Why Main Street Matters
Karen and Jay celebrate the importance of Main Street in America!
There’s nothing quite like walking down the Main Street in a small town or community – doing some shopping. Walking from store to store and picking up various items as you go. And, while you may be making some purchases along the way, it’s not really about the transactions. It’s about the experience. It’s the conversations you have as you talk with store owners, ask about their families, and find out the latest news in town. You bump into neighbors and friends along the way. There is a real feeling of community, a feeling of ‘belonging.’ This is what I remember growing up in the small town of Newport, New Hampshire. And it’s a feeling that I think many of us value.
This past weekend, I took a trip over to Claremont, New Hampshire, right next door to my hometown of Newport, to enjoy ‘Claremont Day,’ a celebration of the continued revitalization of Pleasant Street - Claremont’s main street. The energy on the street was incredible. Tents were out promoting local businesses and services. Great food was being served by local restaurants including a new coffee shop. Also, got a tour of a ‘speakeasy’ - a sneak peak of their exciting business that is launching in the next few weeks. To see a community like Claremont that has dealt with more than its fair share of adversity over the last few decades come to life the way that it did last weekend wasn’t just inspiring, it was electrifying. Seeing folks from across New Hampshire as well as New England, sharing in conversations, making connections, and enjoying a feeling of community gave us all a glimpse of what ‘Main Street’ truly means to small towns and communities across America.
While we may often think of Main Street purely from an economic perspective, the real meaning of Main Street, and the reasons to champion it, run much deeper. What Main Street offers us goes beyond simple transactions like buying provisions for our home, it offers us a sense of place where connections to community are made, and where a sense of security and comfort takes shape. Being on a first-name basis with the local baker or bookstore owner, knowing a little bit about their lives for example, creates a personal bond to the community, strengthening our sense of identity and local pride. In turn, we tend to become more actively involved in our communities, facing challenges collectively as they come while also preserving the things that matter most.
When we lose a sense of place, we tend to see the homogenization of our communities, which in turn has its own economic and social downsides. As small towns continue to face even more competition from the global economy, the importance of preserving the culture of our Main Streets becomes all too clear. They aren’t simply places of commerce, they are bastions of culture and community, the very heart and soul of our shared history. As Pulitzer Prize winning author Wallace Stegner once said, “If you don’t know where you are, you don’t know who you are.” When our Main Streets are vibrant, so too our communities, and when our communities are strong, so too are our values.
As I strolled down Pleasant Street last weekend, I had the good fortune of having a few conversations with local store owners and leaders, each of whom expressed incredible optimism for what rebuilding Main Street could do for the Claremont community and even the region. When I finally got in my car to drive home after such a wonderful day, I was overcome by a spirit of optimism about what we can accomplish and restore when we champion our small towns little by little, Main Street by Main Street.
Rebirth of Main Street and Claremont
The story of Claremont, New Hampshire is the story of thousands of small towns and cities across America. Not too long ago – certainly through the 1950’s and 1960’s, Pleasant Street in Claremont was the place-to-be if you wanted to experience Main Street, USA. If you lived anywhere in the surrounding area, it was where you went to get everything from shoes to meals or groceries and so much more! It was the heart and heartbeat of the economic development of the city. Before 1930, if you paid a dime, you could travel on the trolley all the way from West Claremont to Pleasant Street and then to Claremont Junction to meet the train. Antique photographs show every parking spot on main street filled as people hustled and bustled about doing their shopping. Unfortunately, like so many other ‘Main Streets,’ the economic boom that once dominated Pleasant Street left as commercial malls became the norm for one’s everyday shopping.
For Claremont, it was a combination of several factors: the loss of the trolley, the new interstate highway system far away from the city center, the offshoring of manufacturing and differences in shopping preferences over the course of time, that left the once thriving street, sadly, empty with many storefronts boarded up, vacant or becoming secondhand stores.
But for some, a vision of a once again vibrant Pleasant Street was seen as achievable. In 2019, hearings were conducted to formulate a new plan for ‘The Street.’ Plans and drawings were created and presented to the community with feedback to make them even better. The most visible and aesthetic change to the street was to make it ‘pedestrian-friendly’ - enlarging the sidewalks, adding benches, and creating angled parking on the now one-way street.
The city invested several million dollars into the project and last Saturday, Claremont closed off the Street for a block party to spotlight both new and familiar storefronts. Today, Claremont’s newspaper, the Eagle Time is smack in the heart of the street (right where it belongs!) along with several restaurants, antique shops, and hobby stores. As if to herald in the new times, the nonprofit REMIX Coffee Bar and Social Club welcomes everyone to an alternative bar and club scene at 1 Pleasant Street. There is a ‘speakeasy’ opening on the City Square, an exciting new women’s apparel shop and more.
Claremont’s revitalization is a ‘work in progress’ as there is still much to be done. However, the pieces to the puzzle are filling in and without question, the vision is becoming a reality. What we see happening in Claremont can happen in thousands of communities across the country. It simply takes optimism, energy, leadership, and unrelenting commitment. Leading by example, Claremont is helping to build momentum for a movement that is spreading across the nation. Bringing back our vibrant Main Street’s and our shared sense of community.
Meredith’s Great Main Street
Meredith’s Main Street is truly the ‘Main Street.’ It has everything you would think and expect of a small New England town that also just happens to be sitting alongside a gem of a lake. There are at least four excellent ways to explore and learn more about Meredith which was recently named “One of the Top 10 Best Small Towns on the East Coast!
And what better place to start than ‘at the very beginning’ with the Historical Society Museum at 45 Main Street. The Society’s building was one of the first constructed in the Village. It was built in 1812 by Abel Kimball who was a saddler, and it served as both his home and workshop. There are 16 other fascinating historical buildings and sites listed that can be found on Main Street as you explore the Historical Meredith Village. https://meredithhistoricalsocietynh.org/
“Do the Loop” is sponsored by the Greater Meredith Program (GMP.) The GMP is a fantastic program that has played a major role in helping Meredith become a destination point in the Lakes Region and the program has deservedly been highlighted in previous Sunshine Reports. The Loop includes shops, dining, services, sculptures, and plenty more.
For those with an artistic bent, one of the best ways to get to know Main Street is the Sculpture Walk. Carefully curated sculptures can be found on Main Street as well as in the gardens of the Mill Falls Marketplace and also beside Lake Winnipesaukee in the nearby Hesky and Scenic Parks. Maps are available for the adventurous who want to set out on their own and find the various 33 sculptures. If that’s not for you, book a guided tour with a docent guide. These guides are passionate about the arts and are knowledgeable about the works and the artists - making it well worth your while. And a discussion about the Walk would not be complete without mentioning the 'Archie' statue. A bronze replica of the cartoon character Archie sitting on a bench in commemoration of Bob Montana the cartoonist who for 33 years brought him and his other famous friends to life is a must see!
Another of the ‘have-to-experience’ places is the beautiful Mill Falls Marketplace right in the heart of Meredith. It offers a truly unique shopping and dining experience featuring 9 fabulous shops, 3 distinctive dining options throughout the hotel, brick walkways, flower gardens, a 40-foot waterfall and great views of Lake Winnipesaukee.
While we’ve been spotlighting all the activity going on in Meredith proper there are still many more amazing shops and restaurants to visit ‘beyond the loop’ including a variety of beautiful trails and parks which can all be found at www.greatermeredith.org
Don’t forget that there are still a number of events happening over the next couple of months that might pique your interest. For those vintage boat enthusiasts there is the Vintage Voyage Boat Excursion – cruise the lake in a vintage wooden boat. Or take in a performance of Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Cats at the beautiful Interlakes Theatre. The Loon Center has a number of very interesting nature programs and of course there is one on Loons! Look for more information on the Meredith’s Chamber website www.meredithareachamber.com/calendar
And of course, another way to get to know Meredith is just set out on your own without any maps or guides and explore. It’s guaranteed you’ll find some treasure no matter which of the paths you take!
Positive Profile of the Week: Steve Duprey - A Lifetime of Service to the Granite State and Beyond!
This week we are delighted to profile a great friend and leader in the Granite State - Steve Duprey. A true New Hampshire native, Steve has played a major role our state’s politics for many years as well as his leadership in the redevelopment of downtown Concord.
Steve was first elected to the New Hampshire House of Representatives at the age of 19. At the time, this made him the youngest State Representative in the country. He went on from there to graduate from New College in Florida and earn his law degree from Cornell University, shortly thereafter entering the practice of law. However, it didn’t take long for Steve’s entrepreneurial instincts to take hold as he soon entered the real estate development and property management business with great energy and enthusiasm. In so doing and over the years, Steve has become one of the most successful and highly respected business leaders in New Hampshire, as founder and leader of Foxfire Property Management, based in Concord.
Meanwhile, Steve has stayed active politically throughout his career. After serving in the New Hampshire House, he later became Chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party, serving four two-year terms, running for Congress and then for many years serving as the Party’s National Committeeman from New Hampshire. In that position, Steve was well-known for his steadfast support for the New Hampshire First in the Nation Presidential Primary and skillfully protected our state’s role - even flying in national party leaders during the primary season so they could see why New Hampshire deserved to stay first. He truly is an ‘unsung hero’ in maintaining our 100-year tradition of going first.
Steve has also risen to national prominence. Perhaps most notably through his close relationship with and support for Senator John McCain. Steve was instrumental in Sen. McCain’s success in New Hampshire and beyond during his presidential campaigns. Steve and the late senator shared a close bond.
In addition to all of this, Steve has also been an incredible civic leader in the City of Concord. Like so many other small towns and cities, Concord too had seen its Main Street deteriorate and lose its vibrance and bustle over the years. With vision and leadership, Steve rose to the challenge and largely due to his efforts, the Main Street of Concord has been revitalized and is truly thriving with wonderful shops, boutiques, restaurants and more. The next time you travel to Concord, and stroll downtown, know that you are enjoying Steve Duprey’s handiwork.
And, even more to come - Steve was recently appointed by Governor Sununu to the Pease Development Authority so he could take his entrepreneurial talents to yet another initiative, the expansion of the Pease Airport and business community on the Seacoast. We in New Hampshire are truly fortunate to have Steve’s energy, leadership, and selfless dedication to our State. Thank you, Steve, for all that you do!
Quotes of the Week: Main Street
Main Street, U.S.A. is America at the turn of the century--the crossroads of an era. The gas
lamps and the electric lamp--the horse-drawn car and auto car. Main Street is everyone's
hometown- the heart line of America.
“I am often reminded that the wellspring of Vermont liberty flows from Main Street, not State
James H. Douglas, Jr.
“I, with other Americans, have perhaps unduly resented the stream of criticism of American
life... more particularly have I resented the sneers at Main Street. For I have known that in the
cottages that lay behind the street rested the strength of our national character.”
“People who are tired of K Street corruption and Wall Street greed are ready for Main Street
“Our economy creates and loses jobs every quarter in the millions. But of the net new jobs, the
jobs come from small businesses: both small businesses on Main Street and many of the net
new jobs come from high growth, high impact businesses that are located all across the