Was There Something in the Water? | 20th Anniversary Issue | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Was There Something in the Water? 

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What was it about 1995 — the year Seven Days first hit the streets? Bill Clinton was president, the federal interest rate was 6 percent and the economy was good. That year, the government-owned internet went private, but technology had already changed the newspaper industry. As a result of desktop publishing, typesetting equipment and darkrooms were fast becoming relics of the past.

Just as crucial for the founders of Seven Days, "There was a good entrepreneurial vibe" in Vermont, recalls Marc Sherman, who started Burlington's Outdoor Gear Exchange that same year. Vermont got its first Walmart, in Bennington, but that didn't deter Sherman or the owners of Crow Bookshop, Eyes of the World or Small Dog Electronics, all of which went on to prove that local, independent stores can compete head-to-head with national retailers.

"We were in 800 square feet on Main Street," Sherman recalled, "and Woolworth's — then one of the largest retailers in the country — occupied the space we're now in." Crow outlived Borders Books and Music.

Local small business owners got inspiration from Vermont Teddy Bear, which was growing so fast it built a brand-new headquarters in Shelburne that year. And Ben & Jerry's had gone from "counterculture to part of the culture," observed Sherman. "That was a good representation of what was happening in Burlington."

Progressive Mayor Peter Clavelle was back in office in 1995 for the third of seven terms — after an unplanned hiatus. A Republican ousted him in 1993, in part because Clavelle supported extending health-care benefits to the partners of gay and lesbian city employees. Turns out he was on to something. As was the Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, founded the same year as Seven Days. And the annual gender-bending Winter is a Drag Ball is still showing Vermonters new ways to break the ice 20 years later.

Vermonters were also discovering good food, craft beer and real coffee. Muddy Waters and Uncommon Grounds Coffee and Tea had both opened the year before — helping us get through the startup phase. The locavore-boosting Vermont Fresh Network started in 1995. The coincidence of Three Needs Tap Room & Brewery, The Shed Brewery and the Vermont Brewers Association should have been a heads up that Vermont beer could one day challenge maple syrup for icon status.

The arts scene was no less lively, which gave all of us at Seven Days plenty to write about. The Flynn Center for the Performing Arts had completed a multi-million capital campaign. Burlington City Arts opened the Firehouse Gallery on Church Street. The Grateful Dead's 1995 Highgate show, and Jerry Garcia's death, predated our first issue, but Phish just kept getting bigger. That summer, the band played Saratoga Springs, Great Woods and Sugarbush. "City Hall Park was occupied by Phish heads — the tour kids," Sherman recalled, conceding it was great for business. "If nothing else, they certainly needed shoes."

Other local music was thriving, too. "Nectar's was in its heydey," Sherman said. "And [Club] Metronome." Club Toast popped up a few years later.

"It does seem to be that there was a palpable energy during that time that was both youthful and optimistic, and maybe even a bit reckless," said Crow Bookshop owner Keith Terwilligar. "I'm not sure if it was the relative 'peace and prosperity' of the Clinton years, or the promise of the internet, or the fact that there were a lot of really cool things happening in the arts and culture, but it's hard not to look back on those years and recognize a fertile environment for all kinds of beginnings."

We're not done yet. To all the other businesses, organizations and events listed below or that we might have missed, happy 20th — and many more!

Founded In 1995

  • African, Latino, Asian, and Native American Community Organization (ALANA)
  • Black Dog Sports, Killington
  • Burlington City Arts' Firehouse Gallery (now the BCA Center)
  • Centerpoint Adolescent Treatment Services, South Burlington and Winooski
  • Chill (founded by Burton), Burlington
  • Church Street Tavern, Burlington
  • Coffee Lab International, Waterbury
  • Community Capital of Vermont, Barre
  • The Crate Escape, Richmond
  • Crow Bookshop, Burlington
  • Eyes of the World, Burlington
  • Fuse, Winooski
  • Green Mountain Concert Services, Williston
  • Islamic Society of Vermont, Colchester
  • La Villa Bistro, Shelburne
  • Magic Hat's Mardi Gras, Burlington
  • Mimmo's Pizzeria & Restaurant, St. Albans
  • Nordic Barn, Stowe
  • Orton Family Foundation, Shelburne
  • Outdoor Gear Exchange, Burlington
  • Penguin Plunge Special Olympics Vermont fundraiser, Burlington
  • PestPro, Burlington
  • Pines Senior Living Community, South Burlington
  • Red House Building, Burlington
  • Seth Yacovone Band
  • Shalimar of India, Burlington
  • Shearer Acura, South Burlington
  • The Shed Brewery, Stowe
  • Small Dog Electronics, Waitsfield
  • SolarFest renewable energy festival, Middletown Springs
  • Sovernet Communications, Bellows Falls
  • Spruce Mortgage, Burlington
  • Sunup Bakery, Killington
  • Three Needs Taproom & Brewery, Burlington
  • Timberwolf Manufacturing Corporation, Rutland
  • Vermont Animal Cookies, Woodstock
  • Vermont Manufacturing Extension Center, Randolph Center
  • Vermont River Conservancy, Montpelier
  • Vermont School Leadership Project at the Snelling Center for Government, Williston
  • Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Montpelier
  • Vermont Young Playwrights Project, Burlington
  • Vertek Corporation, Colchester
  • Vermont Brewers Association, Springfield
  • Vermont Community Foundation, Middlebury
  • Vermont Freedom to Marry Task Force, Montpelier
  • Vermont Fresh Network, Richmond
  • Vermont Genealogy Library, Colchester
  • Vermont Kung Fu Academy, Essex Junction
  • Vermont People With AIDS Coalition, Montpelier
  • Willy D's Furniture Store, Colchester
  • Winning Image Graphix, Pittsford
  • Winter Is a Drag Ball

Compiled by Ken Picard

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About The Author

Paula Routly

Paula Routly

Paula Routly came to Vermont to attend Middlebury College. After graduation, she stayed and worked as a dance critic, arts writer, news reporter and editor before she started Seven Days newspaper with Pamela Polston in 1995. Routly covered arts news, then food, and, starting in 2008, focused her editorial energies... more


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