The fall and rise of urban manufacturing

Realtor's photo of former Lee's Spot at 917 Elm Street

Lee’s Spot, the well-known, jam-packed, hole-in-the-wall used book store at 917 Elm Street closed last week.  Sadly, this represents the passing of an era as downtown Manchester is now totally without a dedicated bookstore.  I’d like to think that in time maybe a Barnes & Noble will be incorporated into some new development or a retail spot in the Millyard, or better yet a local, independent bookseller–maybe a new location of such venerable New Hampshire stores as Toadstool or RiverRun–will go in on Elm, Hanover or elsewhere.

The loss of a local bookstore, however, signals the arrival of a new downtown chocolatier, as Dancing Lion Chocolates joins Van Otis, the grande dame of city center confectioners.  Dancing Lion is not new to Manchester–in fact, they’ve been baking chocolate in borrowed space downtown for over year–but the new space will offer a permanent and much more visible location.  Come October the old Lee’s Spot building will be home to a chocolate shop and production facility with a residence above.

Chair bar from Manchester-based Dancing Lion Chocolate

Dancing Lion joins a growing community of small businesses actually producing things for the local market in the greater Manchester area, which is a great trend to see continue.  Along with new breweries and meaderies popping up in the suburbs around the Queen City, there are the older confectioners, brewers, furniture-makers, glass-blowers and others (not to mention several artists studios) dotting the city center.  Not only do such low-impact manufacturers and craftspeople offer more sustainable means of production than bigger operations and keep more of their earnings in the local economy, they are also unique but as-yet mostly untapped amenities making downtown a more attractive destination.

The city and local groups could–and should–do more to promote those businesses and craftspeople making things in and around Manchester as well as those carrying their products.  In addition, they should do all they can to attract and support new craftspeople, light manufacturers and those selling local products to urban city center.

Often low-impact manufacturers locate in boring industrial parks on the outskirts of cities due to the prohibitive zoning and higher real estate costs in denser areas.  (Just look at Smuttynose Brewing Company’s unsuccessful efforts to locate their new brewery in the walkable communities of either Portsmouth or Newmarket.)  That’s a shame especially in a city like Manchester, which has such a wealth of spaces well-suited for small-scale production–the Queen City is the preeminent milltown, after all–which are immensely more beautiful and interesting than the late-20th century, suburban industrial parks.

Rendering of rehabbed platforms along Manhattan Lane
Rendering of rehabbed platforms along Manhattan Lane, Warehouse District, which could be ideal as crafts studios and low-impact manufacturing, supplying locally made products and making the area a destination

It would be great to one day see more crafts studios and low-impact manufacturers, including food and beverage makers, in areas around downtown, such as the Gaslight and Warehouse districts and the Millyard.  In a single afternoon, visitors, shoppers and residents would be able to stop in to chat with a local furniture-maker, pick up chocolate from a local confectioner or a loaf of bread from a bakery, or get a growler fill and tour at the brewery; the city center would teem with a more dynamic bustle and the pride of locally made products–and the ability to meet the people making them–would keep more money in the local economy.  Equally as important, the ability to purchase local products and visit their producers would make the city center a more impressive destination for visitors, businesses and residents.

As the opening of a small chocolate producer in the heart of the city nears this fall, maybe that day isn’t so far off.

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