November 8, 2010

Downtown Stores Feel Ripple Effect

Joe Dagher works 80-90 hours to hang on to his business along a stretch
of Broadway that he says is like "a ghost town." 
Union Leader Correspondent
DERRY -- When Joe Dagher of Manchester opened JJ’s Pizza in downtown Derry 16 years ago, it was rare that a storefront opened up along the Broadway strip.
Now in the half-mile stretch from the Marion Gerrish Community Center to the Derry Public Library, more than 15 storefronts sit empty.
“I hate to see this and I know it’s going to affect every business around us,” said Dagher, who runs his business out of 8 East Broadway. “When they fold up, people come down here and it looks like a ghost town. Nobody’s going to stop.”
And with a difficult past two years, Dagher said he’s only been able to keep his own doors open after some leniency from his landlord and a move to keep his store open seven days a week. He now also opens the store early on the weekends to serve breakfast.
“It would take a lot for me to give up, but I
 work a lot to make up for that. I work 80 to 90 hours a week. I open; I close. I can’t afford to hire employees,” said Dagher. 
At Poles Apart at 5 West Broadway, owner Marilee Martin says she too worries about the effect a recently vacated space next door could have on her business. 
“When people see that, it looks like I’m closed, too,” Martin said. Fingers to Feet nail salon closed within the last month, she said. 
Martin said she’s hoping to work with her landlord to see if she can put up a seasonal display in the storefront windows to make the space feel more welcoming. 
“I’m just trying to survive,” she said. “I know by now that you have to take things one day at a time.” 
Donna Burke, of Rochester Hills, Mich., inherited 1.5 East Broadway from her father several years ago. Until recently, she said, her father’s longtime tenants — a car dealership and antique store — remained. 
But the dealership left over a year ago, she said, and the antique store moved out in September. 
“The economy was the majority of the reason why. You’re not going to sell a lot of antiques and sports cars in a bad economy,” Burke said. “We did try to accommodate with lower rent and this and that, but you can only do so much.” 
As an out-of-state landlord, Burke said she works with a local real estate agent to find a new tenant for the space. 
Revive Salon and Spa has since moved in to the left side of the building, and Burke said there has been some interest in the remaining vacancy, though mild. 
Further down the strip, Manchester brothers Brian and Manuel Jaimes have opened Fine Lines Barber Shop in what was a vacant storefront at 21 East Broadway. 
The brothers own a second barber shop called Tropical Cuts in Manchester. The Derry shop opened about nine months ago. “We saw some vacant stores and it made us, not nervous, but a little leery, like maybe businesses don’t last around here,” Brian Jaimes said. “But with MaryAnn’s (Diner) right there, it gives us some more traffic than in other parts of the downtown.” 
But some vacancies in the downtown, like the notoriously longstanding one at 41 East Broadway, have seen little changeover in recent memory. 
Derry Code Enforcement Director Bob Mackey says the building, where faded curtains and an old sign reading Broadway Pets are still visible from the street, has been empty for at least 10 years. 
Town records list Alexander Kock Chee Lee of Perry Hall, Md., as the building’s current owner. Attempts to contact Lee for this story were unsuccessful. Of the more than 15 vacancies in Derry’s downtown, town records list Burke and Lee as the only landlords with out-of-state addresses. A handful of others from southern New Hampshire hold the titles to most of the remaining vacancies. 
Though Lee is out of state, Mackey said someone responds to pressing problems, like graffiti or broken windows. Still, down the line, Mackey said he’d like to see more. 
“Going forward, hopefully there are things that can be done to make sure that if it’s a vacant building at least it’s being kept up with some degree of outside maintenance so it doesn’t look too bad,” he said. 
Ramping up town regulations would be the “stick” method of producing some change downtown, said Michael Gendron of the Derry Downtown Committee, but the group is also hoping to pursue some voluntary incentives for landlords and business owners — which he calls “carrots.” “It’s between sticks and carrots,” Gendron said. “Those are the tools we feel we have because you can’t really force a landlord to do anything.” 
One such incentive could be using grant money to fund a new tenant’s first year of rent, he said. The town could also consider purchasing and revitalizing some downtown properties to then resell, he said. 
And with a group of citizen advocates focusing on the downtown, a newly formed downtown business association and a new town administrator charged with economic development, Derry Planning Assistant Elizabeth Robidoux said she sees big things on the horizon for Broadway and its related streets. 
“There’s a lot of good, positive energy being focused here,” she said. “I think there’s always been people with good intentions trying to do things to make it better, but for some reason, the energy feels different this time.” 

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