Hinsdale seeing slight economic development
HINSDALE, N.H. -- After years of stagnant business growth, a mellow industrial resurgence brewing in town can be seen simply by driving down its primary roads.
Over the past three-and-a-half years or so, private establishments have been popping up along Main Street and Brattleboro Road, providing possible evidence that the tide is turning on the worst American economy since the Great Depression. A town that once boasted plenty of blue-collar jobs, Hinsdale has struggled to bring in more enterprise and retain the businesses already present.
The new kid on the block is One Dollar Treasures, located in the facility at 50 Main St. Matt Benoit opened the store in November 2013 shortly after moving to town and sells an array of items -- including golf clubs, glassware, books and wall decor -- for no more than a dollar. He also opened Carol Jean's -- which he named after his mother -- next door for items that cost more than $1, though he said One Dollar Treasures will soon absorb that room. Benoit said business has been strong since he started.
"The people of the town have really taken to the theme of the store," he said. "In today's economy, when people are looking for stuff they need every day at a fair price, they now can come here and get a good deal."
Benoit, who has been an antiques dealer for 20 years, said he gets inventory from estate sales, auctions and house calls. He also said his store is a great way to recycle things and make sure stuff stays out of the dump. He mentioned he has not dealt much with the town government (he did not need change of use permits because the previous business was also a retail shop) but everyone has been very warm and welcoming.
Benoit said he has seen a lot of people become friends at his store, and many enjoy breakfast or lunch with each other at Raynette's Diner before or after shopping at One Dollar Treasures. The diner is at the far end of 50 Main St. and is owned by Brattleboro residents Ray and Annette Porter, who opened their doors three-and-a-half years ago.
Ray Porter said he used to own Porter's Family Restaurant in Brattleboro for about two years in addition to a trucking business before starting Raynette's Diner. He said the town has been very receptive to his business and he is seeing some economic recovery in town. He told the Reformer the town started a farmers' market across the street a few weeks ago and he believes plenty of people stop by his diner after purchasing some fresh produce. Though he, Annette and Annette's sister, Prescila, are the only ones who work there now, Ray Porter said he may start hiring in the future if business stays solid.
Bernie Rideout, the chairman of the Hinsdale Board of Selectmen, has lived in town for nearly 68 years and recalls how it once busted at the seams with industry.
"We had three paper mills, a tannery at one time, a company that made rotary lawnmowers, a foundry at one time, a machine shop," he said, "and everybody, when I was kid, pretty much worked, unless they had a medical issue or something. You didn't really have to leave town (to buy something or to work)."
But, he said, it got to the point where the paper mills closed due to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations in the 1980s. Rideout said he sees the local economy clawing its way back.
"It's slow, but it's happening. It's not going to be gigantic -- it's going to be a little at a time," he said.
Rideout said the town's overall mindset tends to favor local businesses, as opposed to big box stores beyond the townline. He said one of those businesses is L&O Automotive at 70 Main St., which he said is frequently busy.
Trevor Lang and Patrick O'Connor started L&O Automotive in November 2013 in the spot that once hosted Uncle D's, an ice cream and burger joint owned by Dimitris Leristis.
"We knew he had been wanting to get rid of it and he had said we should turn it into a shop, because we used to (work) across the street, actually," Lang said, adding that the mechanic shop on the other side of Main Street closed down. He and O'Connor looked around, but couldn't find a place to set up shop. "We wanted to stay in Hinsdale, where our customer base was. So we worked it out with the owner to purchase this place. And right now it's more of a temporary set-up."
Lang said he and O'Connor plan to turn the building into a two-bay garage, put lifts in both bays and remove the bathroom that sits in the middle of it. He said business has been great since opening. For Lang, the shop is a way for him to pay his way through Keene State College, where he studies athletic training and aspires to become a chiropractor. He, like Rideout, said the local economy is making a modest comeback.
"I'd say it's slow, but the businesses that are here seem to be growing for the most part," he said. "It's been really busy (here) so far -- can't complain about that."
Just a stone's throw down from L&O Automotive is Main Street Marketplace, where owner KC Cunningham said business has been getting stronger each year since she opened the place in 2007. She told the Reformer more and more Massachusetts residents flock to her store whenever there is an increase in their state's sales or cigarettes tax, and a fair amount of people come from New York for the deals. Cunningham said groceries and tobacco products are her bestsellers.
Cunningham also said she saw a jump in business after the building at 8 Main St. was severely damaged in a fire in August 2012. Lewis Major owned the building, but rented out the downstairs space to Nafiz Alkhatib, who ran a convenience store out of the first floor. Major and his wife eventually donated the building to the town for the purposes of a new police station.
Rideout told the Reformer he and his fellow citizens love to "do things local" -- but it's not just small, independent businesses sprouting in Hinsdale. A Tractor Supply Co. store opened at 670 Brattleboro Road on Nov. 1, 2013, and now offers residents a place to shop for anything from farming supplies and hunting equipment to clothing and footwear.
Hinsdale Planning Board Chairman Bill Nebelski had told the Reformer during the run-up to the store's opening that he was looking forward to having the business in town and said this week he uses the store frequently. He said he has purchased lights, dog food, baling twine and other materials there.
"I've used it lots of times," he said. "It's what you need. I like the place. I haven't heard any negatives about it. And they're accommodating -- if you buy something that's wrong and you take it back, they don't have any issues with taking it back."
Nebelski also said the store will be bring in a significant amount of property tax to the town.
Michael Graham, who works in media relations for Tractor Supply Co., said all local officials he met with during the permitting process were a pleasure to work with and many are loyal customers. He also said his company is very growth-minded and is always looking for new store locations that are a good fit.
"Concerning the location in Hinsdale, this is especially true in that the area was attractive due to the part-time and hobby farmers, and horse owners in the area," he said. "The TSC product category expertise includes lawn and garden, and animal care products that service the needs of these customers."
Another local business slated for a different spot on Brattleboro Road, however, is having difficulty getting out of the starting gate. Hinsdale resident William Faucher has for more than a year and a half been trying to establish an off-track betting parlor, or OTB, and initially thought he would be good to go in April, only to be turned down for a license due to an error in filing his federal income taxes. An OTB is a facility that allows customers to bet on horse and greyhound races broadcast on televisions.
Faucher did not return numerous phones calls requesting comment, but the Keene Sentinel reported last month that Faucher helped lobby the New Hampshire Legislature in 2012 to pass a law requiring live horse racing to return to his community if his OTB is in operation.
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.
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