By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY — They now have a name — the Downtown Derry Business Association — but that’s just the beginning.
“I hope with our collective voice we can complete some action items and bring them to the council,” said organizer Tom Hankins at the business owners group’s first meeting Tuesday night.
“It’s a tough budget situation especially with a school shortfall, but there’s nothing more important to me than a quality downtown that says something about the makeup of the whole town,” he said.
Hankins, who with his wife, Mary, owns Backmann Florist on West Broadway, has been working for the past few weeks to organize his neighbors.
For now, the group is targeting businesses from the Marion Gerrish Community Center to the Derry Public Library, but members say they are open to expanding to any businesses with an interest in the downtown.
And some, like Carol Bowden who has owned Salon Deluxe and Day Spa on Franklin Street for 12 years, say it’s about time. “It’s fragmented,” Bowden said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s almost like living in a neighborhood and you don’t know your neighbors. This is a great opportunity to meet everyone.”
But the group has some lofty goals beyond networking.
Among a list of focus areas, group members Tuesday identified the safety of downtown parking lots, increasing police presence in the downtown, updating “eye-sore” buildings, working with absentee landlords and upgrading and maintaining streetscapes. Further, members expressed interest in finding ways fill the mounting number of vacant Broadway storefronts, especially the recently closed Depot Square Steakhouse.
“We can’t stand by and watch it get any worse,” Hankins said. But Ron Darios, of Daren’s Music Center on East Broad way, said he hoped the group would come up with some specific requests for the town.
“We need to think about recommendations the town can do,” Darois said. “The town’s not going to get you a new tenant and the town’s not going to fix your building, but they can certainly figure out how to keep it safe and not lose businesses.”
Top priority for Rhonda Cairns, who owns Le Beaderie on West Broadway, is faster town snow removal from the downtown area after a big storm.
“My first thought was that we need to address if we have the ears of anyone on the town level,” Cairns said Tuesday.
But after years of landlord difficulties and escalating criminal activity in nearby parking lots, Cairns said she’s fed up.
“I’m listening tonight and I’m hopeful, but I’m burned,” she said.
But Michael Gendron of the Derry Downtown Committee said he believes the town and wider community is ready to help. Gendron has pledged his group’s support to the initiative.
“You folks are really important to this town and you mean a lot to this town, and I think people are listening,” Gendron told business owners Tuesday. “If you create a collective voice and speak loudly, they’re going to listen because they know that if you go away, we’re all in trouble.”
Organizer Mary Hankins said Tuesday’s meeting is a first step.
“We all have a voice now,” she said. “We can all make things better, and it’s not just going to be another pushedoff- to-the-side thing. Let’s start some place and let’s do it a little at a time, but let’s do something and not just nothing.”
Hankins said the group will try to arrange a meeting in mid-November with town officials to begin joint discussions. To contact Tom Hankins, e-mail email@example.com or call 432-2371.