September 14, 2006

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Concord Publisher's Note: Time to shine
By Dan Szczesny

Have you taken a walk through Concord lately, up and down Main Street, some side trips on the off streets? See anything different?

Well, on a recent visit, I counted about a dozen different things. Here’s what I found: Hobbies with a Twist, In Stitches, Kaleidoscope Children’s Museum, T. Devaney Fine Arts, Baby Bungalow, Stitch to Wear, Draft, Edible Arrangements, Distinctive Home Designs, Butter’s Fine Foods, Sage Living, Lotions and Potions. Did I miss any of the new and mostly local businesses that have seemed to suddenly spring up? If I did, and I’m sure I have, let me know.

Throw in the soon-to-be-open Capital Commons, add a pinch of already established local mainstays like Endicott, Anderson-Soule, 55 Degrees and Pitchfork Records, and you have a downtown area far more interesting then anything that can be found in Steeplegate Mall. That’s not something Manchester can say. The question is, how can the city “capitalize” on this momentum?

Here’s an interesting thought. Concord is growing up, becoming regional. Times are changing for the better and city leaders need to begin defining the city in terms of a regional draw. City leaders, civic groups like the Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce and marketing groups like Main Street Concord need to break out of the region and start looking to draw visitors from farther away than Hooksett.

Here are some recommendations:

• Stop thinking of the I-93 tolls as barriers. Even without the convenience of EZ-Pass, the notion that Concord is somehow an island in and of itself of state government and small-town commerce is outdated. Manchester and Concord, and yes even Portsmouth and Nashua, are all suburbs of each other. Start marketing yourself to southern New Hampshire, and people will come.

• Food is entertainment. While it’s nice to have the comfort of a small-town corner eatery, those days are generally past. Foodies are no longer constrained by geography. People think nothing of traveling to Boston for a show and dinner, so why would they not go north for the same thing instead of south? Turn-over time in restaurants is down as people spend more time than ever enjoying a good meal. The Concord Boys and Girls Club will hold a Taste of Concord event in the Capital Center next month. It looks like a great effort, but how about getting the Chamber or Main Street Concord behind it and holding it on the streets? Nashua’s been doing it for years. Manchester’s third annual event this week sold out of all 1,000 tickets.

• Promote state institutions and events. Concord needs to embrace its status as the center of government, not fight against it, or worse, ignore it. Organizations like the Chamber need to reach out to the state Historic Society and other institutions, and promote state events just like any other entertainment event or museum that should attract visitors. Even solemn events or monuments should not be left to the state. The new memorial to fallen New Hampshire firefighters is a good example of this. Like Washington, D.C.’s promotion of its monuments, such a tribute site will attract people. Tell them about it.

• Create districts. Retailers, restaurants, art galleries need to work together to build buzz and excitement about their businesses. Concord, through its Art Concord program, is working hard to create itself as a center for gallery arts in the state and it’s working. How about a literary center, or even better a center for cinema? Main Street Concord could coordinate this.


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