Clothing design evolves from hobby to opportunity

WOODSTOCK — Entrepreneurs find their callings in every industry, not just high tech. Working with fine fabrics and a Bernina sewing machine, Gertrude Sofia Suokko, 22, is following a path that might be considered part of the growing maker movement. Suokko is owner and designer of Sofia, which offers original clothing designs, handmade in Vermont. “Sofia grew out of a lifelong love of designing and making clothes,” said Suokko, a Woodstock resident. Suokko said Sofia wear is easy, elegant, comfortable clothing.

New buyers driving Vt. real estate market

Vermont’s residential real estate market continues its steady climb out of the post-recession doldrums this year, as more first-time buyers have come into the market. Many homes that have awaited buyers for years are finally selling. Experts also said low interest rates, lower gas prices and more optimism about the overall economy have all encouraged a number of younger families and couples to buy first homes in the Green Mountains. In May, closed sales of Vermont homes were up 3.5 percent over May 2015, while the median sales price had dropped by 4.3 percent, according to data from Vermont Realtors. The group also reported that closed sales of single-family homes went up 9.2 percent in May, compared to the same month in 2015.

Craft brewing: A business with many parts

The number of breweries in Vermont has doubled over the last five years — with more people waiting to start their own craft-brewing operations. However, starting and running a brewery involves a huge number of considerations, well ahead of raising that first glass. Dale Patterson, owner of Hop’n Moose Brewing Company in Rutland, started his business in 2014, and pointed out that it involves many other things aside from just brewing. Along with managing payroll and all the typical parts of a business, there’s also maintaining the brewing equipment — and that involves a ton of cleaning. “You’re a janitor 90 percent of the time and a brewer 10 percent of the time,” Patterson said.

Bag policies aim to help community, environment

As the business community has tried to reduce waste in recent years, stores have taken steps to reduce the use of bags — while also helping the community. For example, the Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier has paper bags only, and the store encourages shoppers to bring their own bags. Currently, it’s five cents off if you bring your own bag. Since July 1 of last year, “our customers kept 214,383 bags out of the landfill by bringing in a reusable bag,” said Stephani Kononan, the co-op’s community relations manager. This summer, however, that credit system will go toward a local cause.

Bike touring gets assist from Amtrak

The first carry-on bike service for trains on the East Coast recently made its debut on the Vermonter, the Amtrak route that connects St. Albans with New Haven, Conn. The service is being offered on a pilot basis through foliage season of 2017, although the bike racks will remain on the train throughout the year. The Vermonter can currently accommodate three bikes per train, according to Amtrak. However, that will change in June, said Dan Delabruere, the rail program director with the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

Antiques market showing good signs

The antique business in Vermont has seen solid sales numbers in the past two to three years, as other sectors in the economy continue to rebound from the recession. The region’s antiques market is seeing higher demand for more modern items among some customers, although some interest remains in items 100 years old or older. Brian Lewis, owner of the Antique Center at Camelot in Bennington, has been in the business for 30 years. “Our sales have been up over the past couple of years,” Lewis said. Still, he noted the fluid nature of the antiques market.

Health facilities support local agriculture

A group of Vermont hospitals and health care facilities have joined a national movement — and formed their own organization — with the mission of changing the way they source and purchase food. Since 2010, the Vermont Work Group has been collectively harnessing its purchasing power to support local agriculture and advance the state’s sustainable food system. Six years later, the group is seeing the results it sought: better buying practices, more direct involvement in the state’s agricultural economy and — perhaps most importantly — happier, healthier patients and residents. Currently, the Vermont Work Group represents more than 2,000 beds at 12 Vermont hospitals and health care facilities, including the University of Vermont Medical Center, and operates under the helm of Kathy King, dining director at Wake Robin, a continuing care retirement community in Shelburne. “Farm to Plate, Farm to School, and now Farm to Institution.

Visitors seek a variety of outdoor attractions

As spring continues to take hold of Vermont’s landscape, thousands of visitors will hit the trails, bike, swim and enjoy the many other outdoor adventures the Green Mountains offer. Heather Lynds, co-owner of the Mad River Barn in Waitsfield, said a number of families are already heading up to Vermont to get away from it all after the long winter months. “I think everyone’s getting a little bit tired of being indoors, and they’re looking to connect with nature,” Lynds said. Her guests have often enjoyed local biking, horseback riding and swimming holes. Farm tours have been a major draw in recent years as well.

Study finds farmers markets competitive

Vermont consumers under the impression that farmers markets are too expensive may want to think again. A recently released Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets pilot study concluded that the state’s farmers markets are often price-competitive with supermarkets, especially when it comes to organic produce. “There’s always been that stigma around the farmers markets pricing,” said Hailee May, the agency’s local foods tracking administrative coordinator. “A Comparison Study of Product Pricing at Vermont Farmers’ Markets and Retail Establishments” concluded that, “commonly purchased food items can be affordably priced at farmers’ markets.”

In particular, the survey found that farmers markets were price-competitive when it came to organic fruits and vegetables, and especially locally grown organic produce. The pilot study also found that locally produced meats and eggs are competitive with supermarkets more than 50 percent of the time.

Gazebo sales making a comeback

For Bernie Carr, the gazebo that anchors Brandon’s Central Park holds fond memories dating back many years. “I remember walking down, when I was probably 8 years old, to a Rotary auction that was held in that same gazebo,” Carr said. The gazebo represents the heart and soul of the life of many towns throughout the state. The Brandon gazebo is the central location for a number of events, ranging from free summer concerts and the chamber’s annual auction, to celebrations on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. This role is certainly tied to local business, said Carr, who is the executive director of the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce.