April 22, 2019

Gas station to town: please regulate our hours

Proprietors seek ban on 24-hour retailers

May 8, 2008

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Businesses often bridle at regulation. Collectively, they spend millions of dollars each year fighting for their interests.

The proprietors of Clark's Sunoco in Williston are also lobbying the government. But they seek more regulation, not less.

Allen and Liz Lemieux want an ordinance that bans 24-hour businesses. They asked the Williston Selectboard to require businesses that are always open, including their own, to close between midnight and 5 a.m.

The couple said Clark's Sunoco, which includes a gas station, convenience store, repair shop and car wash, has in recent months struggled to find employees willing to work the graveyard shift. They note the business has been victimized by two late-night robberies over the past two years and say the station attracts few customers after midnight.

"I am vehemently opposed to being open 24 hours, especially considering we are in Williston," said Liz Lemieux. "Maybe in a larger area like Burlington it makes more sense."

The couple can't simply close earlier because the lease with their corporate landlord requires the station to remain open around the clock.

A. R. Sandri Inc. of Greenfield, Mass. owns the station. The company, a regional distributor of Sunoco products, owns about 90 gas stations in Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and New York.

Dick Barnes, A.R. Sandri's chief operating officer, said the company tries to balance customer service and station operators' interests.

"Folks both in the county and outside of the county rely on that facility to provide gasoline," Barnes said.

But he added that the company is always willing to consider proprietors' concerns.

The proposed ordinance limiting hours was discussed by the Selectboard on Monday. Board members expressed skepticism about the idea.

"Frankly, my heart goes out to people being forced to keep places open," said Ted Kenney.

But he and other board members wondered what would happen to other businesses that currently operate around the clock or might want to do so in the future.

The Short Stop Mobil station at Taft Corners is apparently the only other Williston retail business open for customers 24 hours a day. Several others — IBM and FedEx were two mentioned by the board — have late-night employees but are not open to the general public.

Allen Lemieux told the board the request was meant to apply only to retailers.

"We didn't intend to shut down FedEx," he said.

Town staff recommended the board reject the proposal.

"No staff research has been conducted on this request but a number of questions come to mind," Town Manager Rick McGuire wrote in a memo. "First, does the board have the authority to enact such a limitation on businesses? Shouldn't the board let each business make that decision?"

Business lobbying

Allen and Liz Lemieux are spending only their time in lobbying for the ban on 24-hour retail operations in Williston. But nationally, businesses interests spend more on lobbying than any other group.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent just under $370 million — double the next highest-spending group — on lobbying over the past decade, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Sunoco Inc. itself spent between $400,000 and $1.1 million each year from 1998 to 2007.

Clark's Sunoco has been a family operated business in Williston since 1984. The station was originally run by William and Mary Ann Clark. They turned over the operation to their daughter and son-in-law about four years ago.

Allen and Liz Lemieux said at best they break even during the late-night hours. They receive a subsidy from A.R. Sandri for staying open around the clock.

Barnes said he could not comment about the financial viability of Clark's 24-hour operation without first studying the station's numbers. He did say that gas stations that are always open tend to attract more customers, even during daytime hours.

But money really isn't the issue, the couple said. Instead, they are worried about employees' quality of life and safety. Liz Lemieux said people who work the shift are deprived of time with their family.

"When is enough enough, when do you sell enough stuff?" she said. "What's the human cost?"

Clark's Sunoco has been robbed twice in the past two years. Each incident occurred in the early morning hours.

On Dec. 12, 2007, a man entered the station at 5:01 a.m. and demanded money, said Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain of the Williston Police Department. A struggle ensued and the suspect got away with "roughly a couple hundred" dollars, he said.

On Sept. 22, 2006 at 3:15 a.m. a man brandishing a gun demanded money and got away with less than $500, according to Chamberlain.

Employee safety "has always been a concern for us and for everybody in the gasoline and convenience store business," Barnes said.

Most stations are monitored with video cameras and use the brightest outdoor lights that local authorities will allow.

At the conclusion of Monday's hearing, the Selectboard asked town staff to research the legality of the proposal and whether other towns in Vermont have rules limiting business hours. The board will reconsider the request when it has answers to those questions.

The lease between Clark's Sunoco and A.R. Sandri expires in October, said Liz Lemieux. She promised to push hard to eliminate the 24-hour operation requirement when the new agreement is negotiated.

Allen Lemieux feels fatalistic about the chances of changing the lease or convincing the Selectboard to help sidestep the requirement.

"We pursued it thinking it probably wouldn't work," he said. "But we thought we'd give it a try."

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Folklore society celebrates 60 years

Williston-based group meets Saturday

May 8, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

If folklore is the embodiment of beliefs, customs and stories about a region's people, then Ina Isham's work exemplifies the word.

For Isham, an Essex resident, folklore comes easy. She loves history; her state's and her own. As president of the Green Mountain Folklore Society — a Williston-based, statewide organization that helps preserve Vermont's folklore — Isham collects stories and tall tales from all over the state.

Thinking back to her childhood, Isham points out that the convenience store and gas station complex in St. George is not the first of its kind in the small town. Isham said her father owned a store in the 1930s that sold gasoline, groceries and beer in St. George.

"If that wasn't what is considered a convenience store, I'm not sure what is," she said.

Isham's father used to make grocery deliveries around the Champlain Valley after World War I. According to Isham, the delivery business evolved into the convenience store. The store, opened at the end of prohibition, only lasted a few years, as St. George decided to become a dry town.

It's these types of stories that are the basis for the Green Mountain Folklore Society, or GMFS, Isham said.

"It keeps us going forward," she said. "If you don't know where you came from, then you don't know where you're going."

Shelburne resident and GMFS secretary Valerie Chamberlain agreed.

"I think the folklore society's role is to preserve Vermont history from the personal point of view," she said. "We talk about how people lived years ago — rural life, family life, life on the farm."

GMFS is celebrating its 60th anniversary on Saturday, May 10 at Shelburne's United Methodist Church. Vermont Civil War historian and author Howard Coffin is scheduled to speak at the meeting.

Six decades of history

University of Vermont English professor Leon Dean started the GMFS in 1948. He started by collecting stories, both fictional and true, of early Vermonters, and organized a group to remember the state's legends. The society started with only a handful of members, but today has close to 150 members statewide, Isham said, including three of her daughters.

Operating out of Williston, the society meets twice a year and puts out two publications. Meetings center around food and, of course, sharing stories, Isham said.

"I really enjoy the meetings very, very much," Chamberlain said. "I get to meet so many different people with a wide variety of backgrounds and stories."

One of the most popular events during the meetings is the "Gabfest." Isham said society members sit in a circle and share stories about their childhood and the Vermont lifestyle at that time.

"Some people say, 'I don't have any stories,' and I say, 'Yes you do!'" Isham said with a laugh. "It doesn't have to be yours. It could be a grandmother's, a grandfather's, a relative's or a friend's."

She has recently recorded some of the stories from Gabfests, adding the transcripts to recent editions of the society's folklore book, the "Green Mountain Whittlin's." Members also contribute stories to the book. The society also publishes a semi-annual newsletter, the "Potash Kettle," which updates members on recent news and information on upcoming meetings.

A Civil War buff

At each meeting, Isham said, the society tries to get a local historian to talk about the history unique to where the gathering takes place. At the 60th anniversary bash, Coffin, a Montpelier resident, will focus his talk on Shelburne and the Champlain Valley.

Coffin is the author of three books about Vermont and the Civil War: "Full Duty, Vermont in the Civil War," "Nine Months to Gettysburg" and "The Battered Stars." He recently co-authored "Guns Over the Champlain Valley: A Guide to Historic Military Sites and Battlefields."

Coffin said he had five ancestors who fought in the war, and he grew up in Woodstock, where a resident headed up the local war effort. His mother often told stories about her grandfather's time in the war. Those stories had a lasting impact, he said.

For his current project Coffin is finding historical sites in Vermont dating back to the Civil War era. Coffin said his research will take him to every town in the state, and he hopes the GMFS will help in discovering forgotten sites.

"From a selfish point of view, I'm looking for all the help I can get," Coffin said. "From what I understand, I'm going to be walking into a room of very knowledgeable historians."

Membership to the Green Mountain Folklore Society is open to all. Yearly dues cost $10 and include subscriptions to the "Potash Kettle" and the "Green Mountain Whittlin's." For more information on the society and the anniversary meeting, contact Ina Isham at 879-1925 or imiinvt8@yahoo.com.

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Combating mental illness

Resident raises money for mental health organization

May 8, 2008

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

When Williston resident Sara Moran discovered a member of her family had been diagnosed with a mental illness, she was unsure of where to turn. She looked for help, but found there wasn't much out there.

But with continued searching Moran found the Family-to-Family program, offered by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. The program, a free, 12-week course for family caregivers of mentally ill individuals, was just what Moran had been looking for.

"I learned so much from taking the course," Moran said. "It's strongly about education and advocacy for those with mental illnesses."

After Moran took the Family-to-Family course, she was so impressed that she decided to become a course instructor. It's not an uncommon step, according to NAMI Vermont President Ann Moore, who said individuals like Moran and herself become so grateful for the organization's help that they devote much of their spare time working for mental health advocacy.

"We want people to learn they're not alone in dealing with these things," said Moore, a South Burlington resident.

This year, Moran is chairing the 2008 NAMI Walk, the largest fundraiser for the organization's Waterbury-based Vermont chapter. The five-kilometer walk takes place on Saturday, May 17 in Montpelier. This year's theme is to break the stigma behind mental illness, Moran said.

"No one seems to have a problem with walking for heart disease, diabetes or cancer," Moore said. "There's never really been a walk for mental illness because of the stigma."

Moore said the walk is a chance for the public to learn about the organization and mental illness.

"Our goal is to encourage people to learn about the illness and abolish the stigma," Moran said. "We really need to work to break down the barriers so people will feel comfortable getting the help they need."

According to the national NAMI Web site, one in five Americans has been touched by mental illnesses in his or her family. Vermont has 42,000 people with a serious or persistent mental illness, according to the NAMI Vermont Web site.

Erin Evarts, NAMI Vermont's development coordinator, said the group focuses on posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, as well as other illnesses.

Moore said NAMI Vermont has three goals: supporting families affected by mental illness; educating the public on facts and dispelling myths; and advocating to improve the mental healthcare system in Vermont.

Moran also said NAMI Vermont works with the correctional system to find and treat inmates with mental disorders.

"Vermont is fairly progressive, but in terms of corrections, we still have a ways to go," she said.

The walk

Evarts said more than 100 NAMI affiliates across the country hold walks in the spring and fall. They have become the organization's largest fundraisers, Evarts said.

In Vermont, walkers begin on the steps of the State Capitol Building in Montpelier and follow the Winooski River to the Peace Park before returning. The 3.5-mile trip is doable for all abilities, Moran said.

"We encourage people to come and walk with us because it's the strength in the numbers that counts most," she said.

There will be music and food at the event, as well as guest speaker Michael Hartman, Vermont's health commissioner. Rep. Peter Welch is tentatively scheduled to be on hand, Moran said.

Last year, the walk raised more than $43,000 for NAMI, which gets its funding almost exclusively from private and corporate donations. Moran said tough economic times this year have made fundraising more difficult, but she's confident the group can meet its $50,000 goal by the time the walk begins.

Moran said she raised more than $400 by knocking on doors in her neighborhood near the Williston Country Club.

"I'm more than grateful to all my generous neighbors," she said.

The NAMI Vermont Walk takes place on May 17 in Montpelier. Registration begins at 9:30 a.m., with the walk starting at 11 a.m. Walkers can bring donations to the event, or donate online at www.nami.org/namiwalks/VT. To support Sara Moran, click the link to "Support a Walker." For more information, call 244-1396
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