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June 12. 2013 11:11PM

Downtown restaurants, bars urge Manchester aldermen to nix summer Hanover Street 'block parties'

MANCHESTER — Don't call them party-poopers, but a group of downtown restaurant and bar owners is urging the aldermen to nix weekend "block parties" on Hanover Street during the summer months.

The managers of 16 establishments have signed a petition against the Hanover Street closure, which began as a pilot program last summer and was hailed by restaurants and other businesses on the street as a great success. Under the plan, a block and a half of the street, from Chestnut Street to Nutfield Lane, would be closed to traffic to make way for more outdoor seating, live music and other entertainment on Friday and Saturday evenings.

The petition, submitted to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at its meeting last week, states, "We the undersigned felt it necessary to share a collective concern surrounding the 'block parties' that occurred on Hanover St."

The petition states that the closure "prevents customers from access to our operations and 'herds' them toward alternate routes. Last year most of us experienced a significant reduction in revenue generation, specifically during the times when Hanover St. was barricaded."

Steven Thompson, the general manager of XO on Elm, presented the petition to the aldermen.

XO has been in the news recently over a controversial loan from the Manchester Development Corporation that a couple of aldermen have likened to a "bailout." A large majority of the aldermen voted to approve the loan.

Parking issues

Ed Sekenski, a co-owner of Doogie's Bar and Grill on Manchester Street, told the aldermen last week that his business and neighboring establishments were affected because parking spaces on the street were eliminated as part of the Hanover closure.

"This winter was very tough for everyone. We're just starting to spring back. If this vote goes through, we'll see another business close," Sekenski said, adding, "If you do close the street, make it fair for everybody and shut down Elm" — downtown's main thoroughfare.

The issue threatens to divide the downtown restaurant community, which has grown considerably over the past decade.

Tiffany Shepard, the manager at Penuche's on Hanover, said she believed the closure brought more people into downtown. "If anything it should be good for their businesses," she said.

She added, "I absolutely love XO, The Shaskeen, Jelly's, all those bars, and I hope this doesn't cause any conflict."

The restaurants on Hanover Street, including Penuche's, Hooked, and the Ignite Bar and Grille, have estimated that they saw a 20 to 30 percent increase in business last year during the summer months, offsetting the decline that typically occurs at that time.

Last year the owner of Penuche's, Chuck Kalatzes, covered the cost of live music on Hanover. Kalatzes, along with other proprietors, recently formed an association to coordinate the event. The group had intended to propose having the first closure take place over the Fourth of July weekend. The aldermen are expected to consider restarting the pedestrian-only program at their next meeting, July 2.

A free market

Ward 3 Alderman Pat Long, who has been a strong proponent of the plan, said he "doesn't understand" the opposition. "It's a free market. You should be encouraging businesses to prosper," he said. "People hear someone playing saxophone, piano, they're going to walk by. The idea is to get foot-traffic in front of the businesses."

Long added that he has expressed a willingness to consider other street closures, but he said so far no other businesses have brought forward a proposal.

John Paolini, the owner of Piccola Italia, on Elm Street, said the "block party" had the effect of diverting customers from his restaurant and others in the vicinity.

"If it was our Friday night date night, and I walked by there and saw the bands, I would probably want to stay there too," he said.

Piccola Italia opened 12 years ago, before the restaurant boom, and Paolini noted that he often donated food for civic causes, including last week for an event at Central High School.

"I wish we all could win," he said. "But if there are five guys at a poker table, chances are there's only going to be one big winner. That's a fact."tsiefer@unionleader.com


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