Doing business in Brattleboro

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(Host) The Brattleboro area has been much in the news lately. Commentator Timothy McQuiston explains why it might want to be a little more anonymous.

(McQuiston) Perhaps the Brattleboro area could use a dull moment. Goodness knows it hasn’t had one in awhile. The gateway town in southeastern Vermont is home to the largest Vermont-based business in C&S Wholesale Grocers, as well as being adjacent to the state’s only nuclear power plant. It’s had more than its share of economic shocks, with the loss of Northeast Cooperatives to rival New Hampshire and SCA Tissue to global consolidation.

Brattleboro has a vibrant downtown with a new parking garage that took ages to build.

But a stunning local bankruptcy was announced on March 31st by FiberMark, the state’s largest homegrown manufacturer. FiberMark had expanded tremendously in the last few years by acquiring its competitors. But this worldwide company suffered from worldwide recession which forced its restructuring. And Brattleboro’s famous daily newspaper, the Reformer, fired its editor last month in the latest chapter of its stormy ownership by a Colorado company.

Meanwhile, the Book Press, which secretly printed Salman Rushdie’s “The Satanic Verses” in the 1980s has been closed and liquidated and is now part of the lore of the town, like Estey organs and Archer Mayor’s fictional hero Joe Gunther.

This is a lot for a little town. But while Wal-Mart built a store across the river in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, many years ago, Home Depot recently opened up on Putney Road along Brattleboro’s retail strip. While its retail sector once threatened to go the way of other border towns, Brattleboro, at least in this regard, is on the rebound.

But as far as blockbuster announcements are concerned, there doesn’t seem to be much relief in sight for a place known not only for its business activities, but also for its political activism and strolling of the heifers.

And now the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant is under intense scrutiny at the highest levels by state and federal authorities. The plant cannot account for parts of two highly radioactive fuel rods that were removed from the reactor in 1979. While those authorities and company officials say there’s no health threat, it still wears at the credibility of a facility that wants to increase its power output.

Meanwhile, C&S Wholesale Grocers, with over $11 billion in sales, will move its corporate headquarters to Keene, New Hampshire, eventually, while still maintaining a significant presence in Brattleboro. And Fibermark has said that its bankruptcy should not effect local employment.

That’s typical of the town: Good news, bad news, home to the state’s only full-scale ski jump. Probably they could stand some no-news for awhile.

This is Timothy McQuiston.

Timothy McQuiston is editor of Vermont
Business magazine.

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