Ugly Billboards

It was reassuring to read recently that a prominent developer at the south end of our village's shopping strip has promised not to turn North Conway into another Portland. That's fine, but I wonder what impact Borders, Barnes and Noble, or Starbucks might have on some of our local independent merchants who have worked so hard to bring money into the town rather than send it out. I wonder what Home Depot and Lowe's and the latest new big box (which is one box too many) will do to some of our local businesses and to our new and scenic North-South Road.

Make no mistake, owning a business is essentially about making money. That's the name of the game. Everyone has a right to do it, regardless of size.

Indeed, my own business interests and holdings are about making money, but the money comes to me; it does not go to corporate headquarters in Arkansas, Georgia, North Carolina, Natick or Newton, Mass. And I spend a lot of that money at the local book shops and cigar store and at the local hardware and paint stores in the greater Conway area. I strongly suspect the money at the independent book stores in town goes to the local owners, as does the money at the many coffee shops. These are local businesses serving the interests of the greater Conway area.

They operate with a long-term focus and, I believe, with a goal of improving our collective quality of life. While they serve tourist as well as locals, their revenue churns within and throughout the valley; it does not flow to some out-of-state corporate headquarters. They are part and parcel of and contiguous with the beautiful fabric of the valley.

And they, like so many others, have more reason to care about retaining what's left of that fabric. That, and their entrepreneurial spirit, is what sets them apart.Can the same be said of the many large companies and chain hotels that are on the way? Does the Hampton Inn have the same interests as the local bed and breakfasts? Do they have the best long-range interests of Conway in their peripheral vision or are they looking through fiscal periscopes? Do the owners and directors of Lowe's, Home Depot, the Hampton Inn, et cetera, reside here? Are their representatives who come before the planning board people who have a sense of what the local nature of our town is all about, or are they corporate site selection specialists who couldn't care less about what all this may be doing to the natural beauty of our town? Do they care about green space or will murals on walls or green roofs do? Will roundabouts, traffic circles, or rotaries solve the problem they will have caused? Would they even consider green space if they were not forced to do so by the planning board? Just what are their objectives? Do they really care? Maybe they do. Time will tell.

Now then, if some of our local merchants are forced to shut down (and hopefully this will not be the case), the likelihood they will be replaced by others is slim, since the national chain stores will likely continue to be the negative competing force that makes this happen. One can only speculate as to what will be left but whatever it is, it will be different from what it is today. The developer of Home Depot says he welcomes competition from Lowe's ( kind of like the battle of titans), but what about the smaller stores that sell lumber, paint, hardware, appliances, et cetera?.Within this context, what can be done? For starters, we need to start attending meetings and ask tough and provocative questions.

We need to begin acting on the answers. We need to walk the talk. For example, why are we not at least discussing controls, restraints or temporary moratoriums such as those implemented by many other New Hampshire towns? Has anyone looked into the admittedly controversial subject of impact fees? When are we going to get serious about the concept of planned and managed growth? Is it in the town's Master Plan? Has the Master Plan been given a recent reality check?.Above all, where is our Capital Improvement Plan? Where is our Capital Improvement Committee? Has the advent of the so-called Infrastructure Committee (whose members apparently are appointed) become a reason for not having a CIP? Can we slow down the waiver process, use them as negotiating tools, and get a lot tougher about granting them? Can we start at least thinking about saying no? One can only speculate as to what would have happened had the planning board recently called Lowe's bluff on the parking waiver.When the Master Plan was put together awhile back, few could have envisioned the explosion of commercial and residential growth that is now taking place, particularly at the southern end of the strip.

Something needs to be done or the Master Plan simply will become two dimensional, and a drive south on the strip may well become an exemplar of what inrushing money can do. New construction project after new construction project, new hotel after new hotel, big box stores, fast food, strip malls, an abandoned service station? Can the ugly billboards be far behind? Perhaps a drive through Windham, Maine, on 302 might provide a glimpse of what could occur.If those who live and own businesses here fail to act, don't expect those who represent the big boxes to do it unless, of course, you believe they really care. If those who love our natural environment, our lakes, mountains, and forests fail to act, don't expect those who represent the chains to do it unless, of course, you believe they really care. Perhaps they do care.

But if you don't act, it will be what it will be."He who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup." ?old Appalachian saying.

.Ted Sares, PhD, is a private investor who lives and writes in the White Mountain area of Northern New Hampshire with his wife Holly and Min Pin Jackdog.

He writes a weekly column for a local newspaper and many of his other pieces are widely published.His works focus on issues and themes dealing with socio-political topics, business and economics in which he advocates a free market approach to capitalism, patriotism, and matters dealing with individual freedom.They are frequently inspirational in nature and sometimes reflect the Objectivist philosophy of novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. He also writes short stories that feature ironic and surprise twists.

By: Theodore Sares


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