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Pandemic recovery brings changes, new businesses downtown

  • Soapery Off Main on Warren Street , one of a series of businesses that have opened, re-opened or expand offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest has a collection of oils and scents for her different varieties of soaps at her new retail business, Soapery Off Main on Warren Street , one of a series of businesses that have opened, re-opened or expand offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest with her different varieties of soaps at her new retail business, Soapery Off Main on Warren Street , one of a series of businesses that have opened, re-opened or expand offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest with a collection of her varieties of soaps at her new retail business, Soapery Off Main on Warren Street. The store is among the businesses that have opened, re-opened or expanded offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest mixes up ingredients to make soap in the back of her new retail business, Soapery Off Main on Warren Street , one of a series of businesses that have opened, re-opened or expand offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest with a collection of her different varieties of soaps at her new retail business, Soapery Off Main on Warren Street , one of a series of businesses that have opened, re-opened or expand offerings in downtown Concord during the summer and fall of 2021. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Cristy Bergeron-Charest mixes up ingredients to make soap in the back of her new retail business, Soapery Off Main. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/23/2021 2:01:13 PM

When disinfectant suddenly became scarce in spring 2020, a Concord helicopter repair business reached out to Cristy Bergeron-Charest. Could Bergeron-Charest, who had run hand-made soap brand called Scrub it NH for five years out of her home, start making hand sanitizer for their staff instead?

Soon she was producing and sending out hundreds of bottles of essential oil-infused sanitizer a day. “People were coming to my house and not even waiting for me to ship, to pick up hand sanitizer,” she said.

Now that COVID has entered a new phase after the distribution of vaccines, so has her business. In August, she opened a retail store on Warren Street called Soapery Off Main.

Soapery Off Main is one of many new downtown businesses that have opened downtown in the wake of the pandemic. Others include an arcade, a home decor store, a baby boutique, and an antiques shop.

Bergeron-Charest first taught herself soap-making so she could create gifts for her three daughters’ teachers. Having her own retail store allows her to keep an eye on her 16-year-old middle daughter Sophia, who has a rare genetic disorder called Duchenne muscular dystrophy and does her schooling virtually.

If her daughter has a seizure, Bergeron-Charest can pull out a bed stored in a small back room, where she also keeps turmeric and apricot oil, along with sugar and cocoa butter to mixes into scrubs and balms right in the store.

She makes aromatherapy shower steamers, deodorant, candles, face scrubs made with ground coffee beans, bar shampoo and conditioner, and of course, soaps. The process involves careful attention to temperature and chemistry, knowledge Bergeron-Charest taught herself through blogs and books.

Soapery Off main also sells up-cycled items, like golden oyster shells cast off from restaurants, and ladders that a University of Southern Maine college student creates as aesthetically pleasing blanket storage. Many of the items are zero-waste, like reusable hand-warmers and make-up removing cloths, or use natural ingredients, like those in a dry face mask that requires water to activate.

Warren Street was close enough to downtown to attract foot traffic and had a more affordable rent, she said.

So far, the response from Concord shoppers has been positive. “We’ve already had repeat customers come in their lunch break, and they’re like, oh my god, my mother stole my soap, I need another one,” Bergeron-Charest said.

She is joining a series of women business owners who have expanded shopping choices in downtown Concord over the past few months, often chasing long-held dreams of operating their own store fronts.

In August, Bridget Windsor opened the doors to Spruce Home Goods and Company on Main Street, selling home decor and home improvement supplies. Business partners and antique pros Joy Cadarette and Sharon Beauchesne began welcoming customers to Antiques & Estates at 208 on North Main Street in September. Earlier this month, Carrolyn Herrick’s home goods and baby boutique Homebody launched on North Main Street.

To create a different kind of entertainment beyond eating and shopping on Main Street, Maher Abbas, owner of Wow Fried Chicken on 5 Pleasant Street, opened a new arcade this fall, adding a new option for a downtown kid-friendly evening.

Some favorite Concord spots have also re-opened this month after long hiatuses, including Angelina’s Ristorante Italiano, which opened for diners this week after months of renovations following a burst pipe last December. That process was delayed by supply chain disruptions that made it hard to obtain necessary materials.

Gibson’s Cafe inside the bookstore has re-opened again for the first time since 2020, run by Gibson’s directly instead of as a satellite of True Brew Barista. Meanwhile, True Brew’s former main location in Bicentennial Square will soon be home to a new coffee shop, Brothers Curtado.

Jessica Martin, executive director of Intown Concord, said her organization is excited about the new businesses emerging and about upcoming events like the Halloween Howl on October 29 and Midnight Merriment in December, which were canceled last year.

“I think we’re all just feeling optimistic about where the downtown is and where it’s going,” Martin said. The new arcade at Wow Chicken in particular provides a different kind of draw to the city.

“It’s really putting Concord on the map for shopping and hanging out and doing things, and going to an arcade, it wouldn’t always be Concord for things like that,” she said.

Downtown stores and restaurants have encountered some of the same disruptions plaguing businesses in the rest of the country, including problems hiring enough staff and shipping delays, Martin said.

“We’re still being impacted by COVID-19 even if people are coming out and supporting the businesses,” Martin said.

Restaurants have had to adjust their hours of operation in order to be available for customers at the busiest times of the week. After November 15, the extended outdoor dining program approved by Concord City Council will end for the season, limiting the public space restaurants can use for seating.


Cassidy Jensen bio photo

Cassidy Jensen has been a reporter at the Monitor, covering the city of Concord and criminal justice, since July 2021. Previously, she was a fellow at the Toni Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism at Columbia University, where she earned a master's degree. Her work has been published in Documented, THE CITY, Washington City Paper and Street Sense Media. When she's not at City Council meetings, you can find her hiking in the White Mountains.



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