Family Center hopes to buy Putney Pasta building

By Stephen Seitz

Should the remaining cards fall properly, the Chester-Andover Family Center may soon find itself in a new and much larger home.

Chester-Andover Family Center store manager Sherry Willumitis, right, explains to plumber Don Bartlett some of the renovation work to be done on the center's hoped-for new space on Route 103S./ Photo by Stephen Seitz

“Even if we close in July, we won’t be able to move until September,” said Sherry Willumitis, the thrift shop manager. “There’s a lot of work to be done.”

The 27-year-old community service organization has its eyes on the old Putney Pasta building on Route 103 south, most recently the home of Curtis II barbecue. (Curtis’ devotees will be pleased to know he’s still at his usual summer grill off I-91 in Putney.) The Putney Pasta building is much larger than the Depot Street site, and has an upstairs apartment that will be converted to office space.

“We’ll have board meetings, like a real organization,” Willumitis said. “Right now, we’re the wandering Jews of community boards. We have to hope St. Luke’s is open or the NewsBank conference room or some other spot.”

Willumitis said that while they’ve “never actually measured the (Depot Street) space … my guess is about 1,200 square feet for the downstairs.” She added that the Depot Street building  “is a strangely shaped building. … it is really cramped here.”

The new building is expected to provide 2,000 square feet of space for the thrift shop area, 900 more for a food shelf and 2,000 square feet upstairs for the office and conference room.

After 15 years, the center has outgrown the Depot Street space. Donated merchandise – from clothing to toys — takes up so much space there is barely room to move, and the food shelf is on the second floor.

That requires a lot of heavy lifting to get the food into storage, and even more to bring it down to the clients.
But if the center gets its wish, the food shelf will have much more space and be on the first floor and accessible to clients.
“We can’t participate in the Vermont Food Bank because recipients have to be offered a choice,” Willumitis said. “The bigger space will help us with that. Clients can go right to the shelves.”

The essential obstacles left are financing, paperwork and approval from Chester’s Development Review Board, which it will go before at 7 p.m. Monday, June 11. One large hurdle has already been cleared: Starkweather LLC, which is selling its 17-acre  site that includes the Drew’s All-Natural manufacturing plant at the top of the hill and the former restaurant building on Rte 103, recently won an amendment to its Act 250 permit to subdivide its property, allowing the center to purchase the building. But before that can happen, the center needs to sell its Depot Street building. Plans are to sell it to the owners of Hart’s Apartments right next door. It will then be converted to apartment space, Willumitis said.

“If we don’t make this sale, none of the rest becomes possible,” she said.

Besides more space, the move offers the added advantage of better visibility, despite the fact that the building is on the outskirts of town.

“Our sign now is flat against the building and people drive right past us,” Willumitis said. “We started getting attention when we put merchandise outside for people to see. We’re very well-known in the community, and some of our people will follow us anywhere, and we’ll be looking at all that ski traffic on Route 103. With our sign out by the highway, I think our visibility will increase.”

Just because the previous tenant was a restaurant does not mean the center will be adding a community kitchen. “Most of the kitchen equipment has been taken out,” Willumitis said. “The stove, the big refrigerators, they’re all gone. They did leave a Pepsi cooler behind.”

If someone wants to donate kitchen appliances, Willumitis said the center would be happy to take them.

“Like any nonprofit organization, we have a wish list. Our … appliances are not that energy efficient, and we’re hopeful of replacing them.”
Sherry Willumitis
Thrift store manager

“Like any nonprofit organization, we have a wish list,” she said. “Our present appliances are not that energy efficient, and we’re hopeful of replacing them.”

Green Mountain Union High School is already donating its old library shelves, which are being replaced as it undergoes a $100,000 renovation.

“One of their volunteers came in and asked about shelves,” said GMUHS Principal Tom Ferenc. “They have some limitations. They are well over 6-feet tall, so they’ll have to be spaced really well.”

The center provides a variety of services, such as emergency financial assistance, fuel aid in winter, a thrift shop with enough merchandise to stock entire households and the food shelf, which is open the second and third Thursdays of every month. To find out more, to apply for aid or to donate, visit its Web site.

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About the Author: Steve Seitz is an author, journalist and film critic based in Springfield,VT. He has reported local news in the Upper Connecticut River Valley for many years. Steve has been interviewed on NPR's "The Story" for his knowledge of cinematic music. He also has interviewed such cinematic luminaries as James Earl Jones, Jerry Lewis, James Whitmore, Matthew Lewis ("Neville Longbottom" from the Harry Potter films), and an original cast member from every "Star Trek" series, among many others. He is working on other novels.

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