After a year marked by a global pandemic and severe economic challenges, there are also bright spots for North Country businesses and communities.
As the North Country Center for Businesses in Transition (CBIT) enters its third year supporting transitioning businesses, the partnership has announced the successful sale of two regional businesses to a new generation of entrepreneurs.
Over the last two years, retiring owners of Tug Hill Vineyards and Adirondack Soy Candles accessed local business support services and resources, including CBIT’s community liaison network, in order to develop business succession plans and connect with potential buyers.
“Preparing to sell a business can be intimidating,” said Jenna Kraeger, economic development specialist at Lewis County Economic Development and one of CBIT’s new community liaisons. “These stories are testament to the hard work and dedication of these business owners, their professional services team and the economic development staff who supported them through the transition process.”
When Sue and Mike Maring decided it was time to sell Tug Hill Vineyards in Lowville, N.Y. — a farm winery that grows French-American cold-hardy grapes — the odds were stacked against them. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, only 20 percent of commercial listings actually sold. To beat the odds, the Marings planned ahead, connected with professional support and were patient and flexible in finding the right buyers. As a result, they successfully passed on their business to the Beller Family in January 2021.
“Out with the old and in with the new! We wish Jon and Taren Beller and their family much success as the new owners of Tug Hill Vineyards,” said Sue Maring. “We are sure you will come to love them as much as we have enjoyed working with them over the past ten months.”
Jon and Taren Beller and their three sons, Owen, Ty and Dax, are long-time Lewis County residents. Jon is an owner at Beller Farms where his family has milked cows for over 100 years. Taren is a special education teacher in Beaver Falls, N.Y.
“We are very excited to be purchasing Tug Hill Vineyards,” said Jon Beller. “It is truly a dream come true for us and combines Taren’s love of cooking and country style with my hobby of fruit trees and all things orchard related. We look forward to working together as a family to maintain and grow the wonderful business the Marings have established. We plan to make small changes, growing the restaurant and events, and adding more family-friendly activities. The staff at Tug Hill Vineyards are all maintaining their current roles and have been very patient teaching us about a business we knew little about.”
The new year also saw the transfer of home-based candle company Adirondack Soy Candles in Saranac Lake, N.Y. The 17-year business has successfully transitioned to Terry Reed, who is the store manager at The Village Mercantile. Previous owner Sue Amell moved from the region and continued to operate the business from out of state. She explored various transition options, contacting CBIT in 2018. She wanted her candle company to continue to grow in the place where it took root.
Reed told Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Patrick Murphy she credits CBIT and the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for making the transition process run smoothly. “The connection with SBDC made possible by CBIT was wonderful. We had a great conversation with them to help start our business. The resources they provided were great, and being able to go back to them to review was really good too.
“SBDC provided the resources to help us understand how to finance the purchase,” she said. “I had no clue on how to even get a tax ID number. [CBIT] really got me moving forward and where I needed to go to get the business moving.”
Reed also praised Amell, who supported her with an informal “apprenticeship” over the phone in the months leading up to the sale. “I wish all transitions for businesses could go as it did with Sue,” she said. “The mentorship and ability to work with her was tremendous.”
The Ticonderoga area is keeping its business spaces occupied as well, seeing some businesses repurposed as different ventures. Two businesses transitioning to new uses include the former Wagon Wheel Restaurant and Ticonderoga Paint & Decorating. Matthew Courtright, president and chief executive officer of the Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce (TACC), noted that successful business transfers can result in spaces that remain occupied and commercially active, even if the use changes.
“TACC is proud to continue our collaboration and partnership with ANCA and the Center for Businesses in Transition,” said Courtright, who serves as one of 13 community liaisons and lead partners for CBIT. “This program and the resources available are providing assistance in many ways and truly having a positive impact.
“We are currently working with several transitioning business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. We look forward to sharing their stories in the near future. Continued great things are ahead as we work collaboratively to serve the region and work diligently on our business retention, recruitment and expansion goals.”
These business transitions were formalized as CBIT announced its updated slate of community liaisons for 2021. These liaisons and partners will play a crucial role to help navigate successful transitions through options including open market sales, intergenerational family transitions and conversions to worker ownership models:
- Matthew Courtright and Erin Mullen, Ticonderoga Area Chamber of Commerce
- Ben Dixon, St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce
- Stephanie Donaldson and Jessica Spiegel, Adirondack Economic Development Corporation
- Russ Kinyon, Franklin County Economic Development
- Jenna Kraeger, Lewis County Economic Development
- Rachelle Martz and Christy Wilt, Hamilton County Economic Development
- Patrick Murphy, Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce
- Kylie Peck, Greater Watertown-North Country Chamber of Commerce
Angela Smith of the SUNY Canton Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at Clinton Community College and Carol Calabrese of the Essex County Industrial Development Agency are returning as lead partners for the third year of the initiative.
“As a new liaison, I am looking forward to connecting with businesses and entrepreneurs to help provide a path forward,” said Kraeger. “The assistance the Center for Businesses in Transition provides to our business community is of utmost importance for the future of our North Country economy.”
According to Danielle Delaini, business transition program coordinator at the Adirondack North Country Association (ANCA), 104 North Country business owners reached out to CBIT for assistance in 2020, tapping into a network of tools, learning opportunities and knowledgeable professionals. She said over 98 organizations and community leaders throughout the 14-county North Country region actively support the partnership.
In order to spur more success stories, CBIT will host a virtual conference intended to attract entrepreneurs who may be interested in owning a North Country business. The conference — Small Communities. Big Opportunities: Own a North Country Business — will take place February 24-27, 2021. Registration is free of charge and can be completed online.
Photo of Terry Reed of Saranac Lake, the new owner of Adirondack Soy Candles provided.