My Turn: City in a coma? No way!
The Monitor’s March 19 editorial, “City on the cusp of big change,” noted that Concord was once called the “city in a coma.” People might have called it that, but as someone who has lived here nearly 60 years, I can tell you that nothing could be further from the truth – either now or in the past.
I have never found myself bored because there has always been plenty to do, and it has never taken much searching to find something for every taste.
Long before Red River Theatres graced Main Street, Concord had two independent movie theaters. Cinema 93, which opened in 1967, was a model of what a cinema should be, giving residents an opportunity to see films that they previously would have had to journey to Boston to enjoy. For more than 30 years Barry Steelman’s movie house alternated between major studio films and the finest foreign and art titles produced. The Concord Theatre was a downtown fixture for 60 years and regularly filled the house with titles such as Kubrick’s 2001, One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Rocky, Moonstruck and art films like The Piano and The Crying Game.
In addition, we had the Capitol Theatre and the Concord Drive-In – not to mention a drive-in in Boscawen and second-run theaters in Penacook and Pittsfield.
With all due deference to the fine bakeries and eateries that have made their mark in recent years, to this day I cannot eat a jelly donut without comparing it to those produced by Janet’s in Concord. It spoiled me and thousands of others for what sometimes passes as a donut today. Additionally, the Polly Susan Bakery helped a lot of people gain a lot of pounds with its exceptional pastries and multiple locations throughout the city.
For good food, our choices ranged from Star Hot Dog and the Endicott Grill to Keniston’s, Angelos, the Ambassador and the New Hampshire Highway Hotel, to name but a few.
There were Gile concerts, community concerts, Concord Chorale shows, Walker lectures, band concerts, the Concord Community Players, the Everett Arena and, for sports lovers, our high school teams were revered throughout the state.
In the old days, our public swimming pools remained open until Labor Day, and every store downtown was open Friday evening and shoppers, by the thousands packed onto Main Street.
More than anything, however, I remember the sense of community that permeated every aspect of Concord. You walked down Main Street and nodded and smiled at people you knew or had seen – and who sometimes were complete strangers. We were unencumbered by cell phones and other electronic devices that frequently impair that very human connection.
We also had a downtown filled with a variety of businesses providing goods and services that we needed regularly. Within a few city blocks you could buy a pair of skis, skates, office supplies and cameras. There were half a dozen clothing stores for men and for women, not to mention several shoe stores.
The Monitor editorial also noted that Concord is not Strawbery Banke or Colonial Williamsburg, which is true. What we are, however, is a state capital, and that should give us a special cache. But Concord has consistently failed to embrace her rich history
Just over 50 years ago we callously disposed of an important piece of our history – the historic railroad station, which helped define our place as one of the most important facets of the Boston & Maine Railroad.
In the years since we have regularly torn down additional pieces of our history to such an extent that the city’s symbol should be a wrecking ball.
Opportunities to make our downtown more appealing that do not cost millions seem to be dismissed as without value.
Not long ago I attempted to remedy Concord’s dubious distinction of being the only state capital in the country without downtown holiday lights sending a welcoming glow to prospective shoppers. I met with a holiday décor committee and proposed a solution, volunteering to produce a fundraising event that would enable us to completely light our downtown community at no expense to business owners or taxpayers. The non-response I received made me wonder whether doing something that didn’t involve the spending of millions of dollars in federal money lacked merit.
Referring to our city as having been in a coma does a great disservice to the thousands of people who dedicated their lives to making our city a great place to live, work and play. Until we embrace our rich and varied past, we have little hope of truly creating a sustainable future for the city I refer to as the shining jewel on the banks of the Merrimack.
(Paul E. Brogan lives in Concord.)