October 12, 2006


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Nashua Publisher's Note: Closed for remodeling
By Jeff Rapsis

I saw something the other day that made me laugh, but made me think, too.

I was on Broad Street heading out of town and needed gas. I figured I’d stop at the Exxon station at Exit 6, something I’d done a thousand times before.

So I was surprised to come up to the station, only to find the whole site surrounded by a chain link fence. On the fence was a sign: CLOSED FOR REMODELING. Behind the fence was a giant hole in the ground, like a bomb had gone off, and nothing more.

Closed for remodeling indeed!

I laughed, yes, and then drove on to some other service station to find something for my car to drink. But then I got to thinking: The ex-Exxon station, which for years was a genuine garage known as Andy’s Exxon before morphing into just another convenience store, had disappeared in the blink of an eye. And it didn’t bother me in the least.

I did not feel a tinge of remorse for the loss of a building that I visited fairly often. I just drove on until I found another anonymous same-as-everywhere-else gas station.

And how crazy is that? What a great example of the kind of slapdash could-be-anywhere kind of building that has been turning Nashua, like so many other American towns and cities, into a homogenized noplace no different from anywhere else from coast to coast.

Why does this matter? Because when everything’s the same, then nothing’s special. And when the buildings that surround us carry no sense of permanence or quality or ambition or style, then we become a people of limited, short-term horizons.

Nashua has more than its share of cheap buildings, but we also have hope in one area: downtown. Like it or lump it, many of the buildings along Main Street and in the millyard are one-of-a-kind structures. Some are old, but they exist nowhere else.

Take the five-story “Landmark” building on the corner of Temple and Main, which most Nashua people my age still refer to as the “Odd Fellows Building.” Just stop and look at it, starting from the street and going right up to the roof.

This ostentatious structure was erected more than a century ago by people who clearly saw the project not only as a sign of their own prosperity, but as a promise to future generations of Nashuans who would undoubtedly build on their legacy. It was built to last, not to disappear “for remodeling.”

People new to Nashua often express delight at the city’s traditional Main Street. I’m not new to Nashua, but I think it’s worth trying to see all our old familiar buildings with this spirit of appreciation.

I know one thing’s for sure: if the Odd Fellows Building suddenly disappeared one day “for remodeling,” I know I’d miss it a lot more than the Exxon station out by the highway.