The outlook of downtowns

Shopkeepers weigh in on their summer business as the recession ebbs

  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.
  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.
  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.
  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.
  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.
  • Retail stores in downtown Peterborough are wrapping up the summer season.

The U.S. Department of Commerce announced two weeks ago that total retail sales in July were 3.7 percent higher than July of last year, another indication the hangover of the recession is nearing an end.

Retail owners in Peterborough, Jaffrey, and Wilton mostly described similar results this summer in comparison to the last few years.

Despite the uptick in sales, some store owners, particularly in Peterborough, worried about the long term vitality of downtowns. Other owners, while not as concerned, insisted on the importance of buying local.

Bill Little, Co-owner of Steele’s Stationers in Peterborough, said on Thursday that sales this summer were better than usual. Steele’s Stationers is a stationary boutique on Main Street. Little is also optimistic for the rest of the year.

But he voiced concerns about the far future for his store and others in Peterborough.

“How many young people are moving to this area?” Little said.

Little said millennials are moving to cities like Brooklyn, and not staying in towns or even in New Hampshire. He recommended Peterborough develop more agritourism or attract companies who will bring job opportunities.

Little also referred to New England and the Northeast as the “last holdouts” in the U.S. for stores that are independently owned instead of by corporations.

“We have to build on what we have here,” Little said. He criticized Peterborough not capitalizing on the publicity it received in 2000, after the Toadstool Bookshop and Twelve Pine Restaurant opened.

May Balsama, Interim Executive Director of Peterborough’s Chamber of Commerce, said Peterborough has gone through a “transition” over the years. She brought up Peterborough losing employers or employers slashing the size of their workforces. Balsama said this impacts all parts of the community, although Peterborough remains a tourist destination because of its cultural attractions. Balsama was the executive director of the Souhegan Valley Chamber of Commerce before coming to Peterborough.

The Chamber of Commerce’s goal, according to Balsam, is to attract more employers and young people by building infrastructure for faster Internet.

Nancy Kyle, President of the N.H. Retail Association, said last week New Hampshire’s largest retail profits are concentrated near the border to other states and Canada. Shopping centers there attract customers who want to capitalize on the state not charging a sales tax.

Owner of The Melamine Cup in Jaffrey, Kari Lindstrom, said last week this summer was “fabulous” for her vintage store.

She tied much of her success to advertising Online through her store’s website, Facebook page, and on Craigslist web pages all across the country. Lindstrom said about 80 percent of her customers travel to her store from cities like Boston, New York City, Burlington, or the Seacoast. When these visitors travel to Jaffrey, Lindstrom refers them to other stores and restaurants like Sunflowers Cafe and Catering in Jaffrey, Harlow’s Pub in Peterborough, or Kimball Farm in Jaffrey.

She said people are sometimes surprised she refers customers to her “competitors.”

“We’re not [competitors],” she said about other retail stores. “We’re all in this together.”

Amy Noel, owner of the woman’s clothing store Alice Blue in Peterborough, said on Thursday the consistently “beautiful” weather this summer benefited her business.

“This summer was one of the better ones if not the best,” Noel said about her sales this year.

She said last summer “was the worst summer we had in a long time. The winter was dreadful too.”

She also noticed more awareness in the last few years among Peterborough residents about supporting local stores. Noel is starting to shift her attention to being more available Online.

“It’s what we have to do to compete in today’s market,” she said. Noel later said, “Then again, you don’t want to lose local businesses either.”

Shelly Osborne of Joseph’s Coat in Peterborough said sales were great this summer. She said sales have consistently grown over the 34 years the shop has been in business. Osborne acknowledged the store is unique. It’s full of handcrafted, fair-trade products from all over the world. Their prices also vary greatly. Osborne also said all stores and restaurants in the area support each other. Many also raise awareness among the community about buying locally. She and Margaret Groesbeck referred to Monadnock Local, a network to support local businesses in the Monadnock region. The owner’s of the stores At Wit’s End in Peterborough and Putnam’s Clothing in Wilton said they weren’t as successful this summer.

Peter Harrison, owner of At Wit’s End, said business was “terrible.” He and his wife, Ann, would like signs directing tourists in Peterborough from Main Street to the Depot Center.

Richard Putnam of Putnam’s clothing in Wilton said summer is typically slower for him. Although he said he heard business it wasn’t great for a lot of stores and restaurants in Wilton. He said there isn’t much of a downtown left in Wilton either.

Shoppers in the Depot Center on Thursday said they prefer shopping in downtown to in malls or Online.

Penny Yunuba and her grandson, Joshua Cohen, prefer shopping in a store like At Wit’s End. Cohen said At Wit’s End has “small things you can never find anywhere else.” Yunuba and Cohen were visiting from Boston.

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