Pinkerton Tavern owners Guy Streitburger and Jen Lutzen
By CAROL ROBIDOUX
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY – Guy Streitburger feels like the town has led him down a path to nowhere. A plan to widen Route 28 to five lanes will slice through the Pinkerton Tavern, which he and his wife, Jen Lutzen, have been operating for eight years.
Three years ago, that same development plan was presented quite differently, he says.
“There were options on the table. They were talking about moving the building. Maybe pushing it back 10 feet into the wetlands. It would have meant shutting down business for a couple of months, but nobody was talking about bulldozing the place,” Streitburger said.
Times have changed.
Now, his livlihood is being threatened by progress and the historic Pinkerton Tavern, which he and his wife have built into a successful eatery, may be bought by the town and bulldozed, said Streitburger.
Word of the impending doom reached the town's Historic Commission, prompting Karen Anderson to appeal to the council at last week's regular meeting. She spoke not only as a member of the board, but as a private citizen.
“I've come to let you know that this is an important historical structure that needs to be preserved. The Heritage Commissoin would like to explore alternatives to destroying the building,” said Anderson.
One, she said, would be to move the building out of harm's way. Another would be to find a donor to take on the cost and responsibilty of moving the building, maybe to another town-owned lot, or maybe closer to the historic Frost Farm.
So far, said town historian Rick Holmes, no formal efforts have been made to continue the conversation that he's aware of .
“You know, the town hires people to go out and look for more businesses to bring in, and yet, here we are, taking one off the market without looking at all the alternatives. Has the town priced how mucch it would actually cost to move it? Is there money in the revolving fund they've recently created for economic development to keep this business going? What has been explored, other than razing it.?” Holmes said.
The original widening plan was connected to the construction of a Super Wal-Mart, plans that never materialized. The widening project was shelved. However, with recent approval by the council of the Route 28 TIF District, Public Works Director Mike Fowler has been moving, full steam ahead, to notify land owners along that particular stretch of highway that the plan has been revived and the town needs to buy their real estate. Most of the properties will lose some frontage.
Pinkerton Tavern poses a unique problem. In order to widen the road in a uniform fashion, the building would have to be moved. As of a few weeks ago, Fowler said the town's legal counsel was offering guidance as to the best way to proceed.
Fowler said ideally every land owner will enter into a “friendly agreement” with the town. However, the town would consider taking properties by eminent domain, if needed, to keep the project on track for a July construction start.
Yesterday, Streitburger and Lutzen talked for the first time publicly about their frustration.
“All we're asking is that they try to work this out with us,” said Streitburger. Although the historic tavern and the property it sits on is owned by Arnold Goldstein, Streitburger and Lutzen run the restaurant.
They say Goldstein has told them he does not want to sell. He is out of the country for the next few weeks, but told the couple that he left several messages for Fowler before he left town.
“You know, three years ago this was all a go. So we prepared. We passed up about $30,000 in wedding and catering events because we thought we were going to be relocating the building. Then, the plans changed. We never got a call. We had to read it in the newspaper,” said Streitburger. “We lost all that business.”
While he is not bitter, the experience left a bad taste in his mouth.
“Now, they aren't talking about saving the building or the business. I find it difficult to imagine the town council, or the town – or whoever is making the decisions – can treat a good business with loyal customers, one that is generating tax revenue, this way,”Streitburger said.
He said everything he's heard about turning the current economic tide has to do with promoting and supporting small businesses.
“Sam's Club just laid off more than 11,000 people. We heard Taco Bell isn't renewing its lease down the road. Quiznos across the street, is gone. Go down to Salem – they have all kinds of vacant box stores. Don't you think any box store thinking of building in Derry might just go down there first? Streitburger said.
“Don't you think any business thinking of coming to Derry may look at us as an example of how businesses are treated here? I mean, if they are willing to bulldoze a 250 year old building, and put someone with an eight-year track record of success out of business, and leave 25 people unemployed, what does that say about doing business in Derry? At what cost for the future do you do business here?” Streitburger said.
He also believes moving the building would also save taxpayers money, but so far, the council hasn't taken a look at all the options, Streitburger said.
“We love the town of Derry. We just aren't willing to throw eight years of hard work away, not without a fight,” he said.
Holmes sympathizes with Streitburger and Lutzen for what they stand to lose, should the town decide to take the property and raze the building.
But he is also quite aware of what the town stands to lose, should the tavern be torn down.
“That building was out town's first general store. It's probably the finest Georgian-style building in town. Plans for Route 28, and the Pinkerton Academy were born there. It can be saved. It should be saved,” said Holmes.