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   MARKETPLACE FITNESS

A Hoppin’ Place

A look at the Church Street Marketplace 38 years in and counting

by Virginia Lindauer Simmon

Bill Truex was on leave from the Harvard Graduate School of Design in September 1962 when he passed through Copenhagen on his way to an assignment in Rome. The main shopping street, he says, was “totally crammed with trucks and cars.” Four months later, coming back through the city, he was amazed to find it transformed into a three-block traffic-free area: “the first pedestrianized street in Europe,” he says.

Church Street Marketplace

 Pearl Street 
 GAP, Inc.12Vintage Photography L
 Athleta12Top of the Block Sandwich Shoppe L F
 2Downtown Danform Shoes L
 2Simplicity Salon L
 10E.B. Strong’s Prime Steakhouse L F
 Eddie Bauer1114Crow Bookshop L
 16Halvorson’s Upstreet Café L F
 L Swan Dojo 1920Little Citizen L
 L Good Stuff Variety2122Vermont Gem Lab L
 L Tina’s Home Designs2122Preen Salon L
 L Vt. Violins/Burlington Violin Shop2324Earthbound Trading Co
 Urban Outfitters2528Vermont Distillers Tasting Room L F
 28Vermont Flannel Co. L
 L Marketplace Fitness 2930David’s Tea
 30Statements Hair Design L
 Lululemon3132Tribe Eyecare L
 32.5Trinket L
 L Keep Vermont Weird3334Silver Threads Tailoring L
 CVS3536Ben & Jerry’s Homemade L F
 Cherry Street 
 Outdoor Gear Exchange3738Dear Lucy L
 40Pokeworks F
 42Uncommon Grounds L F
 46Catamount Store L
 L Burlington CityPlace4950Fjällräven
 F Starbucks Coffee49
 F Five Guys Burgers4952Designers’ Circle Jewelers L
 52Homeport L
 56Banana Republic
 L Zinnia57
 Hatley Boutique59
 L Bertha Church6162Whim Boutique L
 Little Blue House63
 L F Lake Champlain Chocolates6566M.A.C. Cosmetics
 70Mattress Firm
 L F Ken’s Pizza & Pub7172Kiss the Cook L
 L Monelle7578Karlise Jewelers L
 Bank Street 
 L Ecco Clothes 81
 L F Pascolo Ritorante8384The Body Shop
 L Frog Hollow 8586Saratoga Olive Oil L
 Ten Thousand Villages8788Asiana Noodle Shop L F
 L Slate8990Free People
 92B. Good [ F
 L F Burlington Bagel Bakery9396Stella Mae & Warner Supply L
 L Garcia’s Tobacco Shop9798Jess Boutique L
 L Sox Market99100Sukha Yoga L
 L Sweet Thing Candy Store101102Expressions L
 102Origins Massage & Wellness L
 L F Church Street Tavern103104The Cosmic Grind
 104.5Red Onion L F
 106Fat Face
 L The Optical Center, Ltd.107108Downtown Threads L
 110Tradewinds L
 L Danforth Pewter111112Lippa’s Jewelers L
 L Jivana Green Spa & Salon113
 L Yoga Vermont113
 L F Leunig’s Bistro115116Le Petit Bijou L F
 116Stephen & Burns Salon & Spa L
 College Street 
 L Michael Kehoe, Ltd.117120Sweetwaters L F
 F Ri-Ra Vermont123126Global Pathways Jewelry L
 128Maven Skateshop L
 L Von Bargen’s Jewelry131134Akes’ Place L F
 L Burlington City Arts135136Red Square L F
 136.5Halflounge Speakeasy L F
 144Gaku Ramen L F
 L Burlington City Hall149150Good Times Gallery L
 150AFull Tank L
 152Quarterstaff Games L
 154Earth Prime Comics L
 156Honey Road L F
 Main Street 
  KEY: L Vermont owned F Food/Beverage 

In Vermont eight years later, he was hired to design a new space on Church Street for McAuliffe Office Supply Co., the family business of Patrick Robins. Truex, then also chair of the Burlington Planning Commission, mentioned his idea to do something similar in Burlington. Robins partnered with him to create what would become the so-called “gem in the crown” of the Queen City of Burlington.

“It was quite an adventure,” Robins says. “We took several trips to Washington [to explore funding, which Sen. Patrick Leahy and his chief of staff, Paul Bruhn, secured as a a federal grant to join the city’s share of construction costs approved by the mayor and city voters], and had several trips to see mall projects, including a couple on the West Coast.”

“Pat and I convinced the merchants to try a couple of pedestrian closings — one for a day-long sidewalk sale and, the next year, for a week-long arts and crafts festival,” says Truex. He adds that the festival week was chosen because of a national pharmaceutical convention scheduled then.

“I never told anybody that,” he muses. That was 1971.

“Bill and I had managed to get a permit for Vermont’s first outdoor café in history,” says Robins. “The state had never issued a permit for an outdoor eating place like that with a liquor license.” They somehow got around the state’s initial requirement that the café be surrounded by screens to keep flies out, and celebrated there at the end of the weeklong festival.

In 1976, the Marketplace Commission was created to manage the district. The middle two blocks (between College and Cherry) were officially closed to traffic in 1980, and the top and bottom blocks remained open for truck access. The Church Street Marketplace opened officially on September 15, 1981. In 1994 the top block was closed to vehicular traffic and resurfaced with brick, and in 2005, the block between Main and College was resurfaced and closed.

The Marketplace continues to thrive, even as it continues to evolve. In process (slowly) is the creation of CityPlace, a $225 million project expected to feature over 350,000 square feet of office and retail space and 288 apartments, 20 percent of them designated “affordable.”

We spoke with four business owners on Church Street to see how things are going from their perspective.

Homeport, 52 Church St.

In 1992, Mark Bouchett moved to Burlington from Montreal to join his family, who had opened a Pier 1 franchise in 1987. In 2004, he briefly switched over to an Ashley Furniture Home Store the family opened on Shelburne Road, which he ran until the family decided to close it. “It was a monster!” he exclaims. “In, I think, 2006 or 2007, they threw off the Pier 1 corporate name and became Home Port.”

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   HOMEPORT

What’s your inspiration to stay?

“I think I speak for my dad as well when I say I personally find it just a wonderful place to go to work every day. It’s a beautiful street, a real community, not like an old Texas downtown. It’s like a New England downtown.”

What keeps you in business?

“Obviously the holidays, and I think we’re kind of quirky. We have a broad selection of goods — housewares, dinnerware, window shades — but many don’t know and come in to discover. And that, to me, is the most interesting part of the business. There’s a million colors in our palette, and you can put together a really personalized version of what it means to come over to dinner at your house.”

If you could change one thing about Church Street, what would it be?

“If I had a magic wand, I would have a hovering parking garage for people, where everybody who wants to can come park right in front of my store.”

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   HALVORSON’S

Halvorson’s Upstreet Café, 16 Church St., and E.B. Strong’s Prime Steakhouse, 10 Church St.

Tim Halvorson’s parents launched what he says was “a hoppin’ little place” 40 years ago, much like all of today’s Marketplace, where the family has had a longtime presence — Halvorson’s Upstreet Café over 30 years and E.B. Strong’s Prime Steakhouse since 2012. Clientele on Church Street, he says, “for most years, November through May, it’s people who work or live downtown, then May through October, a lot of tourists.”

What keeps you in business?

“Church Street has a great location between the college and the lake. It will always be viable from that standpoint. It morphed from a retail environment to a casual retail environment, more of a restaurant/bar scene, but also more of a meeting place for people who, maybe on a Saturday, decide to come down and bring their kids, especially when the weather’s right.”

If you could change one thing ...?

“I guess my hope is that it becomes more of a living neighborhood. Forty years ago, there were a few more apartments right on Church Street. That kind of went away. When CityPlace is fully built and some of the new apartments come online, it’ll be kind of nice to see it busy at 8 in the morning, and later, when people use us as their ‘porch.’”

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   MONELLE

Monelle, 75 Church St.

Elissa Colton Kestner bought Monelle, a women’s clothing shop, five years ago from its original owner, who still owns stores in Newport, Rhode Island, and Nantucket, Massachusetts. Burlington’s store is not a franchise, but owned outright by Kestner. “I loved the store, loved the clientele, and worked and traveled with the previous owner,” she says. “It brought something to Burlington that I thought unique.

“Our clientele ranges from locals in Burlington and neighboring suburbs to UVM, Middlebury, St. Mike’s, and Champlain students, skiers, Canadians, leaf peepers, lake homeowners. A little bit of everything.”

What’s your inspiration to stay?

“We have such a diverse collection of eye-catching pieces to be seen in a central location with restaurants and other stores — really good stores. We capitalize on foot traffic downtown: students, people popping in on lunch breaks, people coming in with their best work friends on Friday. Because people come for maybe one shop and end up in the other 10. I like being a part of a bigger picture.”

What keeps you in business?

“We do a lot of custom pieces and exclusives, so we’ll take a designer we like and ask them to add the word Vermont to it. We have these really cool smoking slippers with gold skis and we have the state of Vermont on them. Doing custom pieces was a little scary at first, but now we do a lot of them and they sell out in a few days.”

If you could change one thing ...?

“My manager, Eleanor, and I talk about this a lot. We would love to clean it up a bit — the homeless population situation — to make it more enjoyable, more family-friendly. So a little safer environment.”

Marketplace Fitness, 29 Church St.

Jeff Nick of J.L. Davis Realty has owned Marketplace Fitness for about five years. He also chairs the Church Street Marketplace District Commission, so our questions for him varied a bit from those for the other business owners.

“We cater to a broader market, have a downtown niche. The ages of our members go from probably 20 to 75. We have business people, college students, residents who live downtown. There’s a bike storage room in the building, and we give a special discount to anybody who works on Church Street.

The Scuffer closed recently. What’s the vacancy situation on the Market­place?

“Right now, it’s completely full except for the Scuffer. I know of two that will come available shortly. But I’ve already shown those two, and we’ve got interest.”

Is there a good mix of local and national shops?

“I think we have more locals now than at other times. It’s a great mix. Except for Starbucks, the national food chains haven’t always done well downtown. For the most part people are looking for an authentic experience.”

How do you expect the influence of CityPlace to change the Marketplace?

“I think, from a retail perspective, the whole project can only strengthen it. Because it’s going to have a residential/office component, it will add more folks to the mix down here. I was supportive of it during the permit process.”

If you could change one thing ...?

“I would add more convenient parking. And for some reason, the city doesn’t seem to think it’s as critical as the merchants think it is. I’ve always thought the city should try to place additional public parking on the periphery of the downtown core.”

The evolving Marketplace

According to Truex, “There’s been enough imagination to keep the Marketplace as a target for community activity, I think, because of the original charge: ‘To treat it as a public space ... where human interaction takes place.’ For 40 years, the Marketplace Commission has been responsible for it, and it’s worked. When we started, there were only four to five restaurants on the street, all on the first block. And thank goodness for the Flynn Theatre!”

One more thing: That three-block thoroughfare Bill Truex saw in Copenhagen? It now encompasses 38 blocks. Food for thought?