LEBANON — A Lebanon developer announced plans this week to purchase the former Lebanon Village Marketplace, reviving hopes that a small grocery store can be lured to the downtown space.
Mike Davidson’s company Execusuite “reached an agreement” to purchase the 13,379-square-foot property next to the Lebanon Fire Station, Tim Sidore, the firm’s managing agent, said Wednesday.
Sidore told the Lebanon Economic Development Commission that the “ink’s barely dry” on the deal, but Davidson understands the downtown needs a market.
“We’ve talked to some folks in the industry and there’s ripe opportunity there,” Sidore said during the commission’s regular meeting.
He added that the company might also explore building affordable housing units on the lot, saying it may be possible to add apartments to the rear of the property facing Storrs Hill.
“We’re at the point where we’ve done a lot of good housing, nice housing for professionals and we can do the same quality and the same product but serve a badly needed market, which is affordable housing,” he said.
Sidore didn’t say how much the property is selling for, and emailed questions asking when formal plans will be available weren’t answered Wednesday.
Cam Brown, with Lang McLaughry Commercial Real Estate, is the property’s listing broker. He said Thursday that a purchase and sale agreement was signed but declined to provide a price.
“It’s a corner of downtown, so it’s a very prominent and important location,” he said. “I’m sure they’ll do great things.”
The property — which also is home to Sunrise Buffet, Black Moon Games, Baan Muay Thai and The Laundry Spa — is currently on the market for $2.3 million. Sidore said all of those tenants will be invited to stay.
The Lebanon Village Marketplace closed in 2018, ending a 13-year run, following a period of speculation about its future that was fueled by dwindling inventory and empty shelves. At the time, then-owner Ritch Bill attributed the store’s failure to its size — too small to compete with supermarket chains in West Lebanon, Centerra Marketplace and along Miracle Mile.
“You can’t run a grocery store where customers are buying only one or two items,” Bill told the Valley News. “They were treating it like a convenience store.”
Sidore said the grocery store’s aesthetic also might have turned off customers used to shopping in more vibrant markets.
“It just looked tired. It didn’t look appealing,” he said during Wednesday’s meeting.
A new market doesn’t need to be “overly fancy,” Sidore argued, and instead proposed a clean, up-to-date look akin to that of the smaller Co-op Food Stores. He added that it’s possible the White River Junction Co-op could be a model for whatever moves into the Marketplace space, prioritizing convenience items and provisions that might not require a full trip to the grocery store.
“I think that better serves this local downtown market than dropping another full-size Hannaford,” Sidore said.
City officials previously sought the Co-op’s help filling the downtown space shortly after its closure, with members of the now-defunct Lebanon Economic Vitality Exchange Committee lobbying for the nonprofit to explore opening a smaller store there. However, that never came to fruition, and the 13,379-square-foot storefront is still vacant.
City Councilor Karen Liot Hill, who led the 2018 effort to reopen the Village Marketplace, said Wednesday that redevelopment of the property could better attract tenants.
New ownership and the possibility of new housing on the site also would help advance the city’s goals of increasing density in the neighborhood, she said.
“It just seems like a really interesting and exciting opportunity to continue advancing some of the vision that people have endorsed for downtown Lebanon,” Liot Hill, who worked with Davidson after he purchased the former Lebanon Junior High School, said during the EDC meeting.
William Dunn, the group’s chairman, also applauded the move, saying he’s happy the property will be locally owned.
“The fact that it’s now going to be owned by folks who live in the community is huge,” he said.
He also owns several rental properties in downtown Lebanon, including at the former junior high school, and in 2017 helped to open Lucky’s Coffee Garage in the former Roy’s Service Station building on the northeast corner of Colburn Park.
Those past successes added to the excitement of Rogers House resident Dan Griswold, who said the Village Marketplace is missed among downtown seniors.
The grocery store was within walking distance of Rogers House, he said, and without it, residents have to get transportation elsewhere to shop for groceries.
“We always enjoyed that store because it’s nearby,” he said.
Mechanic Street resident David Muzzy, who used to frequent the old Village Marketplace daily, also was glad to hear the store could reopen.
“It would be wonderful. It would be ideal to have a small supermarket there, for the people of Rogers House and even for me,” he said. “You can’t even buy a Bayer aspirin in downtown Lebanon right now.”
“I’m all for it,” Muzzy added of the property’s sale.
Tim Camerato can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3223.