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The nickname Barre City would like you to stop using

A wide photo of a large, gray building with retail on the first floor, taken from across the street
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Barre City and Barre Town are two different municipalities. Barre City is just four square miles but, historically, is where the nickname "Scary Barre" is applied.

When Tim Rapczynski moved to Barre City, he was caught off guard by a nickname he heard some people use to describe the place: “Scary Barre.” So he asked Brave Little State about its origin. To find the answer, we confront classism, social stigma — and the role of the media.

Listener Tim Rapczynski submitted this question to Brave Little State, Vermont Public’s people-powered journalism show:

“What in Barre's history has led it to be known as Scary Barre? Is the city improving from that point? And if so, how?”

We put the question in a public voting round, which is how we decide what topics we cover on this show. And you all chose it.

But shortly after we announced the winner, we began hearing from concerned listeners. One of them, Amanda Gustin, of Barre City, told us the nickname was nothing more than a “snobbish way to look down on a blue collar city … calling it Scary Barre is a way of looking down on vulnerable people, and that really frustrates me.”

So we set out to do a story about this stereotype — without perpetuating it. You’ll have to let us know how we did.

Note: Our show is made for the ear. We recommend listening to the audio provided here. We also provide a transcript of the episode below. Transcripts are generated by a combination of computers and humans. They may contain errors, so please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.


Angela Evancie: There’s a city in central Vermont that has a nickname… that’s almost like a curse.

Jeannie MacLeod: I'm not clear of the history. But I know I've heard the term.

Jake Hemmerick: If I’m remembering correctly, it was probably something in the news, that maybe somebody said. Something like, “Oh, you know…” said that phrase.

Elizabeth Manriquez: I didn't give it any thought. Yeah, that's what people said. And that must be how it is. 

Julia Mundinger: As long as I can remember it's always been a thing. 

Angela Evancie: The city is Barre. And the nickname is “Scary Barre.”

Ashleigh Ricciarelli: Well, I don't scare as easily as everybody else. So, no, I get why they say it, but it's not any worse than anywhere else. 

John Ricciarelli: I think it comes from a time when it was a little bit rougher, and you know things were not as nice here.

Elizabeth Manriquez: I mean, I lived in Montpelier, probably four years before I moved to Barre. And I would say the entire time I was in Montpelier I had that opinion. They just made it sound like there were uh drugs flying in the streets, and maybe stabbings. I don't know, it just was anything negative in a city that you could imagine, that's what their opinion was. 

Angela Evancie: It’s a nickname that caught the ear of today’s question-asker, Tim Rapczynski.

Tim Rapczynski: I've only heard it a few times. But on different occasions and unprompted. So I definitely knew it was a phrase that was around. 

Angela Evancie: Tim is an electrical engineer. He works in Barre City. For a while he was commuting there from New York state, where he’s from. Then, in 2017, he was ready to make the move to Vermont. When he chose Barre, his colleagues invoked this nickname and discouraged him, told him to live in Montpelier instead.

Tim Rapczynski: And, it just kind of shocked me because I'm hearing this phrase even though we're living here, and it kind of correlated to the situation where my coworkers were saying I shouldn't live here. And I just was like, what's the deal? What is going on with this? Yeah, and that's kind of where my curiosity stemmed from.

Angela Evancie: Tim put his question to us, and we put it in a public voting round, which is how we decide what topics we cover on this show. And you all chose it. Ta da! Our latest winner:

Tim Rapczynski: “What in Barre's history has led it to be known as “Scary Barre?” Is the city improving from that point? And if so, how?”

Angela Evancie: But there was just one problem.

(voicemail beep)

Amanda Gustin: Good afternoon! My name is Amanda Gustin, I live in Barre City...

Angela Evancie: Not everybody was happy about this line of inquiry.

Amanda Gustin: About the question from Tim in Barre City, asking why Barre’s called “Scary Barre.” I have many, many, many responses to that. I gotta say, that makes me really angry as someone who lives in and deeply deeply loves Barre City. I can't think of any other community in the state that would get a whole podcast exploring why, you know, people call it nasty things. It's a terrific place.

Angela Evancie: Amanda told us this nickname is nothing more than a, quote, “snobbish way to look down on a blue collar city.”

Amanda Gustin: I frequently like to point out that Montpelier has a much higher crime rate than Barre City, which I should point out as well that Barre City has a higher percentage of folks living on the margins, whether because of socioeconomic status, race, a whole host of things, status of homelessness, or anything like that, then most other communities in Central Vermont. So, you know, calling it "Scary Barre" is a way of looking down on vulnerable people, and that, it really frustrates me. 

Angela Evancie: So that was a lot to process. Crime, homelessness, race, class. Is everything Amanda said about Barre accurate? Yes and no. It does not have lower crime rates than Montpelier. Its crime rates are higher, that’s according to data that’s collected by the FBI. If you look at recent Census estimates, you can see that it’s slightly more racially diverse than its county overall, which is Washington County, though not by a lot. But what Amanda said about people on the margins is right. Barre City’s poverty rate is more than double the rest of the county, and the state — the rate of people with a disability is also almost twice as high. Our question-asker Tim had seen first-hand how this can shape some people’s perception of the city.

A man in a white t-short takes a selfie, smiling at the camera.
Tim Rapczynski
Question-asker Tim Rapczynski, of Barre City. “I'm hearing this phrase even though we're living here, and … my coworkers were saying I shouldn't live here,” Tim says of the nickname. “And I just was like, what's the deal? What is going on with this?”

Tim Rapczynski: And I'm nervous about saying this stuff. (laughter) Sorry. I'm not sure if you'd necessarily want to air it or not. But the one that stuck out to me when someone said “Scary Barre” was it was, we were walking on the sidewalk, and we passed a particular person...

Angela Evancie: Tim says it looked like this person was struggling. Maybe with homelessness, or with their mental health.

Tim Rapczynski: You know, it may have been a little unsettling without knowing the situation the person was in. 

Angela Evancie: Tim and his friend kept walking.

Tim Rapczynski: After we got far enough away, then the term "Scary Barre" came out. And I was like, that was a little rude. But is that why, you know, is that why people are saying "Scary Barre?" It really bothered me. I was like, you don't know the person's situation, like, you shouldn't reference the city as being scary because of this particular individual.

Angela Evancie: It was around this time that we got some critical feedback on social media as well. A bunch of you were like, "Uh, yeah, this phrase is a really harmful stigma." It all made me question whether we should even do this episode. Some people had never even heard of the term. Would we just be giving it an unnecessary platform? Making the problem worse? So I called Amanda back. It turns out she works for the Vermont Historical Society, and is super involved in the community. She gave me some helpful background on Barre, and hooked us up with several of the people you’re gonna hear from today. As you can tell, we did do this episode. And it’s because I feel like we sort of got Amanda’s blessing. And also kind of a mandate: If you’re gonna do a story about this stereotype, do it without perpetuating the stereotype. If such a thing is possible, we have tried. You’ll have to let us know how we did. From Vermont Public and the NPR Network, this is Brave Little State. I’m Angela Evancie. Welcome.

Let’s get oriented

Angela Evancie: So I worked on this episode with my colleague Mary Engisch. Hey, Mary.

Mary Engisch: Hey, Angela.

Angela Evancie: And before we talk more about this nickname, let’s just orient people a little bit. Starting with where Barre is.

Mary Engisch: Yeah, sure. So the first thing to know is that there is a Barre City and a Barre Town. Both are just a couple miles southeast of our state’s capital, Montpelier. Barre City is quite small, it’s just four square miles. And Barre Town wraps around almost all the way, kinda like a square donut with a bite taken out of it.

Angela Evancie: (laughter) Awesome. Hopefully that’s a helpful visual for everyone. And just to clarify even more, these are two different municipalities, Barre Town and Barre City. And in this episode, the Barre we’re talking about, and the place that this nickname has historically been applied to is Barre City.

Mary Engisch: Right. That’s really the area that is more like a city, to the extent that we have cities in Vermont. It’s the most populous city in Washington County, and there’s a relatively big main street and a downtown area.

(cars driving)

Josh Rice: We can cross here, that's Main Street just down that way. 

Angela Evancie: This is actually another listener who reached out to us about Tim’s question. His name is Josh Rice. He and his wife Aubrey just moved to Barre in December from St. Petersburg, Florida.

Josh Rice: That's another thing is not being afraid to be a pedestrian in this state has been life-changing.

Angela Evancie: When they heard about this question, they were like, “Yeah, Barre? Not scary.”

Josh Rice: I'm new to this place and, you know, I don't think my opinion is worth more than anybody else's. But I wanted to share our experience and pipe up for this city because it's been nothing but good to us. 

Angela Evancie: Josh and Aubrey give us a little tour of downtown.

A man wearing a blue jacket and knit hat smiles next to a woman in a black jacket and pink hat.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Josh and Aubrey Rice moved to Barre from St. Petersburg, Florida, in December of 2022. “[The city] has been nothing but good to us,” Josh says.

Aubrey Rice: We're walking past the Cornerstone Pub & Kitchen, which we have been to. I had the best mac and cheese here. There's a sign for the Barre City schools one act musical, "Barre Poppins," which sounds like a lot of fun.

Josh Rice: Tickets are free! (laughter)

Aubrey Rice: What have you got to lose?

Angela Evancie: So when you walk the main drag, you know, you get a vibe that’s common in a lot of Vermont’s bigger downtowns. This is a place that had an industrial heyday. It gave rise to some really big, beautiful buildings. The buildings are still here. But the industry is not as booming as it used to be.

Mary Engisch: Right. And in Barre’s case, that industry was granite. There was a boom that lasted a long time in Barre — like, from the 1880s to the 1950s. Immigrants from all over Europe came to quarry and carved the stone that would end up in places like Union Station and the National Mall. The downtown thrived and every year the community would celebrate its multicultural heritage with this really big festival that would come to be known as The Heritage Festival.

Lee Bonamico: The Heritage Festival, if you went down Main Street, it’d be, one of the stores would be the Italians. And then next door, it would be the Scottish and then next door the Lebanese. It was really fun.

Angela Evancie: This is Lee Bonamico.

Lee Bonamico: And I was born here in Barre back in ‘45. 

Angela Evancie: She remembers how bustling downtown was in, say, the 1960s.

Lee Bonamico: I mean, we had three stationery stores and three shoe stores. And people came to Barre to go shopping from other areas because it was busy. 

Angela Evancie: Lee’s grandfathers both worked in granite. She says one was Italian — he had what’s often called a granite shed, which is not a shed, it’s more like a big plant where the granite was processed and carved.

Lee Bonamico: My other grandfather was Scotch and he came down and worked up on the hill in the quarries. He was a supervisor in the quarries. 

Mary Engisch: There is still a granite industry here, though, like a lot of industries it’s been mechanized and it employs fewer people than it used to. And that long legacy of granite in Barre has been extensively documented and celebrated. It almost feels like everywhere you look, there’s a granite sculpture.

A close-up of a headstone featuring intricate carvings of two people.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Intricate granite stonework on a headstone at Barre’s renowned Hope Cemetery. The European immigrants who came to work in Barre’s granite industry in the 19th and 20th centuries brought strong ideas about worker’s rights and political philosophies such as socialism and anarchy.

Josh Rice: I'm a big fan of the statue outside of the granite museum, which is, like, it looks like a gentleman carving himself out of granite. Which is really cool to see, you know, that that kind of, like, motion, but presented via a large rock.

Angela Evancie: Yeah, that’s so cool.

Angela Evancie: And, you know, sure. There are some empty storefronts.

Josh Rice: But you're gonna see that anywhere, you know, even "The Pit" in Burlington is largely unoccupied.

Mary Engisch: It’s a common story, especially in Vermont’s mid-sized cities: A profitable industry fades, which is hard for downtown businesses, and then another whammy when things like malls come along — And another with one-click shopping.

Lee Bonamico: Now you can't buy a man’s shirt in Barre. And there’s a lot of Dollar Generals. But it's pretty sad. We had a big grocery store, you know, the A&P and the Grand Union and all those stores were here but now they're not.


Surveying the locals

Angela Evancie: Alright. So far, what we have on our hands is a classic tale of post-industrial American decline. This doesn’t seem like enough to explain the nickname. So we start asking around.

Angela Evancie: Um, so why do you think it's called Scary Barre? Why do you think some people call it that?

Julia Mundinger: I think it's a lot of the people that we see around and everything that we've heard happens, overdoses and stuff like that.

Angela Evancie: What about you?

Michael Dupont: There's a lot of drugs in this town. A lot of things go on, people get killed, you know, bad things happen at night.

Julia Mundinger: It also rhymes. (laughter)

Mary Engisch: We meet Julia Mundinger and Michael Dupont just off Main Street.

Michael Dupont: Well, I mean, I've had some out-of-staters talk to me. And I mean, they've asked me about this place. And I mean, I've just told 'em not to walk around at night. 

Chris Mccaluuan: It's safe during the day. It's a comfortable close-knit community. It's just its own circles. You know, that's how I look at Barre. That’s how I look at Barre.

Angela Evancie: Here’s Chris Mccaluuan. We meet him near a bus stop.

Angela Evancie: So how much time have you spent here?

Chris Mccaluuan: I've been here for about a week and a half. And I was here about like two years ago previously for, like, a four and a half month stint.

Angela Evancie: Here in Barre? 

Chris Mccaluuan: Yeah. 

Angela Evancie: What brings you here?

Chris Mccaluuan: Homelessness, homelessness. Finding, finding somewhere to go.

Angela Evancie: Would you call yourself homeless?

Chris Mccaluuan: No, I feel like home is where the heart is, is what I feel. I feel safe. So I feel at home. I feel safe with myself. But yeah, I'm pretty homeless. I don't allow myself to be judged by it. But I definitely feel like it's not a choice. You know, homelessness isn’t a choice, I hope, for most people. I mean, for me, it's not, you know.

Angela Evancie: It's just the situation?

Chris Mccaluuan: It’s just the situation. But no, I feel like people, this shouldn't be branded as "Scary Barre." I feel like judgment is not needed for a place like this.

Scott LaRochelle: I have no idea. I have no idea why they call it "Scary Barre" when everybody keeps coming back.

Angela Evancie: What do you mean ‘when everyone keeps coming back?’ What do you mean by that?

Scott LaRochelle: It just might, must be that it's just not that scary. People just have to have an open mind about a lot of things in this place... Central Vermont in general.

Angela Evancie: So how would you describe, like, Barre?

Scott LaRochelle: It's fine. I have no problems with it. I've been here 25 years.

Mary Engisch: This is Scott LaRochelle.

Angela Evancie: What are you up to today?

Scott LaRochelle: Waiting to go back home. Waiting for the city bus to get there.

Angela Evancie: And where's home for you?

Scott LaRochelle: Highgate Apartments.

Angela Evancie: Highgate, so that's in Barre City? 

Scott LaRochelle: Yes, it’s Section 8 housing up on top of the hill.

Angela Evancie: How do you find that, Section 8 housing? Is that working out for you?

Scott LaRochelle: It's working out fine for me. I'm on disability and Social Security. So I'm doing pretty good. No complaints one bit, really.

Angela Evancie: So I think two things really stood out in these conversations. One: it rhymes. “Scary Barre” rhymes. That’s probably a big part of why the phrase has stuck. And two, something Chris Mccaluuan said: Barre is “just its own circles.”

Mary Engisch: It suggests the quote “scariness” of Barre is pretty subjective. It depends on the circles you're in and who you are as an individual. For Josh and Aubrey, who gave us that tour, Barre seems quaint and slower-paced. For Barre old-timer Scott LaRochelle, it's just home. Not scary. But no one person's experience defines a place. Especially a place with such a rich history, like Barre.

Thwarted theories

Angela Evancie: But, we are still looking for a definitive origin to this pesky nickname. Was there something that caused someone to utter it for the first time?

Mary Engisch: For all the ways that Barre is similar to other mid-sized Vermont communities, there are a lot of things that make it unique. So maybe there’s a connection to the nickname somewhere in the distant or recent past. We heard several theories on this.

Angela Evancie: Theory number one: Basically everyone we talked to for this story mentioned that granite boom, so we’re gonna go back to that era more time.

A large granite sculpture of a partially unzipped zipper with grass growing inside.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Monuments to Barre’s granite heritage abound in the city. Here, a 2013 sculpture called “Unzipping the Earth,” by sculptor Chris Miller.

Mary Engisch: The immigrants who came to Barre, particularly the ones from Scotland and Italy. They brought strong ideas about workers rights

Paul Heller: Barre was a great union town, and workers did pretty well here 

Karen Lane: So they joined groups like the IWW, the “Wobblies”, and they were part of the Federation of Italian Socialists. And these were people who were socialists in their philosophy and their outlook.

Mary Engisch: That was Karen Lane and Paul Heller — both local history buffs. We chatted with them in Barre’s Old Labor Hall, which was a nexus for community organizing and mutual aid. Karen played a big role in revitalizing that building.

Karen Lane: I have to add to that, if I may, too. Granite Cutters International Association, that was one of the groups that first held their meetings in this building back around 1900. 

Mary Engisch: Back then, the Italian stone carvers, in particular, brought another philosophy with them to Barre, too: anarchy.

Paul Heller: In the early 20th century, there were two centers for Italian anarchists: one Paterson, New Jersey, and the other Barre, Vermont. 

Mary Engisch: So, anarchy, socialism, workers rights. These ideas are deeply embedded in Barre’s history. But more than political movements, Paul figures any negative reputation that Barre developed during this time would’ve been simply because it was a multicultural and working class community.

Paul Heller: You know, I don't think it was fear of trade unionism, or anything like that. I think it was elitism and snobbery. 

Three people smile in front of the camera: A man wearing a baseball cap and green jacket, a woman in a pink sweater, and a woman in a purple sweater.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Paul Heller, Marianne Kotch and Karen Lane in Barre’s Old Labor Hall, which was a nexus for community organizing and mutual aid, and houses union offices to this day.

Angela Evancie: Theory number two: Several people posed to us that maybe this term was born after a high profile crime in Barre.

Paul Flint: What year was it, for starters?

Angela Evancie: One that longtime residents remember happened in 1982 on the night of the Heritage Festival. A murder. The first time this comes up is in the Aldridge Library. We’re chatting with a patron named Paul Flint.

Paul Flint: And that's when, I mean, it really comes to home. 

Lee Bonamico: Because it was scary. It was because everybody was drinking too much.

Angela Evancie: Lee Bonamico, the granddaughter of the Italian and Scottish quarrymen, works at this library. And she remembers another murder, in like 1958.

Lee Bonamico: The one I’m thinking of — I was still in high school.

Angela Evancie: She says she’ll look into both of these crimes for us, to see if there’s some early mention of the phrase. But she calls a few days later to break the news:

Lee Bonamico: Hi Angela, this is Lee down at the library, and I really haven’t located proof of what started "Scary Barre." That really had nothing to do with either murder in Barre. It might have come because in the early days, 1915 to 1920, Barre was a pretty rough town because they were all granite workers, and when they played sports, they were rough. And maybe other people thought we were scary. But it has nothing to do with the murders. At least nobody I have talked to thinks so. 

Angela Evancie: And then she says something that feels like it’s kinda out of left field.

Lee Bonamico: The first time most people really remember it is back during Halloween, and it’s just because they did that Halloween kind of a thing, and they decorated a house and made it scary.

Angela Evancie: Wait… Halloween?

Patricia Meriam: Some of the harvest dinners, you know, we're all on the "Scary Barre" schedule of events, which took place all of October. And then we had the parades on Halloween. 

Mary Engisch: This is Patricia Meriam. And to our great surprise, she oversaw a city-wide event that was literally called “Scary Barre.” Hello, theory number three. "Scary Barre" was a harvest festival that Patricia started in 2006 along with a crew of community volunteers and a downtown organization called The Barre Partnership.

Patricia Meriam: We had monster movie matinees at the Paramount. Oh, and we did it with the rec department, we did a harvest homes competition where people had to decorate the outside of their houses. And so the Times Argus went out and photographed them and then the winning home got in the newspaper.

Angela Evancie: So, Mary, this festival became a very enticing theory for us when we first learned about it, because wouldn’t it be ironic if the nickname that everyone dislikes so much actually originated with a city event.

Mary Engisch: Yep, it was a very appealing hypothesis. But it turns out Patricia Meriam did not invent the phrase.

Patricia Meriam: I didn't want to be insulted anymore.

Mary Engisch: She’d heard it around just like everybody else, and she didn’t like it. So she figured, why not give it a makeover?

Patricia Meriam: I think, you know, to take something that was negative. And to just say this, this, don't. Stop it! You know, you're saying what you don't know. If you're saying Barre's a scary place, then you're not part of our community and you haven't, so come see it! Come to the opera house, go to the fundraisers.

Mary Engisch: Patricia's festival ran for just a few years. After that, she says the Vermont Granite Museum adopted the "Scary Barre" name to run a haunted house, and that ended in 2016. To this day, the harvest fest and the haunted house return most of the results when you search for the phrase on the website of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus. For better or for worse.

Steve Pappas: It just didn't fly well with a lot of people, merchants in the community.

Angela Evancie: This is Steve Pappas, the Executive Editor and Publisher of the Times Argus. He says the festival rankled some business owners who thought it only gave more prominence to an unfair label.

Steve Pappas: You know, we want people to come here willingly and feel, not just at Halloween, but all of the time. So you don't want people in the other 11 months of the year to come to "Scary Barre." You want them to come to Barre.

Angela Evancie: But the Times Argus isn’t blameless here, either. And not just because they publicized the festival.

Steve Pappas: So the Times Argus was part of the problem, and has been part of the problem.


Damaging crime coverage

Angela Evancie: We have now arrived at the meta part of this episode. Because we’re gonna talk about the role that the media played in perpetuating, maybe even intensifying, a negative stereotype about Barre City. And this is a theory that I think does hold water. Here’s Steve Pappas again, of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Steve Pappas: AP style, Associated Press style, requires that you include a dateline from the location where the news is generated.

A sign with the words "Times Argus" featured prominently.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
The offices of the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus in downtown Barre City. “The Times Argus was part of the problem,” publisher Steve Pappas says of the paper’s crime coverage, which featured criminal cases from around the county with a local dateline. “We go out of our way not to put crime stories on the front page anymore,” Pappas says.

Angela Evancie: What Steve is talking about here, the dateline? That’s the town or city name that you sometimes see in all caps at the beginning of a news story. It’s kind of an industry standard.

Steve Pappas: That was the style that we adopted and and used. 

Angela Evancie: Where this really affected Barre’s image was in the paper’s crime coverage. That’s because the courthouse for all of Washington County, including the criminal court division, is right in downtown Barre City. Right next to the movie theater. So any time there’s a crime anywhere in Washington County — Montpelier, Waterbury, Cabot — the charges are filed in Barre.

Washington County’s courthouse is in downtown Barre City.
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Washington County’s courthouse is in downtown Barre City.

Steve Pappas: So anytime there was a story, call it a heinous crime in Waitsfield and the individual was arraigned in Barre. And the story ran on the front page of the Times Argus above the fold. The arraignment of the gentleman from Waitsfield, the dateline was Barre. So the first word that everybody read in the story was Barre.

Angela Evancie: It’s not that the newspaper invented the phrase "Scary Barre." But Steve admits, for a time, they profited from a certain kind of local narrative.

Steve Pappas: Honestly, crime stories sell newspapers. And if you are mindful of that, then you're wanting people to pick up the paper and you're gonna put the story on the front page that you think is going to do that.

Angela Evancie: Steve Pappas became the editor of the Times Argus in 2009. Around that time, maybe a little after, he says people in the community started to plead with the paper.

Steve Pappas: We had people in the community who were actually calling us and saying, “Can you not — it didn't happen in Barre, can you not put Barre as the first word of the story?” To the point where community members petitioned the paper and said “Please stop.”

Angela Evancie: Steve recalls this request from readers as his first test as a leader in the community — a community, by the way, that he’d known and spent time in since he was a kid. He listened and he developed a new approach.

Steve Pappas: We made a pivot, we don't cover certain crimes anymore the same way. We also go out of our way not to put crime stories on the front page anymore. That is an editorial decision that I made when I came on board 13 years ago that unless it was a felony, and unless it deserved to be on the front page, we were going to put other news from the community on the front page.

Angela Evancie: It’s not that Barre is a utopia where nothing bad happens. Steve says, it’s more that bad things happen in a lot of places, and Barre doesn’t deserve to be singled out with a nickname.

Steve Pappas: We are definitely seeing an uptick in drug usage and overdoses. But, so is every community in the state of Vermont right now. It's, you know, Vermont has an issue with poverty and substance abuse and addiction and mental health crises. And all of those factors are creating problems for communities like Barre. It's just easy to pick at Barre and say, “Well, it's always been like that.” And it hasn't.

Community support & change

Mary Engisch: In a lot of communities, these issues are hidden. In Barre, they’re more visible, partly because folks come to the courthouse that we just mentioned, which also houses probation and parole offices. But also because there are a lot of places in Barre where people can seek help and support.

Jake Hemmerick: A lot of people will say, “Well, I just want it to go away.” Well, what you do, it's really not a humanitarian approach, you push people who are in your community, often, out of your community.

Mary Engisch: This is Jake Hemmerick. He became mayor of Barre City in 2022. And he contrasts Barre’s willingness to support vulnerable communities with what he calls the “NIMBY" mindset — not in my backyard. He says Barre is a “YIMBY” community — yes in my backyard.

Jake Hemmerick: I think we’re more willing to say "yes" in the city because we live close to each other, we experience each other's lives and hardships and times of abundance or scarcity. And it's a place that has said yes to a lot of different social services. We've innovated over the years and it's defined our character in a lot of ways.

Mary Engisch: The social services he’s talking about are extensive: Capstone Community Action, the Community Justice Center, the Good Samaritan Haven, the Turning Point Center of Central Vermont.

Jake Hemmerick: We've been building partnerships as a city with Downstreet Housing & Community Development, they’re headquartered right here downtown. And they just built the first recovery center for women with children in recovery. So that if you need to reach out for help, you don't have to fear as a woman that you might lose your kids.

Mary Engisch: Family services, vocational rehab, adult education, access to health care, food and pretty much everything is in walking distance, which helps if you don’t have a car or you can’t drive.

Jake Hemmerick: And Barre, I think because, like I said, we live close together, we're not on 10-acre lots in the country at the end of a long driveway, we know our neighbors and so we recognize that there are times of need and we have pragmatic approaches to meeting those needs. That's a Barre story over and over and over again. 

Angela Evancie: We never did find a definitive answer as to where this nickname came from. Which makes it hard to answer the second part of Tim’s question:

Tim Rapczynski: Is the city improving from that point? And, if so, how?

Mary Engisch: If the origin is murky — if it’s based entirely on prejudice or classism or social stigma — and if it persisted, in part, because it rhymes, it’s hard to know exactly what progress would even look like.

Angela Evancie: On the one hand, it’s probably fair to say that everyone is rooting for Barre to “progress” in an economic sense — with more of the downtown revitalization that you can clearly see is underway in parts of the city. On the other hand, an improvement when it comes to the concept of “Scary Barre” is probably just the disappearance of the phrase.

Elizabeth Manriquez: Now when I hear somebody say it or refer to Barre that way, I get kind of angry, like, this is so tired. (laughter) It's not like that anymore. And we're not. I don't know that it ever really was like what they're trying to portray.

Angela Evancie: Elizabeth Manriquez owns Espresso Bueno. It’s a cafe right across from the courthouse — Elizabeth opened it almost 16 years ago. And in those years she says she has seen change. Not from scary times, just from different times.

Elizabeth Manriquez: They tore up all of Main Street, and improved the infrastructure. A lot of the businesses had hardships over that but, so, physically Main Street is unrecognizable. And then, the population here has really changed over the past decade. I would say that it’s maybe a little bit more balanced than it has been in the past. I don't know if you want to use political terms or... socioeconomic terms, but it seems a lot more… 

Angela Evancie: Do you think there's more socioeconomic and political diversity than there used to be? 

Elizabeth Manriquez: Absolutely. That's the word: diversity. Yes. Yeah.

Angela Evancie: The politics of the community are starting to shift, with a more progressive cohort getting involved in conversations and decision-making. The past few years have seen heated debates here about the Black Lives Matter flag versus the Blue Lives Matter flag. Trump supporters gathering every week downtown and drawing a response from counter-demonstrators. Which, again, not unique to Barre. And not necessarily an improvement, depending on your politics, or how you relate to the so-called "culture wars." And besides, Elizabeth Manriquez is not bringing any of this up. We got the sense that no one wanted to go there in this episode. They just wanted Barre to get some positive press. Fair enough.

Elysia Manriquez: It's up and coming. That’s the word I’d like to use.

Angela Evancie: This is Elysia Manriquez, Elizabeth’s daughter. She’s 24, and she recently moved back home and started working at the cafe.

Elysia Manriquez: People from Barre know that it’s awesome. And sometimes it feels almost, like, we know how great it is so we keep it a little secret. But then also, a place can't grow unless more people know about it. And so I think finding that balance is really, really hard. Because, you know, I want everybody to know how great it is. But I also still want to be able to rent an apartment. (laughter) You know, so...

Elysia Manriquez, left, and her mom Elizabeth Manriquez work together behind the counter at Espresso Bueno on Barre’s Main Street. “People from Barre know that it’s awesome,” Elysia says. “And sometimes it feels almost like we … keep it a little secret.”
Angela Evancie
Vermont Public
Elysia Manriquez, left, and her mom Elizabeth Manriquez work together behind the counter at Espresso Bueno on Barre’s Main Street. “People from Barre know that it’s awesome,” Elysia says. “And sometimes it feels almost like we … keep it a little secret.”

Angela Evancie: So can we go back to something you were saying before, which I think is really interesting. You shared with me that you feel, like, fewer microaggressions here in Barre versus other parts of state. Is that something you would feel comfortable talking more about on the mic?

Elysia Manriquez: Yeah! Absolutely. So, the thing about Barre is that nobody, nobody cares. Nobody is trying to be any certain way other than what they are. They're not trying to be good or bad. They just are themselves. And the thing that I find that happens in other parts of the state, is that because I am a person of color — and not just me, but a lot of other people that I know — people try so hard with me to either be nice or not offensive, or whatever it is. And in doing that they're actually causing more microaggressions. 

Angela Evancie: Do you think people are more open-minded in Barre?

Elysia Manriquez: I think yes, I mean... the thing is, people in Barre aren't even worried about whether or not they're open minded, which, like, does that make sense? Like, I think that for all of Vermont, one of the biggest things is lack of exposure to anything. I mean, we're this beautiful little island in this country that's mostly untouched by the rest of the world, which is so great. But saying that, there's a lot of things that we don't know that are — I don't want to say right or wrong but, like, yeah, kind of right or wrong just because we don't see them. And the difference is, is that everywhere else in the state, I feel like people are trying so hard to be open-minded or whatever, you know, you want to call it that, in turn, they end up being a little bit more closed-minded. And then Barre, specifically, at least everybody that I know, they're so busy just trying to, like, do well and do well for the people around them that, like, they end up actually, because they're not focusing on being open-minded, they end up just being open-minded. You know?

Aubrey Rice: No one’s called us "flatlanders" yet, at least to our faces.

Josh Rice: I’ve gotten it (laughter)

Aubrey Rice: Oh! You have? 

Mary Engisch: Back on our tour with Aubrey and Josh Rice, some of Barre’s newest residents, we talk about their forays into Vermont life.

Josh Rice: We just learned about something called contra dance, which is, someone was telling us about that Vermont and Montpelier staple.

Aubrey Rice: I'm dying to go 

Josh Rice: Yeah.

Angela Evancie: And all the restaurants they still want to try on Barre’s main street.

Josh Rice: This is a Brazilian steakhouse we keep wanting to make our way to. 

Mary Engisch: The way Josh and Aubrey see Barre bodes well for the city’s future. And by the way, these two didn’t just land here by accident. They did extensive research based on a comprehensive spreadsheet that Josh built. They wanted things like access to schools, quality health care and affordable real estate. And the place that met all their requirements was Barre.



Angela Evancie: Thanks so much for listening to the show. And thanks to Tim Rapczynski for the great question.

If you have a question about your Vermont community, ask it at While you’re there you can sign up for the BLS newsletter, and vote on the question you want us to tackle next. We’re on Instagram and Reddit @bravestatevt.

Special thanks to: Ashleigh Ricciarelli, John Ricciarelli, Marianne Kotch, Jim and Larissa Haas, Fran Spaulding, Bob Purvis, Hilary Denton, Ellen Kaye, Scott McLaughlin, Jeannie McLeod, Lila Rees, Tracie Lewis, Braedon Vail, Bern Rose, Peter Hirschfeld and Liam Elder-Connors and the Aldridge Library. Amanda Gustin, the Barre City resident who left the voicemail at the top of this episode, was also in another episode of ours recently, talking about the history of intentional living communities in Vermont. We’ve got a link in our show notes. And BLS gets lots of help from colleagues behind the scenes, so I also want to shout-out Anna Ste. Marie for helping our show shine on social media.

This episode was reported by Mary Engisch and me. I produced it, and did the mix and sound design. Editing and additional production from the rest of the Brave Little State team: Josh Crane, Myra Flynn and Mae Nagusky. Music today by Blue Dot Sessions.

Brave Little State is a production of Vermont Public and a proud member of the NPR Network. If you like our show, leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app – or just tell your friends to listen. You can also make a gift at

I’m Angela Evancie. We’ll be back soon with more people-powered Vermont journalism. Until then.

Angela Evancie serves as Vermont Public's Senior VP of Content, and was the Director of Engagement Journalism and the Executive Producer of Brave Little State, the station's people-powered journalism project.
Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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