Hampton Business owners aim for downtown resurgence

Story and photos by Dave R. Choate

Herald Sunday, Sunday, May 13, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Herald Sunday and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON — The town is a lot less populated in the off-season than in the summer, when throngs of tourists pack the beaches. The several women who recently opened businesses downtown know they are not immediately accessible from the beach, but are not fazed by that reality.

"Businesses come and go in Hampton. This is a great example of putting faith in the downtown, and it's a great avenue for women to make a difference in Hampton Village," said Pat Morgenstern, the director of membership development at the Hampton Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.

All these women have different reasons for opening their businesses in Hampton. The one thing they can all agree on is that they hope the downtown will thrive with the help of their new shops.

Edie Argo of Present Perfect
Edie Argo, the owner of Present Perfect on Lafayette Road in Hampton.

Present Perfect

When Edie Argo's vision for her Rye store outgrew the space, she went looking for a new location. She found a wide-open storefront on Route 1 in her hometown of Hampton and fell in love with it.

"There's a lot that can happen in downtown Hampton. If there's a reason to be someplace, the shoppers will go, and so I try to bring items in that most places won't have," Argo said.

Her gift and clothing shop sells select lines of clothing that are not otherwise available in the Seacoast, alongside sets of imported glass products from Italy and Poland. Argo said she hopes to be part of a larger effort to revitalize the formerly stagnant downtown, and said that she's already seen the dividends from her move.

"I have seen my business grow since I moved here. It's a very positive move because I have these big windows to display things in, and I've definitely had fun since I got here in October," she said.

Sheila Fleming of All She Wears
Sheila Fleming, owner of All She Wears on Lafayette Road in Hampton.

All She Wears

Sheila Fleming was looking for a change in careers when she settled into her new store. It was the culmination of a lifelong hope; a chance after 30 years in the corporate world to open her own clothing business.

"It's a dream of mine come true," she said.

The specialty clothing and jewelry store has seen plenty of foot traffic since Fleming opened it during this wintry February. She was driving by her future storefront on her way to her home in Seabrook when the space caught her eye. She immediately deemed it the perfect place to open the business she always wanted.

She said she hopes that the influx of new store owners in the downtown will lead to many new customers visiting the area.

"Hopefully, Hampton Village will become the place to be. I'd like it to be enough that people say "I'm going there to do some shopping," Fleming said.

Peaceful Life

Gloria Forth and Susan Chute are sisters-in-law from Colorado and Maine, respectively. When striking out together on their relaxation accessory store, they sought a variety of locations up and down the Seacoast.

Susan Chute, left, and Gloria Forth, owners of Peaceful Life on High Street in Hampton.

In the end, the prohibitive rents in most towns sent them to Hampton, where they found a store space on High Street they liked. Forth said she was pleasantly surprised to see more businesses coming in around the same time as her's.

"If you're in this area and like the small downtown feel, then Hampton is it. The more stores you've got, the more people think of doing their shopping in the area," she said.

Chute said the theme of the store is tranquility, whether it's found through what she called an extremely relaxing chair or the Buddha Boards, which allows artists to paint temporary patterns with water and no paint.

Both said that cooperation between the new stores has been plentiful and is necessary to their survival.

"We've tried to do some 'Shop Hampton!' advertising and bring ads in together. If you stand alone, it doesn't work," Forth said.


Although Curves has been in downtown Hampton for some time, Denise Johnson has brought a new face and some renovations to the women's fitness center. She used to bounce between managing four of the popular women's exercise clubs in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

When it was time to take over her own franchise, she didn't hesitate to take the place with what she thought was the best location and most loyal customers — Hampton.

"The members here are wonderful, and we have a great time. We just got a little bit of a fresher look, and I think of us as a diamond in the rough here," she said.

Beverly Stoughton, owner of Little Vintage Antiques on High Street, is one of several new women business owners in the Hampton Village. Business owners are hoping their new shops will revitalize a once stagnant downtown.

Little Vintage Antiques

Beverly Stoughton is the newest addition to the Hampton Village roster, with two weeks under her belt at her new antique store. Like Argo, she is a Hampton resident who decided to jump into a new business in the downtown.

"It's funny that we're all women business owners. I had just always wanted to open an antique business, and it seemed like there was no better place to do it than right by home," Stoughton said.

She added that business has been brisk and that she anticipates the downtown will see some considerable growth.

"I don't see why it shouldn't grow. We all get and make referrals for each other down here, and that can only help us in the long run," she said.

A Voice Of Experience

Naturally Silk owner Midge Dawes has been a fixture downtown for 22 years. She's seen the Hampton Village go from ghost town to its current state in a year and a half.

She sees a chance for the area to break out of the stagnancy she saw over a year ago, but cautioned that it will take a community effort. The new businesses are, at last, an encouraging trend for Hampton.

"We need to work with each other. I think all businesses, regardless of where you are, are seeing you need to work together more," Dawes said.

She also said she's willing to lend advice and help to all her new neighbors in the Village. A downtown business expo planned for June 9 should go a long way toward helping that cause, she said.

"Where I have a lot of experience, I like to help (new businesses) out. If the changes are going to come, it's going to be because we're letting people know we're here," Dawes said.

457 Lafayette Road, Hampton
(603) 926-3340

461 Lafayette Road, Hampton
(603) 929-0055

12 High Street, Hampton
(603) 929-6200

38 Depot Square, Hampton
(603) 929-8601

17 High Street, Hampton
(603) 926-0808

446 Lafayette Road, Hampton
(603) 926-5150