Nine Dumpsters and a Generous Dose of Philanthropy Help Small-Town Store Plan a Comeback
images courtesy of Beverly Jelley
On a recent morning Beverly Jelley painted shelving and waited for her electrician to wire up the new furnace at her deli and convenience store in Londonderry, which took on five feet of water and mud during the torrential flooding that swamped parts of Vermont in July.
“It was horrible,” Jelley said. “We lost everything.”
Now things are starting to look up: With the help of family, friends, employees, and philanthropy, Jelley’s Deli is expected to reopen in October with all eight employees back on board.
The 81-year-old owner of the North Main Street store pondered calling it quits but decided to rebuild and reopen. “I have an obligation and loyalty to my customers and this community,” Jelley said. “After sleeping on it, I decided that we needed to get this store back up and running again.”
Her decision has been made easier through support from the Stratton Foundation and the VT Flood Response and Recovery Fund 2023 at the Vermont Community Foundation. Since the Flood Fund was announced July 11, it has received more than $6 million in generous contributions and awarded more than $2 million to nonprofits around the state that are working on flood relief efforts. This includes $20,000 in grants to the Stratton Foundation, which has assisted flood-walloped residents and business owners in Londonderry, Wardsboro, Ludlow, and several other towns.
The grant funds that Jelley received have helped pay for new insulation, sheetrock, and electrical work on her building, parts of which date to the 1940s. Without the support, the rebuild might have stalled or sputtered out as Jelley navigated delays and disappointments to access recovery funds elsewhere.
“I’m really thankful for the grant money,” Jelley said.
While she and a loyal band of friends, family, and volunteers filled nine dumpsters with sodden debris from the store and have done as much of the renovation work themselves as possible, the paperwork connected with recovery has challenged her can-do attitude.
Jelley has private flood insurance, but the claim process is lengthy, and she hasn’t received any payments yet. Jelley investigated a Small Business Administration loan to cover the renovations but decided it didn’t make sense at this stage of her career.
“I really don’t want to take out another loan,” Jelley said. “My business is paid for, and I certainly don’t want to incur more debt.”
For people affected by the flooding, the process of weighing their options to recover, whether that involves a damaged business or a damaged home, can be daunting. “They are so overwhelmed by it,” said Patti Komline, a former state legislator who signed on to be a part-time flood recovery manager at the Stratton Foundation earlier this summer.
In that role, Komline helps people sort through options after watching them in some cases go table to table at their local disaster resource center and walk out looking dazed, “just liked a deer in the headlights,” she said. Her advice to them: “Let’s come up with a plan and we’ll get through it step by step,” Komline said. She’s found a little advocacy goes a long way. “You can see it in their faces. You know it lightens their load.”
Grants from the VT Flood Response and Recovery Fund to local nonprofits around the state are making a difference, she added. “The contributions to the Stratton foundation have enabled them to leverage more resources for people,” Komline said.
And thanks to the generosity of all those who have given to the VT Flood Fund and other charitable efforts in the wake of the flooding, local business owners like Jelley can maintain their livelihoods and do what they love. Her store and deli, located in the middle of Londonderry, pop. 1,677, has regulars who normally catch up with friends, neighbors, and the local news when they stop in for breakfast or a gallon of milk.
“I have a very dedicated and loyal customer base. And you miss seeing those people every day, having your morning coffee with them,” Jelley said.
She looks forward to the day when the business is operational again and she can catch up properly with her regulars. Her customers are anticipating that moment, too, Jelley said. “Every day, people stop in, wondering if we’re open yet.”