White River Junction: The Developing Arts Community Of The Upper Valley

Oct 4, 2016

It's Fashion Week in Paris ... and also in White River Junction. And the annual amateur Revolution Fashion Show is just one of the ways White River Junction is becoming a hub for the arts and development in the Upper Valley.

Every year, a diverse group of people from all over the Upper Valley pick their favorite looks from Revolution, a consignment shop in White River Junction, and strut down their own runway.

Hilary Mullins of Bethel is one of the models. Backstage, she says she transformed herself into a flapper.

“I've always been a tomboy and here I just get to be total femme and vamp it up,” she said as people rushed by her with prop umbrellas, teased hair and glittering lipsticks. “It just brings out something in me that's wonderful.”

Mullins thinks the evening transforms the whole Upper Valley: “Everybody gets to come and feed on that energy and take that home with them. The next morning, who knows what they'll do.”

On display are local designers and consigned clothing alike. The show is a collaboration between locals that include hair designers, DJs and lighting experts. This year, the proceeds from the show go to the Junction Teen Life Skill Center.

A model who calls herself "Sasha Velour" struts down the White River Junction catwalk.
Credit Rebecca Sananes / VPR

Kate Mills lives in West Lebanon and attends this show every year.

In the lobby before the show, she said it is a reflection of the changing eclectic community she's seen in the recent years.

“There's a transformation going in White River, and I support it,” she said. “It's a really positive thing for the area. And I don't see it as a gentrification, but it's bringing culture and it's embracing all kinds of people.”

"There's a transformation going in White River, and I support it. It's a really positive thing for the area."- Kate Mills, West Lebanon

Kim Souza, who owns Revolution, puts on events like this throughout the year.

After the show, Souza stands in her store in the heart of White River Junction. Her hair is curled and she leans over the counter in her Jessica Rabbit-style black velvet bedazzled dress. 

“Glamour is anywhere you want it to be for certain!” is one of her mottos, she says.

“Make your own fun, right? There are all these tag lines: ‘Make your own fun,’ ‘White River Junction: It's not so bad,’ and 'We walk that talk, we're not joking,"” she said.

She continued: “For example, we have an annual black tie Oscar party because we can! The people who work on this fashion show, we don't do it for revenue. We do it for fun and because it feels good.”

Souza is not the only one trying harness that energy and town pride.

"There are all these tag lines: 'Make your own fun,' 'White River Junction: It's not so bad,' and 'We walk that talk, we're not joking.'" - Kim Souza, Revolution consignment store

Just across the street from the vintage shop, developer Bill Bittinger is about to break ground on his own new vision for White River Junction.

“It will look like a very small version of the famous Flat Iron building in Manhattan, which is a triangular-shaped building,” he said on a recent afternoon, looking at a now empty patch of grass. “Masonry on the exterior, this will be a metal facade done in a tasteful way that will be very complementary of the historic brick facade across the street.”

He continued: “Within the building, people will be living on the upper floors and we'll have commercial activity at the street level.”

Bittinger is a resident of the area now. But he was part of a movement in New York to transform Harlem, and has worked on urban restoration projects in Boston.

With the Upper Valley's notoriously low availability of rental housing, Bittenger's plans also include 17 apartments.

Earlier this fall, a new public market opened around the corner, inviting a space for independent craft makers to sell their work, open community spaces and a new restaurant.