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CIP Success: Helping a Calais Pub Spring Back to Life

November 6, 2023
Whammy Bar in Calais

The Whammy Bar is back in business. The Whammy Bar is located in the Maple Corner Community Store on West County Road in Calais.  

The store was able to stay open during COVID, but the pub had to shut down, dealing the store a big financial blow.  Food and drink have higher profit margins than grocery sales, and the owners realized that if they didn’t get the Whammy Bar back open, the entire store might have to close.

This wasn’t the store’s first struggle.  It opened in the mid-1800s, as the Red Shop in Maple Corner.  Over the years, the store changed hands and names several times, and there was a devastating fire in 1947. But in December 2019, 200 community shareholders pitched in and bought the store, renaming it the Maple Corner Community Store.  A few months later, COVID came calling.

Once the Whammy Bar closed the store’s money problems began. Federal pandemic forgivable loans kept them afloat, but that was only a band-aid.  They had to get the Whammy Bar back open so the store was no longer running at a deficit. 

Sign inside The Whammy Bar

Store President John Rosenblum describes the pub as a “tight little venue” and says they had to figure out a way to host guests without them all being exposed to the virus.  So, they applied for a Capital Investment Program (CIP) grant to help them take measures to reduce the spread of COVID and restore public confidence.

The program, run by the Vermont Department of Economic Development, used federal ARPA money to help Vermont communities reverse the harm caused by COVID.  It distributed $7.3M dollars to 32 projects across Addison, Caledonia, Chittenden, Franklin, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, Rutland, Washington, Windham, and Windsor Counties.

The Maple Corner Community Store won a $10,615 CIP matching grant.  If the store raised that amount, the state would match it.  And they did.  

The Whammy Bar used the $21,230 for three main projects.  They purchased two HEPA air filters to aggressively turn over the air in the small space to reduce the presence of the airborne virus. They also added picnic tables for outside eating and drinking which appealed to customers who didn’t want to be inside during the pandemic, and they roped off the outdoor space so that the Whammy Bar could provide table service. Then they spent the rest on upgrading their kitchen for Whammy Bar meals and take-out dinners, and they started selling prepared meals in the store.

Food prep area in the Maple Corner Community Store

The Whammy Bar reopened in July 2022.  The Maple Corner Community Store says in the year since, sales are up in every category.

“Prepared food helped us weather the pandemic,” says Rosenblum. “We’re no longer in a death spiral financially. Now we’re pretty healthy.”

Now Rosenblum says they are turning their attention to their next project – further upgrades to increase the cooking capacity in the kitchen.