By Eric Francis
WEST WINDSOR – Despite an advertisement that has run in recent weeks in the Standard indicating that the Brownsville General Store is due to be auctioned off as part of a bank foreclosure a week from today, the owner has told the newspaper and members of the select board that outcome has now been averted.
“The owner has assured me that they have come to an agreement and there is not going to be a sale,” West Windsor Selectman Tom Kenyon said Tuesday, adding, “To the best of everyone’s knowledge they’ve made arrangements and everything is okay but once that auction process starts it does not actually stop until the very end.”
A spokesman for James R. St. Jean Auctioneers, the firm that has been running the ads, said Tuesday that, while he didn’t yet have any confirmation yet that the request for an auction of the store on behalf of Mascoma Savings Bank had been formally called off, he didn’t have any reason to quarrel with owner Amy Yates’ statements that the threat was over.
“What she said could very well be true,” the spokesman said, noting, “We would be the last ones in the process to get notice of a postponement or cancellation. In our calendar (a week from now) is a long way off. We would hear as late as the day before.”
The spokesman said that loan extensions and other agreements usually do get worked out at the last minute between businesses and the banks that are foreclosing on them, “and that is oftentimes why you see so many of these postponed.”
The amount of money at issue in the Brownsville General Store situation has not been made public and the spokesman said that it wouldn’t be until the last moment if an auction were to actually take place when the bank would announce the amount of minimum bid it needed in order to cover its outstanding loan exposure.
Whatever the details, Selectman Kenyon said it was clear that even the threat of a foreclosure had been an ordeal for the business which Yates has owned for the last 18 years, a local gathering spot which didn’t seem to have any visible problems until this winter when the Mount Ascutney Ski Resort failed to open for the season due to its own well-publicized financial problems.
Speaking of Yates, Kenyon said, “I know she is not very happy with those ads in the paper because it has not helped her business at all.”
The suggestion that this month might have been the general store’s last dismayed many West Windsor area residents.
“I’ve always said the little Albert Bridge School and the Brownsville General Store are the glue that holds the town together,” said Steve Adams, who up until last year served as West Windsor’s representative at the Statehouse. “Those are the two places where the community comes out and you meet your friends and neighbors.”
“This has just been another indication that the local economy is really down,” in the wake of the ski resort closure, Kenyon said, adding, “Look at the carpenters, plumbers, and electricians – when people are up here using their houses you see those (workmen) all the time but now it’s dead. I mean it is totally dead.”
Kenyon continued, “I’ve noticed that since this whole mess started down on Route 44 at night, at 6:30 p.m., there is no traffic. People have changed their patterns as far as shopping. They go once or twice a week and when they come home from work they stay home. They do not go back out.”
Kenyon also noted that some rental properties which were usually the first to fill up with skiers have now remained vacant for the entire winter season, but, notwithstanding the recent lean months, Kenyon said he is optimistic the idled ski resort is going to be sold soon and prosperity for West Windsor will return.
“Oh yeah. I’m totally convinced,” Kenyon said of a potential sale. “I’d like to say in June but I think it will be in July. My really hope and prayer is by June but it could be as late as August.”
Kenyon said one factor that could drag any sale out for an extra month or two is the purchase of a large piece of empty property on the western base of Mount Ascutney, near Coaching Lane, known as “Mile-Long Field.”
Currently the town is seeking to acquire the property in partnership with the Upper Valley Land Trust but questions remain about where and when they are going to find the money.
“West Windsor has been very fortunate in that over the years we’ve had selectmen, including myself, that were very conservative about taking on debt,” Kenyon said this week. “Right now the only thing we owe is one more payment on a fire truck and we are considering purchasing Mile-Long Field but we don’t have any debt, Thank God. Because if you have debt and your Grand List goes down then you’ve got to raise the tax rate and, if you do that, the properties that have some good value to them are going to get clobbered.”
One of the challenges for a one-industry town like West Windsor is that even in the best of times Mount Ascutney made most of its money only three-or-four months out of each year. Kenyon said there is a lot of excitement building around plans to develop the kind of mountain biking trails across the resort, and out past the village of Brownsville, that would attract an entirely different recreational crowd for the warmer two-thirds of the year.
“This mountain bike thing is the up and coming thing apparently. Burke Mountain was limping along and then they put in this trail system and it has apparently been very successful,” Kenyon said, noting similar projects have also started in Waterbury and Rutland. “If we could have an area-wide mountain biking trail system, which would even include Windsor and the towns around, you’d have something that is basically bringing in revenue year round. There’s a whole bunch of races to bring in people and some just like to come and ride the countryside compared to smelling the bus exhaust and that stuff back home. So we’re excited about that and we think that potential buyers are going to take this into account. They’ve even talked about keeping one lift open during the summers to take bikes higher up on the mountain.”
This article first appeared in the April 7th print edition of the Vermont Standard, Woodstock VT.