At a time when many communities in Vermont worry about declining populations and losing young people, Winooski bucks that trend. The population is growing and the city’s median age is about 31.
On Town Meeting Day, residents will vote on building a new parking garage in Winooski’s burgeoning downtown. The proposed garage and the hotel that’s expected to follow are just the latest signs of Winooski’s upward trajectory.
Even though Winooski is not a huge city — it’s only one and half square miles — there’s a lot going on. Bars, restaurants and small shops are tucked into buildings all around its densely developed downtown.
One of the newer spots, just off the traffic rotary, is Sweet Babu — a small, cozy bakery and cafe with big windows looking out at an old mill building.
Shana Goldberger started Sweet Babu as a farmer’s market stand and last June moved into the current space.
When asked to pick a favorite baked good at her café, Goldberger recommended the “salty chocolate chip cookies,” though she admited that the crowd favorite is “probably the chocolate stout cake with cream cheese frosting and salty caramel.”
Goldberger fell in love with Winooski when she moved to Vermont about five years ago.
“I just like the sense of community here,” she said. “It’s really interesting to watch the city grow and evolve and watch new businesses come in and I just kinda wanted to be a part of that … I just like the vibe here.”
What drew Goldberger to Winooski is what’s draws many people to the city. The restaurants, the bars and music scene — plus the walkability and small community vibe.
This Town Meeting Day, Winooski residents are faced with a good problem. There’s such demand, city officials say a new 300 space garage, costing $9.7 million dollars, is needed. Part of that demand is fueled by a planned downtown hotle.
In general, the city has seen steady growth in its grand list, according to City Manager Jessie Baker.
“We're seeing about 40 to 60 new housing units come on a year,” she said. “In other communities that's not occurring at the same rate, especially when you get outside of the Chittenden County.”
Winooski is often seen as the cheaper alternative to the nearby Burlington, but now some neighborhoods in the Queen City are cheaper.
According to the Realtor.com, the median home price in the Onion City is $299,000 — that’s up about 22 percent in three years.
Erin Dupuis, who works for Flat Fee Real Estate, said beside prices going up, houses do not stay on the market long.
“I mean there's people if they don't see the listing the first day there's a chance they're not going to have an opportunity to write an offer,” she said.
Some larger apartment complexes and developments are starting to creep out from the downtown core.
The city streamlined the permitting process in specific, highly trafficked areas. The idea was to allow some larger developments, but not to let it sprawl too much.
For developer Nate Dagesse, Winooski has it all.
“We’re at a point where people are drawn to Winooski because of its hip, urban downtown, the restaurant and music scene, the walkability, affordability and excellent location along the Winooski River,” he said.
About two years ago, Dagesse built City Lights - a 27-unit residential building that also had office and retail space. Before the building opened, it was full leased, Degesse said. Today, rentals there start at $1,550.
A few blocks away from where the new garage would be built, there’s a handful of people at Sweet Babu enjoying coffee and pastries.
Goldberger said she spent the last two months renovating the space and now she’s expanded hours to serve lunch on weekdays.
Goldberger thinks there’s enough business in town to support the extra hours and when ask if she thought Winooski was still growing, she quickly replied — “definitely.”