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Old Stone Mill Bought by Community Firm; Storm Café to Close, Student Projects Relocated

December 6, 2018

Storm Café Closes Doors For Good

A sunny day signaled the end of the Storm Café. The restaurant, located in the Old Stone Mill building on the banks of Otter Creek, had been a staple in the Middlebury food scene for years. Last year, their American cuisine made from local ingredients won the café a spot in Visiting New England’s  “12 Favorite Places for Breakfast” list.

On Nov. 11, Beth and John Hughes, who ran the restaurant for the past 13 years, said goodbye to regular customers, many of whom had been coming there since it opened in the lowest floor of the Old Stone Mill 25 years ago.

“It’s bittersweet,” John told Seven Days.

“This was our dream—to own our own business together,” Beth said in an interview with the Addison Independent. In a statement on the Storm Café’s website, they both thanked the Middlebury community for their patronage and promised they would miss all those who dined with them over the years. The Storm Café will be missed by many in the Middlebury community. John estimated that roughly 80 percent of the café’s customers came from the college. “The Storm’s cozy atmosphere, the sounds of the waterfall and [the] delicious food never failed to provide happy meals for me and my family,” Sophie Hiland ’22 said. 

The café joins a long list of recently-closed local businesses, but the decision to close was not made solely by the business owners. Middlebury College, which owns the Old Stone Mill building the Storm Café called home, informed the Hughes this past summer that their lease would not be renewed. 

However, there is a rainbow after the storm for the Hughes family. Both Beth and John are now working as a paraprofessional and a cafeteria chef, respectively, at Salisbury Community School. And, to sweeten the deal, their twin daughters Molly and Lilly are both students at the school. “For the first time in 20 years, I’ll have my weekends off,” John added.

As the Hughes move on to other things, Middlebury College announced an end to its search for a new partner to move into 3 Mill Street. The lucky tenants? Community Barn Ventures, a group based in town that, in the words of co-founder Stacey Rainey, helps businesses “solve whatever problems they have, getting them from where they are to where they want to be.” 

The group started work just over a year ago and already has about 15 clients. It has been looking to expand beyond just its current advisory role, and found the perfect opportunity on the banks of Otter Creek.

Middlebury College bought the Old Stone Mill building in 2008 for $2.1 million. Since then, the college has used the space above the Storm Café as an incubator for student creativity and innovation. The building has been home to students and locals alike, fostering specifically non-academic, self-designed projects ranging from art exhibitions to band practices. However, Bill Burger, vice president for communications and chief marketing officers, explains, “the building needs such investment that it didn’t make sense to go ahead with the same use of the building.”

Community Barn Ventures will close the deal on purchasing the building for $500,000 in early January. The group has already contracted local firm McLeod Kredell Architects to help bring its vision for the historic building to life, opening up to the public in summer 2019. The Middlebury-based modern architecture firm emphasizes a “search for appropriate local expressions of universal qualities and ideals,” according to its website. John McLeod is a visiting professor of architecture at the college, while Steve Kredell teaches at Norwich University’s School of Architecture and Art. 

Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane, co-founders and partners at Community Barn Ventures, are Middlebury residents who stepped away from corporate jobs and now focus on making their work “have a positive impact on our community,” Cullinane explained. Their plans for the four-and-a-half story, 9,000-square-foot space reflect this desire for community engagement and support for local business.

The top floor and a half will become five Airbnb units, each with its own bathroom and secure access but with a shared living room and kitchenette, intended for parents, visiting professors, or tourists. Just below the mini-hotel will be the Community Barn Network, a shared workspace divided into seating for people working on personal laptops or without a need for private space, dedicated offices and a shared conference room, and telephone booths for those who need to make private calls. The second floor will house a public market with eight to 10 permanent vendor stalls, half of them food-based and half for hard goods, as well as a stall for coffee and a general watering hole.

The objective is to create a “daily destination,” a place where students and town residents can go for a variety of functions. This deliberate attempt to engage with the community was instrumental in the college’s decision to sell to Community Barn Ventures. 

“There were a number of different groups interested in the building,” Burger said. “But we wanted to find the right partner who would do something that we felt was best for Middlebury and that would create opportunity for Middlebury College students.”

The iconic space at 3 Mill Street is being brought into a new age by Community Barn Ventures, but the new plans include a nod to the building’s past: the first floor will remain a restaurant, though Community Barn Ventures is still looking for the perfect partner to take over the space. No matter who ends up taking over the first floor at 3 Mill Street, they will have big shoes to fill with the Storm Café’s departure.

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    Old Stone Mill Sale Forces Student Users to Find New Home

    Old Stone Mill, the college’s hub for student entrepreneurs, innovators and student makers, was sold for $500,000 to Community Barn Ventures, a local consulting firm for growing businesses. 

    The closing date on the sale of the historic building in downtown Middlebury is Jan. 7, which leaves students a month to move out of the space. At that time, the Old Stone Mill programs will relocate to 82 Weybridge Street.

    According to college treasurer David Provost, the sale does not represent a change in the college’s commitment to the students involved in Old Stone Mill projects, but rather a financial necessity. The building needed between $2 and $2.5 million worth of changes to bring it up to the college’s safety and accessibility standards. 

    Meanwhile, the college has $100 million worth of projects that it has already prioritized, including the renovation of Warner, Johnson and Munroe, building a new academic building, a new residence hall to replace Battell and a new museum.

    Provost said that the college is committed to finding both an interim space for the spring of 2019 and a space that will accommodate all of the Old Stone Mill’s projects in the long term. 

    On Dec. 1, the Innovation Hub announced that the Old Stone Mill programs will be moving to 82 Weybridge Street in the short term.

    82 Weybridge Street is up the hill from the current space, 3 Mill Street. It has three apartments, which will continue to accommodate the needs of the Old Stone Mill tenants in conjunction with the Annex space on campus. The Annex space is above the ceramics house on Adirondack Street and already serves as an extra space for Old Stone Mill tenants.

    The college purchased the Old Stone Mill in January 2008. In the last 10 years, it has served as a creativity incubator for students seeking a space away from their dorm rooms to build and innovate. Each year, the Old Stone Mill has functioned as that much-needed space for hundreds of student tenants.

    “Old Stone Mill is unique in that it is not exclusively a business incubator and it is not a space dedicated for specific academic work,” said Heather Neuwirth, associate director of the center for social entrepreneurship. 

    “We blend a focus on innovation in the liberal arts with an emphasis on opening up space for creativity,” she said.

    The projects of student tenants vary greatly from using the space to write poetry to cooking dinner for the Dinner with Strangers program, to managing well-established businesses. Some of these student-run businesses include Share to Wear, Overeasy, BeachIt, SheFly and PatchyTs.

    Share To Wear, a dress rental exchange system for femme-identifying students, was founded in 2016, and leader Greta Hulleberg ’19 attributes much of their positive development to the Old Stone Mill space. Currently, the company stores over 700 dresses in the space, making it laborious to move while keeping them clean and organized.

    Hulleberg hopes that the new space will still offer opportunities for collaboration. The founders of Share To Wear regularly collaborated and bounced their ideas off of the leaders of Overeasy and other tenants when working together in the shared work space.

    Similarly, the founders of PatchyTs, a t-shirt company that irons custom patches designed by collaborative artists onto their shirts, hope that this sharing will continue in the new space. 

    Ryan Feldman ’21 said they were disappointed to hear of the Old Stone Mill’s closing because they had fully moved their operation into the work space and had enjoyed making friends with and learning from the leaders of Overeasy and Share to Wear. They are looking forward to moving into the new building.

    The space is also home to M Gallery, a gallery designed to give students who create art an alternative space to show their work that is distinct from studio art classes. 

    According to M Gallery Board Member Leila Markosian ’21, their biggest concern was finding another common area that would fit their needs. They are unsure that they will receive the same reparations since they operate slightly more independently from the rest of the Old Stone Mill tenants. They are excited by the news of the move to 82 Weybridge Street and considerations of Meeker basement because of its accessibility.

    In spite of the wide diversity of projects, student tenants and board members of the Old Stone Mill have continually remarked on this rich spirit of collaboration within the space. They all expressed their hope that this atmosphere of sharing and the excitement for innovation that currently exists in the building will be replicated at 82 Weybridge Street.

    “It’s the end of the building, not the program,” said Old Stone Mill board member Sarah Haedrich ’19.5, who has assured tenants of the continued success of the program. 

    “We are trying to look at it as an opportunity to make the space better,” Haedrich said.

    Hulleberg similarly expressed her gratitude for the college’s support of creativity and innovation and how lucky she feels that they have and will continue to have a space for their dresses, which they once had to store in a suite.

    Opportunities still exist for students to engage with the Old Stone Mill space under its new owners.

    “We believe we have found a buyer in Community Barn Ventures who will utilize the building to create a hub for innovation and creativity that will align well with Middlebury’s mission,” Provost said. 

    “It will create a community space that the students, faculty and staff of the college will benefit from greatly once complete,” he said.

    The future owners hope to create a community space that will engage as many members of the community as possible on a daily basis. They plan to build a restaurant on the first floor to replace Storm Café, which closed on Nov. 11, a “public market” on the second floor with various vendors selling different products, a co-working space and private working spaces and lodging spaces on the top floors.

    The last tenant showcase in the Old Stone Mill space will take place today from 6-8 p.m.

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