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Photo by Cassandra Hotaling Hahn / Rutland Herald

Originally published in the April 19, 2012, edition of the Rutland Herald.

Last week, Rutland was witness to something unique: A Chamber of Commerce mixer that people were actually talking about. Wales Street became a spectacle as scores of people crowded inside the large tent to mix, mingle and enjoy the complimentary food and drinks.

Donald Billings, chef-owner of Roots the Restaurant — which co-hosted the mixer with Earth Waste Systems — threw down with a menu dominated by locally sourced food. The centerpiece, a pig roast, helped build anticipation as it cooked slowly in Roots’ driveway — its smoky scents wafting through all of downtown a full day ahead of the event.

The buzz around the mixer was unprecedented for these typically humdrum Chamber gatherings. Clearly, the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce knew it had something special, as it was especially effusive in its promotion of the mixer via email, print ads and social media.

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Originally published in the Rutland County Express on Jan 12, 2012.

In a recent post on Slate.com   entitled, “Don’t Support Your Local Bookseller,” technology columnist Farhad Manjoo posed an interesting and somewhat convincing argument: in this world of Amazon, with our iPads and Kindles, independent bookstores are inefficient, inconvenient and expensive.

Manjoo writes, “Compared with online retailers, bookstores present a frustrating consumer experience. A physical store … offers a relatively paltry selection, no customer reviews, no reliable way to find what you’re looking for and a dubious recommendations engine.”

Needless to say, such an argument does not go unnoticed or unpunished. Calling bookstores “cultish, moldering institutions” is sure to irk a few ires. Refutations came pouring in from all sides — the literati, the buy-localistas and various other well-meaning, indignant Luddites (as Manjoo might like to characterize them).

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Vyto Starinskas / Rutland Herald photo

(Originally published in the Rutland Herald on Nov. 30, 2011.) By now this scene is commonplace. Throngs of people convened on a predetermined location. Their motivations for being there were myriad, but all agreed they would not leave until they got what they wanted. There was shouting, pushing, shoving. In some extreme cases, people were even injured.

This wasn’t Zuccotti Park or Tahrir Square. It was retail stores across America last week rapt with Black Friday mania. As I combed my Twitter and Facebook feeds last Friday morning I was struck by the vacillation between disgust and glee in my friends’ status updates — a microcosm of American attitudes toward this pseudo-holiday.

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By now, you’ve probably seen them around town – in shop windows on Center Street, in front of businesses along Woodstock Avenue and everywhere in between, reaching near ubiquity. They say “Buy Local Rutland” in bold, black lettering against a familiar green and blue cityscape.

So what are they all about? The signs are part of a campaign called By Local Rutland designed to raise awareness and support for Vermont-owned, independent businesses. The campaign is the brainchild of local businessman and Rutland native Barry Beauchamp.

Beauchamp, store manager and co-owner of Beauchamp & O’Rourke Pharmacy on Woodstock Avenue, launched the campaign last summer. Since then, he has been recruiting local businesses to participate in a variety of ways.

Working with the Rutland Herald, Beauchamp has been coordinating a series of cooperative advertising opportunities for businesses. The ads initially ran monthly in the Herald. Now, they run every week. The half-page ads present BLR member businesses and encourage readers to keep their money local by supporting them.

Participating businesses are also listed on a website – www.buylocalrutland.com – that explains the mission of the campaign and how interested business can get involved. In addition, membership includes the opportunity for co-op television ads as well as 60-second radio spots on WSYB’s “On the Air with Tim Philbin” program.

However, the newest and most visible phase of the campaign has been the lawn signs. Currently, there are almost 100 of them circulating throughout the city, raising awareness and showing solidarity for buying local.

For Beauchamp, encouraging people to keep their money in the community has been an easy sell.

“In a down economy, you have to ask what you can do to strengthen the community,” he said. “Buying local is an obvious avenue.”

But defining exactly what “local” is can be tricky. Some would argue that shopping at Home Depot counts as buying local since it employs locals, and if it wasn’t in Rutland, people would have to travel elsewhere to find one, taking their money with them. This is a fair argument but it misses a larger point.

Money spent at locally owned businesses stays in the community. If you spend $100 in a box store, only $15 will stay local. Compare that to the $45 in local spending generated when you spend $100 at a local business.

Beauchamp describes “local” in two tiers. The first is any money spent locally, boxes or independents; the second – and more important – tier is spending money at Vermont-owned businesses whenever possible.

According to Beauchamp, the response has been strong and positive.

“It’s really snowballed,” he said.

He attributes part of BLR’s appeal to its apolitical nature; there’s no agenda or hidden message.

“Buying locally fits in with anyone’s politics,” said Beauchamp, who noted that members of BLR also belong to such politically disparate organizations as the Rutland County Pro-Business Coalition and Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility.

Beauchamp happily acknowledged the statewide efforts of Local First Vermont, an organization with a similar mission, which is now part of VBSR. While he was inspired by and appreciates LFVT’s work, he explained that BLR, with its mission focused solely on Rutland, could deliver at the local level in a way that a larger organization simply cannot.

Beauchamp has the advantage of knowing much of the business community personally, and is able to build confidence in and support for BLR on a personal level.

If you’ve ever been inside Two Shea’s bar on Wales Street, you know Eddie Pomainville. He’s the guy behind the bar with the warm, welcoming smile who greets you with a cheerful “hello,” and if it’s been a while, a hug or a handshake. He probably knows you by name, and chances are, he’s got your drink of choice poured before you’ve even ordered it.

In a city where, for better or worse, bars comprise a large part of our local culture, Pomainville is a fixture of the downtown social scene who has built his reputation not by pouring drinks, but through building friendships.

Often, we regard bartenders as two-dimensional figures – people who pour us a drink, make polite conversation, but whose back-story we rarely get to hear. I sat down with Pomainville recently at Two Shea’s to hear some of his story.

A Pittsford native, Pomainville grew up on a 600-acre farm where his family worked raising 80 milking cows. The youngest of six, he was the only boy – “I had five older mothers,” he quips. He spent his youth working on the farm before heading north to Johnson State College, where he studied writing – he and his friends started a campus newspaper that still exists today – and played soccer.

“Soccer was my life for a long time,” Pomainville said. His Johnson State team went to nationals, and afterward he spent some time coaching men’s and women’s teams at the college level around the state.

Despite his love for the sport, Pomainville decided to make his way back to Pittsford to help with the family farm. But much like today, running a dairy farm in the mid-1990s was fraught with difficulties. In 1994, his family sold their cows, and took steps to preserve the land. The Pomainville Family Wetland Preserve is now the biggest wetland preserve in the state.

Leaving the farm behind was bittersweet. It was a difficult decision, but there are some aspects of farm life that Pomainville does not miss.

“It’s hard to have a life outside of the farm,” he said.

After the farm, Pomainville began to spend more time in Rutland. He played on the Two Shea’s basketball team, and soon, owner Tim Shea was inviting Pomainville to pick up some bartending shifts.

It was also around this time that he began hanging out a group of local musicians called The Samples. “(Lead singer) Sean Kelly was a friend of mine,” Pomainville said. “They needed someone to sell their merchandise on the road.”

For the next three years, Pomainville toured the country with the roots rockers, learning the business, and eventually, taking on the duties of tour manager. The experience was memorable to say the least.

“You see the country, meet new people, learn something new everyday,” he says, recalling some highlights such as meeting bands like Blues Traveler, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, and Hootie and the Blowfish.

As for true rock star stories, Pomainville has a few.

“Evan Dando (of The Lemonheads) was probably the most memorable. Let’s just leave it at that,” he says with a smile.

But the rock-and-roll lifestyle takes its toll.

“You play 23 straight shows on the road, you begin to lose your sense of time and place,” he said, “You go to sleep in one time zone, wake up in another; it starts to wear on you.”

So Pomainville decided to leave the road behind.

“I grew up on a farm, I’ve always had a strong sense of home,” he says. “I had a girlfriend I never saw, an apartment I never lived in; I wanted to get back to that.”

Pomainville likens getting off tour to stepping off a spaceship – “It takes you awhile to readjust.”

Back in Rutland, Pomainville returned to his post at Two Shea’s – a place, which for him, has always felt like home.

“Tim and Ronnie are the best employers I’ve ever had,” he declares, adding that the success of the bar owes much to their dedication. “They’re not just owners; they work here. They’re bartenders, too.”

Indeed, in a city that once held the record for most bars per capita, Two Shea’s has always stood out in the crowd. The recent downtown bar renaissance has yielded a crop of shiny new watering holes. Yet while they may be nice to look at, most are lacking in substance and character. Two Shea’s has both in spades.

“It’s the corner bar in the middle of the street,” Pomainville says brightly, “It always has the same feel.”

The license plates, the board games, the encyclopedias, the years of accumulated bric-a-brac along the walls – there is a homey, lived-in quality that you’ll find in few other bars in town. And it’s just this warm atmosphere that brings in a wide variety of customers every night. As far as clientele goes, Two Shea’s might be one of the most diverse bars in Rutland.

And what about the music? The bar has consciously bucked the jukebox trend, deciding instead to allow its bartenders to play the part of deejay.

“You get to control the mood of the room,” Pomainville said.

Regulars get to know the bartenders’ musical tastes, and even develop preferences to whom they like the best.

When I walked in for this interview, owner Ronnie Shea (who’s behind the bar this night) was playing Les Claypool. As Pomainville and I chat, she has switched to The Meters, a band that he notes is always a sure thing.

While many bar owners would likely take jukebox revenues over “creating a mood,” Two Shea’s sees the value in the latter. It’s part of the brand. It’s one of the many reasons it’s the place you take your friends visiting from out of town – the bar you want to show off.

Outside the bar, Pomainville keeps himself busy. He volunteers with local Special Olympics teams at Rutland Middle School, teaching soccer and bocce. It’s a job that he values highly.

“I learn more from those than they do from me,” he says happily.

And then there’s the poetry. If you’ve spent a little bit of time around Two Shea’s, you’ve probably heard one of Pomainville’s poems. Earnest and pastoral, his verses recall Romantic poets like Wordsworth, talking about love and nature. These aren’t just barroom musings; Pomainville has a way with words.

“It’s always been a hobby,” he says, characterizing his poems as the diary of his life – his observations and questions about the world. While he’s always considered it a hobby, Pomainville hopes to one day publish a collection.

As our conversation winds down, I notice that the bar has filled up. People are playing pool, and a group has arrived to celebrate someone’s birthday. The Meters are still playing. The interview is over, but we continue to talk – about music, old Rutland radio stations and mutual friends. Pomainville and I step up to the bar for a drink. It’s a Tuesday. Outside, it’s November. The cold weather is here to stay. But inside Two Shea’s, it’s warm and feels like home.

Expressed :: (Approximately) 5 Questions for Eddie Pomainville
The Express’ Jim Sabataso sat down with Two Shea’s Eddie Pomainville to chat about jukeboxes, life on the road with The Samples and exactly what is in an “Eddie Special.”

Jim Sabataso: You were tour manager for The Samples; what would be your dream band to be on the road with?

Eddie Pomainville: The Rolling Stones.

JS: You think you could have survived that?

EP: Keith Richards did.

JS: I’m not entirely convinced he did. What’s your favorite memory from your time with The Samples?

EP: The things we did together. Not as a band, but as friends – seeing the country together.

JS: Anyone who’s spent some time in Two Shea’s has probably heard some of your poetry. Who’s your favorite poet?

EP: William Wordsworth. He was a Romantic – lots of images of nature.

JS: Word. So Two Shea’s is like the last bar in Rutland that doesn’t have a jukebox. Thank you.

EP: [Laughs] You’re welcome.

JS: Final question: Can you tell us what’s in an “Eddie Special”?

EP: You’ll have to come in and order one.

By most accounts, Rutland isn’t the most happening of places. The words “eclectic” and “bohemian” are rarely tossed around when characterizing our cultural assets. But spend a morning at the Rutland’s Winter Farmer’s Market (Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), and you might want to reconsider. This is Rutland’s indie scene.

My first trip to the Rutland Winter Farmers’ Market was three years ago. My friend and I were filming a short documentary about local food and sustainable agriculture. Naturally, our investigation brought us there. It was March; the market was still in its infancy – sitting in a chilly, forsaken theatre behind The Co-op on Wales Street, you’d have been hard pressed to find it if you didn’t now what you were looking for.

As we ambled through the corridor at the back of The Co-op into the old Strand Theatre, I felt like I was being let in on a secret. Out of nowhere, we were confronted with a flurry of activity – lively music and the din of a bustling crowd. As someone who grew up in Rutland, I had never seen so much energy and excitement in one place.

To be sure, the Summer Market in Depot Park has its charms, and is every bit successful as its winter counterpart. However, in the Winter Market, there exists a unique energy that is due in large part to the character of the space as well as the opportunity for socialization it provides during the long winter months.

Every week farmers, bakers, crafters and artisans all from very different walks of life converge on the Strand to sell their products and incrementally contribute to the development of a thriving local, independent economy. Outside, WalMart sits just around the corner. The boxes south of the city are less than 2 miles away. But inside the Winter Market, it’s as if those threats exist on another planet. Here, vendor and consumer both acknowledge and appreciate the importance of their relationship.

And what of these scenesters? Who are these people who come back week after week? For many, the Market is a place for people to gather, socialize and network. From families to 20- and 30-somethings to older couples, the Market is a melting pot of age, class and culture.

“I’m meeting friends here, then grabbing some coffee,” one shopper says, noting that this is a common routine for her, “It’s just a great place to meet up and walk around.”

Indeed, “I’ll meet you at Market” has become a regular catchphrase in some circles.

Greg Cox, Winter Market manager and owner of Boardman Hill Farm in West Rutland, is pleased with this development.

“The market has really helped the Rutland community get a sense of identity,” he says.

It’s no secret that Rutland suffers from what some might characterize as low self-esteem – at times, a negative, defeatist attitude that can be easy to fall into. Cox views the Market as one of the community’s most effective examples to dispel such attitudes.

“People come to the Market, and say I can’t believe this is happening in Rutland,” he says. “It really builds pride.”

And there’s much to be proud of. When it first opened in 2007, the Winter Market made Rutland the first community in Vermont to have a year-round, seamless market. Some of its more zealous champions even argue that it was the first in New England, though this fact has been more difficult to verify. Nonetheless, with more than 40 vendors, and in excess of $242,000 of sales last year, the Winter Market is an unequivocal success.

This past summer, Downtown Rutland underwent a market study. After a thorough analysis of the city’s trade area and market segmentation, a presentation was made to the community that provided a detailed roadmap for the economic future of Rutland. Figuring prominently into this vision was the Farmers’ Market. While most “in the know” were not surprised – the farm-to-city model has been discussed prominently for several years now – it was welcomed encouragement.

Cox, who is also the board president of the Rutland Area Farm & Food Link (RAFFL), is quick to point out the economic benefits of local agriculture.

“It has a multiplier effect: for every $1 spent on local food, $3 are generated,” he explains, “That’s huge potential for economic impact for the entire state.”

RAFFL executive director, Tara Kelly, echoes Cox’s view, stating, “In the Farmers’ Market we have a very visible opportunity to demonstrate that you actually can build a sustainable local food system.”

Kelly notes that as a result the success of the Winter Market, farmers are now growing with the winter in mind.

“We used to hit this seasonal cliff for local food,” she said, explaining that the Winter Market began as a test to see if there was interest in bridging that gap. “Farmers now know there’s a demand.”

Indeed, with a 52-week market there is a greater opportunity to connect people with fresh, local produce all year.

And the farmers have done just that. A quick lap around the Market will reveal no lack of variety or choices – squash, beets, carrots, and even greens through the entire winter.

“There’s something really great about knowing that you can get local spinach in the middle of December,” Jessie Wetherby, an employee of Boardman Hill Farm excitedly remarks.

While it might be odd to think that local spinach or beets can elicit such enthusiasm, it is just that sort of quirky energy that powers this market. There is an ineffable quality that keeps people coming back – something in the experience here that is clearly lacking in fluorescent efficiency of conventional food-shopping.

Let’s be honest; spinach isn’t that exciting. It is the participation in this act of community, however, that packs this drafty theatre every Saturday morning. It’s knowing that your being here matters, that it makes a difference, that the pennies you spend here actually stay here and directly benefit the vendor on the other side of that table.

Looking ahead, Cox sees nothing but growth for both the Winter and Summer markets.

“The Market is going to be the centerpiece for the local food movement in Rutland,” he states resolutely.

As RAFFL moves forward with plans for a local food processing facility and incubator farm, Cox, Kelly and many others are hopeful that the market will become a focal point for local food and economic success and revitalization throughout the Rutland region.