By Lee J. Kahrs
BRANDON—The signs said it all. Within two downtown blocks, closing signs signaled the end of an era for two well-known Brandon businesses.
Within the span of one week, Sheri Sullivan of Sheri’s Diner on Center Street and Tonya Bonvouloir of Shapiro’s Department Store on Park Street, both announced they would be closing their respective businesses.
Sheri’s Diner/Plan-It-Sheri Catering
Sullivan wasted no time. Her last day in business was Friday, Jan. 23. Sullivan, who was already well-known for her Plan-It-Sheri Catering business, opened the diner next to Carr’s Florist and Gifts in 2010. Now, she said, she is declaring bankruptcy, and the diner and the catering company are both out of business.
“I’m closing my business because I can’t support it in the winter,” she told the Brandon Reporter on Thursday, Jan. 22. “I’m declaring bankruptcy, and it’s all one business.”
Sullivan said she needs 40-45 customers a day to stay in business, which isn’t a problem in the spring, summer and fall months. But by the time winter rolls around, she averages about 20 customers a day, and estimates she would need 120 customers a day in the spring and summer to carry her through the winter.
“I’m very sad,” she said. “I’ve struggled since I opened five years ago. I’ve changed the hours, the payroll. My food costs and salaries are in line, but I don’t have the winter business I need.”
Sullivan said as much as she loves her community, it has been very stressful trying to keep the diner open the last few years.
“It’s been a very difficult decision,” she said. “I love and care about this town, but I’ve been very stressed for over a year. It’s a quality of life issue, and I don’t feel I have any right now.”
The space at 25 Center Street has been a diner for years, in various reincarnations. In fact, Sullivan’s front-of-house staffer, Bronia Van Benthuysen, owned Miss B’s Diner in the space from 2000-2005. From 2005-2010, it was the Brandon Falls Diner before Sullivan opened Sheri’s in 2010.
Both Sullivan and Van Benthuysen point to the closing of large Brandon employers like Vermont Tubbs furniture manufacturer and Nexus electronics in 2007 and 2008, respectively, greatly reducing local lunch traffic and contributing to the demise of local eateries.
Sullivan said she is not sure what her next move will be, but it will require working, and renewed sense of freedom.
“I need to get a job,” she laughed. “I really don’t know what I’ll be doing. That’s been the wonderful part of this because I haven’t had a life for so long. Who likes working 75 hours a week?”
Shapiro’s ,Inside Scoop
Up around the corner, the venerable Shapiro’s department store at 12 Park Street will stay open into February, closing just six months after Bonvouloir bought the business and the inventory from David Howells last August.
Shapiro’s has been a fixture at that location since at least 1940, when David Shapiro owned the shop. A one-stop shop for decades, Shapiro’s was the go-to store in town for clothing, toys and gifts, always a busy place especially during the Christmas shopping season.
But Bonvouloir said that the inventory was not quite what she had hoped, and that popular lines like Carhartt were no longer available for order. Blue Seal got the local Carhartt line when it opened its new store on Route 7 south near Mac’s Market last year, and only one local store is usually allowed to carry a line.
“We had to replace 40 percent of our inventory,” Bonvouloir said. “And while before this was the only place you could find some of the toy lines, now people can order them online.”
Brandon Economic Development Officer Bill Moore said that the online shopping trend sweeping the country has affected local mom-and-pop business.
“The way people shop is changing,” Moore said. “We are witnessing a sea change in the way we shop. The online/internet market has taken a big bite out of brick and mortar sales.”
But with the closing of one store, there is opportunity, Moore said.
“While we are sorry to lose a retailer with the history of Shapiro’s, we look forward to seeing what kind of other opportunities exist for this prime location located in our beautiful downtown. Ideally some kind of hybrid business that serves both the needs of our residents and serves to draw people into our great town.”
Bonvouloir agreed. “I’m willing to fight for anything I put my time into,” she said. “But I think Shapiro’s is a faded entity. It’s not what the customer wants anymore. They say they do, but they don’t. It’s too bad.”
For her part, Bonvouloir will be closing one door and opening another, as she has a verbal agreement to take over the Inside Scoop ice cream and candy shop next to the Brandon Inn. Longtime Inside Scoop owners Janet and Joel Mondlak closed up the shop last fall, and Bonvouloir hopes to sign a rental contract with the building owners, Sarah and Louis Pattis, who also own the Brandon Inn, in the coming weeks.
Bonvouloir plans to operate the ice cream and candy counter, as well as consignment items in the back, featuring locally-made jewelry, pottery, and artwork, plus scarves and greeting cards.
“I’m so excited,” Bonvouloir said. “I’m going to start small and add things as I go along… and everyone loves ice cream.”
Lee J. Kahrs is the editor of The Brandon Reporter, a sister paper of The Mountain Times.