Study Shows Untapped Market Potential In Barton Area

Photo by Jennifer Hersey Cleveland

Bill McMaster of UVM Extension and Michael Moser of the Center for Rural Studies, who conducted a survey of second homeowners in Barton, speak with Lorna Higgs of Northeastern Vermont Development Association, which administered the grant that funded the study, at the Glover Town Hall.

GLOVER -- People thinking about starting a business in Barton may want to consider a Laundromat that also carries clothes and house wares.

At least, that's what the results of a recent study of people who own second homes in Barton indicated to researchers Bill McMaster of University of Vermont Extension and Michael Moser of the Center for Rural Studies.

With about $3-million being spent by this group during a three-month period and within 15 minutes of Barton, coupled with a desire to stay close to home while visiting, Barton area businesses could use the study results to grab a bigger piece of the second homeowner pie.

McMaster and Moser presented their findings to a small but engaged group at Glover Town Hall in mid-December.

The poor attendance was most likely due to the presentation being held the same evening as the Barton Academy holiday concert.

The study showed the potential of untapped markets in the area -- in particular those areas that the market group travels elsewhere to find during their visits or what McMaster called "leakage."

"When you add it up, we're talking about big numbers," McMaster said. And it is money that provides a direct economic impact to the area.

Thirty percent of the housing in Barton is owned by people who make their permanent home elsewhere, and before the study, there was no information about their spending habits.

"It's really a big demographic of the population," Moser said.

Of the 680 homes, 200 returned surveys and indicated that the one activity they enjoy most in the Barton area is staying at home. Moser and McMaster said the respondents really don't wish to travel that far for services.

The market area studied includes the towns of Barton, Glover, Irasburg, Westmore, Albany, Brownington and Orleans Village.

The majority of second homeowners is an aging population.

"There's not a lot of youth in these second homes. They're not looking for child care or activities for kids," Moser said.

Most respondents love the area because of the vast natural resources and activities associated with that kind of environment, as well as local friendliness and the beauty of the area.

Respondents rated services such as local banks, veterinarians, churches, the pharmacy, and hardware stores very highly while giving a low rating to laundry facilities -- which don't exist in the Barton area -- clothing stores and house wares stores.

The vast majority of these second homeowners plan to keep their houses.

The question for researchers now is, "How can we improve the services that are most important to second homeowners?" Moser said.

Areas in need of improvement include local hospitals and sit down dining establishments. Respondents rated those services as being very important while rating the quality of existing services as very low.

The homeowners also rated services such as cell coverage, chain stores and Internet service as very low.

"They rate it has having the poorest quality, but they don't care about it," Moser said.

The availability of local food was rated very highly, which no doubt pleased the young couple which will take over operations of 4 Acre Farm next summer, Adam Favaloro and Katt Tolman. The couple plans to extend hours at the market and cultivate 3 acres at the site off Interstate 91.

The study provided good news for newspapers as well as gossips. One quarter of respondents get their information from local newspapers while another quarter gets it word of mouth. Getting information from television was rated lower than finding news at the town clerk's office.

"These people are not watching television, and they don't care to," Moser said. That's important information for those trying to market their services to potential customers, he said.

Nearly 39 percent of the homeowners stay in Barton for three months of the summer while another 20 percent stays two months. The other seasons didn't fare as well, however, and the study showed that these folks aren't here for snowmobiling.

But McMaster said that makes sense, since the majority live on lakes in houses that most likely are not winterized.

Most of the money spent goes to groceries and maintenance of houses, Moser said. But $2.3-million is being spent elsewhere on food, McMaster said.

Another source of leakage is in industries such as furniture stores and gardening and lawn maintenance services where $500,000 is being spent outside the area.

Second homeowners are spending $1-million on clothing outside the area while visiting, and a $55,000 demand for specialty foods is being met by only $5,000 in the Barton area. In full-service restaurants, $1.7-million is going elsewhere, McMaster said.

Marvis Matarozzo, who runs the Wooden Spoon Deli in Currier's Market in Glover, asked if hours were an issue, like the results of a study of shopping in Newport City.

That wasn't an issue in this study. Moser said 77 percent of respondents said the hours were fine. Matarozzo suggested perhaps it had more to do with ambiance, atmosphere or menus.

And McMaster said that a lot of people shop in Littleton, N.H., making a day of it with dinner out.

"The ones that are exceeding [the national average] are the ones that went higher end," McMaster said.

"We cater to the loggers; we cater to the working men," Matarozzo said.

Tolman said it sounds like businesses need to strike a balance between the needs of locals and visitors.

"They pay the bills all winter," Matarozzo said, referring to the locals.

Alcohol sales were higher than expected, McMaster said, with a surplus of $406,000.

"Drinking places, there's actually a surplus," McMaster said. "So I guess people are drinking more than they should."

But back to the lack of Laundromats, the group said the water and sewer costs in Barton Village would probably frighten away anyone interested in owning that type of business.

Unless the village was willing to lower rates for that service, just to have it in town, McMaster said.


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