By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
MEREDITH— Bob Manley of the Hermit Woods Winery at 72 Main St. recalled a gentleman who dropped in to tip a glass or two, telling him "I've been coming to Meredith for 30 years and I never knew there was a Main Street."
Soon after opening two years ago, Manley said that "I became really concerned and made it my mission to take Main Street very seriously." He said that with some 3,000 feet of frontage lined with parks, shops, inns and restaurants, the waterfront is a magnet for visitors and tourists, overshadowing the rest of the town.
"Main Street has suffered," he said.
Manley joined the Greater Meredith Program with the aim of drawing foot traffic to Main Street. He said that some Main Street businesses had placed sandwich boards along NH Route 3, but last year the New Hampshire Department of Transportation forbade them from the state right-of-way. Instead, Manley championed initiatives to place signs on the waterfront and around the town directing visitors to the businesses on Main Street and encouraging them to "Do the Loop" by walking through the village.
Earlier this month, the Board of Selectmen approved the proposal. Two signs, each five-and-a-half feet by five feet, and standing seven-and-a-half feet high, will be erected, one at the crosswalk on NH Route 3 between Lake Street and Dover Street and the other at the end of the boardwalk by the Town Docks Restaurant. The signs will carry a graphic depiction of the village, highlighting streets, businesses, parks, restrooms, parking and historical sights. Manley said he hopes a third similar but smaller sign will be placed at the corner of Lake Street and Main Street, where tour buses drop off passengers.
The program will be funded by the Greater Meredith Program, along with the proceeds from fees businesses will pay to be named on the sign. Each sign will include a rack with space for brochures mimicking the signs, as well as featuring the Sculpture Walk and Historical Society Walking Tour.
When the selectboard considered the proposal, resident Karen Sticht expressed misgivings about it. In particular, she said that she believed that it was inappropriate to advertise private businesses on public property. She also feared that the signs would encroach on views of the lake.
Town Manager Phil Warren said that the practice of naming private businesses on town property is not without precedent, referring specifically to a sign posted by the Meredith Area Chamber of Commerce. Nor, he continued, are there planning or zoning regulations that would either prohibit the signs or require the Planning Board or Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve it.
"This proposal was squarely within the authority of the Board of Selectmen to approve or disapprove," he said.
Manley stressed the importance of making both residents and visitors aware of what Main Street has to offer, especially during the winter months when visitors are scarce. At the same time, he said that more businesses, particularly those catering to year round residents, are needed to ensure a steady flow of foot traffic in all seasons.
"Both these things are happening now," he said.
Describing the winery as a "destination business," or one that patrons seek out rather than stumble upon, he estimated it draws between 7,000 and 8,000 customers a year.
"That's a start," he said.
Meanwhile, Kelly Chapman and Seth Joslin, dong business as Main Street Market, are opening a wellness center above the Hakuna Cafe and Refuge Hair Salon at 48 Main St. The Meredith Whole Living Center will offer skin care and reiki and perhaps acupuncture and chiropractic services on the second floor of the building. Sadhana Yoga Studio will move from the second to the third floor of the building.
Manley said that the businesses at 48 Main St. will also serve as destinations, explaining that three or four more destination businesses will significantly increase the traffic to the smaller walk-in shops.
Further down the street, Dan Taylor is renovating the building at 23 Main St., which he said was rebuilt after a fire in 1850.
"This is a beautiful historic street," he said, "and I'm restoring it to its original condition."
There will three commercial units on the ground floor, two fronting on Main Street and the third with an entrance on the east side of the building, and four two-bedroom apartments of between 800 and 1,000 square feet on the upper floors. Taylor said that the apartments will be equipped with washers and dryers and feature modern kitchens with granite counter tops and stainless steel appliances. All the units will have central heating and air conditioning. Taylor said that floor plans are posted on the website 23mainstreet.com and he expects both the commercial and residential units will be ready for occupancy in June.
"This is the time," Manley said, adding that he was excited by the prospect of more investment and businesses, which will ensure the signs of something to point to on Main Street.
This building at 23 Main St. was rebuilt after a fire in 1850 and is being renovated to house three commercial units and four two-bedroom apartments. (Michael Kitch/Laconia Daily Sun)
The Meredith selectmen recently approved the erection of signs on the waterfront directing visitors and tourists to businesses on Main Street. The signs were proposed by the Greater Meredith Program, which will pay for them. The above images were Photoshopped to illustrate how the signs would appear in relation to the lake and people. (Illustrations courtesy of the Greater Meredith Program)
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