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Focus on Franklin Series Part 2: Developing business

  • Bookstore owner George Mansfield (left) Franklin resident Justin Jones (right) and Jones’s 3-year-old son, Andrew, sit along Central Street recently. Franklin’s downtown has brightened considerably in the past several years. ELODIE REED photos / Monitor staff

  • Downtown Franklin is busy with traffic most weekday afternoons.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • LEFT: Nanci Aguiar would like to host events like poetry readings at Toad Hall.

  • ABOVE: Cliff Steinhauer and his son Ed would both like to see downtown events come back to their city.

  • Cindy Smith, owner of Friendly Barber Shop, shaves the head of Bristol resident Fred Eichman. Though Smith likes improvements to downtown, her business income has mostly stayed the same.

  • Elaine Romano, center, smiles as she and her husband, John, left, chat with their neighbor Duane Hiscock, in their Sterling Drive development in Franklin recently. Romano, who said she and her husband moved there in 2014, likes the downtown area and wants to see it continue to grow with more restaurants and boutiques in the future.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Kevin Pedersen sits on his property with his dog, Pdee, and his wife, Janet, on a recent sunny afternoon. The Beverly, Mass. couple bought their lakehouse last year following several years of rising rent costs at the cottage down the street.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Janet Pedersen holds a photo collage showing the six generations of her family that have come to Webster Lake in Franklin in summertime.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Janet Pedersen stands on her porch with a view of Webster Lake recently.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Though the city sits sandwiched between Northfield and Tilton exits off of Interstate 93, there is no direct exit to access Franklin.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Lakeshore Drive in Franklin leads to Webster Lake, where people buy property to get away from the city.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Richard Tarbin recently walks through his business, Tarbin’s Gardens, located off of Route 127 in Franklin. He said without direct highway access to the city, he doesn’t see as much business as he would in, say, New London.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff

  • Richard Tarbin kisses one of the goats he has for visitors to look at and pet at Tarbin’s Gardens, located in Franklin.  By ELODIE REED/Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Despite the threat of rain, Franklin native George Mansfield lounged back in his wooden chair on the Central Street sidewalk beneath the hand-painted sign for his shop, George’s Bookstore and More.

He chatted with fellow resident Justin Jones and Jones’s 3-year-old son, Andrew, who played with his yellow plastic school bus on the store stoop. A steady stream of cars zipped by before stopping at local businesses, city hall, Franklin Savings Bank or the library. Others stopped at gas station convenience stores or took a stroll through downtown, adding to the gentle hustle and bustle of the city’s downtown.

Mansfield said his bookstore has only grown since it opened last July. In addition, the 65-year-old retired teacher said he’s watched four other businesses begin in the past six months.

“I think it’s starting on an upward trend, downtown here especially,” Mansfield said, though with a caveat. Pointing across the street, he said the front of some existing businesses could use an upgrade.

“It’s looking like one of the windows is really going to drop out,” he said.

Franklin’s economy has been struggling to come back from its decline in the 1970s, when many of its local mills began shutting down.

Though unemployment numbers have steadily declined the past five years, those living in Franklin generally make less than they did just a few years ago. While a household in 2011 brought in an average of $48,369 in 2010, in 2014 – the most recent year numbers were available through the U.S. Census Bureau – that number dropped to $42,742.

 

The figures are stark, but there are still some bright signs.

Ryan Charpentier, a 28-year-old resident, chose to move to the smaller city from Boston six months ago. He moved for his job at Watts Water Technologies.

“I came up here to grow and find a nice community,” Charpentier said while he waited for a haircut at the Friendly Barber Shop.

So far, so good, Charpentier said. He helps out at the Franklin Mint pawn shop and is interested in Franklin’s railroad history.

As he waited his turn, barber and hairdresser Cindy Smith said she’s excited to see more people like Charpentier come into town. Over her 10 years in business on Central Street, however, Smith said she really hasn’t seen much difference in her income from year to year – rather, she has the same loyal customers coming from Bristol, Concord and in town.

In recent years, the city has found its way into the news due to the revitalization work of Gilford resident and developer Todd Workman.

Workman, who has acquired seven blocks and three mill buildings and is using private-public partnerships to finance various projects, envisions turning Franklin into a permaculture-centered, sustainable city that attracts millennials.

Thus far, his nonprofit, PermaCityLife, has helped support various storefront openings along Central Street like the volunteer-run Franklin Studio coffee shop and the Outdoor New England equipment shop and education center.

Retired city road worker Cliff Steinhauer, 63, said he likes what he’s seen so far. Standing in his Sanborn Street yard with his 30-year-old son, Ed, after fixing a duck enclosure, Steinhauer said he likes Elizabeth Dragon, the current city manager, and the new businesses popping up.

Both men said they thought there could be more events downtown – bringing back, for example, the old Spring Fling – to get people there.

“At Odell Park, they use to have concerts – country-western concerts,” Steinhauer said. “But for some reason, that fizzled out.”

Nanci Aguiar, a 79-year-old retired nurse who lives with her family on Sanborn Street, is looking forward to event possibilities that Toad Hall – a Central Street art gallery that is being converted into a tavern – may present.

Sitting on her porch where she and her daughter, Tamsen, were planting recently, Aguiar said, “I’m going to see if he’ll let us do a poetry reading there someday.”

For the older crowd, the Franklin Senior Center at the Twin Rivers Intergenerational Program, or TRIP, is a big draw. Sandra Burney, a 73-year-old retired educator who has lived in her Franklin home on Route 127 “since Elvis died,” said she goes to the TRIP center for its “Keep Moving Class.”

“I think it’s a really good facility for people,” she said. There are other various activities there every day.

Elaine Romano, a 61-year-old retired administrative assistant who moved with her husband, John, to their Sterling Drive home in 2014, said she would spend more time in Franklin’s center if there was a nightlife and if there was shopping to do.

“We were from Southern New Hampshire, so this is a big adjustment for me,” Romano said. She helps write Franklin’s newsletter and is impressed with the revitalization efforts so far.

“This is more than they’ve ever had, but it’s only the beginning,” Romano said. Asked what she’d like to see more of, she said, “Restaurants and boutiques would probably be on the top of my list.”

Officially, however, the city is directing its efforts toward the industrial center. Beginning in 2013, the city adopted a Tax Increment Finance District development and financing program to try to grow the city’s industrially zoned area and the overall tax base.

That may be more in line with the needs of Franklin property owners in the rural parts of the city. Janet Pedersen, 57, has been visiting Webster Lake all her life, and before she and her husband, Kevin, 59, bought their cottage a year ago, the cottage they usually rented – three doors down – became increasingly expensive.

“It was just in the last few years that it went up quite a bit,” Kevin said while sitting by the lake recently. The owner, he added, had fewer and fewer renters, and needed to pay the bills.

New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration data show that over the past several years, the town’s tax valuation steadily decreased until 2015, when it ticked up slightly. Lower property taxes are what matter to people like Janet and Kevin Pedersen, who come to get away from the busyness of where they live most of the time, Beverly, Mass.

Looking at her husband, their Golden Retriever, Pdee, and the lake just below, Janet said, “This is our solitude.”

In another quiet part of West Franklin along Route 127, Tarbin Gardens owner Richard Tarbin thinks more investment could go toward infrastructure to make Franklin accessible, for instance, from Interstate 93. This, he added, may help draw bigger business, too.

“I think it would help Franklin a lot more rather than a sign that says ‘Franklin, 20 miles,’ ” Tarbin said. Walking past a rose garden for tea, flower-lined paths often used for weddings and an area with farm animals, he said he keeps his business running by penny-pinching and working long hours.

“If we were in New London” off Interstate 89, Tarbin said, “we’d be hopping.”

 

(Elodie Reed can be reached at 369-3306, ereed@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @elodie_reed.)