by Nat Frothingham
MONTPELIER — After graduating from high school in his late teens, Matt Dwire was all set to leave Vermont.
“I was signed up to go into the Air Force,” he told The Bridge. But instead of joining the U.S. Air Force, Dwire’s life took a different direction and he stayed in Vermont.
But let’s begin a few years earlier.
As a youth, Dwire had worked at the Worcester General Store. “I kinda liked it,” he said.
Then when he was 16 he went to work for Ron Lebourveau at Ron’s Corner Store in Montpelier right across from the Elm Street Laundromat at the busy intersection of Elm and School streets where the Uncommon Market is today.
When Dwire was 19 he bought Ron’s Corner Store from Lebourveau. Three years later he bought the historic brick corner building from owners Peter Hood and Tim Ayer.
That corner building at 1 School St. first appeared on a Montpelier map in 1889 and through the years it has housed a number of ground floor retail establishments — often a grocery store, also at various other times a restaurant, a laundry, a millinery shop, a printing shop, a locksmith, a sporting goods shop — with apartments on the upper two floors.
Today, at 41, Dwire has now owned the corner store building for 19 years. He’s also the lead guy at MD (Matt Dwire) Enterprises, an excavation, earth-moving, foundation and new construction business.
Looking back on his 19 years of ownership, Dwire likens the task of managing the building and dealing with its problems to something almost like a formal learning experience.
“This was my college education,” he said broadly. Then he got into the specifics: getting good tenants, rebuilding the second and third stories, rebuilding the porches out over the North Branch of the Winooski River.
Last summer ECI, an engineering and construction company with headquarters in Williston was working under contract for the city of Montpelier to carry out some street improvements at the intersection of Elm and School streets. When the workers on the construction job noticed that a whole brick wall — a brick façade — was pulling away from the Elm Street side of Dwire’s building, they stopped construction. Soon it was determined that the brickwork on the Elm Street side of the building would have to be replaced completely.
There had been a steel-glass entrance door on the Elm Street side of the building surrounded by cedar shingles and siding. One option was to simply replace the wall of bricks on the Elm Street side of the building and go with the steel-glass door and the cedar shingles and siding.
But Dwire had been looking at old photos of the building and was asking himself this question, “Where was the satisfaction going to be?”
Dwire felt that the satisfaction lay in returning the entrance to the Elm Street side of the building to the way it looked in the historic photographs. His next step was to contact local historic preservation architect Jay White who drew up plans to restore the Elm Street entrance to the way it was when the building was first constructed.
As completed at a cost of about $25,000, the restored historic entrance features two oak doors. One small oak door at the extreme right of the entrance way leads to an upstairs apartment. Then there’s the handsome, large oak door in the middle of the entrance with sheets of glass on each side.
Let’s say that you are new to Montpelier, or downtown Montpelier, and you need a little extra help locating the restored entrance on the Elm Street side of Matt Dwire’s corner brick building. Well, in recent days, Uncommon Market has placed behind one of those large glass panels to the right of the big oak door on the Elm Street side of the building a luminous blue neon sign that says, “Fresh Fish.” The blue neon sign is a great new look during the day and an even greater new look at night.
Reclaiming the historic entrance to the corner brick building has not gone unnoticed. Said Dwire, “People I don’t even know walk up to me and thank me for what I’ve done.”