Some of you may be aware that I recently took a week of vacation. I visited family and friends in New England, based in Alton Bay, New Hampshire, but I also checked out a few downtowns throughout the region.
Early on, we headed to southwestern Vermont to visit my college roommate and his family. On the way back, we stopped for lunch in Chester, VT. It’s a town of a little over 3,000 residents, located in ski country. Recreation appears to be very important to the economy, however, they’ve also created a small commercial cluster of shops, restaurants, and galleries through adaptive reuse of residential structures along the village green. We had a some great vegetarian dishes at the Moon Dog Cafe.
In the middle of our stay, we traveled to Portland, ME to see the Winslow Homer exhibit…my Dad is a huge fan. Portland is Maine’s largest city with over 60,000 residents and has a history that goes back to the early 1600s. The Portland Museum of Art is part of the city’s Arts District, and we admired the galleries, theaters, college of art, public sculpture, and public parking lots and structures in the neighborhood. There were also many restaurants, coffee shops, offices, and some retail. Note the slogan on the sign: “love. downtown. more.” I noticed what seemed to be a particularly high percentage of people that were under, let’s say, 40. We had some delicious vegetarian food at Pom’s Thai Restaurant and Noodle House.
Finally, we made our typical pilgrimage to the beach at Wallis Sands and Portsmouth, NH. The city has a population of just a little over 20,000 but seems much bigger due to the density that is typical in New England. It is a working seaport and popular summer destination and is the “big city” for the New Hampshire lakes region. It is a particularly vibrant mix of entertainment and retail with what seems to be to be unusually strong representation in both categories. They have an awesome public parking structure tucked behind the historic buildings on several blocks and seem to be a making investments in public sculpture. I had an excellent haddock sandwich and a fine glass of ale at the Portsmouth Brewery.
It was great fun to visit some other downtowns and enjoy their varied offerings. If there was one thing that struck me about all of them, it was that each worked to build on their particular assets and characteristics to successfully attract visitors, residents, and businesses.