Letter: Bristol leaders must do more to support downtown business

Posted 2/27/20

After reading a recent article, “Bank’s ATM lights up historic district opposition,” it appears to me and other concerned business owners in the downtown “historic …

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Letter: Bristol leaders must do more to support downtown business

Posted

After reading a recent article, “Bank’s ATM lights up historic district opposition,” it appears to me and other concerned business owners in the downtown “historic district” that the HDC is basing their rulings and decisions upon personal opinions rather than intelligent “formula business” regulations.

While I totally understand the reasoning for maintaining the “historical charm” of the town, I believe that the way the HDC is conducting business is detrimental to the health and growth of existing businesses and prospective new businesses in Bristol. There are currently many empty storefronts in the downtown area. The number one complaint that we hear from townspeople and tourists alike is that there aren’t enough open retail shops in the area. Downtown Bristol is no longer an appealing shopping destination.

The unrealistic property rent and lease fees are not sustainable, especially through the winter months, hence new businesses are reluctant to take the risk and invest. While we know that these organizations (HDC, zoning board, town council) cannot dictate to commercial property owners what the rents should be (and they shouldn’t), maybe they can impose fees for any property that remains empty for an extended length of time. That may persuade property owners to reduce rent fees and entice new business. This is currently working for several other small towns in New England that had the same issues.

My family business has occupied the same building since 1956. With the advent of internet shopping we have found it increasingly difficult to entice shoppers to the downtown shopping district. We often hear that downtown businesses should remain open for longer hours, weekends, etc.

Most, if not all of the shops in town are run by a couple or single proprietors. We cannot afford to hire more employees to keep our shops open 60 to 80 hours a week. As it is, some of us even work one or more other jobs to make ends meet.

The current attitude of the HDC and zoning board is keeping business away. If this attitude towards retail business in Bristol continues, I fear that Bristol’s once healthy and vibrant downtown will not only suffer but cease to exist. We only have to look to our neighboring town of Warren to witness the beginning of a transformation of a historic town into a welcoming, thriving and “happening place” supported by the town’s officials. 

We need help from the HDC, zoning board and town to keep downtown Bristol alive and viable. The Bristol Merchants Association, Discover Bristol and the East Bay Chamber of Commerce are working on ways to attract visitors to town, but without the help and cooperation of those “decision makers,” we may be doomed to become a retail ghost town.

Joseph Caron and Diane Berube-Catanzaro
Bristol

Mr. Caron is owner of Caron Jewelers.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.