February 23, 2006

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Nashua Publisher's Note: A substitute for Benson’s
By Jeff Rapsis

Here’s a statement you’re not likely to hear any time soon:

“Honey, let’s pile the kids in the car and spend Saturday up in Nashua!”

Nashua has a lot going for it, but let’s be honest. There’s nothing singular about our city that makes it worth turning off the highway. There’s nothing here to inspire anyone to pile the family into the car and take a day trip—not since the demise of Benson’s Animal Farm in Hudson back in the 1980s, anyway.

And we lose out. Portsmouth has a great children’s museum that people travel to from all over the region. Manchester has the Verizon Arena, drawing visitors from a wide area. Lowell has the National Park and the whole history thing going for it.

And us? Let’s see. We have triangular manhole covers—oh, and a mall so close to the border that the parking lot is in another state. And not much else to appeal to any kind of visitor other than the “Oh my God I have to go to the bathroom, pull off the highway” type.

It doesn’t have to be this way. For decades, Benson’s brought families to our area, which benefited everyone. What can we do to recreate this?

I’ve been talking to people around town, and one idea that gets the most support is the creation of a truly outstanding public farmers’ market in Nashua—one so good that families will travel here to see it for themselves.

I’m not thinking of one of these once-a-week season things with maybe a dozen vendors. I’m thinking of a permanent year-round market that features food, yes, but also locally made products and crafts and artwork and so on.

It would serve the community, and be a great addition to downtown, but that’s not all. Done right, it could put Nashua on the map as a must-see city, as a destination or at least a place worth turning off the highway if you’re headed to or from the lakes or mountains up north.

It’s not a new idea. Portland, Maine built one a decade ago and it’s been a nice success. Today, the Portland Public Market is a busy hub for local produce and made-in-Maine merchandise.

There’s nothing like it in these parts, even as the popularity of once-a-week farmers’ markets has boomed. Also, there’s a growing interest in products that aren’t part of the whole made-in-China-and-distributed-by-Wal-Mart business chain. So there’s an opportunity here. (And by the way: Portland, Maine, is a lot smaller than Nashua.)

Think about it. A regional public market in downtown Nashua could attract families with a regular schedule of events and activities all year ’round. It could take the place of Benson’s Wild Animal Farm as a family attraction to bring visitors to our area.

Heck, we could even have a few animals on hand.

I’ll be working on this in the next few months. If you’re interested in talking more about a farmers’ market in Nashua, contact me at jrapsis@hippopress.com.

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