by MK Bateman
Newport, Vermont is going through quite a renaissance. What was once a sleepy town on the Quebec border is quickly becoming a boomtown, thanks to nearby Jay Peak Resort and an unprecedented investment of money from both the public and private sectors.
Newport is situated in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on Lake Memphremagog, a scenic glacial lake roughly 30 miles in length; with one end in Vermont the other in Quebec. Local folklore even mentions that it has its own lake monster, called Memphre. During the winter the lake is a frozen giant, perfect for ice fishing and skating. While in the summer, it has a wonderful assortment of outdoor activities (which I’ll be writing about in the coming months!). The fact that Newport is just 30 minutes from Jay Peak makes it the perfect spot to mix up your ski trip with a little shopping getaway.
I recently had the opportunity to spend a day with Patricia Sears, the Executive Director of the Newport City Renaissance, a not-for-profit tasked with advancing and enhancing Newport’s economic environment, developing a cohesive and welcoming City design, and promoting the City as a tourism and investment destination. An enthusiastic lover of her city, she led me on a tour around the downtown, saying hello to all the people she knew, while describing the many things that Newport has done and continues to do to make it such a vibrant destination. Her excitement about Newport was palpable and very quickly, it’s easy to see why.
As we strolled through Main Street – the center of downtown life – Patricia pointed out all the things that are making Newport such an exciting place. Newport is a perfect example of the modern Vermont: within just a few blocks we went from the sophisticated full service salon, Jon Somes Salon with its sleek urban ambiance, to Woodknot Bookshop and Turner’s Cafe, a charming bookstore and Café, to The Pick and Shovel – a quintessential Vermont General Store with everything from hardware and hand tools to shirts and pants. It is a perfect balance of what is best about old Vermont with the addition of wonderful modern amenities. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, listed as CNN’s Top Spot to Visit in Vermont for 2014!
The Tasting Center began as the brainchild of Eden Ice Cider Company’s owners, Eleanor and Albert Leger, who were looking for a way to expand their business. The result is a cooperative of venders featuring foods from all over the Northeast Kingdom. Approximately 20 Northeast Kingdom farmers and venders, along with many more from the surrounding counties, sell their products in the Tasting Center, contributing to creating a destination for tourists looking to savor the best of what Vermont has to offer.
When you walk into the Northeast Kingdom Tasting Center, you immediately realize you’re in for a gastronomic treat. Stands line both sides of the former department store with all manner of deliciousness, including Jocelyn & Cinta’s Bake Shop filled with a wide assortment of delicious baked goods, and Butternut Mountain Maple Farm, filled with all shapes and sizes of the sweet treat that Vermont is famous for. In the basement, you’ll find Eden Cider’s newly opened Tasting Bar and Winery, so you can sample their delicious Iced Cider and Aperitifs. I met several of the vendors, including the Legers, whose excitement about Newport and the Tasting Center was tangible.
Before we left, I was treated to lunch at the Brown Dog Bistro, a localvore-style restaurant with fantastic food, including burgers with beef ground freshly just across the way from our table at the Brown Dog Butcher. You certainly can’t get more freshly prepared than that! Patricia convinced me to try the Kingdom Mac and Cheese, made from some of the Northeast Kingdoms award winning cheese makers – worth every calorie! Brown Dog Bistro alone was worth the trip to Newport.
The hard work of both the Newport City Renaissance and the people of Newport have certainly merited all of the positive buzz focused on the town. Even in the winter, it proves to be a wonderful place to explore. In just a few months, construction will begin on a block–long multiuse building, which will bring hotel rooms, more retail and residences to Main Street. With these developments on the horizon, the excitement around Newport will only continue to flourish.