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Putting vacancies to new uses

Some say signs advertising commercial space available throughout town a concern

  • Property owners are saying Peterborough's vacant office space is starting to fill up.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Property owners are saying Peterborough's vacant office space is starting to fill up.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Property owners are saying Peterborough's vacant office space is starting to fill up.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Property owners are saying Peterborough's vacant office space is starting to fill up.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)
  • Property owners are saying Peterborough's vacant office space is starting to fill up.<br/><br/>(Staff photo by Dave Anderson)

Signs, both large and small, that read “For Lease” or “Space Available” can still be seen on commercial properties around town, although some owners and managers say they are seeing a lot of interest in the space they have available. But actual retail and office-space tenants are still a bit hard to come by.

“I’d call it a soft market,” says Cy Gregg, who owns properties in Depot Square, 45 Main St. next to People’s United Bank and the Granite Block on the corner of Main and Grove streets. “There’s certainly no overwhelming demand for space that I’ve seen. We keep reasonably full and the Depot Square location helps us.”

Gregg says it’s a challenge to get a long-term lease on office space and his tenants tend to be individual entrepreneurs, rather than large companies.

“We’ve been fortunate to have a lot of tenants with us for a long time and it’s rare to have space sit for six months or more. But I don’t have people knocking on the door,” he says.

Peter Mazzone of the Grove Village Shops in downtown Peterborough echoes Gregg’s concerns about the difficulties of filling retail space. I’ve had two spaces open for the past five months and another may be coming open soon,” says Mazzone, referring to the Cents of Style consignment store, which is up for sale.

“It’s frustrating,” he says. “I’m at about 75 percent capacity. There seems to be more space than there are people. It seems like the economy of the area is on a decline, not an increase.”

Mazzone says he has lots of off-street parking and Ava Marie Chocolates, which has been in the location for nine years, generates traffic for other businesses. But it’s not easy to find other retail tenants who will be successful, and he sometimes even finds himself discouraging prospective renters, telling them they need to be prepared to support a business for at least three years before turning a profit.

“I see a lot of people who are undercapitalized, and just don’t have the money to keep it going that long,” Mazzone says. “I find it better to try to educate them. If they fail, it’s no good to either of us.”

Lots of space

Among the largest spaces available in Peterborough are on Vose Farm Road, in the former warehouse portion of Eastern Mountain Sports’ 100,000 square foot building and in the former Brookstone and NEBS buildings, now known as the Brookstone Business Center.

Peter Brown, principal of Juniper LLC, which owns the Brookstone Business Center, says he’s seeing signs of interest in the 75,000 square feet he’s trying to lease.

“Right now, it’s been pretty active. We’re hoping to hear back shortly from a couple of new tenants,” Brown says. “In a market like Peterborough, it’s not easy to attract new industrial tenants. It’s just not a convenient industrial location. If someone’s already here and needs more space or different space, we’re confident of being able to help them.”

Last month, Sarah Murphy of the Vestis Retail Group, the Connecticut firm that now owns Eastern Mountain Sports, said the company was looking at its options for the empty space but had made no decisions, although they had no plans to close their flagship store in Peterborough. The Ledger-Transcript was unable to contact Murphy for an update last week.

About 20,000 square feet of office space is available in the 50,000-square-foot Guernsey Building on Main Street.

“The Peterborough market isn’t as robust as some towns in New Hampshire,” says Rob Finlay, owner of the Guernsey Building. “We’re starting to see a little bit of interest from companies looking for a place with a great quality of life. We have potential for one large tenant, who’s looking at taking a floor.

Finlay says new windows and new heating and air conditioning equipment are being installed in the building.

“We want to make the building more energy efficient,” he says. “We’re putting money into the building. That shows our optimism about the town.”

Looking to invest

Two other Peterborough businesssmen are also optimistic about the real-estate situation.

Bill Torphy of Torphy Construction says he chose to stay local when he needed more space a couple of years ago. He was looking to develop equity for his company, rather than continuing to lease space, and he looked at a number of properties in the Monadnock region and even in Nashua.

But most of his employees are local, and Peterborough was a good central location for the business, which does a lot of supermarket and shopping center construction throughout New England.

So Torphy purchased the former Sim’s Press building on Route 202 at a foreclosure auction. He’s since gutted the building and is making major renovations, most recently expanding the parking area, cutting down trees and opening the building up to the road.

“If I’m standing out front now, people drive by and honk,” Torphy says. “They give a thumbs up. They like to see improvements in town. I think people are bullish.”

Torphy is using about one quarter of the 15,000-square-foot building as office headquarters for his business, with eight people working on site. He’s rented half of the front section of the building to Bard Chiropractic, which moved in May from the Microspec Building on Route 202 South . That leaves him with about 7,500 square feet still to lease.

“We’re getting interest,” Torphy says. “People are seeing this building now. I feel comfortable, given the location and the building improvements, that we’ll fill it up. It’s a good space for the right user.”

Torphy’s new tenant, Bard Chiropractic, left the Microspec Building because Microspec is planning to expand.

“We plan to break ground on a renovation this week,” says Microspec owner Tim Steele. “We’ve been growing and we needed the space.”

Steele says the company has expanded into the former Bard space, and will be adding about 500 square feet. Steele is optimistic about Peterborough’s potential for businesses.

“I’m thinking of building a spec building and trying to attract a business to come to Peterborough,” he says. “I had plans to construct a green building and took site plans to the town in 2008, just before the bottom fell through the economy. It’s still on the back burner.”

What’s ahead

Jack Burnett, executive director of the Greater Peterborough Chamber of Commerce, says Peterborough is well positioned to take advantage of a rebounding economy.

“We obviously have a lot of space available,” Burnett says. “That’s bad news now, but it will be good news in a year or two. I’d say we’re more than holding our own.”

Burnett cited the recent purchase of the Peterborough Plaza by Ocean State Job Lot, the Rhode Island based company that is the plaza’s largest tenant, as a positive sign.

“If you have a company as big as Ocean State that lays down the bucks, they’ve done their homework,” he says.

Burnett says people focus too much on the marketing signs that are placed in front of buildings.

“When you see for sale or for lease signs, they strike you. It gives you an impression,” he says. “When you don’t see signs, it doesn’t dawn on you that the spaces have filled up.”

Other observers are also upbeat. Michelle Lange, a commercial real estate specialist for the Masiello Group in Peterborough, says she’s been busy fielding inquiries recently, which is unusual.

“I typically see it slowing down in summer. It starts to pick up after Labor Day,” she says. “But I’m being contacted daily by small businesses. I’m very pleased with the buzz in the community.”

And Peterborough Town Administrator Pam Brenner says she’s encouraged because vacant retail space downtown seems to fill up quickly.

“One way I judge is by the number of parking complaints we get, and we are getting them,” she says. “I’ve always said thank goodness for parking complaints. If we didn’t have them, we’d know our downtown was suffering.”

She says filling large industrial type space is a bigger problem.

“It’s a challenge for any community, especially one that’s away from interstates, to attract manufacturing,” she says. “We’re blessed with New Hampshire Ball Bearings.”

She says the town had made an effort to work with NHBB when the company was trying to attract qualified employees, even setting up space that NHBB could use for interviews and screening.

Brenner says, “We’re really trying to focus on taking care of the businesses we have.”

Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.

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