Ten Years Later

by Edna Tenney, Editor, Business People

A look at the businesses making news in the April 1989 issue of Business Digest

Vermont Wildflower Farm

The answering machine message at Ray Allens Miami home begins, Hello, you have reached the Florida office of American Meadows and Vermont Wildflower Farm. Apparently a lot of things have changed since our April 1989 description of a busy, small Vermont attraction and its growing mail-order seed business. The article followed Ray and Chy Allen from his successful Miami advertising agency that was merged with DDBO International in 1980, to Charlotte, Vt., where they developed a 7-acre flower preserve with viewing trails and a unique gift shop. They had honeymooned in Vermont and always wanted to live here, the article explained. When we opened the Vermont Wildflower Farm in 81, Allen says from his winter home, we figured it would be two or three years getting started and then we could spend our winters here and summers in Vermont. Well, he laughs, its taken us 15 years to get to this point. Weve only been here for three winters. Ray & Chy Allen

Ray & Chy Allen

Things have changed. The biggest change, selling the Vermont Wildflower Farm seed catalog to Foster and Gallagher, the largest horticultural catalog company, occurred not too long after the article was published. The Allens sold all the headaches the printing, mailing, list development, promotion but they remain the sole supplier of the products in the catalog. That was the first thing. We had to change our name, Allen continues. We kept the name Vermont Wildflower Farm for the attraction, but we could not continue to sell products under that name so we incorporated as American Meadows Inc., and made the wildflower farm a division of American Meadows. That allows them to continue to sell seeds and related products on a wholesale basis as well as in their own gift shop, under the name American Meadows. Thats part one, two and three of the business the wildflower farm, catalog sales and wholesale. Part four is landscaper sales, which was only a good idea 10 years ago selling to an increasing number of private developers and local and state governments DOTs (Departments of Transportation in government lingo) for roadside plantings. West Virginia, for example, is a big customer. The fifth division, only 2 years old but, by far the fastest growing, is premium sales (the little seed packet in the envelope along with your bank statement). Magazine publishers love them, enthuses the former advertising man. The customers are large organizations that place huge orders, but, he notes, Its not sustainable; they are one-shot orders. With the new business has come new faces and promotions Mike Lizotte, who joined the farm as an eighth-grader, is the retail manager; Erin Driscoll handles premium sales; Rob Towne, who has been there since they opened the doors, is vice president of horticulture; and the Allens son, Terry, is vice president of sales. All in all, Allen estimates, Our sales have grown about fourfold over the last 10 years. The wildflower farm and shop account for only 13 percent of the mix, he says, but it is tremendously profitable. Thats in spite of numbers of tourists he sees in the area, which is worse than when we started. Our traffic has been static or falling over the last few years, he says. Over the years he has been a constant participant in the dialogue about Vermonts tourism industry on committees and commissions and has remained disappointed in the states support of that segment of the economy, as well as its support of business in general. Even with all the growth of their business, he says, they often wonder how much more successful they would have been if they had located in a state that was more hospitable to tourism and business.

Homestead Design

When we left John Hausner and Bob Marcellino of Homestead Design 10 years ago, they were just completing Southwinds by the Lake, a Burlington condominium community overlooking Lake Champlain. It was another new look they had brought to Burlington, following on the success of their award-winning Winding Brook condominium project that had launched them as builders of communities, not just developments. On the drawing boards at Homestead Design at the time Hausner and Marcellino posed for our magazine on the widows walk of Marcellinos Southwinds condominium was a proposal to renovate the former Union Station building at the bottom of Main Street in Burlington to create a promenade of shops and offices with a public boardwalk offering views of the lake. John Hausner & Bob Marcellino

John Hausner and Bob Marcellino

Hausner and Marcellino are still developing innovative properties, but that Burlington project never left the drawing board. Their focus has moved outside of the Queen City. Weve done a lot of work in Essex, Marcellino says, starting his synopsis of their activities over the last decade. We put up 60 or 70 single-family homes and two condo projects, Steeplebush and Steeplebush Southwest. Townhomes under construction at the 17th hole of the Vermont National Golf Course in South Burlington is next on his list. Twenty-one units have sold, and people are living in five or six of them, he adds. Essex is uppermost on his mind. The main thing that seems to finally be coming together is the building of a town center for Essex, he says. Its probably been almost 10 years that John and I have been working on that. Homestead is developing land between the Essex Outlet Fair and Vermont 15. Last year the partners completed a mixed-use building of 44 small apartments over 16,000 square feet of retail space; the firm is working on two other buildings with a few larger apartments over 7,500 square feet of office space. Next, a connection to the Outlet Fair, a restaurant and, ultimately, 17 buildings there. The town of Essex has an option on some land nearby Weve been negotiating for a long time about locating town offices there, Marcellino says. His comments came almost on the eve of the vote by Essex Junction residents to secede from Essex and establish an independent city. If it passes, Marcellino says, Essex will be more likely to move its offices out of the junction. Of course, there is no guarantee that they will move to our land, but they do have that option. A year and a half ago, Marcellino and Hausner changed the structure of Homestead Design, setting up an ESOP to sell the business to the employees. The change will affect the future of the company, but things are continuing much as they have for years.

L.H. Sparks & Batten Ltd.

Although Sparks & Batten Real Estate is no longer on Burlingtons waterfront, it was easy to catch up with one of the principals, Linda Sparks, at the Burlington real estate office of Lang Associates. When Jeanette (Jeanette Deale, Sparks former partner whose middle name was Batten) moved to North Carolina, Sparks says, the right person was not available to bring into our small office, so I decided it was time to move on. She initially joined Coburn & Feeley Real Estate, which had offices not far from her former location on Battery Street. When that firm merged with Hickok and Boardman Realty in 1996, she joined Lang Associates. Linda Sparks

Linda Sparks

That was a very nice move. Im very pleased, and it allowed me to stay connected with downtown, she says. She continues to handle unique homes, lake and country properties, generally within an hours drive of Burlington. Do I miss owning my own business? she asks herself. I loved our waterfront office, and I was proud of it and its success, but this is a different time and I like the way things have worked out, too. Sparks points out the changes that were afoot in real estate 10 years ago the increases in computerization, affiliations with national sales organizations all expensive developments for small firms to keep up with. It wouldnt be as difficult now, but it was then, she notes. Ten years ago the article stated that Sparks, a talented cook, was also a traditionalist she had no microwave oven. Ten years later, still no microwave oven, but I do have a garage-door opener.

Marty Keene

Under New Business in April 1989 was an announcement of the opening of a second Marty Keenes Golf Shop in the Ben Burry building at the corner of Bank and Center streets, Burlington. His first shop was the pro shop at the West Bolton Golf Club, were he was located from 1983 until 1988 when he opened the shop he now occupies in Blair Park, Williston. Keene reports that the Ben Burry shop was short-lived but the Blair Park location is thriving and his big news is the Marty Keenes Golf World, which he has been touting for some time and is nearing realization. Weve gotten our permits, he says, and we are waiting to hear about SBA loans. If all goes well, we should be breaking ground within a few weeks. Marty Keene

Marty Keene with part of his world

The project is a unique, family-oriented golf course, according to his mock-up of a promotional brochure. It will be on Mountain View Road and will feature a nine-hole course (each hole with six tee areas), a double-decker driving range, putting greens, miniature golf, memberships, lessons, shop, restaurant and more. In Keenes inimitable fashion, most of the parts of his world will carry his name Marty Keenes Womens Match Play Championship, Marty Keenes Youth Match Play Championship, Marty Keenes Senior Match Play Championship and the Marty Keenes Family Golf World Club Championship.

Great American Salvage

Great American Salvage, a rambling Main Street, Montpelier, storefront full of mantels, stained glass windows, old bathroom fixtures and doors, walls and staircases from demolished buildings, was started in 1979 by Steve Israel and Steve Tillotson. The pair had gathered merchandise from sites all over the East Coast, even opened an outlet in New York City, and were selling to customers nationwide by the time they were the subjects of an April 1989 article. The first 10 years were kind, but the business did not survive the next 10. A check of local phone books and the Internet yields no mention of the business or its founders.

Jim Spadacinni

General contractor Jim Spadaccini has been dealing in service since he arrived in Vermont in 1973 from his native metropolitan New York, and he didnt stop 10 years ago. His list of satisfied and repeat customers continues to grow. Were doing a lot of the same things, commercial and residential remodeling, he says, but some things are different. Im 65 but Im not ready to retire. A lot of my customers are older; theyre traveling and such, and they depend on me to take care of their properties. Jim & Steve Spadaccini

Jim (left) & Steve Spadaccini

Still working with his brother, Dan, a small group of loyal workers, and carefully chosen subcontractors including son Steve, who provides the electrical work for Spadacinnis projects, there is always something new on the list. He is beginning a remodeling job on a small house next door to the Shelburne Country Store. Hell turn it into a dental office for Janet Thomason to move her practice from Shelburne Shopping Park. A mainstay of the Shelburne-Charlotte Rotary Club for 25 years where he has done it all as past president, Paul Harris Fellow, Spadacinni is an assistant governor. Ive slowed down a little, he says in typical understatement, but I keep busy.

Changing Faces: Ten Years Ago

An April 1989 press release announced changes at Freeman French Freeman, noting that Fred Senftleber had succeeded William Wiese as president of the firm and Jesse Beck, a Shelburne native, has returned to Vermont and has been elected vice president and secretary of the architectural firm. In our March 1997 issue we announced that Beck had succeeded Senflteber as president of the firm. Ten years ago Ann Macy joined her husband, Kevin, at The Finest Image, a portrait and wedding photography studio of Colchester, in sales and marketing. Our September 98 issue noted The Finest Image sent her to a week-long portrait photography course in North Falmouth, Mass., last summer. Ten years ago Scott Hadley was recognized at Coburn Insurance Agency Inc. for becoming a member of the companys presidents club. A decade later to the month, Hadley, now with New York Life Insurance Co. in Colchester, is mentioned for attending New York Lifes career development conference in Texas. © 1996-2004 Mill Publishing Inc. All rights reserved. Please read this notice.
Last updated: 10/05/99
Business Digest
April 1989