Publisher's Note: Success
By Jody Reese
Manchester has been working for years to hasten the decline of its downtown and now finally with the help of a challenging economy it’s starting to show some much-deserved progress.
Most recently, parking rates were increased to $.25 for 20 minutes. But that’s only the latest piece of the plan to move all retail and restaurant business to other parts of the city or even outside of town. I could recount all the city’s bold moves in its plan, but why repeat success?
In the old days (like a few a years ago) it was hard to find open retail locations along Elm Street. Now there are many openings both for retail and office, and from recent media reports it seems more openings (i.e. store closings) are expected.
The last time I suggested Manchester city government shouldn’t use its downtown as a property tax-reduction slush fund and exposed some of the difficulties facing retail and restaurants, some accused me of being some sort of turncoat, so I’ll tread lightly on the comparisons with Nashua and Concord except to say that it’s cheaper to park in Concord and Nashua and they have fewer visible vacancies (Nashua and Concord both have substantial second-floor office availability).
Seriously, though, running a retail shop or a restaurant is a tough business. I grew up in retail, working in my mother’s shop after school and on weekends. The margins on both kinds of business are tight and even small changes in foot traffic and spending patterns can spell doom.
Small businesses don’t get billion-dollar bailouts. We all just have to suck it up without government help and we accept that. But when government comes along and makes our tough existence even tougher, that’s when things become untenable. In Manchester’s downtown the retail environment isn’t helpful and the city’s schizophrenic licensing process makes a difficult situation even worse.
Over the years I’ve spoken to several aldermen, asking that they keep revenues raised from parking for downtown improvements that would help business and incidentally help increase commercial property taxes paid from downtown. There’s been talk of bringing an anchor retail store to the downtown, but nothing has materialized.
On the good news front, more people now live downtown and it’s nice to see students from the University of New Hampshire at Manchester and New Hampshire Institute of Art living downtown. The recent holiday parade was bigger than any in recent memory and better attended. Manchester’s downtown is safe and still attracts large crowds to its restaurant base.
However, the combined resources of InTown Manchester and the Manchester Economic Development Office are not being effectively used if we can’t get those storefronts filled. Problems will also continue as long as the aldermen decree that parking should be a revenue generator, not an economic development tool as it was initially intended.
Manchester’s downtown is not doomed. It’s a great place with many interesting retail shops, offices and restaurants, but it needs Manchester city government to stop trying to destroy it.