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Dunkin’ Donuts franchise opens in Contoocook Village

  • A friend of owner Greg Sagris wipes down the front of a new Dunkin’ Donuts store in Contoocook, a day before its opening, Dec. 26, 2019. Ethan DeWitt Monitor staff

  • A wall decoration at a new Dunkin’ Donuts in Contoocook reads “Tooky runs on Dunkin’.” ETHAN DEWITTMonitor staff

  • Greg Sagris, owner of the new Contoocook Dunkin' Donuts, shows off the coffee tap system a day ahead of the store opening on Dec. 26, 2019. Ethan DeWitt—Ethan DeWitt

Monitor staff
Published: 12/27/2019 4:58:29 PM

The Contoocook Village center is New England incarnated: rows of boutique storefronts and art studios, a popular local cafe, and a three-way intersection tying it all together.

But even in small-town New Hampshire, some changes are inevitable.

Dunkin’ Donuts expanded its domain Friday, opening its doors dozens of feet from the Village center and bringing a small town one step closer to the world of big-name businesses with their own corporate jingles.

The new franchise location, perched at the far end of the Colonial Village Market plaza, is small but unmissable. A series of wood-colored siding accented in purple and orange surrounds the entrance. At the top, in bright orange letters: “Dunkin’.”

It’s a striking addition to a town proud of its visual identity – and resident reactions have ranged from head-shaking to cheering.

“There’s been some inherent negativity about franchise places,” said Jane Bradstreet, a planning board member. “But I personally think it will lead to an increase of traffic in that shopping plaza, and maybe help all the businesses in that shopping plaza.”

For many in town, the new addition was simply a matter of time.

“It’s inevitable,” said Brian Denoncour walking from the Colonial Market nearby. “We’re right off the highway. And there’s a lot of property for sale on the highway.”

The new franchise is the ninth for owner Greg Sagris, who operates similar stores in Bradford, Enfield, Grantham, Henniker and West Lebanon.

But it’s the first that brings with it local ties, he stresses. Sagris is a resident of the town – and an alternate on the Hopkinton Planning Board.

The turnaround was fast. The facility, which was previously a Chinese restaurant, was already designated for restaurant use and did not need planning or zoning board approval, Sagris said.

That helped speed the process along from September, when the lease was first available, to December, when the first customers came in for a coffee.

“Everyone kind of already ... knows us, knows me, knows I’m not some big guy from another state,” he said. “I’m a local guy from town and I think that really helped the process.”

And with that local know-how, Sagris says this franchise was designed with the town in mind – particularly for commuters looking for a morning boost on their way out of town.

For Contoocook Dunkin’ Donuts diehards, the Henniker location on Route 202 has for 11 years been the only reliable option, Sagris said. Many were forced into the unsavory routine of driving to the edge of Route 202 and waiting for the long lines of trucks and cars traveling between Concord and Keene to die down before crossing to the franchise.

“That can be a very busy, dangerous intersection there in the morning,” he said.

Now there’s another way, he said.

Sagris has deep ties to the company. Over the years, he’s climbed the ranks of Dunkin’ store owner notoriety: He’s now one of the company’s regional testers for new store designs.

That meant the Henniker franchise was one of the first stores to roll out the latest upgrade, complete with a glass display case for doughnuts and a bar-style coffee tap system in front of customers. The same display and tap system is now installed for Contoocook customers to enjoy.

From the outside, the new storefront, iconic orange letters and all, practically invites discussion. But few shoppers roaming about town Thursday were alarmed.

Denoncour supports the new location – even if his wife doesn’t agree, he says.

He understands concerns that the chain will take away “local flavor.” But as companies go, Dunkin’ is a commendable one, he said.

Denoncour, who founded the Boys and Girls Club of Souhegan Valley, praised Dunkin’ for providing fundraising and support.

“They were essential to getting us started,” he said.

Ed Waters was gushing. The Contoocook resident usually stops by Concord’s South Main Street Dunkin’ to pick up coffee on his way back from the Friendly Kitchen, which provides meals to the hungry.

“To bring home to my lovely wife,” he said. Now, he said, “I can do the same good work, but it’s much more convenient.”

He looked over at the store.

“I haven’t heard anyone who’s against it,” he said. “Certainly, I’m in favor of it,”

The coffee and doughnut chain sits a quarter-mile from the Everyday Cafe, a restaurant, bar and cafe that’s gained glowing reviews in New Hampshire and beyond.

The cafe, a fixture for locals and out-of-towners stopping through, boasts a range of coffees and pastries, soups and main courses, along with beer and alcohol. Asked about the new addition, local patrons were mixed.

Leaving the Everyday Cafe after lunch, Michael Malloy said his concern about the Dunkin’ expansion is simple.

“Marginalization,” he said. “Everything’s going to start to look like every crossroads.”

Malloy said he doesn’t think the competition will hurt the Everyday Cafe. Aside from maybe losing some morning coffee customers, the cafe has a unique enough appeal that it will continue to thrive, he predicted.

Still, he predicted the new Dunkin’ will be popular.

“I’m sure I’ll be going to it ... going to it every day,” he said.

When it comes to corporate development, the Hopkinton town leaders have baked in a healthy dose of defense mechanisms to protect the Contoocook Village.

The new Dunkin’ doesn’t have a drive-thru, for instance – a result of the Contoocook zoning ordinance prohibiting drive-thru restaurants to discourage fast-food outlets.

It’s that and other restrictions that give planning board member Bradstreet reassurance that the Dunkin’ will likely be an anomaly. There is no mile-long stretch of Burger Kings and Taco Bells in Contoocook’s future, she says.

“We have pretty tight ordinances that control some of that,” she said. “I don’t think anyone needs to worry.”

Still, Sagris has built a giant window into the wall. Just in case.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at edewitt@cmonitor.com, 369-3307, or Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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