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02/05/2020 07:51 AM

Downtown Chester is Changing

With an impending Main Street project, the doors closing on some businesses, and other businesses opening, the landscape of downtown Chester is changing.

Business Changes

By the end of March, both the French Hen and Strutt Your Mutt will be closed for good. Laurie McGinley of the French Hen said it was time she gets back into one of her other areas of expertise, the environmental field. Angela Nucci, owner of Strut Your Mutt, said her decision to leave was based primarily on the upcoming construction in the area.

“It will be too difficult to keep up business when the construction begins,” said Nucci, who lives in Deep River and who has run her downtown Chester shop for the past four years. “I love Chester. It is a very supportive community and they really try to help small businesses here. Everyone is very nice and it has been a perfect place to have a business.”

“For me, it’s just time,” said McGinley. “I’ve been keeping my eye on things and I’ve been doing this for 17 years.”

Her shop was first located in downtown Essex; she moved her business to Chester 3 ½ years ago.

“Opening this store was a lifelong dream of mine and mission accomplished!” she said. “It’s time to move on to something new.”

McGinley will close her doors at the end of March and Nucci the first week in March.

On the flip side, husband and wife Linda and Everett Reid, owners of 59 Main Street, recently opened a new restaurant called Hot French Chix. The two closed their former restaurant The Good Elephant (previously restaurant L&E) in 2017 and are happy to be back at it in downtown Chester.

“Even though we were closed, we never left town and we are so excited about our new place,” said Linda. “Our specialty is French creole chicken.”

Linda explained that the construction work that is coming to the area is not a huge concern for her and her husband because they have planned ahead for it and are offering an array of take-out food.

“We are planning that the our take-out business will mitigate the loss of business that may come from the construction,” said Linda Reid, who believes that take out is becoming a very large segment of the restaurant industry and is happy to get on board.

The Physical Changes

According to Michael Joplin, chairman of the Main Street Committee, groundbreaking for the construction project is slated to happen sometime between March 20 and April 15. He believes it is most probable that it will begin the second week of April.

The purpose of the project is to improve the downtown area, replace the 90-year-old sidewalks, put in a curb that has sunk down, replace the road bed that is crumbling and in bad shape, and improve environmental conditions, drainage, and lighting, resulting in a total beautification of the downtown area.

It will start with taking out part of the sidewalk and road bed.

“It won’t happen all at once,” said Joplin. “The real heavy lifting will take about 2 ½ months.”

The entire project is expected to take a total of 18 weeks all together, from start to finish and should be finished sometime in July.

One of the biggest concerns is the Chester’s Sunday Market, a weekly farmer’s market that draws residents from all over the state to the town center, which is shut off from vehicle traffic. Options for the market, while construction is underway include the possibility of a move it to North Quarter Park, or the Maple Street parking lot, but a final decision has yet to made on that.

Joplin explained that unless there are extraordinary circumstances, there will not be a time when both sides of the street in the downtown area will be closed. “If nothing else, we need to keep at least one side open at all times for emergency vehicles,” said Joplin. The goal is to go out to bid for the construction project sometime within the next week. There has been a hold up due to state certification.