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Harrington: Granite Strong

I’ve long been intrigued by the confidence of Barre business owners who open up shop and then commission a large chunk of local granite to be hauled to their location- after it’s been indelibly inscribed with their name and logo. They must be planning to succeed – and to stay put for a while. They’re also making a choice for subtle grey beauty instead of the neon and flash that many businesses require for their signage.And there are new uses of the stone called “Barre Gray” for the posts and curbs of reconstructed Main Street. There are also downtown sculptures both whimsical and weighty. These make traditional granite signs pop out a bit more.

This native material quarried here since the 1830s is seeing a revival. A giant granite zipper and a lifesize armchair create a little park between the new City Place office building and Studio Arts Place. Other pieces are planned. But more utilitarian uses –like outdoor signs for businesses and organizations – also impress.

On North Main Street, the granite sign for Ernie’s Garage welcomes those who need car repairs. It’s a simple rectangle with the business name – and a pair of wrenches. The business has been there 30 years – say owners Ernie and Mary LeBlanc. After two wooden signs “fell apart,” they decided to go with granite. Brookside Memorials created it from their design ten years ago. “We like the looks of it,” Ernie says, and so do their clientele – many of whom work with granite.

Simply Delicious on Depot Square has a flat granite sign on the outside wall. It’s more than 20 years old, modest yet distinctive – and it moved with the business from Main Street. The reason to use granite, says owner Chris Conti, is “because it’s Barre.”

Granite business signs are plentiful even outside of downtown. Barre Health Center and Members Advantage Community Credit Union have them. There are also hybrids – granite posts with wooden signboards. But those don’t seem to be in the full spirit of the town. One company bought a longstanding business, and then covered the granite sign with wood – not a popular move.

Thunder Road – “the nation’s site of excitement” on Quarry Hill - has not one - but two – signs carved from local granite. A flashy one stands at the road intersection, with yellow paint highlighting the letters. But near the gate to the track, a dignified, older sign is tucked up against a fence.

Wilson Industrial Park in Barre Town has one, as does the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce in Berlin. “I was amazed at the process of installing it,” says George Malek, longtime director of the Chamber. The crew from Rock of Ages “swung that thing around like it was plywood.” It’s a good symbol for the Chamber, says Malek. “We are granite.”

A marketing message on the Barre Granite Association website describes a granite sign as being “an image of strength and permanence” made of earth’s perfect building material.”

Now that’s a voice of confidence.

The late Elaine Keen Harrington of Middlesex was a lecturer in the English Department at the University of Vermont. A former editor for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus, she also owned a fiber arts business.
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