Downtown Dreaming

Years ago, going downtown was a big deal. Downtown had plenty of stores for everyone’s needs, lunch counters and full service restaurants, and maybe some recreational activities. And it was a place to see fellow townspeople.

Then came malls and shopping centers, and downtowns died off, although the buildings remained.

Now we’re coming full circle, as we see malls close, we rebel at the endless parking lots that clog the landscape, and we look to walkable, revitalized downtowns to meet many of our needs once again.

Coincidentally, both Derry and Londonderry are positioned to come up with a concept of downtown that meets their needs. When Derry and Londonderry were one town, the Broadway area of Derry served the community. When the two towns split into separate municipalities, Derry’s Broadway area continued to house shops and restaurants, and Londonderry went its own way. As the years passed, Nashua Road in Londonderry (Route 102) morphed into a series of strip malls, as did, to a lesser extent, Route 28 in Derry, and many downtown Derry shops closed.

Now change is in the air.

Woodmont Commons, a 600-plus-acre development, will be going before the Londonderry Planning Board with its own Master Plan concept for a walkable community, complete with retail shops, restaurants, business offices, and residences clustered together, sometimes in the same building. This will be a brand new “downtown” and a town center that Londonderry never really had, built from the ground up in a former apple orchard.

How that will mesh with the Town’s Master Plan that calls for a town center surrounding the Town Common and walkways through the orchards will wait to be seen. We’d like to see planners work together, rather than trying to reinvent the wheel twice.

In Derry, downtown is definitely still a place – and has been the subject of revitalization efforts with varying degrees of success for decades. It’s the seat of town government; home to the rail trail, restaurants and coffee shops already in place; and with the planned demolition of Broadway Pets, a decades-old, empty eyesore, we hope we’re seeing the beginning of a needed upgrade.

Derry’s brick buildings downtown convey a sense of history, and the weekly farmers’ market creates a destination and brings people out onto the sidewalks, coming back once again to a downtown that’s a place to meet neighbors and friends, do some shopping, and have a meal or a snack.

Both towns are on a path to bringing something new and welcome to their residents – and to visitors as well. It won’t happen overnight. But it looks like change may happen once again.

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