Hardwick, News

Cabot Creamery Outlet Set for August Opening

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HARDWICK — The midmorning sun shone across the yellow walls of the Hardwick Town House last week, a scene that matched the news a panel of local leaders had to share: Two pieces of the multimillion-dollar Hardwick Yellow Barn project will soon fall into place.

The project’s new building, a 22,000-square-foot facility next to the historic barn, is close to completion, said Jon Ramsay, executive director of the Center for an Agricultural Economy, speaking to the crowd June 25 as part of the Vermont Community Development Association’s annual spring conference.

He said the facility could become fully operational in the coming months.

And fellow panelist Erica Burke, general manager of retail operations for Cabot Creamery, said the business’ outlet in the retrofitted Yellow Barn is set to open in mid-August. The date has been long awaited, Burke said, because the dairy co-op wasn’t given a set month, or even year, to expect to open when it agreed to move into the space.

The project was showcased as a success story for collaborations between municipalities and businesses coming together to spur economic development in Vermont’s small towns. But the celebration came with reflection on the seven years of work culminating to this moment. Over the hour, the Yellow Barn Project was likened to a “pimply teenager” or “stray cat” that needed room to refine itself.

“I was worried for this project,” said panelist Kristie Farnham, director of business support at the state Department of Economic Development. “I was worried that there was a massive thing that they were trying to achieve, and maybe they didn’t have the resources identified to get there.”

Farnham said she worked closely with the project team, providing guidance on behalf of the state and federal governments, which both funded the effort. She praised the team’s ability to pivot as plans for the project changed over time.

The $8 million-plus project was first conceived in 2017, said selectboard chair Eric Remick. He was part of the board that year and said the project stemmed from the desire “to build capacity for businesses here in town.”

At the time, the Center for an Agricultural Economy’s Food Venture Center was well established on Junction Road, said Remick. He also recalled that Caledonia Spirits, a local company worth over $4.5 million at the time, had recently relocated to Montpelier.

“There was an example of a growing business that wasn’t able to grow in Hardwick,” said Remick. “We felt we had other businesses that were coming up, and we didn’t want to have that happen again.”

That sparked the first meetings between town leaders, the center and Alison Low, senior planner at the Northeastern Vermont Development Association. It was this working group, he said, that decided the Hardwick Yellow Barn would be a good space for the effort. The iconic building housed the Greensboro Garage for years but had since gone vacant.

An unexpected rise in bid costs was one of the first challenges of the project, said Remick.

“We put it up for bid the spring that Covid-19 hit,” he said. “Our bids came back double our budget, so we had to step back and reprice.”

“The repricing led to a downscale of the project, which caused us to have to go back to all our funders because we already talked to them about a bigger project,” said Remick. “On top of that, the town was having trouble finding organizations to fill the new building.”

While plans for the project were downsizing, the Center for an Agricultural Economy was expanding, said Ramsay.

“We had these emerging infrastructure needs,” he said, “so we jumped in and sort of raised our hand and said, ‘Yes, we would be interested in using space for our programs.’”

He cited the need for more office space and a growing number of farms using the food venture hub as reasons why the center came to take a larger space than expected in the project’s new building.

“The CAE initially planned to occupy 3,000 or 5,000 square feet of the new building,” he said. But with the redesign, the center “ended up taking up half of the new building, so now 12,500 square feet,” he said, adding that the center has gone from 12 staffers to 38 since the Yellow Barn project first began.

Toward the end of the event, Ramsay took the mic to make one last announcement that drew cheers from the crowd: The center plans to hold an open house day Oct. 5 for visitors to tour its existing facilities and the new space.

Lucia McCallum interns as the Hardwick Gazette's community resilience reporter with support from the Leahy Institute for Rural Partnerships. She works with editors at Community News Service, a University of Vermont journalism program.

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