After 8 years, today is Drew Seneca’s last day of serving lunch downtown

LACONIA – After eight years of serving New York-style deli sandwiches and homemade soups, Drew Seneca of the Downtown Deli is calling it quits with today being his last official day.

For the last two years, Seneca had been operating the lunch counter at the Laconia Antique Center – operating it much the same way as during its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s when the building was J.J. Newberrys, and getting a seat at the lunch counter could involve a long wait.

"It's just not here," said Seneca yesterday afternoon as he served three teenagers "frappes" or what the rest of the world calls milkshakes.

Seneca and his wife Elisa opened the Downtown Deli on Pleasant Street about eight years ago. As the recession set in, the Senecas looked to scale down their operation and jokingly thought they would move it to the recently opened Laconia Antiques Center.

Laconia Antiques Center owner Charlie St. Clair didn't think it was a joke and the Senecas gave it a whirl.

They added ice cream treats to the menu, continued serving locally-roasted coffee and Seneca donned the white coat of a soda shop operator. Elisa went to work elsewhere, and for Seneca it was a one-man show.

He said many people would come in and "wax nostalgic" about how their grandparents used to take them to the soda bar and buy them a "frappe," some ice cream or a burger.

"There's just not enough money coming in to keep it going," Seneca said yesterday.

Seneca said he is very emotionally involved in the Downtown Deli and downtown Laconia. He said he'll miss all the people who used to come in and visit, noting it was a favorite stop for many people – but just not enough of them.

"Hey, I don't want it to go," he said yesterday. "I really wanted this to work out."

The Downtown Deli is the second downtown Laconia eatery to close this month. The Vintage Cafe closed just before Christmas.

Charlie St. Clair, owner of the Laconia Antiques Center, said that he was sorry to see Seneca leave. "It's definitely been lots of fun," he remarked. "I'll miss him trying to educate people that frappes are really shakes." Pointing to Seneca pictured at the lunch counter by New Hampshire Magazine, St. Clair said "that's how we should look." Although he has no immediate propsects, St. Clair expects to have the lunch counter and ice cream parlor up and running again. "It's a simple turnkey operation," he noted.

Seneca is hosting a New Year's Day party at the Antique Center beginning at 1 p.m. and all of his friends who play music with him will be coming to join him.

"There'll be all kinds of music," he said.

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Veteran real estate broker sees Weirs as ripe for development

LACONIA — "Look around the lake," said Frank Roche of Roche Realty, who has plied the property market in the Lakes Region for the past four decades. "The Weirs is the last link of Lake Winnipesaukee to be developed to its full potential. And for the first time in my career there has never been a greater opportunity to come up with a plan."

The number of vacant lots at the center of The Weirs on the market, Roche explained, present this unprecedented opportunity. Of these the largest is the 13 acres at the junction of Endicott Street East and White Oaks Road, once home to the Surf Coaster USA. Overlooking the lake with 2.000 feet of road frontage, the property is listed for $1,650,000. The lot stretched over three zoning districts, but some years ago, when the owner was courting buyers, the Planning Board assigned it to a single zone to enhance its marketability. There is a one-acre lot at the roundabout that has lain fallow since fire destroyed Karl's Restaurant in 2005. With the demolition of the waterslide, the 2.4 acres at the intersection of Endicott Street North (US Route 3) and Lakeside Avenue became ripe for development. Across the street there is the 2.5-acre lot that last housed the Wide Open Saloon, which burned in 2010, offered for $599,000.

Roche said that the largest of these properties represented ideal sites for a hotel. "We need accommodation," he stressed. As the cottage colonies, where visitors booked for a week throughout the summer, converted to condominiums the turnover of visitors to The Weirs slowed, diminishing patronage of the restaurants and attractions. Roche believes that construction of one or more hotels with about 80 rooms apiece, priced to suit working families, would stimulate commercial development, private investment and enhance property values throughout The Weirs.

Russ Thibeault of Applied Economic Research likened The Weirs to Hampton Beach. He said that at Hampton Beach, where fire consumed several blocks of property on Ocean Boulevard, the state invested some $15-million to reconstruct the pavilion, encouraging a private developer to build waterfront condominiums. Apart from the patch of land holding Endicott Rock, there is no state property at The Weirs.

However, the city has established a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District at The Weirs, which serves as a mechanism for funding projects like restoring the beach, reconfiguring the docks, and burying utility lines that could encourage private investment and development. The Weirs Community Park, more than 20 mostly wooded acres with an amphitheater playground and walking trails opened in the fall to provide a significant public amenity for residents and visitors alike. In 2007 a team sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency recommended that the city refine the zoning at The Weirs, most of which lies in the commercial resort district, to encourage a multiplicity and mixture of uses.

The development of luxury homes atop Brickyard Mountain and along Scenic Road by Southworth Development, Roche emphasized, attests to the attractiveness of the Lakes Region in general and The Weirs in particular. He said that Lake Winnipesaukee, with its cultural and recreational attractions, consistently ranks at or near the top of lists of retirement destinations. "We are the playground of New England," he remarked, "and we should focus and improve on what we are." He said that with properties available at reasonable prices and the lowest interest rates in 40 years, the time to aggressively pursue redevelopment at The Weirs is especially opportune.

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Alleged hotel rapist waives probable cause hearing

LACONIA – A Gilford man who allegedly forced his way into a woman's room at the Margate Resort and raped her waived his probable cause hearing in District Court yesterday afternoon.

By waiving his hearing in Fourth District Court-Laconia Division, Douglas Fisher, 54, of 51 Lake St., automatically allowed his case to go to Superior Court where he could be indicted by a grand jury. He is being held on $100,000 cash-only bail.

Paperwork from the court claims that Fisher tied up the woman and forced her to have oral sex with him. He also allegedly stole money from her.

Fisher had been on probation for the sale and possession of drugs – a charge brought forward by Laconia Police in 2011. He also has two convictions for driving while intoxicated – one from 2012 and one from 2013 when he backed into a Laconia Police cruiser while he was plowing snow at the Margate.

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Firefighters pull man from frigid Winnipesaukee River

LACONIA – Firefighters rescued an unidentified man from the Winnipesaukee River yesterday afternoon after he encountered problems while kayaking.

Four firefighters went into the frigid waters, and fought strong currents, in order to bring the man to safety.

Laconia Fire Capt. Bob Landry said the department was notified by a resident of the Beacon Street West condominiums who saw the kayaker in the water.

"He had about five to 10 minutes left before he would have gone under," said Landry who supervised the rescue. Landry estimated the victim had been in the water for about five to 10 minutes before rescuers arrived. He estimated the man's age to be between 40 and 50, but said it was hard to tell because his beard was frozen with ice.

He said the man had already lost some of the feeling in his extremities and was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. Landry estimated the water temperature to be between 35 and 37 degrees.

During the rescue, Landry sent one firefighter-swimmer, dressed in cold weather gear and tethered to shore by a rope, to reach the man who was partially in the water and tangled in an outcropping of trees and bushes in the river. The man's kayak was partially submerged.

A second firefighter-swimmer went in the river to bring the man a life preserver. Landry said second swimmer had trouble with the current and drifted into the same bushy outcropping in the river in which the victim was tangled.

He said the first swimmer was brought back to share and was relieved by a third firefighter-swimmer. One swimmer reached the victim and one swimmer reached the firefighter who was tangled in the weeds. A fourth firefighter-swimmer also went in the water to assist.

"We had a lot of trouble with the current," Landry said, noting there was no current on the east side where rescue crews were staged, but the current was very strong near the bushy outcropping that was closer to the west side of the river where rescuers did not have any access.

Landry also said the first time swimmers reached the man he was reluctant to let go of the kayak. He said when next firefighter reached him, the victim agreed to let go of the kayak and be taken to shore.

Gilford Fire Rescue transported the victim to Lakes Region General Hospital for treatment and evaluation of hypothermia. A Laconia ambulance transported the second firefighter-swimmer to the hospital for evaluation. A Belmont Fire Department ambulance which was dispatched to the scene, was later released.

Landry said the reason they respond to water rescues with multiple ambulances and firefighter-swimmers is because of a situation like yesterday when one of his own had some trouble in the water and two ambulances are needed.

Water rescue teams from Belmont and Gilford also responded.

Landry said the man was wearing regular clothing and no life preserver. He said anyone who is boating should be wearing a life preserver regardless of the time of year and anyone who kayaks in the winter should wear a dry suit.


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