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In the ‘post-mill environment,’ Pittsfield is poised for development

Last modified: 1/4/2015 12:27:07 AM
In the early days of eBay, Joe Cortese sought out the other professional sellers to form an alliance in 2002 to improve the website. After all, their businesses depended completely on eBay to thrive.

Now, Cortese, the preeminent seller of collectible stamps on eBay, is turning his sights on Pittsfield, his longtime home, which he said is ripe for economic development. He sees the empty storefronts and the derelict gas station next door to his business not as eyesores, not as relics of bygone era of prosperity in the former mill town, but as opportunities.

Cortese’s is one of a few businesses in town with global reach, including Globe Manufacturing Co., with its world-renowned firefighting gear and 325 employees in Pittsfield, and Rustic Crust, with its more than 150 employees and continued growth in the pizza business.

Globe has been in New Hampshire since 1901 and, though it expanded to Oklahoma in recent years with a new manufacturing plant there, still runs the vast majority of its business locally. Rustic Crust’s headquarters suffered a devastating fire last year that opened up the possibility of moving to Southern states with lucrative economic incentives for creating jobs, founder Brad Sterl said, but he decided to remain in Pittsfield.

Those moguls of industry could locate anywhere. They stay in New Hampshire for its lack of income and sales taxes, for its loyal and educated workforce and for the quality of life. But what about those small businesses downtown? While cars bypass the town on Route 28, more and more Main Street storefronts have become vacant.

Paul Rogers recently moved his flower shop off Route 28 and into downtown nearer to the hair salon and coffee shop he owns. He said there’s about a dozen empty storefronts in the square downtown. Like Cortese depends on eBay, the stores downtown need one another if they’re going to attract cars off Route 28.

Cortese said when he created the Professional eBay Seller’s Alliance, eBay was a very different company than what it is now. It was trying to find its way and wasn’t connected to the community of sellers. He began holding two conferences a year with those top sellers and, together, they were able to make the site safer, more trustworthy and easier to use. Today, that group has more than 8,000 members who sell more than $20 billion on eBay and Amazon, he said.

“There’s an awful lot of things that exist on eBay right now that are a direct result of our communication with eBay executives,” he said. “I was thinking about doing something like that here in Pittsfield with some of the community leaders here.”

Cortese said Pittsfield offers a unique opportunity because of its beauty and the available industrial space.

“I think we’re poised for a real gentrification of the Pittsfield community,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of really astute business people who are very interested in the community and taking hold of the opportunities that exist – I mean, there’s a lot.”

Growing up in Pittsfield, Rogers said there were men’s and women’s clothing stores, an antique thrift shop, an insurance company, a couple flower shops, a barbershop and more downtown – and the Scenic Theatre had shows every Friday and Saturday night. Now, “After 6 or 7 o’clock, it does look kind of like a ghost town,” he said.

Town Administrator Mike Williams said the downtown area needs revitalization, but the fact that there is a downtown gives Pittsfield potential to “become a great regional hub.”

“It’s got the only downtown area there is outside of Concord,” he said. “If we could get some economic prosperity going here, it could be fantastic.”

Williams said Pittsfield has “city-like amenities,” with its full-time fire and police departments and city water and sewer.

“We’re a hybrid almost between a city and a town. Eventually Pittsfield’s going to be the center of activity” for Barnstead, Chichester, Epsom and part of the Lakes Region, Williams said.

Williams termed the town’s current state as “trying to find our way in the post-mill environment.”

But for Paul Botta, the owner of Molly’s Tavern in New Boston, who is opening Molly’s of Pittsfield on Main Street within a couple of weeks, the way is clear.

“I’m a firm believer that if I go in there, other businesses are going to start to grow there. Once one business starts to open up it’s like people say ‘Okay, it’s a viable spot.’ We’re hoping to build the town,” he said.

Botta said the downtown took a hit during the recession. “It just fell apart for a while. It’s a nice little town. It’s actually beautiful,” he said, noting that he was also impressed with the town’s new police chief, Jeff Cain.

Botta said he was contacted to expand into town by Dave Schleyer, the managing director of Elm Grove Companies, which also sold Cortese his building.

Ted Mitchell, the chairman of Pittsfield’s Economic Development Committee, said Elm Grove has been essential in improving the town’s curb appeal.

“It’s not just a company that wants to get money out of renters. They want to improve the town,” he said. “That’s a big thing. We have enough landlords in town that just want the rent and don’t put the effort into improving things.”

Mitchell said if you improve the apartments, you improve the renters.

“If it’s a dump – well, that’s where the problems lie. We’re hopeful that other apartment owners will take their cue from (Elm Grove) and improve the apartments,” he said.

He said Pittsfield’s schools have gone from among the worst in the state to among the best in just a few years, and the EDC is coordinating with the high school to decorate windows of empty storefronts and conduct surveys about what new businesses people would be likely to shop at.

He said there’s been a new attitude of positivity in town the past few years that never existed before.

“It’s almost like you can taste we’re on the cusp of something. We’re not quite there, but we can sense that there’s a positiveness,” he said.

(Nick Reid can be reached 
at 369-3325 or nreid@
cmonitor.com or on Twitter 


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