Better than the Beatles in WRJ?
The Royal Wedding? Huh? Perfidy in North Korea? C'mon. The Fab Four playing "All You Need is Love" on a streaming internet speaker in a small White River Junction art gallery where I sit and write this piece on Memorial Day Weekend's Saturday afternoon waiting for the rains to gush? Forget about it. None of these can hold a candle to the large, looming speculation and constant inquiries I get about the Polka Dot Diner from clients and friends who visit.
The Polka Dot today. It's being renovated from the inside out. Still a crown jewel waiting to be polished with all the charm of what it once was, but with new life and fare for White River Junction's eager diners.
The Polka Dot. The Polka Dot. It's like a magical dance of constant myths, rumors and innuendos. Too bad the Beatles didn't write a song about it. Right now, it would be a hit of mythical proportions here in downtown WRJ and surrounding areas. Why, even after being "CLOSED FOREVER" according to the Dartmouth Outing Club's Dinertoure wiki page, we're always hopeful it might re-open. Forever is, after all, a very long time, and hope always springs eternal in WRJ these days.
The Polka Dot back in the day. Why, even TripAdvisor keep the Polka Dot's memory alive online all the time. Click Here to see for yourself.
Wait, yes, I think I hear the music, the music, that good old rock 'n roll music, if you wanna dance with me, croons the stereo speaker. That means "the scoop" in journalistic parlance, so sit tight and read on...as luck would have it, one local developer is about to help breathe new life into the Polka Dot after long last. Let's celebrate our good fortune!
I caught up with developer Mike Davidson of Ledgeworks, Inc. last week in downtown Lebanon for a cup of very tasty coffee and conversation at Lucky's Coffee Garage. It has the best on-the-ground view of downtown Leb from a coffee aficionado's perspective as anyplace I've been. Try out their big leather chairs in the coffee lounge area as you tap into free WiFi. Lucky's is one of many of Mike's brick & mortar brain children here in Leb. Now he's turned his attention anew to White River Junction. He's picked the Polka Dot as his next development effort, and it's going to be great.
Lucky's Home Page. I might add "One Very Tasty and Graciously Served Cup At A Time."
The Polka Dot will soon be inhabited by none other than Mr. Sarin Tim of the Phnom Pen Sandwich Station in Lebanon, NH which offers traditional Cambodian fare. It'll be his second location. And boy is Mike excited. As am I, now knowing we'll have another fun place to enjoy and to savor culturally diverse fare in downtown WRJ. Here's to life—it's getting better all the time!
Phnom Pen Sandwiches' home page lets a single colorful photo tantalize millions of licked lips. Yummy!
Here's how my conversation with Mike Davidson went...
Poetic Licence (PL): So what's up with the Polka Dot? I heard you bought it. Is that you're next project in WRJ?
Mike Davidson (MD): Yes, we bought it and we want to keep it as a vital spot in downtown White River. It's a landmark, and it was in danger of being lost. I'd like to make sure it remains an integral part of White River for generations to come. It was great fun as the Polka Dot, and now it's going to be open and inviting to everyone as a Cambodian restaurant.
PL: How will this help WRJ?
MD: This is going to be another unique food option in blossoming downtown White River Junction. And it's going to have just as good a view of South Main Street as we have here at Lucky's looking out at the Lebanon green. Isn't this great? Everyone has a view of everyone else passing by. It's my idea of a really great space to congregate. It's a place where community just has to happen. And fun, of course. With places like Luckys and the Polka Dot's soon-to-be-latest incarnation, life is getting better and better for these two really exciting communities.
PL: Do you have any concerns about the trains, and the noise?
MD: Are you kidding? This place is great because of the trains and their rumbling thunder that goes and goes. It grabs you and makes you feel alive and rumbling with thunder! You know what it was like having coffee here at the Polka Dot. We both go back a log way in these communities. I've been at it since I was painting houses in Leb when I was a Dartmouth student back n the '80's. Now I get to own some of them thanks to a lot of scraping and painting, a bunch of risk, and more entrepreneurial spirit than most if I might say so. I love these two towns, and the Upper Valley. This is my home base.
PL: I'd heard you were living out of town, like down in Mexico. And there was some interesting press about that recently. I always thought you were from the Upper Valley given the long time you've been here and all your involvement in these local communities.
MD: I started out my life in New York State, then came to Dartmouth as an undergrad in the early 80's. I worked painting houses as a college student and I just fell in love with the area. I've been here ever since. Yes, I live in Mexico now with my family, but I always have a foothold here in the Upper Valley. I have a home here and, well, home is where the heart is. I love this area. It's as much my home as anyplace I've lived or will live. It's the place I always come back to and enjoy. To help out people and communities where I live is a special feeling. And I feel like I'm giving back every day. I'm here today, back to Mexico tomorrow, then back here in another ten days. It's like that, at least one foot here is always the case and has been since I was a college student. I can't get enough of this area and the people here, you know, they're my long-time friends.
PL: What's your hope for White River's downtown looking out 5, 10, maybe even 20 years. How do you think it will change?
MD: I'm passionate about buildings and the atmosphere they create for the communities in which they exist. Maybe sometimes I'm too passionate, but my underlying assumptions and motivations are to try to help encourage a more rich and vibrant sense of place wherever and whenever I own or develop a new building space. White River is a great example. River Roost Brewery, The Engine Room, Big Fatty's, Trail Break Taps & Tacos and others have enlivened and enriched the downtown area in myriad ways. While River is now a fun place to visit for a short time or to live in for longer. People seem to love what it has become. I hope for more of the same as I think about it's longer-term trajectory. I'd like to see the preservation of older buildings, perhaps re-purposing them, but always keeping their charm alive and present. I also hope to encourage it's growth as a livable and walkable downtown area that's sustainable environmentally and socially. I also expect to encourage the arts and creative economies to gain a stronger foothold in White River and to thrive beyond what's happening today. I can't put a number on it but 20 years from now White River should be a true destination location for plenty of travelers. It's at a crossroads...of two interstates and two great rivers, and it has a railroad platform that put it on the map once upon a time. Now I'd expect to see more activity coming to the town on foot, by bike, by car, and by train. Who knows, maybe even a few kayakers might come ashore and enjoy lunch at the new iteration of the Polka Dot. Wouldn't that be a great way to spend a day?
PL: Why do you do what you do?
MD: At my core, I like to re-purpose spaces that increase social interaction and community. I like to work to create human interaction in a time when technology can create too much isolation. And in an area like the Upper Valley where people are still nice to each other, it makes my work fulfilling and it helps me feel like I'm whole and contributing to a greater good.
Mike sprang for the coffee. I dropped a couple of dollars in for a tip, and we were on our way — me back to Post Mills to watch some balloons fly, and Mike back to his house where the grass needed a good mowing before he headed off to see his family. He's a man of many ideas, and many worlds. I'm thrilled he's chosen to be part of ours.
Mike's creative developer's spirit brings new color and energy to downtown areas like WRJ, VT and Lebanon, NH much like balloons bring scintillating colors to the skies above Post Mills, VT. Click Here for a story on the Post Mills Airport and it's ballooning another lighter-than-air activities.
So that's the true scoop from here in White River Junction. The Polka Dot will be back in business some time later this summer serving up authentic and quality Cambodian fare thanks to Mike's creative vision as a developer and community builder. If it wasn't for Mike, the Polka Dot may have been razed or totally re-done in a way unbecoming to today's historic WRJ by some eager developer looking to make a mark on this downtown.
As for me, I much prefer to have the Polka Dot looking like it is, always a memory of my fine times in a great downtown district in central Vermont that just seems to be getting better and better all the time. And that, in Beatles parlance is much better than a Hard Day's Night — why, it's a Come Together, Got To Get You Into My Life, I'll Follow the Sun, Lady Madonna, and Magical Mystery Tour series of moments all rolled up into one that just keeps on rolling like the trains into White River Junction.
Thanks for all that, Mike. You're keeping this place fresh, alive, and a great place to be for all of us. You've developed this House of the Rising Sun into a shining star of a community in White River Junction, Lebanon, and the surrounding areas in VT and NH.
The view from the Polka Dot Diner's front window. Right in the heart of the village of downtown White River Junction, VT after a refreshing rain on Memorial Day Weekend 2018.
Dave Celone (a/k/a Poetic Licence) is a writer and poet whose curiosity leads him many places. He also happens to own Long River Gallery & Gifts in White River Junction, Vermont. Click Here to follow Dave whenever he posts to the dailyuv.com.