Hobby Lobby is closing its Rutland store, though the company would not immediately admit to it this week.
When contacted Thursday, store staff referred media inquiries to a corporate communications office in Oklahoma City, where a representative said that records did not show any plans to close the store.
However, Mayor David Allaire posted to his Facebook page Friday morning that he and Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy had spoken with the store manager and confirmed that it would close. A follow-up call to the corporate headquarters was eventually responded to with a brief email saying the Rutland store “will be exiting the market in March.”
A follow-up email, asking if this was part of a larger wave of closings, what provisions were being made for the staff and what plans the company had for the property, had not received a reply by the close of business Friday.
Duffy said Friday afternoon that City Hall was trying unsuccessfully to get more information from the chain’s corporate offices.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a whole lot of verified information to pass on,” he said.
Allaire’s post said the manager indicated the building had been sold. Duffy said the city had not received a property transfer and he was not prepared to speculate on what might go into the spot.
“It’s still too early,” he said. “We’re still waiting to understand the situation there.”
The property previously housed a Hannaford, which moved out in 2008 in favor of the supermarket’s current location on the south end of town — a space originally built for a Stop & Shop that never came to town. Hobby Lobby bought the 47,000-square-foot building for $3 million in late 2013, opening for business with 50 part-time staff members in March 2014.
A bill introduced Tuesday in the Vermont House of Representatives would increase the penalties for texting while driving and other forms of distracted driving, and leave violators on the hook for $500 for a first offense.
After the bill was introduced, it was referred to the House Committee on Transportation.
Rep. Butch Shaw, R-Pittsford, co-sponsored the bill.
“I continue to see people in the street driving while using their cellphones, or actually texting, so my purpose is to keep the conversation open on this problem, which doesn’t appear to be going away by legislation. We need to figure this out, because we continue to hear from the folks at the Department of Public Safety about car crashes being caused by inattentive driving,” he said.
If the bill becomes law as written, the civil penalty for using a portable electronic device while driving would increase to $500 and five points on the offender’s driving record.
Currently, the penalty for a first violation is a minimum of $100 and a maximum of $200, while the penalties for subsequent violations is a minimum of $250 and a maximum of $500. Points against an offender’s license is not part of the current law unless under specific circumstances.
For instance, an offender would be assigned four points for a first violation and five points for second or greater convictions if the offender is using the handheld device in a marked work zone or school zone.
The bill proposes to add an additional three points under those circumstances, in addition to the standard five-point penalty.
The bill includes a specific section on texting while driving but those penalties are the same $500 fine and five points as using a handheld device, and include the enhanced points if the violation is in a work or school zone.
The proposed changes would also have an impact on those who are issued junior driver’s license. Someone younger than 18 who is texting or using a handheld device while driving would not be fined but would receive five points on his or her record.
“A learner’s permit or junior operator’s license shall contain an admonition that it is recallable and that the later procurement of an operator’s license is conditional on the establishment of a record which is satisfactory to the commissioner and showing compliance with the motor-vehicle laws of this and other states,” the bill said.
The bill proposes a minor would lose his or her learner’s permit for 30 days for getting three points and 90 days for getting six points.
Shaw said he supported the bill because it would create “serious penalties” for people who use handheld devices while driving.
“In my opinion, we need to get a hold of this problem and keep people from getting hurt while they’re driving because they’re not paying attention,” he said.
Shaw said the sections of the bill affecting junior driver’s licenses were important because they would get young Vermonters into the habit of avoiding distracted driving. He used the example of seat belts, which he said most young people accepted as part of driving.
Calls left for several legislators who sponsored or co-sponsored the bill were not returned on Friday.
Texting while driving has been illegal in Vermont since 2010, after then-Gov. James Douglas signed a bill at Montpelier High School.
During the signing event, students were asked to drive a golf cart through a course lined with traffic cones. The students went through the course once and then drove the course again while texting.
One legislator was asked to try the same exercise because of his background.
Then-Sen. Phil Scott, a Washington County Republican, was asked to participate because of his experience as a professional race car driver.
Scott, now Vermont’s governor, said he did awful while driving the course.
“I don’t see this measure as punitive as much as educational. I believe that once people are aware of how much of a problem this is, they stop,” Scott said in 2010.
Raw Honey will close its doors next month, though the owner says it’s not because the downtown clothing shop is doing badly.
“I opened a third business 8 months ago, which is a Pilates studio above Hop’N Moose,” said Rebecca Buonadonna, who also owns Fruition, Raw Honey’s sister store, which will absorb any stock that doesn’t get sold. “I teach one or two, if not more, classes a day, so it takes up a lot of my time.”
So, Buonadonna said, she decided to merge the stores. She said it was hard to decide which of the two locations to maintain — Raw Honey is on Center Street, near the plaza, while Fruition is on the corner of Merchants Row and West Street.
“Raw Honey is physically bigger, but the windows and street location of Fruition is ideal,” she said. “I’ll never give it up. I think it’s the best location in Rutland.”
Buonadonna’s operation of multiple businesses was repeatedly pointed to as a sign of the health of downtown. With ground floor occupancy rates falling during the past couple years, Buonadonna insisted that shuttering one of her locations was about balancing business with her family life and community activity and not the viability of either store.
“Everything’s going well,” she said. “It’s just about my time and being able to focus enough energy to feel like I’m giving my business the best attention I can.”
Buonadonna said she was excited about retooling Fruition.
“Fruition will stay Fruition, but we’re definitely going to bring in the Honey vibe, maybe modernize Fruition a little bit,” she said. “Change is good. I’m excited to see how things go from here.”
Brennan Duffy, executive director of the Rutland Redevelopment Authority, said that while downtown has backslided from a few years ago when it was just shy of 100 percent occupancy on ground floors, he was confident about the future.
“I think it will bounce back as people reopen stores,” he said. “The downtown restaurants are doing well. ... I don’t think there’s any silver bullet or one reason why things are vacant.”
Duffy said that in the next month or so he expects to have an updated list of vacancies to use as a marketing tool.
FAIR HAVEN — In addition to biology and language arts, students are still learning how to handle their cash — 12 schools in Vermont received praise for requiring their students to take a semester of financial planning courses to better prepare them for the future.
And Fair Haven Union High School was one of them — Christian Sherrill, director of business development and teacher advocacy for the California-based Next Gen Personal Finance group, said they awarded FHUHS as one of the 887 Gold Standard Schools for 2019.
“Financial Literacy was introduced as a graduation requirement at Fair Haven Union High school 10 years ago,” said Kim Ransom, personal finance and consumer education instructor at FHUHS. “We currently have 60 students enrolled ... juniors and seniors.”
Ransom said, “Our students are required a half of credit towards their graduation requirement.”
Ransom said her students learn how to create their own digital portfolio for their professional careers, learn interview skills and networking, saving and checking accounts, online banking, budgeting, purchasing cars and homes and the subsequent mortgages, how to take out student loans, investing and how to manage their credit.
“Our students love it, too,” Ransom said. “They always say, “This is something I will use right out of high school, no matter what I choose. ... NGPF is one of the best curriculums we have found because we allow the students to experience real-life situations and interactive online learning as well as direct classroom instruction.”
Superintendent Brook Olsen-Farrell said, “Personal finance can be difficult for adults to navigate especially given the increasing complexity of our financial system.” She said, “It is important for students to build strong financial management skills a young age.”
After visiting more than 11,000 school websites, 12 schools in Vermont were awarded the Bronze Standard if they offer personal finance as a part of another course, such as economics or mathematics.
Silver medals were awarded to 21 Vermont schools for teaching personal finance as its own elective course.
But if they require students to dedicate an entire semester the way Fair Haven does, they get the gold.
“This is the second year we’re awarding schools,” Sherrill said. “It stemmed from research we conducted in 2017 in financial education courses being offered to students.”
Research conducted by the National Endowment for Financial Education shows students in states where financial education is a mandatory requirement outperformed their peers in terms of financial behaviors in college and in their professional lives.
Those students showed higher incidences of applying for financial aid, lower incidences of credit card debt and a higher incidence of federally subsidized student loans, Sherrill said.
“(It’s been proved) to help students with their long-term financial planning,” Sherrill said. “If you want kids to be financially capable, don’t wait for them to make mistakes in the real world. It’s an investment in the prevention of financial illiteracy and incapability.”
Sherrill said the co-founder of NGPF, Tim Ramzetta, was an entrepreneur throughout his career and became a volunteer financial planning instructor for east side college prep in Palo Alto, California, where he found teaching financial responsibility not only helped students, but attracted students from other courses and even got their parents involved.
He found that teaching financial responsibility isn’t the easiest thing in the world, Sherrill said.
“It was a huge realization for him,” Sherrill said. “It’s really hard to teach, teachers spending a ton of time preparing.”
So Ramzetta made it his mission to make things easier for teachers hosting personal finance courses, and developing initiatives for teachers to embrace teaching financial management and fiscal responsibility.
The awards were developed first for the 2017-18 school year, and Sherrill said 600 schools qualified, at that time, for the gold standard.
In one year, that number expanded by more than 47 percent — there are now 887 schools who qualify for the NGPF gold standard, and more than 15,000 teachers with accounts on their website using teaching resources, Sherrill said.
“We just set a goal that by 2030, that 100 percent of U.S. high schools will be at the gold standard,” Sherrill said. “Seventy-Five percent of Vermont’s schools are teaching financials in some capacity.”