Downtown: New Concord business owners ‘give it our best shot’
Alison Ladman, owner of Crust and Crumb, puts a bittersweet chocolate ganache on to individual sized cheese cakes; Friday, May 10, 2013.
(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
Individual sized cheese cakes with chocolate ganache at Crust and Crumb Bakery; Friday, May 10, 2013.
(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
Alison Ladman's to-do list at Crust and Crumb in downtown Concord; Friday, May 10, 2013.
(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
Since Alison Ladman opened the Crust & Crumb Baking Co. on Main Street last July, she’s found a welcoming community of downtown merchants and a steady stream of customers for her pastries, cakes, breads and coffee.
She has had to do more baking as the business grows, but last week she found a few minutes to speak with a reporter after putting cheesecake in the oven. The bakery has been successful, Ladman said. While she knows downtown has “a high turnaround” for businesses, she’s not worried.
“There’s always a lot of people that come and go . . . and then there are the new entrepreneurs who come in and say, ‘I want a spot,’ ” she said. “Some will be successful, some won’t.”
According to Intown Concord’s annual surveys, 30 new businesses opened downtown in 2011 and 2012. At least six of those shops have already closed, but the rest are still open for business. Several of those merchants interviewed last week said they’re committed to staying open – even as other businesses come and go and they prepare for construction on Main Street to begin this fall.
Tom Smith signed a lease to open Depot Antiques and Toys on North Main Street last year, just one day after Concord was awarded a $4.71 million federal grant to redesign Main Street. He thought it was a great idea.
Nearly a year later, “I do have my concerns,” Smith said. He’s worried about surviving construction, and he has qualms about the project’s impact on downtown parking. But he has no plans to leave Main Street.
“Oh yes, we’re going to give it our best shot,” Smith said. “Because I know on the other end when it’s done, the downtown is going to look beautiful and it’s going to attract of a lot of people, a lot of customers.”
Smith said business owners sometimes struggle to find a demand for their products.
“What I sell, people don’t really need this stuff,” he said of his vintage toys, model trains and antique furniture. But, he noted, customers feel a sense of nostalgia when
browsing his shelves.
“They come in here and it takes them back in time, they reminisce . . . takes them back to a good place,” he said.
In Capital Plaza, Soup Gallery owner Natalia Strong said she’s built her business largely through word of mouth, because it isn’t visible from Main Street.
“I think we are developing a following and it’s definitely evolving,” she said.
Strong opened less than a year ago, offering take-out for healthy and homemade soups, salads and sandwiches three days a week. Now, she is open six days with indoor and outdoor seating, and hopes to extend her hours again soon.
A business “takes on a life of its own that you could never have predicted,” Strong said. She learned, for example, that winter isn’t the busiest season to sell soup.
“The profit margin isn’t the bottom line for Soup Gallery, I think it’s so much more than that,” she said. “But I think that’s how it is when you’re new, figuring out the systems and connections.”
On Pleasant Street, Nicole Vera opened New to You High-End Recycled Fashion in 2011.
“We opened kind of in the middle of what you would call a recession,” she said. “But when we’re in a recession I think that’s when consignment shops and thrift shops boom the most. So I think that’s why you’re seeing so many of us pop up on Main Street.”
Vera said she and her staff “haven’t seen a dull moment since we opened,” though she is sad to see other business owners close their doors.
“It doesn’t concern me in a way where I’m worried for my business because of the stores that are closing,” she said. “I think it’s too bad because I think some people will assume that because there’s so many empty storefronts that there’s not enough to do downtown.”
Every merchant interviewed last week noted that customers complain most frequently about the availability of downtown parking spaces. Concord shoppers want to park directly in front of the store they’re visiting, they said.
But not every business owner shares their customers’ concerns. Vera said she “would rather you walk by my fellow business owners on your way to my place,” so she encourages customers to use parking garages.
And Ladman said she isn’t concerned about parking – “I’m just concerned about people’s attitudes towards it, that’s all,” she said.
At Hilltop Consignment Gallery on North Main Street, owner Paula Genovese said parking is important because customers need to drop off and pick up large pieces of furniture. She purchased her business last year and moved it from Pembroke to downtown Concord. She learned a lot in the first year – including that the winter months are slow.
“We’re pretty much in a groove at this point, so I think the one year, it’s been a learning experience and just seeing . . . month to month how the business changes,” Genovese said.
Merrimack trail moves ahead
Plans for a trail along the Merrimack River got a boost recently, with an anonymous $75,000 donation.
Friends of the Merrimack River Greenway Trail, a nonprofit group, has been working since 2011 to plan the trail. The group now hopes to hire an engineering consultant to design the first phase of the trail, from Terrill Park to Loudon Road.
“So we’re about halfway to where we need to be to complete the design,” said Dick Lemieux, the group’s president. “We think we have enough to begin to look for a design engineer.”
In addition to the large donation received through the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Lemieux said the nonprofit is applying for private grants.
The first phase of the project has a price tag of more than $2 million, Lemieux said, and will include constructing a boardwalk over a wetland area. He hopes construction could be completed by the end of 2015, though he said it’s difficult to pinpoint a deadline as fundraising continues. Because the trail will be built on city property, Lemieux will go before the city council tonight to report on the project. For more information, visit mrgt.org.
Designs for Main Street
Tonight’s city council meeting will include a presentation on the Main Street redesign.
City Engineer Ed Roberge and the city’s consultants will present their final recommendations for the project. But the council isn’t expected to take action or hear public input on the designs tonight – Mayor Jim Bouley has said he will ask councilors to schedule a public hearing and additional meetings.
The project “has certainly garnered broad interest,” Roberge wrote in a report to the city council.
Recommendations in the report include: A two-lane road with a crossable center median, a mixture of angled and parallel parking with a net loss of 17 spaces, a steam-heated snowmelt system on the sidewalks and underground utilities on South Main Street. Tonight’s presentation will also include more details about accessibility on Main Street, Roberge wrote.
Furniture and frozen yogurt
Two downtown businesses will celebrate their grand openings this week.
Lilise on Storrs Street will host a grand opening celebration for its new furniture showroom Friday. Greg Lessard opened the store – which connects to his wife’s Lilise Designer Resale – to sell a custom line of furniture made by state prison inmates.
He’s been letting customers come into the showroom through a door in the clothing store since March, but Friday he’ll unlock his shop’s main door.
“Some people have poked around, and some people have seen the stuff from the Department of Corrections and purchased items and have items on order.”
On Wednesday, Dips Frozen Yogurt will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony on North Main Street. Owner Nicolas Harriman said the self-serve frozen yogurt shop will be open for business after the event.
Weekend on the Water
Concord’s Parks and Recreation Department is planning dragon boat races and a “Weekend on the Water” festival in September.
Dragon boat races were also planned last year as part of the annual River Jamboree, but the event was canceled.
“We are giving it another shot,” said David Gill, director of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
This year’s festival, Sept. 7 and 8 at Kiwanis Riverfront Park, will also include live music, a 5K race, duck races and a Concord Crew regatta. It will raise money for a new skate house at White Park.
Gill said he worked with New Hampshire Distributors, Concord Crew and the Concord Rotary to plan the event. They brainstormed ways to make the event successful.
“We hope to have a craft beer festival going on at the same time,” Gill said. “We have to work through the permitting issues there.”
A dragon boat traditionally has 20 paddlers, a drummer and a helmsman. Teams registering for the Concord race must have between 16 and 25 people. Each team must pay $1,050, or $950 for registration before June 1.