Business cycle or trend?

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Dear readers: This story was edited at noon on Thursday, March 16 to correct that retail rental property in Manchester, depending on the location, can range from $14 to $30 per foot per year, and between $8 to $14 for office space per foot per year. The story incorrectly listed the ranges as $14,000 to $30,000 per month for retail and $8,000 to $14,000 per year for office space.

This story was edited again at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, March 21 to correct that rent for the Factory Point Place building in Main Street is negotiable. The story incorrectly cited a rate of $22 per square foot for the space. 

MANCHESTER — A new wooden sign has popped up on a Main Street business within the past few weeks — The Crooked Ram, which specializes in unique and tasty craft beer from far and wide.

But while that business establishes itself, others have left town.

Store fronts have gradually emptied within the last year and the community hasn't stayed silent on acknowledging each move. Some assume its high taxes or rental costs that push retail out of town. Others note that national trends affecting retail are out of Manchester's control.

What makes Campbell unique is that he decided to live at his business to "side-step the costly commercial leases in town" and "to lower the operating cost of the business," he said.

"It's really awesome how just one establishment that's doing craft beer the right way can like revitalize a neighborhood or an area," Crooked Ram owner Peter Campbell said. "What can we provide that the community needs that's somewhat recession-proof but is also a celebration of what's a really great thing that's coming up. I think there's a major renaissance that's happened in this state because of craft beer."

Before moving to Manchester, his family resided in Dorset. "We felt isolated," Campbell said. Before that, he lived in Brooklyn, Boston, North Carolina and Atlanta.

Campbell chose Manchester for a specific reason.

"We actually picked this area because of the opportunity we saw," he said. "... there being a sort of lack of innovative small businesses, we saw some openings for new ideas."

According to Paul Carroccio, CEO of TPW Real Estate and president of the Manchester Business Association, rental retail property, depending on the location, can range from $14 to $30 per foot per year. For office space, the range is between $8 to $14.

The newly renovated Factory Point building at 4928 Main St. is the latest entry in the market, and leases are negotiatble, Carroccio said.

More specifically, a vacant property at 4733-4763 Main St., next to Gap runs $24 per square foot, per year. With 6,715 square feet available, rent could amount to roughly $1,933,920, as stated on LoopNet.com. Given the location, that location sees plenty of foot traffic it and it resides near other outlet stores.

Outlet stores owned by Vanderbilt Equities Corp. consume about 30 percent of the town's retail, Carroccio estimated.

A number of residents have expressed interest in seeing more 'mom and pop' shops in town rather than outlet stores. Town Manager John O'Keefe attested that there's a lack of mom and pop.

"The stores close and the stores open," said Pauline Moore, the town's economic development officer. "And, we can't really fight what's happening nationwide, between people buying online and the big box stores. A lot of the stores we've had [close] have been corporate.

"I think the actions we're taking to make the town much more viable bring more people to town," Moore said, noting the number of new and existing events taking place here this summer and fall.

In town, within the past 18 months, Banana Republic, Coach, The Lighting Store, BCBG, Manchester Sports, Yankee Candle, Famous Footwear, Yarns for Your Soul, Center Hill Appliance, Overland, Northeastern Fine Jewelry and Catbird Studio either have closed or are in the process of doing so.

Nationally, Macy's, Sears, J.C. Penney, The Limited, American Apparel, Wet Seal, Abercrombie & Fitch have slimmed down on their list of stores, some claiming bankruptcy, citing online sales and shifts in customer shopping patterns or testing new initiatives.

But the challenges facing retail could also prove to be opportunities for property investment.

"Money comes out of the stock market and into real estate," Carroccio said. "The next 10 years will be awesome. Manchester is an awesome place to live. [The closings] are on a larger scale. It's a bigger thing. There's no question that visitor traffic has increased."

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS

Facebook users on the Northshire Community Forum Page contributed to roughly 200 comments on a post that stated "What do you think needs to happen in town to fill stores???"

The comments read as follows (verbatim):

"A roller rink and a dog friendly bar"

"A few marble parks around the stores with play ground stuff benches and info! More outdoor cafe with views! Specials advertised!!!"

"STUFF TO DO INSTEAD OF STUFF TO BUY "

"Wages are low, cost of living is ridiculous. No jobs. Great place to retire if you have money."

"How about mountain biking at Bromley?"

"Amazon has to be put out of business, 15$min wage won't help"

"How about lowering rents an incentivizing independent businesses?"

Tony Milsom is a businessman from the Caribbean. He bought a second home in Dorset in 2013 and visits five-to-seven times per year. He reached out to the Journal after noticing closed stores while visiting during Christmas time.

"It's more poignant to me because I come and go," Milsom said. "Every time there's another one closing. They need to encourage the businesses to stay. It's no good having empty real estate, is it? Wouldn't you rather have the shop stay in and negotiate the rent that's happy for both parties?"

He added that he did some holiday shopping in Lake George, N.Y. with his family instead of in town.

Earlier this year, during a Manchester Business Association public forum, Carroccio mentioned that he had observed roughly 40 vacant storefronts.

Manchester Hot Glass owner Andrew Weill said he would have been out of business years ago if he didn't own his building. He was attracted to the area because of the availability of activities during all four seasons — noting that shopping is a small fraction of things to do.

"Manchester's business climate changes with the seasons," said Weill. "Overall, I see a consistent pattern from year to year. The few small "mom and pop" shops that do survive in town either own the space they occupy or they rent from a "non outlet" landlord. The backbone of this town are the "mom and pop shops."

THE TOWN'S IDENTITY: TOURISM

In the 1980s, the Hauben family introduced outlet stores with Manchester Designer Outlets — something the town became known for as tourists stayed at local lodges.

"Now there are outlets everywhere," Moore said. "People don't come to Manchester to shop, but they shop when they come to Manchester. I think what we're looking to do is have more reasons people come because this is a great place, there's a lot of things to do. If we have more reasons for people to come here, they'll shop while they're here."

In a presentation from Feb. 28 at the town Select Board meeting, an economic development update was delivered, describing the need to bring sports tournaments to town. O'Keefe said some of the update was a result of the Northshire Economic Development Strategy (NEDS) with Dorset.

He added that he's been working to bring the New England Invitational to the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park fields.

"The goal is to make the pie bigger," he said. "As a community, to make people come, you have to work with what you have, (i.e. hiking, skiing, fishing)."

While tourism benefits the town, O'Keefe said residents can't buy simple items locally — an affordable set of linens, particularly clothing items, or regular household items such as baby diapers.

"It's hard to get two-by-fours delivered to your house from Amazon," O'Keefe said.

ONE DOOR CLOSES, ANOTHER OPENS

Just because people notice shops closing doesn't mean other companies are not opening them back up. In the past few years, several businesses have expanded their model, moved into bigger buildings or joined the community altogether.

Those include Battenkill Bikes, Cilantro, Gringo Jack's, Zippy Chicks, Nature's Market, Vermont Kitchen Supply, Bass, Fortuna's Sausage, Le Creuset, Talbots, Kitchen Collection, Mela Artisans, the Kimpton Taconic Hotel and Hampton Inn

Joy Slusarek, owner of JOY All Things Underthings, said it took three and half years since she opened her lingerie shop to see a slight increase in revenue, but she's remained encouraged.

"We're on the front lines — like ambassadors for the town," she said. "I don't think [stores] are leaving because Manchester isn't viable anymore. There's a lot of different reasons."

She referred her and surrounded shops to be located on So. Row. (South of the Rotary). She refers customers to Vermont Kitchen Supply or Zippy Chicks, for example, and vice versa.

"I'm committed and I'm encouraged," she said.

"Change is inevitable," O'Keefe said. "You just have to decide if you want to affect it. Change comes from outside. [We're] really optimistic about Manchester because we've done things to prepare ourselves to come out of the recession. Some of it will be rethinking on retail, rethinking on tourism and rethinking on business."

"It's too slow for some people and too fast for others," Pauline Moore concluded.

Reach staff writer Makayla-Courtney McGeeney at 802-490-6471 or @MC_McGeeney.


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