VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund Helps Montpelier Move Forward
Customers lined up near the cash registers with credit cards and hearty congratulations at shops and restaurants participating in Montpelier’s downtown reopening celebration earlier this month.
The two-day event marked the city’s progress toward recovering from the devastating mid-July flooding that surged into buildings and shut down the commercial district in Vermont’s state capital, causing more than $100 million in property damage.
The work is by no means done, but the presence of shoppers, tourists, and “We’re Open Signs” along central streets was a source of optimism at the celebration on October 6 and 7. Progress is being made thanks to intense effort by business owners and property owners, help from more than 4,000 volunteers, and many generous donations. These include donations to the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund 2023 at the Vermont Community Foundation. The fund has in turn made grants of more than $400,000 to assist Montpelier’s recovery, recognizing the deep need.
The funds, dispersed through local nonprofits including Montpelier Alive, the Montpelier Foundation, and the Montpelier Strong Recovery Fund, have been a major boost, according to recipients of grants in the downtown core.
“In so many ways it gave us the confidence to know that we could reopen, knowing that there was funding coming in,” said Sarah DeFelice, owner of clothing and home goods shop Bailey Road on Main Street. After the flooding destroyed inventory and equipment, and forced the closure of her store, the prospect of reopening was more than daunting. The flood relief grant funds helped encourage her not to give up in the face of sobering losses, DeFelice said, as she greeted customers during the reopening event.
“After 14 weeks of super hard work, it’s nice to be doing this work, to see smiling faces again, to welcome people in,” said DeFelice. “This is the work that I like to be doing compared to cleaning out and mucking out storefronts. So, it feels great.”
At Capitol Stationers nearby, the shop window is marked with a waist-high white line to indicate the high-water mark during the flood, when rivers overflowed with heavy rain and swamped the store and its neighbors. Repair crews gutted the space and disgorged the contents. The debris was part of the mountains of clean-out trash that piled up on the streets, which has now been removed.
Grant funding was critical in the decision to reopen Capitol Stationers because it helped reduce the need for burdensome loan debt, said Eric Biggelstone, co-owner of the family operation that opened in 1950. “The funding that we have received has made the decision easier and made all the difference in the world.”
A few blocks over on State Street, the grants helped Althea’s Attic Boutique owner Sharon Whyte Estes pay the rent while her clothing shop was closed after the flood and also helped cover jumbo utility bills for power that fed the machines doing mold mitigation and dry-out. The money made it easier to buy new stock after losing $150,000 in inventory, too. Without the funding, Estes said, “we would have been in so much trouble.”
Customers roamed through the newly opened store and so did suppliers, including Sharon Pike. She makes and sells clothing under the label Max Razy Styles. Althea’s Attic is her only brick-and-mortar outlet. So, when it closed, Pike felt the loss of business, along with Estes. “Now that Althea’s Attic Boutique has reopened, I can start selling again,” said Pike as she steam-ironed her brightly colored designs and hung them on a rack at the store.
It’s an example of how local retail operations have an economic footprint that goes beyond just their doors, and another reason to celebrate the reopening of businesses in Montpelier, said Estes. “We support the local artisan. That’s part of our mission here at Althea’s Attic.”
Grant funding from the Flood Fund at the Community Foundation, its partners, and others has been crucial, Estes said. “I can’t thank you enough, I can’t thank Montpelier Alive enough, Montpelier Strong. Without you all I shudder to think where we would be.”
The progress in Montpelier is also happening thanks to neighbors leaning in to help neighbors, including in the business community. The National Life Group, whose hilltop headquarters in Montpelier escaped the worst of the flooding, raised $1.7 million in donations and pledges to the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund through its Do Good Fest. The gift is now helping to rebuild the community where National Life has been based for 175 years.
"We recognize how much energy, effort, and community support is behind each business that has re-opened in Montpelier as well as those still working to come back," said VCF Vice President for Grants and Community Impact Holly Morehouse. "Coming together continues to be an important theme in flood recovery efforts and The National Life Group have been amazing partners throughout. Their Do Good Fest kicked off the fundraising for the Flood Response and Recovery Fund in an incredible way, and we appreciate being able to work closely together to support groups like Montpelier Alive and the Montpelier Strong Recovery Fund."
As some businesses reopen, others are still shuttered and the buzz of saws, pounding of nails, and presence of trucks bearing sheetrock, paint, and flooring are reminders that the work is not done. The Montpelier City Hall building is still closed and so is the local post office, as are numerous state office buildings. But there are bright spots, too: Kellogg-Hubbard Library, which received at least $30,000 from the VT Flood Response & Recovery Fund, reopened October 7 to the public for the first time since the flood.
“Montpelier has come a long way and it’s taken a huge amount of effort and a lot of teamwork to get this far,” said Katie Trautz, executive director of Montpelier Alive, the nonprofit that has been deeply involved in flood recovery in the city. “The streets are cleaned up and businesses are starting to re-open, and I foresee in the next couple months, many more businesses opening. We’ve made a lot of progress, but Montpelier still needs a lot of love and care, and businesses still need support to get there.’’
It’s going to be a long road forward, but the city and its supporters are committed to staying on the path, Trautz added. “We could not be doing this work without the support of our community and our partners.”