Valley News – Bottom Line: Field cleared for Tractor Supply’s long-awaited

Tractor Supply is finally gaining traction in Bradford, Vt.

The Bradford Planning Commission has greenlighted a plan for the Tennessee-based mega box store chain of gardening and farm-related supplies to build a 19,100-square-foot store in the town’s so-called Lower Plain district along Route 5 south of the Route 25 intersection.

Tractor Supply, which has planted outlets in recent years in Claremont and Lebanon, has eyed for some time a site that Bradford has long wanted to develop for retail.

But the plan suffered delays, first by the pandemic and then waiting until the Vermont Natural Resources Board qualified Bradford as a “10-acre town” — granted in April — that exempts the project from submitting to an Act 250 permit process — and review by the Two Rivers Ottauquechee Regional Commission.

Currently a hayfield adjacent to the Bradford Evangelical Free Church, the site saw its development first set back by the 2007-09 recession and then in a battle with Two Rivers over extending Bradford’s “principal retail” district to the area.

The developer, New England Retail Properties, hopes to begin building in the fall, a representative of the company told the Bradford Planning Commission at a May 4 hearing via Zoom.

Like anywhere in the U.S., the Upper Valley is not immune to the inexorable slog of box stores moving in and displacing longtime family-run businesses. The opening of a Family Dollar store in 2013 and a Dollar General store in Fairlee two years later spurred the demise of downtown Bradford institution Hill’s 5 and 10 in 2015, according to the owner.

Now with Aubuchon Hardware closing on Bradford’s North Main Street last year, that’s created a vacuum to be filled by Tractor Supply’s inventory.

But the box store chain could invade the turf of other family-owned Bradford businesses, such as Farm-Way, which sells animal feed, wheelbarrows and fencing, as well as building supply store Oakes Bros., which sells hand and power tools — all products Tractor Supply carries. (Oakes Bros., along with Fogg’s Lumber & Hardware in Fairlee, were both acquired by Bethel Mills last year.)

One of the biggest impacts might be in apparel, however: Farm-Way sells an extensive line of Carhartt outdoor wear.

Notably, in April, Tractor Supply announced that after it successfully piloted a Carhartt-branded in-store concept it will be rolling out expanded Carhartt “store-within-a-store” at 125 Tractor Supply locations over the next two years.

Skip Metayer, whose family has run Farm-Way for three generations, said via email that, after “conversing” with his Carhartt sales rep, he’s not yet losing sleep over Tractor Supply.

Carhartt’s store-within-a-store “are so far not even in New England” and “at this time” is not expected to be part of the Tractor Supply in Bradford, Metayer said he was informed.

“We are one of the largest single-store accounts in Vermont and New Hampshire for the Carhartt brand. and we buy inventory accordingly” and pointedly, he noted, Farm-Way stocks its Carhartt shelves “culturally and for the seasons we have here,” not based upon the decision of a “corporate” buyer “in a southern state.”

Bethel Mills owner Lang Durfee was similarly not perturbed.

Although Durfee acknowledged there is some product overlap, he said Oakes Bros. and Fogg’s can compete on prices and have the advantage of longtime employees who are experts in the building trades and their customers’ needs. Tractor Supply could even pull more shoppers to the Lower Plain, which would benefit all business in the corridor.

“We’re excited and encouraged they are also investing in the area — they must see the same potential that we did,” Durfee said.

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