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Peterborough’s ‘SoGro:’ A neighborhood on the rise

Commercial development opportunities ripe near Route 202, 101 intersection

  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

    Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.
    Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

  • Misty Craig, left, owner of Healing Hands Nail Salon in the 'SoGro' section of Peterborough, talks with customer Patti Hance. Craig says business as been excellent during her first year at the Route 202 location.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson<br/>

    Misty Craig, left, owner of Healing Hands Nail Salon in the 'SoGro' section of Peterborough, talks with customer Patti Hance. Craig says business as been excellent during her first year at the Route 202 location.
    Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

    Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.
    Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

    Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.
    Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson
  • Misty Craig, left, owner of Healing Hands Nail Salon in the 'SoGro' section of Peterborough, talks with customer Patti Hance. Craig says business as been excellent during her first year at the Route 202 location.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson<br/>
  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson
  • Workers from Academy Roofing in Rindge replace the shingles on the Monadnock Community Plaza. The Nashua-based Lannan Company, which recently bought the plaza, is planning additional cosmetic work and parking lot refurbishing in the spring.<br/>Staff Photo by Dave Anderson

Annie Graves has a new name for the section of Route 202 stretching from the Route 101 intersection south to the Monadnock Community Plaza.

“We call it SoGro. It’s south Grove Street,” Graves says. “You have a corridor of little businesses here. It’s a lively little part of town.”

Graves and her mother, Mary, are the owners of 105 Grove St., a building that over the years has housed an antique shop, a real-estate office, a dental office, a coffee shop and other small businesses. But a little over a year ago, Graves was looking for tenants.

“It needed a fresh injection,” she says. “I put out the word and Misty got in touch with me. I just loved her. She has so much energy.”

Misty is Misty Craig, who opened Healing Hands Nail Salon in the Grove Street building just one year ago. She runs the salon with her daughter, Jade Nguyen. In addition to nail treatments, they offer reflexology and Bowenwork treatments — techniques Craig says promote relaxation, self-healing and the smooth flow of energy through the body.

Soon after Craig started her business, Amy Harrington opened a hair salon, Studio 105, in a wing of the building next door to Healing Hands. And the building also houses Embody Wellness Studio, offering massage therapy and facials.

“We share a lot of clients,” says Craig. “We can take care of you from head to toe.”

For Graves, the revitalized building represents a bit of a rebirth in the neighborhood.

“It does my heart good to see it all lit up,” she says.

In the past year, the short stretch of road — let’s also call it SoGro — has seen other signs of change as well. Jacqueline Goohs recently reopened her toy store, Magic Flute Child, after renovating the formerly vacant gas station on the corner of Route 202, which she had been eying as a store location ever since she first opened for business in the nearby Monadnock Community Plaza. The plaza itself was recently sold, and the new owner, the Nashua-based Lannan Company, has already replaced the roof and is planning further improvements next spring.

And across the street from 105 Grove, a sizable piece of property sits vacant and zoned for commercial use. It was once the site of three small homes that had been vacant for years. While members of the Heritage Commission had pushed to have the buildings saved as examples of early workforce housing, they were demolished in late 2012 by Stop and Shop, which owns the land, opening the site and the land behind it for possible future commercial growth.

Location, location

Business owners in the SoGro neighborhood say the busy Route 202 is a tremendous benefit.

“For a new business, I needed a good location,” Craig says. “Our visibility here is great. I have a lot of clients from Jaffrey, Rindge, Keene or Wilton. Once they hit Peterborough, they’re here, from whatever direction.”

“Business has been great,” says Harrington, owner of the hair salon. “It’s really helpful to be right on the main road.”

“For us, this was the best spot in Peterborough,” says Susie Reeves, who opened the Dollar Stop store in the Monadnock Community Plaza three years ago. “We need the traffic. We wouldn’t have done as well downtown.”

Reeves says the location promotes a sense of community.

“People have kind of adopted us. It’s kind of like a general store now. People come in and say hello. Part of the job description is to chat and talk.”

Robin Mansfield has run Shaolin Wellness and Villari’s Martial Arts in a building in the neighborhood for three years. He says rent was reasonable, parking is great, and visibility has been a key to his success.

“We teach martial arts and self-defense,” Mansfield says. “Most of our students are between 5 and 12. The way the business goes, it takes time for people to get to know you and trust you. That’s happening now, but for the first couple of years, about 80 percent of our students came from drive-by.”

People who see the business on a regular basis over time may eventually become customers, Mansfield says.

“Tonight, I have a lady coming in who said she’s been driving by for two years.”

One company’s plan

The largest commercial property in SoGro is the Monadnock Community Plaza. It was once home to a grocery store, a hardware store and a state liquor store that are all gone now. But the plaza is still the site of four busy restaurants, a credit union branch, the Dollar Stop and a Radio Shack store.

The Lannan Company spent $2.35 million to buy the 41,000-square-foot plaza this fall.

“We’d been looking for a plaza for a couple of years,” says Lannan Senior Vice President Harry Dumont. “It’s tough to find the particular mix of good community, good location within that community and the right facility.”

For lease signs have gone up and the company is actively seeking tenants.

“We’re open to a variety of uses,” Dumont says. “We could have doctor’s office, a dental office. I’ve always thought a pet supply store might be nice.”

Lannan had a new roof installed soon after the sale became final.

“We wanted to prove our commitment to existing tenants, to the town and to future tenants,” Dumont says. “We had it stripped right down to the plywood and reshingled. It has a traditional architectural shingle that we think will give it a lot more character. It should tie in nicely with the paint colors that we’ll be applying in the spring.”

Dumont says parking lot repairs and restriping will have to wait until after snow season.

“We also want to brighten the landscaping along Route 202,” he says. “That will be challenging. We need something that’s hardy enough to withstand the winter.”

The plaza can accommodate new tenants in spaces ranging from 1,200 to 6,500 square feet, according to Dumont.

“This is a tough time of year,” he says. “We seem to be gaining a little bit of traction. After the holidays, we may see an uptick on the leasing.”

Potential for growth

Given the location and availability of open land, the SoGro neighborhood could be an ideal spot for additional commercial development.

“Most of the land there is in the Village Commercial District,” says Pete Throop, Peterborough community development director. “It’s a district that’s inherently flexible. They are no minimum lot sizes, frontages or setbacks required.”

Throop says a developer would have to work closely with the Peterborough Planning Board, which would make sure any project meets town requirements.

But any project will require a commitment from a property owner.

“All [the town] can do is to make it possible,” Throop says. “It has to be the landowner’s choice. The best we can hope is that as the economy improves, the commercial landowners will step forward.”

Stop and Shop still owns the three small lots fronting on the east side of Route 202, where the three houses were torn down. Rite Aid Corporation owns another small lot, where an older residence still stands, and an adjacent 5.27-acre lot that stretches behind the Stop and Shop properties.

In an email to the Ledger-Transcript, a Rite Aid spokesperson said the company “is still evaluating our plans for the property” and had no details to share. Stop and Shop representatives have not responded to requests for comment on their plans.

Local real-estate broker Andy Peterson also sees potential for growth in SoGro.

“There’s prime open land there, and the traffic counts are the highest in town, even higher than on Route 101, probably because of the two major population centers in Jaffrey and Peterborough,” Peterson says. “We tend to see things locally, but we’re a regional center. It’s important for people who want to invest here that the entire region has a forward looking vision.”

Peterson says the presence of the RiverMead senior living community just down the road could be a real draw for someone planning a development. But any significant project would require input from the state regarding Route 202.

“They’d have to study how the two-lane road could handle the traffic,” Peterson says. “You have to have safe entrance and egress.”

Peterson believes the depressed real estate market offers attractive opportunities for investors, citing Lannan’s purchase of the plaza as an example.

“At the moment, we’re starting to recover as a region and get our sea legs back,” he says. “We can’t do anything by municipal action. Someone will need to be willing to invest. We’re starting to see confidence coming back and my sense is that confidence is going to grow.”

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