A location that held a series of troubled nightclubs is slated for new life as a hair salon.
The Board of Aldermen voted unanimously Tuesday to award a $5,000 business incentive grant to the Downtown Gentleman’s Salon, funding a move up Merchant’s Row to the spot that was most recently The Local, a venue whose owner closed it in 2017 just before the state revoked his liquor license.
Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said Downtown Gentleman’s Salon owner Lori LaPenna will invest $60,000 to renovate the space and will add eight new staff members as part of the move.
Mayor David Allaire said he had toured the building.
“Once the renovations are made, I think it’s going to make an excellent addition to our downtown and community,” he said.
Alderman Scott Tommola abstained from the vote, citing an unspecified conflict of interest.
The space has been vacant since The Local closed in 2017. Owner Chip Greeno had a history of clashes with the city, starting with 18-and-older parties he threw there in 2013 over the objections of the Board of Aldermen — though the board never closed the loophole in city ordinances that allowed for them. Greeno filed a lawsuit after the bar closed, claiming police harassment, but the state liquor board stripped him of his license and fined him $5,000 that same year citing violations at the bar and the lawsuit was dropped some time later.
Before it had been The Local, the space housed Jilly’s Sports Bar, where the owner surrendered his license after an incident where a gun was pulled in the bar and marijuana was found on the bartender.
A short time after The Local closed, aldermen denied an application to open a new nightclub there, with some board members commenting that it might be best to let the site lie dormant for a while.
The Rutland Historical Society has embraced the digital age since 2005, and it wants to show off some new digital resources it has available this weekend at its 50th anniversary celebration.
Jim Davidson, curator and past president of the Rutland Historical Society said Tuesday that an open house will be held Saturday and Sunday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. both days, at the society’s building at 96 Center St. There, the society wants to show people all the ways they can interact with local history digitally.
“We have moved so much to being an online historical society,” said Davidson. “We started that site (rutlandhistory.com) in 2005.”
The heart of the weekend presentations will be a technical demonstration about how to tap the historical society’s digital resources, though there will be historical society members around to talk about items, photos, and documents the group has gathered over the past 50 years.
One thing the society will tout is a partnership between the website newspapers.com and the Vermont State Archives and Records Administration that lets Vermont residents access digitally scanned copies of old newspapers, including the Rutland Herald. Folks can get started now by visiting the society’s web page and clicking the “newspapers” link beneath the “collections” tab.
“We weren’t directly involved in it, but we had been digitizing newspapers for Library of Congress Chronicling America, and we’d done a lot,” Davidson said, adding that few people know about this resource, and it’s one of the society’s goals to make sure more do.
He said the Rutland Historical Society is one of a relatively few such organizations that has embraced technology.
“It’s challenging,” he said. “We spent a year just designing, and we did get some help from a gentleman who volunteered to get started on the project. And as time goes on it becomes more and more complicated.”
Even now the society is looking for a volunteer with some tech savvy to help out.
“We do have a solid base — we have a wonderful webmaster,” Davidson said. “It’s not the only technical area we’ve been into. We’ve been involved with public access television, PEG-TV. We’ve been involved with them for over 20 years.”
He said the historical society does a monthly show produced and aired by PEG-TV. “At first, we thought we could do it weekly, then we realized, no way. So we moved to a monthly. We’ve done over 160 half-hour programs.”
He said PEG-TV can’t archive all of those episodes, but the society can and does.
This weekend, objects stored in the society’s basement will be on display, with volunteers to talk about them.
“We’re not really a museum,” Davidson said. “The building we are in is relatively small, the upstairs is filled.”
He said there are few options available to the group in terms of expanding its physical space, which is another reason why digitization is key. Documents and photos can be made available online, then stored wherever.
While it likes digital content, the society publishes a quarterly newsletter as well, the latest issue featuring a list of the society’s notable moments through the years. It mentions the website going live in 2005, Davidson being interviewed by the History Channel in 2003 and PEG-TV presenting it with the Romeo Award for the “Historically Speaking” video series in 2007.
If the new hot dog stand on West Street looks familiar, there’s a reason.
Retired city firefighter James Miles has bought the former Big Lenny’s trailer, rechristened it “Jimmo’s Meat & Greet” and set up shop in the parking lot near the intersection with Meadow Street.
“I’ve always enjoyed cooking,” Miles said. “It’s been in the back of my mind for quite a while. ... I searched the web for a food truck and right in front of me was Big Lenny’s cart. ... The opportunity came and I jumped on it.”
Lenny Montuori operated the cart for years before taking up a storefront on Merchants Row — though he hasn’t opened it in some time because of health problems. Miles said Montuori gave him plenty of advice and even attended the cart’s opening day. The look of the cart — the color scheme and most of the lettering — remains the same.
“The only thing he took off was his name,” Miles said. “I never thought about changing everything. Eventually, I’ll put my name on it. People do think it’s Big Lenny’s cart because I cannot tell you how many people come in looking for Lenny.”
Miles said he had tossed around a few different food cart concepts during his initial daydreaming, but the cart isn’t set up for much other than hot dogs.
“It’s set up for a steam table — not a fryolater, not a grill,” he said. “I want to keep it simple. Everyone’s liking it. It’s a one-man show, and it’s fast.”
He did, however, set out to put his own spin on everything.
“The hot dogs are pretty plain unless you’ve got your own special sauces,” he said. “We’re working on it. My wife does her own sauerkraut. We make our own chili, our own horseradish mustard, our own red onion sauce. I wanted to do the sausage different. Everyone does sausage, onion and peppers. I slow cook mine in a pasta sauce — makes it nice and tender — throw it on a roll, top with provolone, add some pepperoni if they wanted it.”
The signature sausage is called a “Tenderizer” without the pepperoni. With it, it’s dubbed the “Jimmosocki” — a nickname for Miles the origin of which he said is best not discussed in public.
Miles said he plans to operate from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from May to October. He said he is getting good traffic, particularly during the lunch rush.
“I don’t have much to compare it to, but I’m happy with the result so far,” he said. “I’m seeing a lot of people I haven’t seen in a long time.”
While some independent southern Vermont colleges have closed down, apparently for good, efforts are being made to keep College of St. Joseph alive in some form, which may be assisted by a federal government program intended to spur capital investments.
Robert Zulkoski, chairman and managing partner of Vermont Works, said the federal legislation that created “Opportunity Zones” was “specifically designed to bring capital to places like Rutland.”
The Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, on its website, said Opportunity Zones, “a new tax incentive aimed at increasing private investment in low-income census tracts,” were created as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
“Investors in these zones will receive preferential tax treatment when they invest in a newly created ‘Opportunity Fund,’” according to the website.
Like other states, Vermont was allowed to create 25 Opportunity Zones, but Zulkoski believes the Rutland zone and the CSJ campus is “particularly actionable.”
Zulkoski said other zones were not necessarily established based on their possibility. For instance, some Burlington zones exists includes a “densely settle residential area.” Developing in those zones would require acquiring and demolishing those homes.
“What I’m excited about in terms of the Opportunity Zone in Rutland that CSJ sits within is that we can use the campus facilities of the College of St. Joe’s to concentrate place, space and services geared toward what the intent of the Opportunity Zone was which was to encourage and help fund entrepreneurship and the development of new companies that create new living wage jobs,” he said.
Because the New England Commission for Higher Education raised questions about CSJ’s financial stability, CSJ officials decided to close the school as a degree-granting institution after the end of the 2018-19 academic year.
However, Jennifer Scott, CSJ president, said she would like to bring the school back as a college in time and in the immediate future, pursue the creation of a “center for innovation and excellence.”
A feasibility study is in the works, with a completion date expected by the beginning of October, and funded by partners like the state of Vermont, the city of Rutland, local businesses and investors and Vermont Works and Vermont Innovation Commons.
At a public meeting in August, Scott, Zulkoski and others involved in the effort explained not only some aspects of their vision for the campus’ future use but why Rutland was unusually well-suited to take advantage of the Opportunity Zones.
On Tuesday, Zulkoski said the use of an idle college campus was another advantage for the proposed project.
“We can concentrate those services within a facility that was originally developed to be education facilities to help incubate and accelerate entrepreneurs and young companies, to shelter those companies and help them grow within the bounds of the campus and making the delivery of those services and that capital more efficient. Once those companies achieve a certain viability and scale, they can move to other locations within Rutland off the campus of CSJ in a ‘seed and grow’ economic development model,” he said.
One of the requirements for young companies that access capital through the Opportunity Zone program is that the company stay within the zone for as much as 10 years to get the full benefit.
“We see the campus of CSJ as a little bit like a gardening nursery where we are going to grow lots of seeds and grow lots of plants and trees and then we’re going to be able to plant them elsewhere around Rutland as they grow to their full capability. That is unique about the Rutland Opportunity Zone. If you look at the other 24 across the state, nowhere do you have the ability to utilize the benefits of the zone for such broad impact across the entire community,” he said.
Zulkoski said he believed Vermont wealth management firms and registered investment advisers have clients with capital gains that can be unlocked under the Opportunity Zone and those clients often want to make their investments locally.
“I’m not trying to make this sound easier than it’s going to be. We’re doing something big. We’re doing something exciting. We’re doing something that’s complex. But we believe that the alchemy exists of not only the precedent and the legislation but also the capital availability,” he said.
“It’s deeply humbling for me to be able to come back to Ireland and have the opportunity to go to the very hometown of my mother’s grandmother.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, in Doonbeg, Ireland, only coincidentally the home of Trump International Golf Links & Hotel, where Pence will stay while in Ireland for official diplomatic meetings. — B8
Two track officials, injured in a weekend accident, are expected to fully recover. A3
Fall warbler talk
Joel Tilley will give a presentation on the warblers that can be seen in the area during the fall migration season. 6-7 p.m. Poultney Public Library, 205 Main St., Poultney, email@example.com.