2019 Stories of the Year: Concord’s changing retail face

  • Stephanie C. Alicea, the Capital City Charter School’s founder and head in the library of the school at the Steeplegate Mall is looking forward to expanded the school to include high school students. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Samantha Clattenburg and her mother Denise Clattenburg, who both worked at the North Main Street Friendly's Ice Cream for a combination of over 40 years, talk about their experiences waitressing on Thursday, October 17, 2019. The restaurant will be closing this Sunday. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Friendly's Ice Cream server Shana Miller and former server Denise Clattenburg (right) talk about the restaurant on Oct. 17. Clattenburg worked at the North Main Street restaurant for more 20 years and Miller will be moving over to the Loudon Road franchise but is sad that this one closed. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • Mall walkers pass the The Zoo Health Club business office in the Steeplegate Mall on April 26. Monitor file

  • Mall walkers pass in front of the sign for both The Bon Ton and the new Zoo Health Club which is scheduled to open in June at the Steeplegate Mall in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Paul Foskitt, owner of True Confections Candies & Gifts, relocated his business out of the Steeplegate Mall and onto Loudon Road this year. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor file

  • The Sears store in Steeplegate Mall, Concord, Nov. 6, 2019. David Brooks

Monitor staff
Published: 12/25/2019 3:28:35 PM

That small-town feel that seemed to protect Concord from some nasty national retail trends continued to fade in 2019 as some of the city’s longtime businesses gave way.

But in that void, the city saw some retail revival this year with new shops, restaurants and some “destination” businesses opening up.

One of the recent blows came last month when long-suffering Sears announced it was shuttering its store at the Steeplegate Mall near the end of the year. Sure, the ailing retailer had closed droves of stores across the country for years, but Concord’s kept staying open like a beacon for loyal Craftsman buyers.

Likewise, Friendly’s had been shutting down the griddles at restaurants all across New England, but not here. The Capital City boasted not one, but two Friendly’s. They had the same menu, but staff and customers said the two eateries had different flavors because of the unique clientele.

Then in October, the Friendly’s on North Main Street abruptly announced it was closing, leaving longtime regulars like Denise Clattenburg just enough time to come in for one last bite to eat.

Clattenburg worked there for 21 years and said it was a great place for single moms to make a living.

“I raised three great kids working here. I bought a house with part-time pay. I got a double PhD in people skills,” she said days before it closed. “I met and kept friends that have lasted a lifetime.”

After the Monitor wrote about Friendly’s closing, Clatterburg clamored to get extra copies of the paper. The restaurant was such a part of her life, she wanted to be buried with the article, she said.

And if that wasn’t a sour enough pill to swallow, chew on this: True Confections Candies & Gifts, which had been in the mall for 27 years, called it quits this summer and moved the shop down to 211 Loudon Road, near Goodwill.

Owner Paul Foskitt said the mall’s owners were unwilling to give him the same low rates it was offering new tenants, so he reluctantly decided to leave.

But all is not bleak at the mall.

The Zoo Health Club opened in a portion of the former Bon Ton store this summer, occupying 40,000 square feet of the former anchor tenant’s space. It was the club’s third location in the state and featured 24-hour access, high-end equipment, and a smoothie bar.

Just next door, the Capital City Charter School is looking to expand this year adding grades 10 though 12 to the cadre of sixth through ninth graders already educated there. Founder Stephanie Alicea started the school in 2018 with a focus on learning through community service.

“The concept of the school is new and different, and parents and students have to be willing to come in with an open mind. They have to understand the models of service-learning,” she said.

The growth additions continue the mall’s transformation to more “experienced-based” tenants, including the existing Altitude Trampoline Park and Hatbox Theatre.

Away from the mall, an old goat got new life on Hall Street. Emin and Nina Mujakobic, the former owners of the Crazy Goat Tavern on North Main Street opened a new eatery called Nina’s Bistro at the former Sandwich Depot.

The downtown building that used to house the Crazy Goat was bought by Bangor Savings Bank, which plans to turn one portion into its first downtown branch, while refurbishing and leasing out the rest.

Farther down Main Street, the Crust and Crumb bakery expanded to create more seating for customers, and a much bigger kitchen, allowing owner Alison Ladman to offer espresso drinks, grab-and-go sandwiches and more savory food items to the menu.

A few doors down, the Crepe Escape was not so lucky. It suffered the same fate as its predecessor The Little Creperie and closed the same year it opened.

Last but not least, fans of home-cooked breakfast and lunch fare were tickled when the Newell Post opened a downtown location at 58 N. Main St. Rebranded as just The Post, the restaurant is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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