(Host) Renovations to an old shopping plaza in Brattleboro have threatened to upset the routines of hundreds of locals. While the new stores will be welcome, local residents are drawing the line at changes to a favorite eatery.
VPR’s Susan Keese has the story from the Fairfielder Restaurant.
(Sound of door with bells followed by restaurant ambiance.)
(Keese) Brattleboro’s Fairfielder restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch. But during those times it’s always hopping. It’s a lively corner in an almost abandoned shopping center, with plate glass windows, a lot of imitation wood and avocado colored ’70s decor. Ray Collis is a regular who shows up everyday for breakfast:
(Collis) “The price is right, the food is clean, and the service is excellent. And the spirit! You come in here, everybody’s gonna laugh, they’re going to speak with you, have something to say.”
(Keese) Joe Bennett, the owner, presides over the grill. He jokes with the customers on the swivel stools and booths that line the looping yellow counters. For 28 years, even after the Penney’s and Gran Union pulled out, he’s been here cooking up home fries and tuna melts. But things are about to change.
Last fall a Massachusetts group called CA Investment Trust bought the plaza and began fixing it up. There’s been talk of a Staples taking over the Fairfielder’s corner spot. Bennett, at the restaurant, says the developer offered him a new space on the other side of the mall:
(Bennett) “But it really wasn’t going to be the same. I also didn’t want to expand. Big is not beautiful, and I like to keep it small and intimate. If I was maybe a little younger, I might consider it, but not now. It wouldn’t have the same flair.”
(Keese) A company spokesman says the owners offered Bennett a below-market lease and a free hand designing the new space. Bennett claims the added cost would mean longer hours and a closed kitchen that would separate him from his customers.
In the plaza outside, Patrick Mick, the project manager, comments on the business practices he says sealed Bennett s fate:
(Sound of hammering and drill whining.)
(Mick) “If you look at his menu and prices, it’s very low. And although everybody around here loves that, it’s not conducive to him staying in business. One way or another, times change, costs increase and you have to be able to run a business that can handle those changes.”
(Keese) In the diner, a stack of signed petitions sits by the register. Several hundred people have threatened to boycott the plaza if the Fairfielder closes as planned on July 20. But no one’s holding out much hope.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Brattleboro.