They’re balancing the ring in Petronella

A style of community dance popular in New England since Colonial times, contras start out as two lines of partners facing each other and then the next couple on each side. There’s a live band and callers, and we walk through the sequence of steps before the music begins. The whole point is to have fun, and you wind up dancing with everyone in the line before the piece is finished. This example is from the  Lamprey River Band’s dance series in Dover’s city hall before the monthly event moved to a Unitarian-Universalist church in neighboring Durham. This particular dance is named Petronella.

Meet a Quaker

Many of the Dover’s churches have their booths at the city’s annual Apple Harvest Day festival, and the Quaker meeting is no exception. Here we are making the most of our past to let people know we’re still thriving today. We handed out homemade cookies – 1,162 of them baked the night before – and had kids pitch in to hand-crank grains of oats into oatmeal. The Quaker Oats company, by the way, was never owned by Quakers – they just liked our reputation for honesty and quality.

A missed opportunity

One of the delights of my small city is the waterfall at the heart of the downtown. It has powered mills since 1642, and with the addition of the dam atop the cataract, ran the textiles looms that made Cocheco calico world-famous.

The Central Falls and the dam atop it span the Cocheco River where it drops to the tide.

The river – seen here resting at the end of summer – rages in the springtime, with snowmelt and heavy rains, and plunges into the tides that fluctuate eight to ten feet every six hours. Hence, the fish ladder for salmon, herring, and migrating eels.

With the retraining wall on the south side of the site in danger, a new wall was installed during the summer – a major construction project that tied up traffic for months.

The new retaining wall is seen from the Central Avenue bridge.

When the old wall and the ground behind it were being removed earlier in the year, the excavation suggested that a much different design was in the works. Getting a clear view of the falling water has been difficult. The old walkway was charming, but you really wanted to get down lower and closer to the water. I envisioned a set of small terraces stepping downward beside the fish ladder.

 

The fish ladder ascends next to the retaining wall.

 

Here’s how the ladder and wall appear from a pedestrian bridge next to the mill.

Alas, that’s not what happened. We don’t even have the charming walkway anymore.

I’m hoping the new wall weathers quickly. Right now, it strikes me as an eyesore.

They bill this as Fish Ladder Park. No kidding. The tree-lined walkway and quaint lamps are gone.

How long has that hyphen been there?

Central Fire Station, Dover, New Hampshire.

After years of taking the same route, have you ever been startled to look up and see something striking for the first time?

I’ve driven or walked past this almost daily for the past 20 years but simply hadn’t noted the one detail. The 9-11 in the address.

Take a close look at that sign.

Firefighters across the Northeast feel deeply about their fallen brothers in the World Trade Center attacks, especially those afflicted later by the toxic consequences. Dover’s professionals are no exception, as the mural painted across the back of the Central Station parking lot proclaims.

The mural reflects the department’s solidarity with the wider brotherhood of firefighters.

When I gazed up and saw that hyphen in 9-11, I thought they had inserted it in the street address – 911 – perhaps as a sign of continuing support.

The building next door, at 7 Broadway.

Then my eyes caught the address next door – 7 – and I realized the station sits at 9 and 11 Broadway, where it’s been for more than a century. How coincidental, then, that its address would line up with a much later significance.

Aldi comes to town

It took Trader Joe’s forever to get to New Hampshire. Now the other half of the Albrecht corporate identity in America has finally arrived, with a new store in Dover.

The nearest TJ’s, for the record, is in Newington, one town to the south of us, with its mall, cineplex, power plant, big industrial park and airfield, and a slew of retailers serving both Dover and Portsmouth.

If you’re familiar with the German-based Aldi discount supermarket chain, you know it’s spartan about low prices, boasting that it undercuts Walmart. Rather than a choice of brand-name products, the shelves present mainly storebrand items – still in the cardboard shipping box. You put a deposit on a grocery cart, if you need one, and you have to pay for a grocery bag, if you didn’t bring your own. And, despite the frugality or stinginess, there are customers who rave about its specialty chocolate and coffee. And those who complain.

The name Aldi stands for AL-brecht DI-scount. And, oh, yes, the owners, Germany’s richest family, have been feuding, providing plenty of gossip. By the way, the cart rental means you take it back to the store for your quarter, saving the company the expense of hiring someone to retrieve it from the parking lot.

The local Aldi doesn’t sell alcohol, tobacco, or lottery tickets.

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The grocery business has always been competitive, with thin profit margins. Success has depended on volume, for the most part, and niche loyalty, where possible. There’s little room for error.

Regionally, the Market Basket chain dominates. It has the lowest prices overall, wide variety, locally responsive product selection, fierce customer and employee loyalty, and a 1950s’ New England identity. We’re grateful it survived its own Greek family feud and continues with its enlightened leadership.

Meanwhile, the other two players in town pitch themselves toward stylish, but they’re almost never crowded. You might stop there if you don’t want to face the crowd at Market Basket or prefer closer parking, but there’s definitely a sense that they’re not where the action is, despite the corporate decor.

Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford is owned by the Ahold Dehaize group in the Netherlands, which also operates the Giant, Food Lion, and Stop & Shop chains in the U.S. It feels sterile.

Shaw’s Market operates jointly with Star Market out of West Bridgeport, Massachusetts, and is owned by Boise, Idaho-based Albertson’s. Its tone is somehow greener or more intimately lighted. Do we really care if it’s the official grocer of the Boston Red Sox?

In Dover, Hannaford and Shaw’s sit side by side north of the hospital.

Intriguingly, Aldi chose to tuck its new store in across the street. Rather than building, it could have taken over the former Staple’s site a bit up the street, closer to both the freeway and to Market Basket. We’re curious about the corporate thinking here.

Our guess is that Aldi figures it can pick off at least one of the two rivals that share its traffic lights. Hannaford has a satisfactory pharmacy, one that my health plan pointed me to. Shaw’s turns out some fine baguettes and the tortilla chips are superb. So we’d miss either one.

For perspective, the Shaw’s in Newington recently folded, unable to keep up with its neighboring Market Basket and TJ’s.

Aldi is closer to downtown Dover than Market Basket, and for some prices, it’s coming in lower. But is that enough to cut significantly into No. 1?

We’ll see.

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For now, I’m viewing it more as a convenience store with low prices. A gallon of milk is a dime or two cheaper than anywhere else … for now.