A lot of attention is spent on major metropolitan areas and the struggles of businesses to survive there, and we forget that many of the small towns and their small businesses have also struggled for many years. Some towns are fighting antiquated bylaws, others an anti-business or anti-change mentality that resists bringing in new businesses that would attract more people to the town.
The tri-town area of Marion, Rochester and Mattapoisett is an example of three struggling business climates.
Known more for Tabor Academy than for any single business, Marion was well-known for its dramatic decade-long Dunkin Donuts fight, but now that the coffee shop franchise has been built, it serves the town well and didn’t exactly make the town self-destruct....
But like many small towns, Marion is dotted with businesses that have closed and remained vacant. The former Sippican Hardware store, on the corner of Spring and Route 6, once planned as a mixed use development that was scrapped in 2008 when the recession hit, is now condemned.
Resistance to change
“The Planning Board spent years developing a "Neighborhood Overlay District" in that area of town,” he added, “giving the Board more control over development. The changes we had proposed in the by-laws would have given the Board the power to expedite proper development in an area that is ripe for commercial use. The residents voted down our efforts, which was very frustrating to say the least.”
Marion Planning Board Vice Chairman Thomas Magauran said, put simply, most people in Marion value the "off the beaten path" aspects of the community and all efforts to embrace change are met with “great resistance.”
Where are the customers?
As to the question of why it is so difficult for retail to make it here, Magauran said it is simple. Not enough business. It is not taxes, but customers that end the dreams of would-be retailers (Mom and Pop's).
“For anyone to open a small business here, we can’t just survive on the people that live in the town. We need to get people from other areas to come here, but there’s nothing to attract them.”
Mattapoisett has seen its fair share of empty storefronts, but for the most part has helped to turn that corner, filling the old Dunkin Donuts store and the former Seaport Village Coffee shop over the last few months. The biggest business story of the year in town wasn’t what business opened up shop in town; it was one that wanted to locate in Mattapoisett, but balked after being shown resistance.
Mattapoisett Selectman Jordan Collyer said unlike big cities, small towns are limited in how they can attract businesses, with the towns mainly just able to talk up the opportunities that exist.
Rochester, known mostly for its farming and agriculture, does not have the same issues as Marion or Mattapoisett. The businesses they do have, for the most part, stay, and when businesses close – Bev Loves Books was one of the last ones to close – it was taken over almost right away by neighboring restaurant Matt’s Blackboard.
“The nature of the town has always been agriculture; we have a lot of small farms and cranberry bogs and people with horses. The rezoning will allow more businesses to come into town, especially in the town’s center.”
Small towns, as you can see, have unique hurdles to overcome in securing new businesses or even keeping existing businesses in town. All three towns have much to offer: wonderful citizens, great school systems and a secure and peaceful way of life.
But yes, change is coming. You can already see it along parts of Route 6 or in similar towns from the Cape to Western Massachusetts. The next generation is not as opposed to change as the current one is. Not all change is good though, but for business’ sake, change must happen and soon.
Read the entire article in the June Issue of South Coast Insider