Pomerleau and Comeau close to market deal

Former Grand Union building

It’s been a frustrating journey of hope and disappointments, but it now appears that a new supermarket will occupy the vacant site of the former Grand Union in Johnson, empty since a flood forced the store to close in April 2011.

According to village officials, it is estimated that six months after the signing of a lease between Pomerleau Real Estate and Vermont entrepreneur Mike Comeau, the Village Market will open its doors. The return of a supermarket to the village will no doubt be a welcome change for residents, who have been forced to travel to Morrisville for groceries since the departure of Grand Union.

“We are hoping [this project begins] soon, because everybody wants to get this accomplished as soon as possible,” said Lea Kilvadyova, Johnson Community and Economic Development Coordinator. “The property owner is eager, because that property has been vacant for 18 months and reserved for the use of the grocery store. We are eager because we miss our groceries, and I imagine that the business operator also wants to resolve this as soon as possible. But the lease hasn’t been signed yet and that’s really the most important thing.”

The total start-up cost for both equipment and inventory is estimated at $1.2 million and Pomerleau has agreed to improvements to reduce water impact and update the aesthetics of the building, including installing new flooring.

Financing for this endeavor is coming from several different sources, explained Kilvadyova. Originally, the town applied for a $509,000 loan from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). They received $309,000. As for the $200,000 difference, Comeau, who currently owns grocery stores in both Richmond and Waterbury, has been asked to seek funding from the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA). However, if he is unable, CDBG has agreed to lend the remaining difference.

As for the other $700,000, preliminary commitments have been made in the amounts of $100,000 from the Village of Johnson’s revolving loan fund, $100,000 from the Lamoille Economic Development Corporation, $300,000 from People’s Bank and $200,000 from the Associated Grocers of New England. In addition, Comeau plans to invest some of his own working capital to “get things going.”

“I believe we are pretty close to finding out the financing piece, but then in the end it’s a business agreement between Mike Comeau and Pomerleau, who owns the building, and once they sign the lease we know that it’s a go,” Kilvadyova said.

In the meantime, area residents and JSC students will have to do what they have been doing for the past 18 months: waiting with their fingers crossed and traveling eight miles for groceries.