To the editor: Chester and the ‘bad tattoo’

Chester  is about to receive the equivalent of a bad tattoo.

Unlike Woods Hole, Mass., which was able to successfully fight off McDonald’s 10 years ago, not having a unified clear vision for our community has left us vulnerable to a predatory box store.

Recently, I was in Greenfield, Mass., and shopped in Wilson’s Department store, which has been family owned for more than 100 years.

Unlike Claremont, N.H., Greenfield has a vibrant downtown many feel is due in part to their keeping Wal-Mart out of the area. Claremont’s downtown – which I feel has interesting architecture – is pretty much vacant or filled with junk shops.

Mom and pop stores can’t buy products wholesale for what big box stores can sell them for retail. They just cannot compete. I am as guilty as anyone of shopping at price points even though I know it’s not good for the local economy.

These types of stores are run so tightly at a corporate level they can be staffed by people who they can pay less than a decent living wage. Profits go out of town and employees don’t make enough to put money back into the local economy.

When they can’t take a family out to dinner, restaurants and other businesses suffer and it adds nothing to the charm or uniqueness of a village.

In my opinion, Chester has been teetering the edge. With a few more folks letting their front porches fall off, more people splitting up homes into apartments adorned by people sitting on the steps at midday and large B&Bs sitting empty, we have a very difficult uphill battle to achieve a level of charm.

I don’t think community leaders really understand how many beautiful and interesting places people can choose to live where there are jobs, good food and a vibrant culture and or how we fit into that competition.

With the environment and architecture we have here, we could really evolve into a very interesting place to live, but we desperately lack the depth of talent, the desire, the leadership and the money to pull it off. Hence a predatory store coming in and staking a claim like a fox eating our chickens. It’s no different. Now what do we do?

Barre Pinske

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  1. John Grady says:

    “Now what do we do?”
    Barre Pinske

    People need to stop believing in myths, folklore and fairy tales for starters.

    We can’t do anything living in a society stuck in the post World War Two economic system that is going to crash and burn besides trying to survive the crash. The system can’t be changed because the defenders of the status quo have total control of it.

    The sad part is today’s teenagers should never have to say
    “they remember the good old days when George Bush was president”

    Thankfully we live in a town where people will come together in tough times instead of go nuts and have tantrums. VT-Home-for-sale-65000 VT-Home-for-sale-79000

    Southern Vermont has a real problem when nobody is jumping on cheap property in a nice town like Chester.

    What southern Vermont needs to do is game the state tax system by destroying home values so state school taxes are lower by flooding the market with new energy efficient starter homes working class people can actually afford and slashing school spending so taxes are lower to drive down the cost of living. Our state representatives need to push through a right to work law so companies won’t fear setting up shop here. The young people need a future, not old run down section 8 housing and food stamps because all they can find are part-time McJob’s.

    Chester should try to buy out the grocery store and the house next door and build a three story reproduction 1800’s style factory building along the tracks and lure in Price Chopper. Try to get Federal Funding for senior apartments and/or affordable apartments on the second and third floors. Put the fire station on the street end and police above it. Put a Downtown mural on the front of the building so people passing through know Downtown exists. It would mean jobs, tax revenue and water and sewer customers. And food gets people to stop so they can be marketed to. Food would attract people from surrounding towns into Chester and they would be likely to visit other places in town. Vacation people won’t bring food or stop along I-91 to get groceries if there is a grocery store here. Shaws needs the competition so it would benefit the local economy beyond the town borders.

    The naysayers, fear mongers and status quo people along with obstructionists will bash anything anyone suggests so Detroit here we come. Splat. 25% of the town is over 65, tons of boomers will retire and flee and in 10 years the town will be toast if nothing is done.

    People who have what is called disposable income have no clue how many people are struggling around here. They think nothing of saying WE don’t want that or WE don’t need that. Just drive to Springfield like $10 of car expense – between the gas and wear & tear – is nothing. If they break down they can just call AAA and get a rental. Like everyone can afford that stuff. Some people are really out of touch. They move to rural America and haven’t the first clue. For lots of people saving $5 a week is $260 a year and a lot of money.

  2. Kathy says:

    Wonderful points and letter, Mr. Pinske.

    An old commercial stated, “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression,” which holds true today. A dirty face, stained shirt or a bad tattoo will send a negative message to someone meeting you for the first time. People pass judgment; you’ll have to fight to prove their label wrong.

    When it came time to buy as opposed to renting, there were several areas we decided against because we’re only human and judged places based upon what we saw. Springfield never made our list, despite our agent trying to show us land there. Why? Apartment houses, people loitering during the day, a depressed downtown (with boarded up buildings), dollar stores and dilapidated homes gave the appearance of a community on the skids. Then we came to learn of the prison…

    Chester had what we wanted: a beautiful Green with small locally owned shops, active residents, tidy homes and cozy apartments, lack of box stores. And it did not give off that same downtrodden vibe Springfield radiated.

    What I failed to take into consideration was Chester’s zoning, especially its wording. Since my arrival, I’ve witnessed a number of changes to (what I consider to be) Chester’s southern gateway: 103 north at the curve.

    Within a relatively small area, a fairly large automated car wash, the Legion hall and storage facility popped up. The storage center is somewhat obscured from 103, which is a good thing, while the Legion hall’s lines borrow upon features one would expect from a building in New England. The car wash situated up on a hill with no green buffers looks commercial and demands attention to draw in clients. 103 Artisans Gallery and Mountain Man have that ‘in the woods’ feel, adding to Chester’s appeal. Just about all of these are inviting, except for the one protracted diner project.

    Removing a charming century plus old structure (which bore witness to the change from horse drawn carriages to automobiles) and replacing it with a large, grab-and-go gas station sends a message: There’s nothing to see here, get your gas, chain restaurant sandwich and move along to your destination.

    The dollar store just after that will drive that home. Instead of heading straight to visit the Green, folks will make the turn north where (in the near future) two vacant buildings stand.

    This isn’t a rich vs. poor, resident vs. second homeowner issue. This is all about maintaining Chester’s small businesses and about its appeal to house hunters and tourists alike.

    A bad tattoo can and will detract from a pretty girl, driving away desirable company. It will make a guy look tough and send a message he’s someone to avoid. We have to decide whether we want to be attractive or avoided. We have to ensure our zoning is enforceable as opposed to aspirational.

  3. Michele says:

    Barre has some great points. But, I do want to say that Claremont’s downtown is making a comeback. A friend of mine just opened a shop there and is having great success. Also, I’m unclear if the statement about “Lack of depth of talent, desire” is referring to the town leadership or community? There is a very talented community here. Many of us have great desire to help, but seemed to be “excluded” from the “club” when it comes to being heard.

  4. Claudio says:

    Great piece, Barre. Thank you!

    At my urging (full disclosure, I am an alternate member of the Planning Commission), the Chester Planning Commission is shortly soliciting the community for input, opinions, frustrations, constructive suggestions and just plain old complaining (which can, indeed, be useful to us!), to consider as we commence on the review of the Town Plan.

    Simultaneously, we are currently reviewing *exactly* the aspirational language that has created this potentially destructive impact on our community so that we can encourage small/medium, family and regional businesses that are respectful of our existing community, its architecture, its scale and its street character while discouraging corrosive franchise chains – which Barre speaks about, above – to even approach us.

    A community isn’t attractive and economically healthy by accident. Inviting any business whatsoever into a town is a deeply dangerous approach, as case studies have shown nationwide over the past 40 years of corporate deregulation and as we may discover in the next couple of years. Like anything else in the business world, we need to be wise and selective if we want to see a healthy Chester five to 10 years out.

  5. Cynthia Prairie says:

    A group of Chester residents began the fight more than four years ago and recently stopped after losing an appeal at the Supreme Court level. Residents and second-homeowners contributed generously to support the lawyer’s effort. All the way up the ladder, courts agreed that the town’s zoning laws are aspirational as opposed to enforceable. (There are more “shoulds” than “shalls.”) At the top of this page, on the left, you’ll see “Latest News.” A subcategory of that is Dollar General. You’ll find all the articles we have written about the situation.

  6. mdodge says:

    Well said Barre!
    How can we have a “unified clear vision for our community”? I was there for Woods Hole boycott of McDonalds – the town rallied against it whole heartedly. Where’s the heart here in Chester? Where do we begin to fight this?