The Vermont businessman and real estate developer who purchased the former Vermont Milk Company building at an eco-industrial park in Hardwick says he hopes to find a tenant, or tenants, interested in local food production.
Howard Manosh of Morrisville bought the building for $275,000 — a price that seemed to surprise the more than 100 people who gathered to either bid or watch the bidding. Separate from the building, about 200 "lots" of equipment and supplies were being sold separately.
The auction began at 9:30 a.m., and the building was sold within 20 minutes. Bidding began around $150,000 and twice appeared to stall at lower amounts before bidders kept ticking up the price upon the urging of Thomas Hirchak (pictured right).
"Hardwick has become a real center for food processing," Manosh told several reporters after the sale. He has had interest from at least one area organic dairy farm, and other food-related processors, in becoming tenants.
"I'd like to keep the building in food processing," said Manosh, who owns properties throughout north-central Vermont. "There has been some interest in doing that."
Manosh (pictured below, right) said he'd prefer to have just one tenant, but is prepared to retrofit the building for up to three businesses.
Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds, and a key figure in what has become a local food renaissance in Hardwick, rents from Manosh and said he's excited by Manosh's purchase. He believes that will help ensure that the building stays connected to food production.
"He's a real straight shooter and he's also very enthusiastic about what we've been doing," said Stearns.
Hirchak, of the Thomas Hirchak Company, auctioned off the building on behalf of Union Bank. The bank had foreclosed on the Vermont Milk Company's mortgage after a separate deal to sell off the building and equipment failed roughly two months ago. The bank would not say how much it was trying to recoup from the building's sale.
Local food production is the dominant theme of the Hardwick eco-industrial park. Vermont Soy and Sugarman of Vermont are two such businesses already in the park. The park will also be the future home of the state's Food Venture Center.
A separate auction was held after to sell the company's equipment on behalf of the Vermont Economic Development Authority. VEDA is trying to recoup more than $400,000.
The total amount earned from the equipment sale was not available at the time of this posting.
It's unclear if the Vermont Milk Company has other debts to pay off as a result of going out of business.
In 2006, VMC put up $650,000 for an abandoned cheese-making factory in a small industrial park in Hardwick. At the time, VMC founder Anthony Pollina predicted the company would spend more than $1 million to fit up the space.
At its peak, VMC sold cheese curds, a mild cheddar cheese and yogurt as well as an ice cream to restaurants, schools and supermarkets — but never enough to break even. In early 2008 it was already racking up monthly five-figure losses, according to Dennis Myrick, a St. Johnsbury-based consultant who was hired to turn the company around. He told Seven Days at the time of his arrival the company didn’t have a good handle on its exact sales figures or its true fixed costs.
He resigned his post in 2009 after being diagnosed with ALS.
After closing its doors and laying off its five workers, VMC looked for ways to settle its debts, either through a sale or bankruptcy. It never formally entered bankruptcy.