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Burlington, Vermont – Church Street Marketplace

Main Streets 2017: Vermont

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CSM Yoga 3
Church Street Christmas Tree
FLB 5580
Dining 3
lights dusk CSM Yoga 3 Church Street Christmas Tree FLB 5580 Dining 3

In 1971, city leaders in Burlington tried an experiment: they closed four blocks of Church Street, the main shopping avenue for Vermont’s lakeside city, to vehicle traffic. Would people still come to the stores?

It turns out they did. That led to a decade-long effort, finally completed in 1981, to convert Church Street, as it gently rises toward the white-steepled 1816 Unitarian-Universalist church at its top, into a permanent outdoor pedestrian mall. Even though the great majority of similar outdoor malls around the U.S. that have opened since the late ‘60s have since been closed or converted back to regular traffic, Church Street Marketplace is an ongoing story of success.

With a 97 percent occupancy rate in the shops along its brick-paved, four-block path, the Marketplace is home to 63 specialty stores, several national retailers and 26 pubs and eateries, according to the American Planning Association, which calls this one of America’s great public spaces.

“The Marketplace also hosts 20 food and retail cart vendors and issues permits to more than 200 street performers annually,” the APA reports. Along the cross streets to the west, views show the glories of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, memorably backlit by evening sunsets.

Each year some three million Vermonters and visitors come to the Marketplace to shop and enjoy its restaurants and cafes, with ample outdoor seating in the warmer months. Major annual events on the Marketplace start each February with the Magic Hat Mardi Gras Parade, sponsored by a creative local brewery.

During the city’s 10-day Discover Jazz Festival in June, world-renowned performers, area favorites and even high school bands appear in venues up and down the Marketplace, and at the art deco Flynn Theatre at the base of Church Street. The Festival of Fools brings street performers, musicians and comedians here in August — and the evening after Thanksgiving, hundreds fill Church Street to see the illumination of more than 200,000 white holiday lights.

Like almost all downtowns, Church Street has its challenges. The Burlington Town Center, an enclosed shopping center with its entrance halfway up the Marketplace, has struggled to keep tenants, and the city is considering a controversial plan for a high-rise redevelopment at the site.

But as Vermont’s most atmospheric, appealing destination for shoppers, diners and strollers, Church Street itself continues to prosper.

All photos courtesy of Church Street Marketplace

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Montpelier, Vermont – Main Street

Main Streets 2016: Vermont

Montpelier, Vermont’s capital, is surrounded by farming communities, and local food is celebrated on Main Street, home to many of the restaurants for which this small, friendly city is well-known. The local eateries include NECI on Main, a restaurant that doubles as a working classroom for the New England Culinary Institute, whose main campus sits atop a hill above town. It’s NECI that has attracted so many chefs to Montpelier over the years, and its students in their kitchen whites are frequent sights on the downtown streets.

With the “Best Small Town Downtown in America,” according to Best Choice Reviews, Montpelier is the nation’s smallest state capital. It has just 8,000 residents, yet it’s a lively community that strongly supports music and the arts. You can hear live music in several venues on most weekend nights, and the two-story, independent Bear Pond Books is an institution on Main Street. So is the Savoy Theatre, an independent movie house where you can watch first-run features from the U.S. and around the world. The Italian Renaissance-style City Hall is home to Lost Nation Theater, an innovative regional theater company whose productions often feature homegrown talent.

Montpelier is proud of its history, and offers a series of historic walking tours. Many buildings have small granite plaques that note when they were built, often in the middle or late 19th century. Among the city’s historic structures are two Main Street churches whose soaring steeples serve as landmarks.

And although the small plaza in front of City Hall is often the site of political gatherings, in many ways Montpelier’s town green is the long, beautifully kept lawn that descends gently from the State House, with its distinctive gold dome on neighboring State Street. The gold dome is back-dropped by wooded hills that display the scenery of Vermont’s changing seasons, and the State House lawn is home to festivals, demonstrations, holiday gatherings and pickup Frisbee games.

A popular local gathering space is the Main Street Pocket Park, whose benches and plantings draw everyone from schoolchildren to state workers taking a break from the labors of government. And on Saturday mornings from spring through fall, residents and visitors throng Capital City Farmers’ Market. Here, foods grown on nearby farms, plus those who harvest it and turn it into delectable treats, once again become the city’s stars.

Pocket Park photo courtesy of Ward Joyce Design

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