COMMENTARY: Manchester's underwhelming nightlife
As a thirty-something young person living in Manchester, I appreciated the Journal's Anna Boarini's Nightlife[sic], and Young in Manchester. However, the lengthy focus on the police presence on Routes 11 and 30 detracts from the true issues facing downtown Manchester. There is a public interest served in preventing drunk driving, and while it may be that patrons of The Perfect Wife are unfairly targeted, this is far from the primary cause of Manchester's underwhelming nightlife.
Main Street, Bonnet Street and Depot Street around the traffic circles are as close to a walkable urban core as Manchester has available, but the focus on outlet shopping plazas has left it resembling a suburban strip mall. Much of the frontage is wasted to parking lots and single-use buildings with little aesthetic appeal, most of which are deserted after 7 p.m. The more densely built areas of this corridor feature multiple empty buildings. With spaces ideal for a brewpub, a theatre, or a late night coffee shop, why have they remained undeveloped for years? Does Manchester lack entrepreneurs, or are they becoming discouraged and going elsewhere with their plans?
Along with an underdeveloped downtown core -- and compounding the transportation issues facing young people looking to go out and have a drink -- comes the complete lack of mixed-use buildings. Whether this is a zoning issue or lack of imagination, the paucity of residential spaces above retail spaces downtown is an oversight which forces people interested in going out into driving, rather than walking or cycling, and demonstrates a lack of understanding as to how young people wish to live today.
Manchester also needs to consider whether the lack of interest in nightlife is due to the quality of offerings. Manchester has missed out on the craft beer, craft cocktail, and farm-to-table trends which have come to define food over the past several years. Ludlow, another tourist town, albeit with half of Manchester's population, embodies these with The Downtown Grocery. Great Barrington, Mass., with only twice our population, supports restaurants featuring live music, exciting food, and decent bar programs in nearly as rural a setting as ours. Even in Hudson, N.Y., again, a town with only twice our population, I can grab a grass-fed burger featuring cheese from West Pawlet's own Consider Bardwell, see live music, and end the night with a cocktail made from locally crafted spirits. This is made all the more unfortunate by the global cachet carried by Vermont agriculture and brewing, and the rising star of its craft spirits industry.
Village Picture Shows is often nearly empty on Friday evenings and seems to attract only a handful of patrons for big summer blockbusters. If people are driving to Bennington and Rutland to see films on larger screens, perhaps it is time for the proprietors to reinvent it as an arthouse theater or to invest in a more modern venue. Likewise, the former bowling alley, a promising space begging to be redeveloped, sits vacant and decaying in the very heart of town.
Manchester is beautiful. It appeals to my love of the outdoors and has the potential be a great place to live. The Manchester 2020 initiatives have introduced me to civic-minded people of all ages who wish to improve Manchester and entice folks, both young and old, to settle here.
At the same time prime real estate sits empty while blind adherence to an outdated economic model leaves Manchester with an unappealing downtown that provides only low-paying jobs and little in the way of arts and entertainment. We need to broadly rethink and reinvest in Manchester's future, or we will continue to hemorrhage young people to towns and cities with more opportunity and culture.
Daniel Scarnecchia is a resident of Manchester Village.
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