Wednesday May 1, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Senior Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Downtown Bennington is seeing a slight resurgence, officials say, as new stores prepare to open and others entrepreneurs continue to explore their options on Main Street.

Several small businesses have opened since the fall, including Love A Bagel and Here We Grow, a children’s consignment shop run by Jamie Lane. Local Realtor Ted Bird, who has worked with property and business owners to boost the downtown, said Lane’s venture has met with success so far.

"I’ve talked to her on two or three occasions since she opened last October and she’s quite happy with the results so far," he said.

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

A new women’s clothing and accessory store called Wave, owned by Kathy Wilkinson, plans to open soon at 473 Main St., site of the former Print Quik Ink & Copy Center. Bird, who helped arrange the lease, said Wilkinson has been consulting with people knowledgeably in the women’s clothing business as she prepares to open.

Another store, the Owl’s Nest, will soon open at 353 Main St. That store will specialize in antique furniture as well as reupholstery and repairs.

Two other businesses are still exploring their options but have yet to sign formal agreements, according to Bird. One, eyeing a location at 748 Main St., would be a smoothing and health foods snack shop. A cafe may also move into 415 Main St., Where the Crazy Russian Girls Bakery originally opened, and feature coffee, soups and sandwiches, Bird said.

"Stuff is happening," he said. "It’s the market working."

There is renewed confidence among entrepreneurs, who are willing to launch businesses after a prolonged economic downturn, according to Bird, who said he is working closely with the Better Bennington Corp. and Bennington Economic and Community Development Director Michael Harrington.

"Yes, I have seen a change," he said. "People just seem to be more interested and more motivated than they have been in the past."

"A lot of it, the two out-of-town people that I’m talking with, have said, ‘I’ve always liked Bennington,’" he added. "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.’"

It’s possible that most of the commercial store fronts in downtown Bennington could be filled within the next year, Bird said. He plans to list four new spaces himself. One location with nearly 5,000 square feet of space near Bennington’s Four Corners will be subdivided to allow for smaller shops.

Harrington said the interest in downtown is a positive sign, but too early to call a trend.

"I don’t think we’re at the boon level yet. I think it’s just a nice indicator to see that not all business is shying away from downtown," he said. "I think there’s a lot of speculation and assumptions made when some of these stores decided to move out of downtown that the whole thing was crumbling. That’s not the case."

The businesses on the way in, and other potential businesses in the works, are the type that will bring additional vitality to the area, Harrington said.

"The key for a downtown that we’re looking for are shops that encourage people to walk about," he said. "Those are all things that cause people when they’re driving by to get out of their car and walk around."

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com, or follow on Twitter: @nealgoswami