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On the Waterfront

State of the Arts


Published December 15, 2004 at 5:00 p.m.

Looking for a cheesy '60s sci-fi movie to while away a Friday evening? Or perhaps an obscure indie or subtitled Cannes d'Or winner that Blockbuster's never heard of? If you live in the Burlington or Middlebury area, chances are you'll head to Waterfront Video and find what you're looking for. The store with the kitschy decor and bizarro films among its 36,000 (and counting) titles has been on Burlington's Battery Street since 1996 and in Middlebury's Marble Works since 1998.

But where will you go if Waterfront goes... away? Not to be alarmist, film fans, but you've probably heard that retailer April Cornell is planning to purchase and renovate the waterfront building for its headquarters and, so far, there's no new location in sight for the movie Mecca. Waterfront co-owner William Folmar laments that he might be "spending the next 10 years on eBay trying to sell my inventory."

With the industry shifting to DVD sales and rentals, the video market is in enough flux as it is, Folmar says. "That's what I should be focusing on." Instead, he's worried about the store's survival. "We're searching desperately. It does seem that there is a chance we're going to be asked to leave even though we can't find anything," he says. "We're doing everything we can to relocate, but so far nothing is either affordable or appropriate regarding parking and so on."

Burlington's Waterfront quarters has 4400 square feet; Folmar says the store needs at least 3500. That's a lot of real estate and, with the need for nearby parking thrown in, it's a "tough sell," according to Michael Monte, director of Burlington's Community and Economic Development Office. "We're working with William," he says, noting that for several years the building has been slated for redevelopment -- including an ill-fated plan for a city-owned multimodal transportation center. "William has been very, very patient for some time," Monte adds. "We're trying to make sure he's going to stay strong and stay in business."

Folmar observes, however, that the funds the city has available to help him move will be moot if there's no place to move to. He says that in October he received a notice to vacate by November 30, but obviously it was not "hard and fast." Appeals filed against the Cornell project December 7, by two residents of the College & Battery complex, may have temporarily delayed the proceedings. But the Design Review Board has already denied one of them. The other, to the Environmental Court, is likely to be dismissed, Monte suggests.

April Cornell made a purchase offer for $1.3 million, according to the CEDO chief, but it has yet to cut the check. The building is still owned by the Burlington Community Development Corp., which purchased it in 2000 with the goal of building the transportation center. Monte says he is confident that the Cornell development will happen, and soon. It was attractive to the city for several reasons, he recounts: The company had a retail presence in the city already; it reversed the trend of city businesses moving to the suburbs (Cornell's corporate offices are currently in Williston); it would bring more new jobs to the city center; and, Monte adds candidly, the redevelopment "will improve property taxes, improve the site and all the land around it."

That sounds great -- except to Waterfront Video's faithful patrons and, apparently, some objectors at College & Battery -- but it ensures that the store will have to leave its namesake location before long.

Folmar indicates the Middlebury branch would continue, "unless the losses we took by draining this one would prevent us from keeping going... Middlebury does about a third of the business we do in Burlington. It would probably go out of business soon," he says sorrowfully. "A flaming crash of everything we've done."

Got building, anyone?

If you've ever owned a piano, you can appreciate the backbreaking challenge of moving one. So imagine purchasing a 9-foot, 990-pound Steinway Concert Grand and sharing it with a neighbor several miles away. That's what the Killington Music Festival did this summer; finding the black 1980 Steinway at Frederick Johnson Pianos, says Director Maria Fish. The fest put up the money -- approximately $40,000 -- and Rutland's Paramount Theatre "handles the logistics of housing it and renting it out," explains Paramount's Executive Director Ron Naples. Their schedules are compatible: The Killington fest runs June through August, while "because we have no air conditioning, we have no summer season," Naples says.

He notes that in the recent renovations of the historic downtown theater, "There was some wisdom to the architects: They built a corner for a piano." But even cleverer is its mobile unit. The piano "lives on a dolly here at the theater," Naples says. "We built a garage for it, and back it in every time we move it. Here we roll it around -- one person can almost do it alone." Spectators can't really see the platform, he adds.

But doesn't all that motion wreak havoc on tuning? In fact, says Naples with a rueful chuckle, "The piano literally gets tuned every time we move it 10 feet. On a grand piano, the professional musician is so sensitive."

Concert pianist Wesley Beale inaugurated the Steinway in October, performing the Mendelssohn Piano Trio in D Minor with violinist Susan Demetris and cellist Gayane Manasjan. In February, visiting pop singer-songwriter Judy Collins will have her turn. "This really is quite an instrument," Naples enthuses. "Even though I can only tap out 'Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,' I feel pretty special playing it."