Montpelier’s vibrant, busy downtown is a treasure. We are unique among small towns in Vermont, with a multitude of family and locally owned restaurants, stores, apartments, offices, small inns and our hotel, The Capitol Plaza. But I do remember a time not too long ago when the storefronts, hotel rooms and offices weren’t always filled. The streets on Friday nights and Saturday mornings weren’t always bustling. My wife, Mary, and I have made our home on Elm Street since 1962, and, along with other city residents and business owners, we’ve committed our entire adult lives to growing our town, supporting other local businesses and our award-winning public schools.
We understand the demands and challenges to maintain and improve our community. I served 12 years on the Montpelier Planning Commission. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with other business owners, tenants and residents of Montpelier through good times and bad.
On March 11, 1992, our city was hit with a devastating flood, which shut down our community for weeks. Like so much of our city, many of our family businesses, including the Capitol Theater, suffered great damage. Alongside our neighbors, we worked day and night to reopen quickly — but the property across the street, the Days Inn, did not fare as well. The hotel had already been through five different owners in 12 years. With each new owner came a new sign — Tavern Motor Inn, Treadway Inn and Montpelier Inn, to name a few — often run by a third-party management company, and failing each time. There were so many code violations that the state refused the Days Inn’s request to reopen. They were also behind on their taxes, owing the city several hundred thousand dollars. The hotel block located at 100 State St. sat dark for almost two years.
In the spring of 1993 our family stepped in and bought the hotel after two local developers backed away. It had been a 100-room chain hotel running with an occupancy of less than 29 percent. Drastic changes were made in order for the property to work. We downsized, converting 40 hotel rooms into office space. Over the course of our 20 years of ownership we still have only 64 hotel rooms. If there was a demand for more hotel rooms, we would have built them.
We chose not to be a chain franchise and maintain local independence because it matches Montpelier. Involved in the day-to-day operations are our four children and our grandchildren. Like many of our fellow merchants, Mary and I are extremely fortunate to have our family all working together. We started with 10 employees and have grown to over 75. Our employees are like family as most have been with us for many years.
We support our community, our local businesses and area charities. We have worked with the city to share our parking lot for downtown commerce. In addition, we open our entire lot on evenings and on weekends for the farmers market, local restaurants and shops. Our relationships with city departments, especially the Department of Public Works, Police and Fire, have always been strong.
As dedicated and lifelong residents of Montpelier, we are excited with the potential that the Carr Lot development presents for our community. Although it is a small lot, it represents the chance to expand on the formula of Main Street aesthetics which makes our downtown appealing. We feel that adding a six-story hotel on top of a bus terminal as a gateway to the downtown will not serve the best interests of Montpelier residents.
We are proud to live here and be part of the local small business community here — the economic heartbeat which makes this city truly special.
Fred Bashara is the president of the Capitol Plaza Corp. and has been a resident of Montpelier since 1962.MORE IN Commentary
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