By the time the various task forces and committees considering economic development in Derry are all assembled and ready to go, there may be nothing left to do but simply turn out the lights on the downtown and go home.
Overstatement, perhaps. But as Derry's elected officials and hired gurus ponder their flip charts and white boards in meeting after meeting, businesses in the downtown are packing up and leaving.
The latest loss to Derry's downtown comes with the closing of a once-popular Broadway restaurant, the Depot Square Steakhouse. The eatery shut down suddenly last weekend.
The landmark restaurant is the most recent business to close or move from downtown Derry, where empty storefronts are becoming more common.
The Blackberry Bakery moved to Londonderry several months ago. Scrapbook Island recently closed as did another restaurant, Anthony's Cucina.
Since its opening in the former train station in 2002, the Depot Square Steakhouse offered patrons upscale dining and was an anchor to the downtown, drawing in customers and boosting surrounding businesses.
Chamber Executive Director Gina Gulino-Payne told reporter Julie Huss the Depot was her "landmark" when businesses and visitors would come to the downtown area looking for a specific location, adding the downtown was revitalized when the Depot opened its doors.
"I'm saddened," Gulino-Payne said. "To see that beautiful building vacant is a tragedy."
It isn't the only vacant building downtown. And, unless the town's political and business leaders get their collective act together, it won't be the last.
Surely, the economy takes a share of the blame for the loss of business. But there's more to the story than numbers.
Rhonda Cairns, who has run Le Beaderie at 6 West Broadway for more than seven years, told Huss that high rental costs are hurting downtown businesses. But she also cited a "lack of concern" from town officials as making it hard to thrive.
The reaction of town leaders to the steakhouse closing is telling.
Town Council Chairman and downtown business owner Brad Benson said the Depot's closing was sad.
"But this has nothing to do with the community or the downtown," Benson said. "It's representative of the global economy and what's going on."
Others described the setback as just a bump in the road.
"Derry is still situated very nicely geographically right off of Exit 4 of Route 93 and 11 miles over the Massachusetts border in tax free New Hampshire," said Michael Gendron, a member of Derry's downtown committee. "It only needs a few entrepreneurs that have the ingenuity and the vision to capitalize on Derry's attractive location."
But there are other communities right off Interstate 93 just a few miles from the Massachusetts border — Salem, Windham, Londonderry. What makes one community thrive and another falter is not the "global economy" or an accident of geography. It's the attitude and actions of local government.
Do local leaders get things done? Are they helpful and accommodating to the business community? Are they welcoming to new enterprises? Or do they quarrel endlessly as one project after another gets bogged down in delay?
Gendron is half-right. Ingenuity and vision are essential. But it's not the entrepreneurs who lack it.
Derry has a town council, a downtown committee, a chamber of commerce, a hired development consultant and is in the process of forming a "big tent task force" on economic development.
Great. Now let's see results. Let's see the downtown parking issue solved. Let's see the Route 28 expansion pushed through to completion. Let's see outreach to the downtown business community to help those that remain weather the economic downturn. And let's see a real, intensive effort to welcome new businesses to town.
Derry's leaders need to roll out the red carpet for new business — before they're left with nothing to do but roll up the sidewalks.
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