Bigger bookstore will boost downtown
For a long time, there was a sense that Concord was a place where men wore white socks with dark suits and women wore mom jeans, a government town that was nice but - well - not exactly cool. That's changing, thanks to the growth of the city's arts district, the success of Red River Theatres and a proliferation of specialty shops that help make one downtown unlike another.
Last week, local developer Steve Duprey revealed the names of some of the tenants of the building he'll soon begin to construct on the current site of the New Hampshire Bindery. Among them are the Orr & Reno law firm, which will occupy the upper floors of the as yet unnamed office building. (Since the new building will be adjacent to Duprey's Smile building, might we suggest that he call it "Grin"?)
The move south will allow the law firm to expand, which means jobs and that's good. But it's the plan for the building's ground floor that's exciting. Gibson's Bookstore will take over 12,000 square feet of storefront space to become, we believe, the biggest independent bookstore/coffee shop in the state.
Gibson's owner Michael Herrmann and Duprey are gambling on the fate of downtown and the fate of the book. Their faith is justified. The rumors of the death of the book are not just premature but unfounded. There will always be people who want to own books in their ancient, beautiful, physical form. There will continue to be people who want to see a book, heft it and fan through it before buying it, an experience that online booksellers can't duplicate. And there will always be people who want to be where other people - actual people who occupy physical space - shop and socialize.
Bookstore browsing is a form a recreation and entertainment. But to browse for more than a few minutes, customers need to be able to see the covers, not just the spines, of many, many books. The tight quarters at the current Gibson's location makes it impossible for the store to fully display its stock. That will change with the move. And the ability to sip coffee while browsing books will help to draw people downtown.
Orr & Reno's departure from Eagle Square will free up prime space across from the State House. The square, designed by the late architect Duncan McGowan 30 years ago, remains an attractive space, but it is a bit tired. Recognizing that, the city's 2012 budget includes $250,000 to refurbish the square. The fountain will be repaired, the square's brick paving replaced, the iron tree repainted, and other improvements made. That investment will guarantee that Orr & Reno's old offices won't be vacant for long.
Concord's downtown has made it through the worst recession in generations in pretty good shape. The investment Duprey and Herrmann are making in its future will convince others that downtown Concord is the place to be and help make Concord a city that's left its white socks and mom jeans behind.