her father to move to Vermont and build a home and a studio that could handle the big painting he was making.  Sadly, Mr. Peel died in 2010.

Left with a large collection of her father’s works, Ms. Peel said she had to make a choice.  She could store the big surrealist paintings, but then they wouldn’t be seen and, without climate control, would suffer permanent damage.  She decided on the alternative of creating a space in which her father’s work can be shown and, she hopes, purchased by collectors.

Her plans call for interspersing shows by living artists with displays of her father’s paintings.

Ms. Peel said she wants the new gallery to serve as a home for work that might not fit in at the MAC Center.  Her gallery is not intended to compete with the more established art space, Ms. Peel said, but is meant to broaden the options available to artists and art lovers in Newport.

She said she hopes to offer “edgier” art than might be possible for a space that relies on sales to keep its doors open.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel said, is paid for out of her earnings as a nurse and can keep going whether or not any paintings are sold.

The gallery, like the NEK 99 % organization is nonpolitical, Ms. Peel said.

“We’re not involved with the political process,” Ms. Peel declared.  “We’re involved with the people process.”

Pointing to Mr. Rogers’ drawing of the blocked camera, she said the image depicts the “surveillance state.”  Government intrusion into the private affairs of citizens is not a political issue, but a people issue, Ms. Peel said.

She recalled criticisms of the original Occupy protests, which questioned the movement’s lack of leadership and formal structure.  Those objections, she said, were based on a misunderstanding of the movement’s intentions.

“Occupy was trying to organize a horizontal system at the grassroots level,” she said.  The 99 Gallery, Ms. Peel will embody the same principles.

Those who want to see how these principles look on the walls of a gallery can see “Politically Incorrect” through the end of July.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Jon Somes creates hair and skin product line

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Jon Somes.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Jon Somes. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 3-20-2013

NEWPORT — In a culmination of years of creative process, Jon Somes of Newport is now selling hair and skin care products in his salon, under a label with his own name on it.

“It had been on my mind for years and years,” he said in an interview at the salon Friday.  In 2006 he started thinking about it seriously and looking for the right chemist.  He found someone in Oregon and has been working on the recipes ever since.

These recipes aren’t something you can cook up in a regular kitchen.

He tried to find someone in Vermont, but he could not find the right person or lab.  So for now, the products are shipped in bulk to Vermont and bottled and labeled here.  If sales quantities justify a change in the future, he will set up a lab to make it here too and possibly create local jobs.

But for now he’s just really glad to have finally settled on the right recipes and be able to offer his products for sale — at the shop or from his website.

“At first I was just going to do shampoos and conditioners,” he said.  But he decided that facial products are also really important for someone’s overall look.

He read a lot about various ingredients and tried lots of combinations before settling on the right mixtures.  One important ingredient for skin is hyaluronic acid, which was originally made of roosters’ combs.  These days the same ingredient is made in a lab with a fermenting process.

The ingredients are 83 to 93 percent organic, but Mr. Somes said he finds that completely organic shampoos and conditioners have a tendency to leave hair somewhat too dry, not shiny, and staticy — especially in winter in Vermont with wood stoves drying out the indoor air in a lot of homes.

Getting the right fragrance for the shampoos and conditioners was another whole process.

“I had a feeling about how I wanted it to smell,” he said.  He found a perfumery in Pennsylvania that was able to help him come up with scents that he had described to them, with ingredients he wanted.  Some of the ingredients are amber, citron, and mandarin.

He said it should have one scent when it first comes out of the bottle and hits the air in the shower, and another one later after one’s hair is dry.

“There’s undertones to it,” he said.

He’s had the products in the shop for a while already, long enough to get some reaction from clients.  The very first person he used the shampoo and conditioner on immediately mentioned it.

She said, “I don’t know what this is, but I love this.”

He said he’s pretty sure many of his clients are enjoying the products.  If they had only bought one bottle he might think they were trying to be polite, but they have been coming back for more.

The products are expensive due to the expense of some of the ingredients.  One of the ingredients, argon oil, is critically important and only comes from Morocco.

Mr. Somes said once the perfumery had put together the fragrance he wanted, the people there gave him some feedback that really pleased him.  They told him the fragrance could be a perfume, not just a shampoo.  Their comments were:

“A sophisticated, modern, fine fragrance type, opening with a citrusy sparkle of citron and mandarin, leading to a floral heart of night blooming jasmine, ylang ylang, vetiver and rose, and finishing with an ambery, mossy, patchouli, sandalwood and then an exotic, spicy dry-down.”

Mr. Somes has just finished his website:  www.jonsomes.com/index.php.  It’s getting some attention already on the Internet.  He doesn’t know where this will take him, but he’s extremely happy with the products themselves.

“I had an idea that manifested into an incredible finished product,” he said, and having it done is completely satisfying.  “My intention was to make the very best thing possible.”

The Jon Somes Salon has been on Main Street in Newport for three years and draws clients from out of state and Canada.  Mr. Somes had a salon in Derby Line in the late ’90s until 2001, then spent some time out west.

He started in his career as a hairstylist after working in real estate and marketing and deciding he wanted a change to something more personal.  He studied hairstyling in Paris, and he has been a stylist for 25 years.  He serves on the Vermont Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists.

He grew up in New York and Michigan.  When he was working in Taos, New Mexico, his reputation as a hairstylist grew to the point where film industry clients sought him out.

contact Bethany M. Dunbar at bethany@bartonchronicle.com

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Legislators tour through Jay and Newport

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Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Bill Stenger, president of Jay Peak Resort, testifies before the combined forces of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee Tuesday at North Country Career Center in Newport. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 2-6-13

NEWPORT — A passel of state representatives on a bus tour of the Northeast Kingdom heard firsthand about the issues that will have to be addressed to help the area adjust to $500-million-worth of planned development.  One problem the area won’t have to address is an influx of 10,000 new jobs.

Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak Resort and one of the main forces behind the new investment, told the legislators that although there will be 10,000 jobs created in response to the investment, the total of direct jobs in Orleans County will be between 1,500 and 2,000.

The rest of the 10,000 figure will be a consequence of the economic activity created by the new business, and will ripple through the state and out into New England, Mr. Stenger explained.

He was the first witness to testify before a combined meeting of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee and the Transportation Committee, supplemented by one or two members of the House Education Committee.

The legislators arrived for lunch at the North Country Career Center after taking a tour of Jay Peak and hearing the plans for economic development in the Northeast Kingdom proposed by Mr. Stenger and his partners.  They were accompanied on their journey by a group of high-ranking officials from the state agencies of Commerce and Community Development, and Transportation.

When they got to the Career Center the delegation found a crowd of around 90 people, including educators, local officials, business owners and interested citizens had already assembled.

Representative Bill Botzow of Pownal, chairman of the commerce committee, opened the meeting and gave Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, his vice-chairman, an opportunity to say a few words.

“I want to thank the legislators for coming up here.  We’re really proud of what we have here,” Representative Marcotte said.

He said of the work that must be done in connection with planned development, “they’re great challenges to have, but they’re challenges we have to meet.”

Mr. Stenger, who was the first witness, told the representatives that it was the “quality and character of the community” that inspired his plans.  Capital, he said, was the key to development, and the federal EB-5 visa program, which allows foreigners to get residency status in the U.S. in exchange for a job-creating investment, has provided an ideal source of capital.

He said the program has allowed Jay Peak to realize good ideas without the necessity of having a mortgage.

When the program got to the point where it needed to be renewed by Congress, Mr. Stenger said, he sat down with Senator Patrick Leahy, who was one of those behind the law, and Governor Peter Shumlin to think of what might be done if the law was extended.

They decided that it would make sense to bring in good new businesses and give them the opportunity to grow in the Northeast Kingdom.

When the bill reauthorizing the program was signed in September it opened a three-year window, Mr. Stenger said.

In those three years two new business, AnC Bio and Menck Windows, will have to be up and running.  Other ideas, such as a hotel and convention center in Newport and a redeveloped block in the city, will have to be substantially complete, he said.

He said that he and his partners have been working closely with educators around the area to make sure that people have the skills needed when it comes time to hire workers.

The issues that will need to be addressed as the current plans come to fruition include transportation, health care, housing, and education and training.

“All those elements are represented in this room,” Mr. Stenger said of those seated behind him.

“Keep our eye on us, because it’s been a long time since this part of Vermont has been a leader.  We’re going to do great work,” he concluded.

Before leaving the witness table Mr. Stenger, smiling broadly, said he was glad that whoever put together a list of projects for the Agency of Transportation included rebuilding Route 242, the road that serves Jay Peak.  “It made my day.”

Mr. Stenger was followed by superintendents Robert Kern of the North Country Supervisory Union, Chris Masson of the Essex North Supervisory Union, and Stephen Urgenson of the Orleans Central Supervisory Union.

Mr. Kern said that many of the schools in the area are old and need work if they are to accommodate an increased population of students.  He asked the legislators to consider providing help for school renovation, noting that Morgan has repeatedly voted down bonds because its voters feel they cannot pay for renovations on their own.

He also suggested that the state needs to provide demographic information to allow schools to make informed decisions about needs they will have to meet quickly.

Mr. Kern said he has no way of knowing how many new workers will be arriving or how many children they will bring with them.

Mr. Masson pleaded for consideration of spreading the development into the Canaan area.  The number of jobs in the community has dropped precipitously since Ethan Allen moved much of its production to its Orleans plant, he said.

Mr. Urgenson asked for a better communications infrastructure in the Northeast Kingdom.  Faster communications and better cell phone coverage will result in greater creativity, he argued.

Representing higher education, Penne Ciaraldi of Community College of Vermont, Ann Nygard of Lyndon State College, and Cindy Robillard of the Department of Labor outlined their efforts to create a partnership to develop job training programs in the Northeast Kingdom.

Ms. Nygard said educators have to build a “cradle to career pathway” for students.

Eileen Illuzzi, interim director of the Career Center, told how her school has worked to anticipate career opportunities.  She said the career center established its hospitality program three years earlier after a visit to Jay Peak.

“Hospitality is not a career choice, we need to make it a destination career,” she said.

She said the career center is “all about options.”  Even students who decide not to complete a two-year career program may have gained something.

Ms. Illuzzi told the story of a student who hoped to go to medical school.  When she fainted at the sight of blood during a visit to an operating room, it gave her a chance to reconsider her path, Ms. Illuzzi said.

The Menck Window company, a German firm, may want to consider working with the career center to create an apprenticeship program, Ms. Illuzzi said, something that accords with their national style.

Patricia Sears of the Newport City Renaissance Corporation gave a ringing endorsement of the city.

“This is Newport’s time, this is Vermont’s time, this is our time,” she declared.

She talked about opportunities that can be created by a planned foreign trade zone, which if approved by the federal government would greatly expand the possibilities of international trade in the area.

“We’re all on the path to awesome,” Ms. Sears announced.

Doug Morton of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association said his organization has conducted a number of studies of transportation needs in Orleans and Caledonia counties.  The studies could use revision, he acknowledged, but the basic information is still sound.

After the scheduled testimony, Mr. Botzow asked if any individuals wished to offer their opinions.  Nick Ecker-Racz of Glover stepped forward to tell the legislators that he thinks that an improved public transportation system ought to be part of their thinking.  He also warned against programs that involved excess regulation.

Finally Mr. Ecker-Racz cautioned the representatives that increased wealth in the community will inevitably result in an influx of drugs, including cocaine and heroin.  Programs should be put in place beginning in elementary school to guard against the problem.

Eleanor Leger of Charleston said she thinks that good local businesses will thrive in the new environment.  She expressed excitement about the proposed free trade zone, which she said could aid her business, Eden Ice Cider, which gets many of its bottling supplies from South America.

Reed Ogden of Barton warned against too eager acceptance of a Walmart scheduled for construction in Derby.  Studies, he said, show that every Walmart employee costs taxpayers $1,000 in support services due to the company’s low wages and benefits.  He acknowledged that the data behind that study was eight years old.

Mr. Ogden pointed to a community-sponsored for-profit store established in Saranac Lake, New York, as an example of an alternative way for people to buy the goods they need at a price they can afford.

Finally, Newport Mayor Paul Monette told the legislators that his city welcomes all the development.  He said that transportation was the only problem he could see.

He said that a bottleneck at the bottom of Main Street could be eliminated by building a roundabout.  Or a new bridge, which he suggested might have to go through the spot where Representative Marcotte’s store now stands, could serve as a bypass for traffic.

In concluding the meeting Mr. Botzow offered a kind of benediction.

“I think the future is bright,” he said.  “I hope in five, ten or 20 years we look back and say ‘we did it right.’”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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