My, have things changed from the time I first proposed this as a Tendrils topic and the time I actually sat down to draft the text. I thought I’d be living in Dover for the rest of my life, but now we’re actually looking to relocate to somewhere, well, for us more dreamy. I’ll leave it at that for the time being, and besides, that prospect just may turn out to be a very pleasant pipe dream.
What I am sensing that much of the dream has to do with location, beyond the house itself. This week I’ll focus on the locale. Next week, the walls, floor, and roof.
- Walkability: Pedestrian-friendly, with suitable restaurants, stores, parks, medical facilities within an easy stroll. What we like to call civility.
- A Quaker Meeting: Kindred spirits and spiritual friendship.
- Natural wonder: At the moment, that includes a view of the ocean. Nearby trails a plus.
- Cultural amenities: Classical music, live theater, classic film series, that sort of thing. A good choir to join, poetry readings, especially. Plus a decent library.
- Medical facilities: At my age, having qualified doctors and a hospital or well-equipped clinic at hand has become an important consideration.
- Good neighbors: We’ve been quite lucky in Dover that way.
- Community spirit: A sense of common good makes a huge difference. I’ll include local and state taxes here, with an eye to what’s provided for the buck. (In Dover, for example, my indoor swimming pool activity would fit into the equation.)
- Public utilities: Hard to think that in our times, the reliability of the electrical system or broadband access has to be questioned. Water and sewage become considerations, too.
- Visual balance: This includes houses, gardens, and retail areas that are well maintained and have personal expression. That rules out most suburbs.
- Safe and secure: Low crime rate, as well as fast fire and ambulance response, are definite considerations.
What would be on your list?
The transformation of the former newspaper plant downtown continues. What had been an essentially blank wall against the children’s museum and park is opening up to take advantage of its views that include the bend in the river.
- Baltimore: 40.6 officers for every 10,000 residents / 48.2 total personnel
- Boston: 31.5 / 39.7
- Chicago: 43.9 / 48.2
- Dallas: 24.8 / 29.0
- Miami Beach: 26.7 / 34.7
- New York: 42.3 / 60.0
- Philadelphia: 40.2 / 50.9
- Los Angeles: 24.6 / 31.7
- Seattle: 19.8 / 27.8
- Washington, D.C.: 55.1 / 63.9
In contrast, Dover, New Hampshire, where I live, the figures are 16.1 and 23.5.
(Based on 2016 FBI Uniform Crime Reporting data)
You know the adage in real estate that location is everything, and you’ve no doubt seen spots where one failed restaurant is followed by the opening of another which also fails and then another. It might be a different kind of retailer but a similar pattern. Wrong location is the usual explanation, followed by the question of why anyone is foolish enough to repeat the disaster. Lightning may not strike the same place twice (though certain prominent heights would seem an obvious exception), but business traffic follows a different set of rules. Even one side of a busy thoroughfare might flourish while the same offering on the opposite side withers.
Now for the operation in practice.
A side street near us in our end of town has a charming carpenter-gothic style store we’ve watched undergo a similar sequence.
Back in the day before big supermarkets took over, such mom-and-pop groceries could do a lively small-scale business for a neighborhood trade. Send the kids off to pick up some milk, eggs, and maybe a head of cabbage or bag of flour. By the time we came along, this site was either struggling or posting a For Sale Or Lease sign, one owner after another. Just having bread, beer, and candy plus lottery tickets hardly made for a going enterprise, no matter how charming the setting. We wished them well, all the same, and actually lamented a bit when they went under. Something was obviously missing in the business mix.
And then, maybe five years ago, a new owner took over. We admired his low-cost, aggressive hustle – things like parking a pickup on a busy Central Avenue two blocks away and putting a big sign in its bed to alert passing traffic to his deli if they made a quick turn. It got our attention but not our business, we just weren’t ordering much food out and when we did, it was usually from a great Thai restaurant three more blocks away, a Lebanese takeout next to it, or a nearby pizza house. As for the milk-bread-beer-lottery tix, a chain convenience store sat next to the Dunkin’ Donuts on the big artery, though it too kept changing hands to a 7-Eleven at the moment.
Fast forward, it’s a Saturday afternoon my wife and I are both feeling too whatever to cook, we don’t want to spend much – and pizza is getting pricey – she suggests subs, I say fine but want something more satisfying than Subway.
That’s when she suggests Katz’s, where she had popped in a week earlier to grab a six-pack and was amazed by how great the place smelled. Good sign, trusting your nose. So we look up the menu online, see lots of tempting choices, and phone in an order. I trot off all of three blocks and am nibbling on amazing fries even before I get home. In short, we’re sold.
We can see why the place has taken hold and developed a loyal following. Sometimes we’re slow, OK?
It’s not a franchise chain, definite plus. The food is tasty, very, another plus. Some of the menu pays tribute to earlier occupants of the store, once the Busy Hill Market, local awareness. Breakfast is available all day, smart option, especially considering a lot of college students live in the neighborhood – well, they also likely go for the aforesaid beer cave. The prices are also affordable and the portions, generous.
Two sub orders later, we go for the pizza, and it more than lives up to our expectations. So we now have a new go-to pizza joint, unless we really want to splurge and go for Festa, another story.
Turns out the owner’s from Jersey, so he brings some deli savvy, and he has a great manager from all I see, and a skilled crew. None of these guarantee beating the odds, but we are impressed and definitely like the way it’s changed the neighborhood.
We wanted to give a local business a boost, so we went online to cast a vote in “Seacoast’s Best” polling. You’ve no doubt seen other places touting some similar honor.
We very quickly realized that for many of the designations, we had little or no awareness of most of the nominees. Like we knew the six women running for the region’s Best Nurse? Or we’d eaten at all six parlors in line for the Best Pizza? No, a vote went to the one you might already know, if you didn’t skip over it altogether.
Such results are bound to be quite different from those based on a few knowledgeable critics who evaluate on quality criteria and point us in unexpected directions.
Now that’s a Best I’d respect.
I appreciate your patience as I examine the transformation taking place in my small city. I know this construction and planning would go unnoticed in big metropolises, although these moves could play pivotal roles in anchoring vital neighborhoods and their identities within them.
Actually, that was something I watched happen in Baltimore under Mayor William Donald Schaeffer in the early ’80s, and the results I saw were exciting, especially where I lived in Bolton Hill.
What’s really at stake is quality of life. Pleasing visual variety can be part of that, but healthy urban life and community are a mix of much more, and that’s what I see happening in Dover. The fact I don’t have to get in a car for many things is a delight, though I do drive more than I’d like, mostly for time factors.
In its smaller scale, Dover is a kind of laboratory, one enhanced by a savvy economic development director and city manager. What’s happening now – and about to happen on a site on the other side of the river – is the result of many touches earlier, including the construction of a central parking garage to eliminate some of the lots around downtown. As these seas of parked cars become actual walkways with stores and services leading to more options, the retail center becomes ever more integrated into its surrounding residential neighborhoods.