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Normalcy returns as Concord’s Main Street reopens

  • Concord High band member Madison Simpson greets the Main Street Downtown project mascot before she sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at re-opening of the downtown streets Thursday evening GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • The Concord High marching band heads up Main Street as it was reopened Thursday evening as traffic heads down the street. GEOFF FORESTERMonitor staff

Published: 11/10/2016 10:32:39 PM

Agnes Ellingwood wants to hem your pants.
She’s owned L & B Tailoring and Alterations for 16 years. It’s located at 18½ South Main Street, which until Thursday was in the teeth of the final phase in the two-year project to renovate Main Street. The last of the barrels were stacked on a flatbed, directly in front of Ellingwood’s place, at 2:45 p.m.

Later there was enough back slapping at City Plaza to host a Donald Trump victory party. Mayor Jim Bouley cut a ribbon, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen said “Concord’s Main Street is also New Hampshire’s Main Street,” and the Concord High marching band marched south on Main Street to the Capital Center for the Arts.

No one, though, was happier than Ellingwood. She wants to get back to doing what she does. She wants to sew stripes on the side of your military pants and create seamless seams on dresses.

“It’s about time it’s opening,” she responded in the blink of an eye, once I told her I was a writer for the Monitor. “It’s been a long summer.”

She wasn’t bitter or angry. In fact, she smiled. But her words carried as much weight as some of those heavy trucks that will no longer make noise on Main Street. Ellingwood’s business lost 20 to 40 percent during this renovation, she told me.

“The trucks were taking up parking spaces out front here,” she said. “Maybe with all the streets being open, my business will come back.”

That, of course, has been the goal all along, ever since plans for this monster project began to surface seven years ago. Three years later came the $4.71 million grant from the Transformation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, known as the TIGER program

Well, Tiger the mascot was there Thursday on a makeshift stage, along with several other dignitaries, meaning it’s time to watch our city grow. It’s time to earn our stripes as an alternative to places like Keene and Portsmouth.

The merchants and managers I spoke to were all on board, excited about the prospects for future profits, while proud Concord now has a distinct flavor, including trees, lights, benches and wider sidewalks, which should promote foot traffic and outdoor socializing.

There are also two lanes total, not two each way, which made for confusing congestion.

“Next summer will be beautiful,” Ellingwood said. “The trees will be in bloom and the flowers will be blossoming.”

Add the wreaths recently put up, and downtown looks pretty snappy these days. Plus, with the holidays around the corner, it’s time to shop, dine, mingle.

Downtown.

“It’s great,” said Ellingwood’s daughter, Sara Stanley, “because now we don’t have to hear the stories about someone driving around the block 17 times to find parking.”

Ruth Pratt owns the business next door, OutFITters Thrift Store. She was determined to tell me the FIT part in the name stands for “families in transition,” and everything she sells is donated.

“Business was down a little,” said Pratt, who had to move a few steps as the barrel-filled flatbed backed up and beeped. “But we also have a loyal following of shoppers and donors, so we’re grateful for that.”

She, too, mentioned recent parking problems, telling me, “I’m looking forward to the street opening, because people would say they couldn’t find a parking spot so they would decide not to stop.”

And while she loves the new look downtown and expects it to be a big hit (“I loved the fall with people sitting on the blocks outside Bread and Chocolate”), she had advice for the city’s parking department:

Don’t raise prices for parking or parking tickets.

“I’m concerned,” she told me. “The goal with this beautiful Main Street and with all this amazing work was to bring people downtown. At other places with heavy parking tickets, it makes me think twice about shopping there.”

Over at the Concord Food Co-op, general manager Chris Gilbert said, “I’m very excited. We’ve been waiting a long time for this. They did a great job, and now it’s time to show it off.”

As for lost customers during construction, Gilbert said, “They’ll be back.”

We’re all counting on that. Personally, I think downtown looks great, although I was disappointed the plan to build a fountain in City Plaza got rejected. The new dome would have gone nicely with the summertime spray.

But all things considered, business people are gearing up for a reinvigorated downtown. Jenna Dame, who’s worked at Live Juice for seven months, told me Thursday they were “lined-to-the-door slammed. I think it will draw people in over time. I like what they’ve done, like the little boy statue out in front of here holding the turtle.”

Later, I could hardly keep up with the fast-talking Katie Mosher, the events and marketing manager at Red River Theatres. She’s really psyched.

“I’m looking forward to the super walkable Main Street,” Mosher said. “There were harder times to get the word out so people knew how to get here and feel more friendly with the street.

“But it’s beautiful weather and it’s a great time for this to happen. Good things are coming for downtown Concord.”

Ellingwood hopes so. She figures there are plenty of hems that need hemming.

“It’s my bread and butter,” she said.


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