Downtown stores collaborate to attract visitors
SOMERSWORTH – In a town of 10 square miles and just under 12,000 residents, downtown Somersworth business owners have formed a group to rename it to a place worth seeing.
This effort spanned several years, initially sparked by a roundtable group on inner city businesses started by Robin Comstock, Somersworth’s economic development manager, when she joined town staff in 2017.
Over time, this roundtable has grown into a small group of business owners dedicated to finding ways to revitalize their downtown core, working with Comstock and the Falls Chamber of Commerce.
“Downtowns really are the anchor of the soul of the community,” said Comstock. “At the heart of the revitalization is a bustling downtown that serves as a postage stamp to tell the rest of the world what this community is. It’s the identifier, a glimpse into its history and the direction it is taking. the future.”
The group of 13 companies called the campaign “See Somersworth”, placing more emphasis on “value”. This is similar to Rochester’s efforts in its ‘Rise Up Rochester’ campaign in 2019, which focused on downtown business owners rising together to beautify and strengthen the downtown area to make it more welcoming. . Projects range from landscaping projects, funded by a $ 9,000 grant from The Home Depot, to events that will draw attention to the downtown area and its businesses.
Learn more about the Rochester initiative:Rochester downtown businesses seek to ‘move up’
Marketing Somersworth as a destination
“We really feel like Somersworth has always been a bit of a second thought when it comes to people coming to enjoy downtown,” said Dina Gagnon, owner of The Gathering Place on the edge of downtown. “We want people to experience and see the value of Somersworth.”
Gagnon has owned a business in Somersworth for six years and has relocated his studio a few times downtown to meet his growing needs.
“We didn’t have a community center in Somersworth, so bringing a community craft studio here, for me, was a way of bringing art to the community, getting people to work downtown and to do fun things, ”said Gagnon. “I became a gathering place because I felt like there was no room for it at the time.”
Other companies involved include: The Wishing Elephant, The Cozy Nest, Toys From the Attic, Gravy, Stripe Nine, Teatotaller and Poppy Seed Studio, with support from several local Somersworth representatives.
Somersworth Town Center Crop
Somersworth officials have been planning to revitalize the city for a long time, and slowly it is happening.
While there isn’t a lot of land to develop, the city broke an all-time record last year in terms of the number of building permits received. The city is also in the midst of its modernization of its streets, sidewalks and underground infrastructure, which will reach Main Street over the next three years. Many downtown buildings have also been restored in recent years, as new businesses and opportunities enter the city.
One of them is the Little Indonesia Culture and Community Center, located in a multi-unit commercial building at 156 High St., which will open in May. Another example is the old GE and Aclara building, which may soon be upgraded to a mixed-use building.
“Everything is here”:Somersworth’s Little Indonesia district plans to officially open in May
Major projects for Aclara:Chinburg is preparing to redevelop its property
“The vacant, downtown food and retail space is almost completely filled right now with very innovative food and retail experiences,” Comstock said.
These business owners are not trying to make Somersworth a Dover or a Portsmouth, but they are trying to show what makes their city center unique and worth a visit.
“High tide lifts all boats,” Comstock said. “Each of the communities in the Seacoast region has its own unique identity, culture and experience, including Somersworth. This is not to downplay the experiences in any of Seacoast’s other communities, but simply to highlight that in and of itself, Somersworth’s worth is a vital part of that mix and together we are creating an incredible, extraordinary regional opportunity. “
Gagnon said the town’s small footprint sometimes makes it difficult to leave a significant and lasting impression on people’s minds.
“Our downtown area is extremely small and tends to not have enough of anything in particular to really draw people down,” Gagnon said. “When you think of downtown Dover, you think of at least five places above your head where you can dine, all within one block. We don’t really have that, so it’s about showcasing the value of the whole. – our studios, shops, stores, restaurants, barbers and everything in between. We may not have the same volume of seats as Dover, but we also have a lot to offer. “
‘Walkability’ of the city center
The group has already organized an art walk, in which businesses hung artwork from local schoolchildren on their windows, to engage the downtown community. The effort to organize more events was temporarily stalled during the pandemic, so the group had to move away from planning events like farmers’ markets to a more activity and small-group effort for now. While the execution of his goals may have changed, his mission has not changed.
“We want to promote downtown walking so that people really see and get to know downtown by participating in our activities,” said Gagnon. “Right now, we really want to focus only on activities that enhance the downtown area. We want to remind people that we are here. We are here as businesses that want to participate in the community as a whole, rather than just being places to shop. “
After:Somersworth is fast becoming Seacoast’s next booming town. Here’s why.
The group has several ideas coming up for events like “Walking Wednesday” to attract people downtown. He is currently sponsoring a downtown scavenger hunt, where residents or non-residents can visit 13 participating downtown businesses to learn more about state symbols and local history. Each business on the list has a symbol in its window for people to match. Once completed and shared on the group’s Facebook page, participants can win prizes such as gift cards for these local businesses or view Somersworth products.
“We really wanted to focus on getting people from downtown so they can experience it, notice what’s going on and what’s going on in front of them,” said Gagnon. “We hope they maybe find a place they didn’t know existed or a restaurant they might not have heard of before. It gives them a reason to come back.”
Somersworth stores use teamwork
The group’s efforts are very much focused on promoting a sense of community between the city center and its visitors.
“The average age in Somersworth is now 35, so we need to make sure it’s a vibrant community for young professionals, their parents and children,” Comstock said. “This is, for me, the main catalyst for revitalization. Whether you choose to live here, work here, open a business here or just experience it for the weekend, everything helps locally. ”
Paula Tsiorbas, owner of The Cozy Nest, said the downtown business community is very supportive and collaborative, all sharing the idea that if your neighbor is successful, so will you.
“Poppy Seed, for example, is only two or three doors away, so we share almost all of our clients,” Tsiorbas said. “Customers will stop at one store, and we suggest they go visit the other as well. It’s nice to have a few stores so close. We both can enjoy each other. have different products and each has our unique offerings. “
Comstock explained that helping downtown succeed and prosper is a domino effect that will continue to support more than those on Main Street.
“In many ways, communities are a living and breathing organism, the downtown as a heartbeat,” said Comstock. “The health and vibrancy of this heartbeat also permeates the wider community.”
Work with Berwick
There is a much larger, long-term image for the group, which also works with Berwick, their close neighbor across the river. The idea being that as the two cities develop and diversify economically, they can benefit each other due to their proximity.
The group says it is working closely with city officials on ways to work together to attract visitors, promote business, and both diversify and beautify the city center.
“This effort is a critical part of economic development, and I’m really happy to be a part of it,” Comstock said. “Certainly the efforts that have come from the roundtables are an unconventional way of seeing and solving a problem, but our business owners have stepped up and committed to improving their community.”