In downtown Somersworth, a microcosm of Main Street
One side of the street was in shreds.
From the counter inside Best Pawn & Exchange in Somersworth on Friday morning, we could see and hear the crews from Severino Trucking Co. digging up Market Street outside.
“We’re hurting right now,” owner Rafi Dalal said. “But we’re looking forward to the end.”
The construction is part of a project to rebuild Market and High streets in Somersworth. At a public meeting last week, Concord City Engineer Ed Roberge cited that job as one reason Severino Trucking has been recommended for Concord’s own downtown redesign. If the Concord City Council gives the project its blessing tonight, the contractor could break ground on the Main Street project this summer.
“What really drew (Severino Trucking) to us in our evaluation of them was their downtown experience,” Roberge said at the meeting.
Somersworth does not offer a perfect parallel to Concord’s Main Street project. The population of Somersworth is slightly more than 11,000; Concord’s is more than 42,000. Construction in Somersworth will be done this fall and will cost $4.8 million. As proposed, the Main Street project wouldn’t be complete until 2016 and would cost $10.22 million.
But the businesses who open their doors to a torn-up street in Somersworth voices many of the same concerns as downtown merchants in Concord. Now that construction has begun, the ups and downs of their experience are a microcosm for what could begin on Main Street in just a few weeks.
A few storefronts down from Dalal, a bridal shop went out of business. An antiques and furniture store changed hands to a new group of owners. But Kim Anderson worked the razor around her client’s head without concern. Fast Jack’s Barbers has been in this building for four years, she said, and loyal customers have continued booking their appointments despite the heavy machinery outside.
“It hasn’t been affecting our business,” she said.
To Anderson, the work needed to be done.
“Everyone would come in complaining about the roads,” she said with a laugh. “Now they complain about the construction.”
At Villa Pizza on Market Street, Abel Elmoraghy is more worried about the future.
“When they were working on the other side (of the sidewalk), we lost 30 percent of our business,” he said.
Elmoraghy has been at Villa Pizza for 15 years. Hoping to make up for a lack of dine-in traffic, he’s hired more delivery drivers to bring orders directly to his customers.
“If you guys are going to do it in Concord, you’re going to kill the business,” he said.
On High Street, owner Sherry Soldati-Pratt posted the hours for Poppy Seed Studio on a chalkboard in her window. At the bottom of the board, she had written “Construction closings: taking it day by day.”
Despite that warning, she has not needed to close a single day since the construction started. She praised the construction workers for being courteous throughout the project, including one who helped her carry her bags over uneven ground to her store.
“When you look at these old towns, it’s important to revitalize them,” Soldati-Pratt said. “It’s important to bring people back into the stores.”
Soon, she’ll be launching online sales to drum up business. The construction “provided me this opportunity,” she said, choosing her words carefully.
“I realize there are obstacles, but it needed to be done,” she said.
A representative of Severino Trucking declined comment on either the Somersworth project or the Concord project. Scattered among their many cones and signs in downtown Somersworth was one orange diamond that read: “High Street businesses are open.”
For more information on the Concord Main Street project and to read the full proposal by city staff, visit concordmainstreetproject.com. The city council will meet at 7 p.m. in council chambers.
In Concord, of course.
Gibson’s Bookstore has launched its third annual scavenger hunt for that familiar bespectacled face. Hosted in partnership with the book’s publisher, the monthlong promotion is open to participants of all ages, said Gibson’s events coordinator Elisabeth Jewell.
To participate, ask for a scavenger hunt “passport” at any of the 24 participating stores. Then search the store for Waldo – a 4-inch-tall cardboard cutout.
“He could be anywhere from an employee’s shirt pocket to hiding at the register to around the store,” Jewell said.
Once you have Waldo triumphantly in hand, ask a store employee for a stamp on your passport to mark your find. Turn in 10 stamps at Gibson’s for an “I Found Waldo” button and a $1 coupon; turn in 20 stamps to be entered into a prize raffle. The scavenger hunt will end July 31 with a raffle drawing and party at Gibson’s at 6 p.m.
“There’s no real point to it except fun,” Jewell said.
Intown Concord’s annual Market Days festival runs Thursday to Saturday. During those days, the city will close the following roads in downtown Concord:
∎ Main Street from Centre Street to Hills Avenue
∎ Capitol Street from Evans Lane to North Main Street
∎ Park Street School Street from North Main Street to Evans Lane
∎ Warren Street from the parking garage to North Main Street
∎ Phenix Avenue
∎ Hills Avenue
∎ Pleasant Street and Pleasant Street Extension from State Street to Storrs Street
For more on the festival, visit intownconcord.org or turn to today’s Business page.
(Megan Doyle can be reached at 369-3321 or firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @megan_e_doyle.)