VERGENNES - Back in 1987, Win Grant saw the 1930s era Kennedy Brothers facility as an unique business opportunity. The giant, former woodware factory was an ideal locale to develop a crafts and antique center for local artisans and dealers.
"In 1987, we converted the factory into the current configuration to enable crafters and antique dealers to market their goods directly to the public," said Grant. "We have adjusted our product mix over the years to match the current market conditions. We still rent small to large craft booths to juried crafters and have a large antiques shop. The new configuration has opened opportunities for the other businesses to join us in our offerings."
Since the '80s, Kennedy Brothers Country Store and Gift Shop has grown as a destination-attraction for shoppers looking for Vermont food and craft products. Kennedy Brothers' fresh fudge is famous beyond Vermont along with fancy foods and the equally fine Kennedy Woodware. (The Scoop Shop and the deli are also favorites.)
But the onslaught of the 2009 recession has been merciless on many local businesses and Kennedy Brothers is no exception.
With several areas inside the giant facility vacated, owner Win Grant had to think creatively to revitalize his local enterprise venture. Enter Vermont Sun, a popular physical fitness establishment based on Exchange Street in Middlebury.
When Vermont Sun owner Steve Hare decided to close a fitness centers in Florida earlier this year, he faced liquidating or storing thousands of dollars worth of the latest high-tech exercise gear from treadmills to weight machines. Recognizing a Vermont business opportunity, and knowing that Kennedy Brothers was in search of new commercial tenants, Hare contacted Grant for a meeting. The result was a landlord-tenant arrangement made in heaven.
With Kennedy Brothers' vacant 3,000-square-foot upstairs area boasting copious amounts of natural lighting, high ceilings, reinforced concrete flooring, and classic brick work, Hare envisioned a Vergennes expansion of his Middlebury Vermont Sun operation.
Ironically, a Vergennes city committee-after surveying the community of its needs and wants-had just recommended that the Little City consider establishing a fitness center for local residents. As the old zen-master saying goes, when the student is ready a teacher appears, but in this case, when the community is ready to work out, a fitness center appears.
The installation of men's and women's showers, secure locker areas, UV suntanning booths, a conference room, giant television wallscreens, and other fitness center appointments are now underway at Vermont Sun-Vergennes-all in preparation for the facility's Jan. 9-10 grand opening and open house. The public is welcome to drop by at that time between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
"I am psyched about this," said Win Grant. "Steve Hare is helping us reinvent Kennedy Brothers while serving our great community by providing a comfortable, safe place for physical fitness that's vital to our health and well being."
Hare was equally reinvigorated while looking over his new Vergennes fitness domain.
"Our emphasis here, as it is in Middlebury, is on individuals and families. We provide memberships that include personal training for under $100," said Hare. "Ron Dedrick, our general manager here in Vergennes, will also be our personal trainer. Ron is happy to welcome anyone from age 12 to 100. And a Vermont Sun membership will be good at both Middlebury and Vergennes facilities."
According to Dedrick, the community is already chomping at the bit to learn more about Vermont Sun's benefits.
"Well, the buzz is very good," Dedrick said. "We're looking forward to our Jan. 9-10 open house event and meeting the public. I think they'll be very impressed with the facility and what we can offer them."