Business & Economy

Montpelier businesses plan to close Sunday, worried about violence at a Trump rally

Trump rally
While a Trump rally outside the Statehouse on Jan. 6 drew only a couple dozen people, law enforcement officials are on alert for action there Sunday and next Wednesday, Inauguration Day. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Montpelier businesses are bracing for Trump protests and counterprotests at the Statehouse this weekend, despite warnings from officials on all sides, asking Vermonters not to attend.

Stores throughout the downtown plan to close Sunday and again on Wednesday, the day Joe Biden will be inaugurated as president. Internet buzz indicates protests are likely both days, and storeowners say they want to keep their employees and their customers away from any threat of violence, in the wake of the riots in Washington, D.C., last week. 

A neighborhood Facebook group, Neighbors Together Against Fascism, has called for a rally Sunday at noon at the Statehouse, but Montpelier officials hope it won’t materialize.

A joint statement from the Vermont State Police, Montpelier Police Department, Capitol Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Department on Thursday said they’re planning for “any potential protests, disruptions or other eventualities that might occur in the Capital Region of Vermont in the days ahead.”

They said they are not aware of any “specific, credible threats” directed toward the Statehouse, or anywhere else in Vermont, but they are aware of national calls for armed marches in all 50 state capitals. 

“Law enforcement agencies are keenly aware there is considerable public concern surrounding the recent violence in Washington and upheaval and uncertainty nationwide; however there is currently no additional information available,” the statement reads. “If at any point a threat to public safety in Vermont becomes known, the authorities will provide an update immediately to the community.”

Sharon Whyte Estes, owner of Althea’s Attic Boutique at 50 State St. — the street that runs in front of the Vermont Statehouse — said it’s always been her policy to close on days when big rallies are planned at the Statehouse. 

“If it’s a situation where we’re not sure, I want to always err on the side of caution,” she said. “We weren’t advised to do anything one way or the other, but I am just personally choosing not to put myself or my employees in a situation that could potentially be uncomfortable.”

One downtown business owner, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of harassment, said she plans to close Wednesday for the inauguration, and her business is already closed on Sundays. She said she doesn’t want to deal with any protesters — or counterprotesters — and she doesn’t want her customers to, either.

“I suppose I’m a little worried about violence after what happened in D.C. with people coming out to protest the election. Right now, they’re looking to get in a fight with somebody,” she said. “I’m also worried about counterprotesters coming out and giving them an audience. I hope they keep it over by the Capitol.”

Some employees have asked their bosses directly to not come in on Sunday, fearing for their safety.

“I asked my assistant manager if I could skip that day,” said Evan Lewis, an employee at Aubuchon Hardware on Main Street. “I’m worried. I don’t think there’ll be any trouble in here, but I’m concerned, along with most people. So I’m getting off that day.” 

But a few businesses plan to stay open and weather any potential storm.

“It’s funny; with Covid I’m used to being here for folks under any condition,” said Jaquelyn Rieke, owner of Rabble-Rouser Chocolate and Craft at 64 Main St., around the corner from State Street. “We won’t really know how it’s going to turn out until we get here, and if there’s violence, we’d rather operate with good will and be strong and courageous community members standing by.”

Jen Roberts, owner of Onion River Outdoors at 20 Langdon St., a block off State Street, said the shop will be open all day. In her experience, large rallies at the Statehouse don’t tend to spill into downtown.

“I’m not particularly concerned. I feel like the police and the National Guard are prepared, and the governor has said that they are not aware of any particular group that is planning to come,” Roberts said. “I have faith in both our law enforcement and the rationality of Vermonters to do protests in a safe way, so no, I’m not nervous.”

Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party, issued a statement urging Vermonters to avoid the protest, but if they go, to leave their weapons at home.

“While Vermont holds a proud tradition of a right to bear arms, doing so at this rally in our current climate in light of what happened last week would demonstrate an incredible lapse of judgment,” she wrote.

The Vermont Democratic Party also “strongly discourages” its supporters from attending any protests leading up to Inauguration Day.

“We remain concerned about the aftermath of the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, an event that has culminated in multiple deaths and arrests, and we believe that such dangers have no place in Montpelier. Instead, we call for calm at this time,” the party’s statement said.

The Montpelier City Council passed a resolution on Wednesday condemning the riot at the U.S. Capitol, and stating that any such violence in Montpelier would be unacceptable.

“While it’s not an order or a directive, (the) council is asking residents and visitors to make the safe choice and refrain from direct in-person counterprotest activity due to the risk of violence,” the resolution states. “There are other ways, safer ways to make your voice heard and to stand up for what you believe in.”

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Ellie French

About Ellie

Ellie French is a general assignment reporter and news assistant for VTDigger. She is a recent graduate of Boston University, where she interned for the Boston Business Journal and served as the editor-in-chief of The Daily Free Press, BU’s student newspaper. She is originally from Duluth, Minnesota.

Email: [email protected]

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