Our Opinion: Ben Hauben

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When someone sits down to write the definitive history of Manchester that covers the last few decades of the 20th century and the first two of the 21st, it will be impossible to avoid Ben Hauben.

Each era offers us a few figures who tower above, and shape and influence, their time and surroundings, at every level, from the local to the international. At our level, the local world of Manchester and the mountains, Mr. Hauben certainly earned a spot among that small group of outsized influencers.

Ben Hauben passed away Tuesday. He will be remembered by virtually all who lived in or passed through Manchester as the person who saw a vision, and who saw possibilities. Those visions were at once adventurous and pioneering. He brought, almost single-handedly, the concept of retail outlets to Manchester, forever changing, or at least modifying, the town's perception of itself and how it was viewed from away. There were no shortage, as we all know, of folks who didn't necessarily see the arrival of retail outlets and the hordes of shopping bag toting visitors as the last word in progress. Controversy surrounded virtually all his major projects, from the "Crystal Palace" back in the 1980s to the conversion of the Sirloin Saloon into the Marble Mill, which opened in 2014. Vanderbilt Equities, his corporate entity which oversaw the leasing of space to some of the premium brand names in American retailing, was a leader and innovator in this business, and grew to include multiple property parcels across town. He brought change, sometimes change which residents who had lived in an earlier, by comparison simpler, version of Manchester, found deeply unsettling. And yet, it's impossible to imagine the Manchester of today, with its bustling commercial activity, without Ben Hauben.

He brought a level of business and enterprise that kept the town an active, exciting place that drew people here who would otherwise never have spent longer than it took to drive through on their way to someplace else. And often overlooked were his creative ideas — for a train station (remember that one in 2002?); for an epicurean school -- and also his philanthropic contributions to the library and the Dorset Theater Festival, among others.

He also brought quality. Consider the brand named stores which arrived here — from Ralph Lauren, to Kate Spade and Eddie Bauer. All are top end within their fields and niches. Nothing middlebrow. And the buildings well well-designed, well-built and maintained. It's not a record that all who followed him into the business can necessarily match or equal.

Ben also saw the rich potential of this area in terms of its scenery and outdoor recreational possibilities. He was no one-dimensional thinker who thought solely in terms of bricks and mortar that could be plunked down anywhere. He saw in Manchester a special, unique quality and combination of influences, from the modern to the historic, and like every personality who came before him offering change, endured and persevered to achieve the success that came his way

Ben made his out-sized mark on Manchester, and his passing may offer a bookend of sorts to one era. But that influence will live on for a long while yet to come.


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