A vision for downtown Peterborough economy

  • The Sharon Arts gallery in Peterborough was recently purchased by Stan Fry and Cy Gregg. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 1/12/2021 11:18:57 AM

It was back in the mid-1990s when Stan Fry and Cy Gregg bought their first properties in downtown Peterborough.

“At that time, the downtown sector was not particularly attractive,” Gregg said.

The first section included the properties along the Nubanusit Brook, currently occupied by businesses like Knitty Gritty Yarn Shop, Anytime Apparel and Bowerbird & Friends, and what would eventually become Twelve Pine.

“We just looked at it and said there’s some real possibilities here,” Gregg said.

Over the years, they have added more properties – the building that houses Fry Fine Art and European Esthetics, the Granite Block and Steele’s Stationers building and the other locations that make up Depot Square, like the Hobbs Jewelers building, as well as what is known as the bank building at 45 Main Street.

Also included in the acquired assets was the building that the Sharon Arts Center called home for almost 10 years before its closure in 2019. Fry and Gregg sold that property to Sharon Arts for its gallery space, although Fry said it was not their first option to sell the property, but more so out of a desire to see Sharon Arts succeed.

But when the Sharon Arts gallery, who previously merged with the New Hampshire Institute of Art and then merged with New England College in the summer of 2019, closed down there was a desire to reacquire the property.

“I think immediately we were interested in the building,” Fry said. But there was no rush to purchase the property, as the sale price was more than what Fry felt was reasonable.

But as time went on, the interest grew and last week it was announced that Fry and Gregg had closed on the property. It was partly due to the fact that they really didn’t want to sell it in the first place, but also because the look of an empty storefront for more than a year was disappointing.

“It’s disappointing to everybody and there’s a side effect to it,” Fry said.

“Everyone was sad to see Sharon Arts leave that space and we’ve all been wondering what would happen to it,” said Karen Hatcher, Community and Economic Development Coordinator for the town of Peterborough.

Had someone else purchased the property there’s no telling what it could have turned into.

“Cy has worked really hard down there to make it compatible between tenants,” Fry said.

Gregg said there has been quite a bit of interest so far for the property, but a specific plan for the 5,000-square-foot building with frontage on Grove Street and in Depot Square is yet to be determined. Gregg said he was pleased with the inquiries they’ve had and there is a multitude of ways they could proceed.

“There’s always a possibility of a resurrection of what Sharon Arts used to be,” Gregg said. “Or it does not need to be leased as one space,” with the chance of turning it into multiple locations available for rent.

While they will do their due diligence to get the right tenants for the space, there is a goal to have it done sooner rather than later.

“The quicker the better simply from a view point perspective,” Gregg said. “But I think it’s more important to get the right mix of tenants than the time element.”

Gregg cited the move of Twelve Pine to its current space as a launching point for the Depot Square sector.

“That really helped other people want to be there,” he said.

Gregg said it’s no secret that Peterborough is a destination town. So having an empty storefront or multiple is not good for any of the businesses in the downtown area.

“From the town’s perspective, not having empty businesses is a good thing,” Hatcher said. “And the prospect of having the space, a prominent space in town, filled with the kind of things that attract people to our downtown can only be a good thing. Now there’s a possibility of something really wonderful happening.”

While they acknowledge that there are some people that don’t like the fact they own many of the downtown properties, Fry said it isn’t all about making money.

“Some of this is a labor of love,” he said.

“Their interest, from my perspective, has always been in keeping our downtown vibrant,” Hatcher said. “So this is just another one of the moves they’ve made that I’m grateful for.”

In addition to the renovations over the years, both own businesses with Gregg’s Waterhouse Restaurant and Fry’s art gallery. While the Waterhouse has been able to navigate the pandemic, Fry Fine Art has been closed since March with Fry saying “I don’t know what I’m going to do.” A lot of the traffic for the gallery is created by events and those just aren’t happening right now, he said.

Gregg said “some of our retailers have done extremely well down there,” during COVID, “but obviously it depends on the retailer.”

So far none of their tenants have closed and “for that we have to be very thankful,” Gregg said, while noting that it could happen.

“For those who like it or don’t like it, we have people who have this passion for the town and are willing to put the money into keeping it vibrant and thriving,” Hatcher said. “The kinds of investments they have made have benefited the town as a whole. It’s another representation of how deeply people love this town.”

A number of years ago, Fry and Gregg had proposed a hotel for the Granite Block, but put the project on hold. Yet it’s still a possibility that something could be done with the space, either a hotel or condos.

“We’re still wrestling with what to do with it,” Gregg said, adding many people express interest in living downtown. “But we’re still looking at that.”


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