Dan Lawlor: What Manchester, NH Gets Right that We Don’t
Wednesday, September 05, 2012
Head North on the Interstate, and with the right combination of exits, you will find yourself in Manchester, New Hampshire.
In a park in front of the Sainte Marie Church, on Manchester's West Side, you can look directly at the skyline of New Hampshire's Queen City, more locally known as “Manch Vegas.”
In the foreground of the skyline are the reconverted mill buildings of the Amoskeag Company, once the largest textile producer in the world. Now, instead of one company or condo, a diverse range of businesses and non-profits operate in the old mill space.
In the background, behind the mill, across a river that you can't see from the park, rise three office towers and a red and white radio or TV antenna. Two of the office towers have a brown and glass hue from Richard Nixon's presidency. A third tower, more recent, is red and slate facade, with an arched, green roof. It's one of those, as a friend called them, “new old looking buildings” that have become popular in some New England skylines.
As of this past May, Manchester, a city of just over 100,000, had an unemployment rate of 5.4%. The jobless rate was the same in nearby Nashua.
On a recent visit, I talked with some store owners and people on the main drag, Elm St, about their city. I heard a lot of pride.
One new transplant, working for at a start-up, commented, “I grew up in Iowa, I went to school in Boston, this is bigger and smaller than both of those places.”
Rebekah Chernoff, co-owner of Moe's Italian Sandwiches, a growing New Hampshire franchise, commented that, “The city has been very helpful, in fact, super accommodating. Compared to other cities in New Hampshire, its simple to open shop, there's very little red tape. It was one stop shopping to gather the forms to open up. The neighborhood is great too, it's an eclectic mix of college students, tourists, and locals.”
To my surprise, restaurants were all over the place – A Caribbean Affair (delicious Jamaican and Trinidadian foods), Baked (Panera Bread if Panera weren't a chain, and were classier), Republic (a European-inspired cafe with Libertarian echoes), pizza joints, pubs, Thai restaurants, and Planet Marshmellow (where the baristas knew Providence by way of Julian's on Broadway).
“Chris” recalled, “The city has been very resourceful. Over the last seven years, the downtown has exploded. The Verizon Center and the Fishercats baseball stadium have lead to a lot more people coming into the downtown. From Portland Pie Co ("new age pizza"), to XO on Elm ("a great place to people watch"), from French in the West End to Thai downtown, from Greek foods to old world Hungarian pastry, it's great.”
"It's a melting pot,” she continued, “it's a hotspot for all the candidates, there's a man always riding around on a bike with a “Legalize Marijuana” cape -I'm surprised you haven't seem him yet-, and there's great summer time music in the park. There's entertainment for adults as well as children.”
One store owner recalled, “I've lived in other places, so I wouldn't necessarily even say this is a city. It's more a big town. Everybody knows everybody. I go to Boston for excitement, but its quiet here, and people like our restaurant.”
What makes Manchester unique?
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