Shark Tank Grant Nomination
Wilton, NH 03086
In a 5-minute walk you can shop antiques, get your hunting license, drop off your dry cleaning, send a FAX, rent a tux, have your hair done, mail a present, buy a house, get your teeth cleaned, eat paella and pizza, sip cappuccino, see a movie, listen to Boston blues bands, grab a good book, savor chocolate made the old fashion way, register your car, vaccinate your dog, take a yoga class, scrapbook your heart out, weave a quilt, create bead work, and buy eclectic hand-made jewelry and sculpture. But all these very small businesses struggle and sigh each time another one shuts its doors. They say the heart is there -- but the beat is gone.
This summer, Wilton established our first economic development team and hired a town administrator. Our goals are to diversify the tax base, revitalize our downtown small business community and put Wilton on the map as a destination.
Within the next few months, we’ll have a data set on what 100 small business owners need through the UNH Business Retention and Expansion Program survey conducted by resident volunteers. But without seed money, how will we implement their ideas about building a river walk along the Souhegan, resurrecting the tourist railroad, upgrading the Main St. facades and signage, and redirecting traffic from 101 bypass into downtown?
The historic Town Hall Theatre has been showing movies for as long as there have been movies, and draws audiences from great distances, but the owner worries about Netflix and On-Demand. He struggles to find new theatre experiences for young people and a new draw for loyal patrons.
Glimpses of hope are a young chef from Peru who just opened a tapas bar at his new SkyBridge Café, and a young culinarian will make a go of reopening his father’s breakfast restaurant now on Main St.
But we need to create foot traffic, integrated marketing and a digital presence. We need a gathering place for our seniors and children’s activities so the 1000 residents in the downtown village do more than drive through town to bigger ones east and west.
We have grand hopes for a concert gazebo, and to bring back the tourist train with a dining car. Today, the railway carries out the gravel guts of our small town without bringing in the leaf-peeping tourists it once did.
Wilton abounds with artists inside those beautiful, historic mill buildings around downtown overlooking the river. But they all struggle to be known and make the rent.
We fear losing our Main St business properties, one by one, to residential if we can’t recapture the civic center of our lives and attract once again those basic services: a general store, somewhere for dinner before the movie, drinks to complement the Local’s Music Café.
We want to convert the vacant bank building into a small business tech incubator to support start-ups for those “two guys in a garage” who invent, collaborate and make our country great.