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Vermont ski town says it’s ‘waiting with open arms’ for the winter season after severe flooding

LUDLOW, Vt. (AP) — The debris and mud slide near the base of the road to the Okemo ski resort have long been cleared away, and open flags now hang outside shops and restaurants in a small Vermont ski town hit by severe flooding this summer.

As winter approaches and the fall tourism season lingers, Ludlow businesses that lost out on summer tourism want to get the word out that they are open, even though some are still in the throes of rebuilding.

“As far as our businesses, I’d say 90% plus have reopened,” Ludlow Town Manager Brendan McNamara said. “Some are still just coming down that final stretch to open, especially for the fall-winter season, but we’ve come a long way and town is ready for the winter season. Waiting with open arms.”

Ludlow was one of the Vermont communities hit hardest by the July flooding that not only inundated businesses and homes with floodwaters but heavily damaged the town post office and wastewater treatment plant.

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The post office reopened two weeks ago, though the town’s flood-damaged grocery store remains closed.

Businesses that were not physically damaged by the flooding suffered economic losses from the lack of visitors.

“We’re open for business and ready to go,” Mark Verespy, owner of The Killarney pub, said of the town. “As far as the infrastructure goes, it’s there and we’re just kind of filling in a few small gaps, but they should be done for winter.”

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Some think there won’t be enough restaurants in town to meet winter demand, particularly if the grocery store doesn’t reopen soon. The Shaw’s grocery store said in a statement that it plans to reopen as soon as possible but didn’t say when that would be. For now, customers can shop online and pick up their orders in the store parking lot. The town hopes it reopens by December, McNamara said.

Troy Caruso, who owns five restaurants and a golf course in town, lost Sam’s Steakhouse to flooding and is seeking a government buyout. He isn’t sure yet what he will do with the flood-damaged Mr. Darcy’s Bar & Burger next door, but if he rebuilds, it won’t be ready for the winter season.

His other three restaurants “will definitely be open full tilt,” he said, though business is down about 35%.

“It’s a little slow. I mean all the numbers are down. The restaurant numbers are down. The golf numbers are down. Everything’s down,” Caruso said.

After the flooding, Okemo, which sits on higher ground, was able to reopen its bike park, summer camp and scenic lift rides in late July. Now it’s preparing for the winter season and plans to start snowmaking next month.

“Guests can feel confident that they will get the great ski and ride experience they have come to expect at Okemo, and we look forward to welcoming skiers and riders back this winter,” Courtney DiFiore, a spokesman for Okemo, which is owned by Vail Resorts, said by email.

After the floodwaters receded, community members showed up to help clean out Eight Oh Brew, a bar on the lower level of an old mill building.

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“Even when it all happened, you’d come down here, it’s dark, you’re feet are in mud, we’re all working with headlamps, and really the community was great. Not even asking, they’d show up,” said David Del Tufo, owner of the family business. “People who come to the bar just came to help.”

He said the business has been caught up in red tape, waiting for a permit and guidelines for rebuilding. It’s received some funding from the state and community as well as individual donations through a GoFundMe campaign whose donors his wife, Lisa Del Tufo, described as “amazing.”

If they can find an electrician — a challenge in a state that has a shortage of licensed electricians and plumbers exacerbated by the flood recovery — David Del Tufo said they hope to reopen by mid-December.

“The drive from the community, they really want us back,” he said. “We’re listening to them and we’re not going to give up just yet.”