Friday May 10, 2013

If you’ve visited Bennington’s Main Street recently, you’ve likely noticed that the fair spring weather has brought out the masses.

There are families strolling the sidewalks pushing kids in strollers and/or trailing dogs on leashes, teenagers on bikes, and groups of friends headed out to lunch or dinner. There are vehicles lined up at the traffic light at the Four Corners, windows down, music blaring. The parking spots lining Main Street have most days been full at midday and after 5 p.m.

Bennington’s downtown has what many other towns simply do not: Critical mass by way of foot and car (and motorcycle) traffic.

Some critics may look at the downtown and see only the empty storefronts -- and there are a number of those. But there is also a strong component of solid businesses that draw folks to the downtown center.

There are numerous positives to recognize, celebrate and look forward to in our downtown. Not least of these positives are the several new businesses that have opened in recent months or are poised to open on Main Street.

Since the fall, Love A Bagel bagel shop and Here We Grow, a children’s consignment shop, have set out shingles.

Local Realtor Ted Bird recently told The Banner that three other businesses have signed leases in the downtown, making it "just a matter of time before they open up." These include Knapp’s Pets and Hobbies, which is preparing to shed its pet department and relocate its music, toy and hobby business to the site of the former Pea Pod store.


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Also, Wave, a women’s clothing and accessory store, is set to open soon at 473 Main St., site of the former Print Quik Ink & Copy Center. Antique furniture, reupholstery and repair store The Owl’s Nest, will soon open at 353 Main St.

Two other prospective businesses -- a smoothie/health foods snack shop and a cafe -- are considering locations on Main Street, according to Bird.

Why all this sudden interest in opening up shop in downtown Bennington? Bird said there is renewed confidence among entrepreneurs as the economic downturn fades.

"People just seem to be more interested and more motivated than they have been in the past," he told The Banner recently. "A lot of it, the two out-of-town people that I’m talking with, have said, ‘I’ve always liked Bennington,’ They don’t give a really fancy business reason or anything like that. They just say, ‘I’ve always liked Bennington and I think my concept will work here.’"

Another plan in the works will capitalize on the purchasing power of local college students.

Southern Vermont College President Karen Gross recently approached the Bennington Select Board with a proposal to gauge the board’s interest in a student store downtown to be staffed by students from the town’s three colleges. The students would earn college credit and the town would benefit for additional foot traffic created by drawing the college students downtown.

Bringing the college communities together with the Bennington business community could be beneficial for all parties.

The existing and soon-to-open downtown businesses will reap the rewards of crowds that visit for events such as The Catamount Prowl that kicks off May 22, The Mayfest Arts & Crafts Festival on May 25, First Fridays, and the Walloomsac Farmers Market on Saturdays.

The rewards of a shopping local and keeping our dollars in town are also abundant for those who live and work in the area.

Come downtown and see.

~Michelle Karas