WINDSOR, Vt. — To venue co-owner Bob Haight, conversing about the Windsor Farmers’ Exchange — a fledgling performance and community-event venue in the downtown area known as The Railyards — is almost inseparable from what’s happening in downtown Windsor.
“All of this is an experiment, and it’s beginning to take shape,” Haight said.
Seven years ago the building now known as the Windsor Farmers’ Exchange was, almost literally, a lost afterthought in the overgrowth. When Haight and his partners purchased the property from Canadian National Railway, his interest was so invested in the land itself that the building was a discovery.
The property was vacant for so long that the building was a crash pad for transients and the land a graveyard of abandoned vehicles, including 14 junk cars, an old ambulance, and hundreds of tires. The building that is now The Windsor Station restaurant was vacant and the present-day Paradise Sports bike shop was then a building with bricks thrown through the windows.
“It was a big act of faith,” Haight said. Haight and his partners purchased the property with the help of a loan from the town’s revolving fund.
A common venue
The challenge of making a success of The Windsor Farmers’ Exchange has been changing the community’s perception of it from 20 years ago, said Christopher Goulet, 34, who runs the Exchange with Haight and Windsor resident Brendan D’Angelo.
“This is an accessible, high-quality performance venue,” Goulet said.
Haight said that he began officially holding concerts and community events at the Exchange a couple of summers ago. Before this current season he enlisted the help of Goulet and D’Angelo to take the vision to the next level.
“I just realized that I can’t do it by myself,” Haight said. “I’m an architect, not a promoter.”
Haight said that Goulet and D’Angelo brought the digital and media communications savvy that he lacked. Goulet is a self-employed computer IT contractor. D’Angelo’s background in technology and communications includes roles with the Claremont Makerspace and Windsor On Air.
Goulet and D’Angelo have broadened the venue's offerings this summer to include free films and an increasingly popular Motown dance party on the last Friday night of every month.
“Wotown,” Haight laughed as he pronounced the local name of the dance party. “I’m really impressed with how that’s turned out.”
“More people are coming to it every month,” Goulet said.
D’Angelo is the mastermind behind the film offerings, Goulet said. The films are all public domain, which allows the Exchange to run them for free because no one owns the rights to them.
The series selection is surprisingly eclectic, ranging from Buster Keaton’s silent classic “The General” to cult-classics like “Mano’s Hands of Fate” and “Plan 9 from Outer Space,” which has often been lovingly called the worst movie ever made.
Goulet said that D’Angelo has a talent for pairing off-the-beat films with the community as a whole, being someone with “one oar” dipped in film culture and another oar in his relationship with the community.
“I had never seen a Buster Keaton movie end-to-end until ‘The General,’” Haight said. “I really respected his intelligent humor and deadpan. A whole world formed from it.”
'A believable vision for this town'
One of Haight’s favorite spots on the Exchange’s property is the front porch, because you can see the backdrop that includes Windsor’s architecture and the natural beauty of Mount Ascutney.
“The projects I pursue are a believable vision for this town,” Haight said. Unlike projects whose success hinges upon something difficult to secure, such as multi-million-dollar funding, Haight pursues projects that are more achievable. While those projects in themselves may seem smaller outcomes when viewed alone, collectively they seem capable of making something extraordinary.
What makes Haight’s vision believable is his conviction that “Windsor is a very good place to live.”
It is a walkable town and close to amenities, with one of the largest state parks and two nearby lakes, as well as the river, Haight said. It has the second largest historical district in Vermont with over 360 historical buildings. In the coming months the Railyards may have fiber-optic lines reaching to The Exchange and its surrounding properties as well as a connection to planned solar projects.
Goulet, who moved back to Windsor a few years ago, said that Windsor seems to be attracting a growing number of young families and adults as a place to settle.
“I see more and more new faces of people my age,” Goulet said. “A lot of Windsor youth who left for college are coming back. They get to an age where they want to settle down and see Windsor as an affordable place to live with a wonderful network of people and a lot that’s happening.
Haight and Goulet agree that, with the growing community attention to the Exchange, that this summer will mark the venue’s arrival as a recognized area venue.
“I want this to be the year that when The Farmers’ Exchange closes for the winter, everyone will miss it,” Goulet said.