Maker space to open in Town Hall storefront

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ROCKINGHAM — The vacant storefront in the Rockingham Town Hall will be turned into a maker space and will be used by Main Street Arts for the next two months as a costume shop for its upcoming production of "The Secret Garden."

Main Street Arts, a community arts organization based in Saxtons River, is already renting the Bellows Falls Opera House for its second production this year at the town-owned theater.

The vacant storefront most recently housed Cafe 7, but the restaurant did not renew its lease and closed last year. Since then, the town has been trying to find a new tenant, with no success. One potential tenant, the Blue Silo Cafe, had initially signed a lease in January but backed out when the town declined to help finance the creation of the restaurant.

David Stern, artistic director for Main Street Arts, said by placing the costume shop in the ground floor it will draw attention to both the show and the vacant space. And in response to a request from town officials, Stern said that if Rockingham Development Director Gary Fox does finally find a tenant for the space, Main Street Arts could vacate within 24 hours.

A maker space is a term used to describe a space shared by different groups or individuals, either with similar or different plans.

Stern said he had looked at other vacant spaces, and MSA has space at its theater in Saxtons River. But he said since "The Secret Garden" is being put on in the Opera House (for two weeks starting the third week in October), the location right next door made more sense.

The issue boiled down to money. Stern said MSA was willing to cover the cost of utilities, such as electricity, but he said if the town was looking for a full rent payment, MSA couldn't afford that and would go to other, free locations.

Select Board member Gaetano Putignano suggested that MSA might be able to pay some rent toward the use of the space. But that drew a defense of the organization from Katie Dearborn, chairwoman of the Rockingham Revolving Loan Fund, who was at the meeting for another subject. Dearborn, a local banker, said what the town really needs for the space is "a traffic generator ... you need to bring people to the downtown." And she said MSA already does just that with its musical shows. Earlier this year, Main Street Arts put on "Chicago," and last year, "Jesus Christ Superstar."

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Dearborn said that if Fox "found a ringer" for the space, the costume shop could quickly relocate. "At the end of the day, take a look in the mirror," Dearborn said. "Your role in filling that space is really important. Look at it from an economic development viewpoint. Main Street Arts is a great choice for the next few months," she said, adding that she thought what MSA is already paying for the use of the Opera House is "pretty substantial."

"I know what they do," Putignano said.

Stern said the "visibility and proximity" of the space makes it perfect for the costume shop, and the big plate glass windows will generate interest.

And Main Street Arts could also share the storefront with other town functions, Town Manager Wendy Harrison suggested.

Stern said he had already postponed installing "The Secret Garden" set to accommodate a live music performance arranged by theater manager Rick Angers. "I'm avidly in support of live events," said Stern, who serves on the Opera House's policy committee.

Select Board member Stefan Golec suggested that the town needs to think "more creatively" and might ask the other current tenant, Works on Paper, to move into the vacant space. Then the town could knock down the wall and give more space for the Opera House and its concession stand.

The town manager said she had talked to the owner of Works on Paper about whether she would be interested in moving, but Harrison said the business owner had already invested between $10,000 and $15,000 into her current location and if she did move, it would be out of the building.

Putignano asked Harrison to make sure legal and liability issues were worked out before Main Street Arts moves in.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 556-2147.


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