Clothing Shops Open Despite Busy Route 1
By Susan Morse
Hampton Union, Tuesday, May 1, 2007
[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Sheila Fleming is taking a chance on downtown Hampton. So are the owners of the newly opened stores, Sunny Daze Boutique and Peaceful Life.
Fleming opened All She Wears on Route 1, next to the relatively new Present Perfect, in-store space that has changed hands four times in as many years.
All She Wears, and Sunny Daze around the corner on High Street, are the first new women's clothing stores in the downtown in recent memory.
Fleming likes having another store in the area to attract customers to park, walk and shop downtown.
"It's a perfect little village," Fleming said. "We need to become a little village again."
Stores in downtown Hampton have a challenge attracting foot traffic that doesn't seem to exist to the same degree as seen in Exeter, Portsmouth and Newburyport, Mass.
One the biggest issues, said Doc Noel, president of the Hampton Area Chamber of Commerce, is Route 1. The busy commercial road that connects Seacoast towns is a thoroughfare in Hampton. In Newburyport and Portsmouth, Route 1 skirts downtown. In Portsmouth, city officials in the 1940s created a Route 1 bypass that shuttles cars that are simply passing through around the city's perimeter.
But in Hampton, Route 1 is the main street and is not pedestrian-friendly.
"Because of the traffic signal (at Route 1 and High Street) it's not a walking downtown as much as Portsmouth, Newburyport and Exeter with heavy traffic in the summer," Noel said.
This also makes parking in front of some downtown shops difficult, though there is a free municipal parking lot behind the storefronts.
Fleming said she sees foot traffic in front of her store, which is just steps away from the traffic signal.
"I've had a lot of traffic," Fleming said. "I wouldn't say I'm busy, (but) people are coming in."
Fleming opened All She Wears during retail's slowest season, the first week of February. So far, she's happy with the results. More than 50 people attended an open house she held in March, with state Executive Councilor Beverly Hollingworth of Hampton, doing the ribbon cutting.
All She Wears replaced Accountable Contractors and before that Stoneweaver Bookstore, businesses that lasted at that location less than a year each. Before those enterprises, Seacoast Coin and Jewelry operated at the same location for years, moving farther north on Lafayette Road in March 2005 in order, among other reasons, to take advantage of more convenient customer parking.
Not all sites constantly change hands. Other stores such as Marelli's Market, Custom Travel, and Cohen's Jewelers, are downtown fixtures.
Cohen's Jewelers at 1 High St., has the corner signal light location at the intersection of Route 1 and High Street. Bob Cohen opened his store there 18 years ago, and has remained, he said, because he offers a service — same-day jewelry repair — that attracts customers from Massachusetts to Portsmouth.
"It's definitely tough, you've got to offer something that make people want to come to you," he said. "There's no walk-by traffic. You've got to offer something a little bit different. For someone just to open a store to start a business, it's tough."
Fleming also believes in offering shoppers something unique to lure them away from the malls in Newington.
"You go to the malls, there's 40 of one item," she said.
Her clothing is unique, said Fleming, who used to manage a women's clothing store in Haverhill, Mass., before moving to her summer home on Seabrook Beach year round.
She'd like to see more downtown events, such as a fall festival and a Christmas stroll like other downtowns put on.
Downtown events are limited, though some shop owners have gotten together to bring events and people to Hampton's town center.
Sidewalk sales were once a well-attended yearly event.
Cohen said customers used to fight for bargains, "like Filene's Basement," when the former Bib N' Crib put out its marked-down merchandise for sale.
Hampton Beach, which swells in tourist numbers during the summer, does send some visitors to the downtown on rainy days. The Hampton cinemas are busy, Noel said.
Regular trolley runs from Hampton Beach to downtown are no more.
All those interviewed agreed, the more shops, the merrier.
"Any store not occupied is a deterrent," Noel said. "The more that open the better."
Around the corner are Peaceful Life home accessories, next to Hagan's Grill, and the Sunny Daze Boutique owned by Kevin and Laurie Kerton. This clothing store is aimed more at teens and young women, than All She Wears.
Peaceful Life, run by Gloria Forth and Susan Chute, opened at 12 High St. in mid-winter, in a site once occupied by Indulge Bath & Body, which was in town for about a year, and before that, Luna Chics, which moved to Exeter.
Fleming believes Hampton's relatively lower rent than other area downtowns will continue to bring retailers to town.
"It gives people a reason," she said. "It's not just one store."