Our opinion: Glass half empty or half full?

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As a species, we're often governed first and foremost by what our senses tell us, rather than what we know to be true. That's not unusual for most animals on this planet.

Thing is, sometimes, what we see is not reflective of larger reality, just what we see. And sometimes what we see and experience can lead to associative thinking — the notion that two unrelated events have a cause and effect relationship.

So what's perception and what's reality when it comes to Manchester's economic health?

Drive around town, and you'll see the most recent businesses that have closed up shop. Bee Hallmark Shop, Crabtree & Evelyn, and The Next Chapter Cafe, to name a few. And there's still "for rent" signs in a number of windows — signs that have been there for a while.

Is the sky falling? No.

On the same drive, you'll also see the businesses that are still open, such as La Peche Lingerie, purchased from former Joy All Things Underthings owner Joy Proft by two of her employees and given a quick makeover. Or the former retail building on Main Street purchased by Karen Geriak and converted into offices. The Next Chapter will soon be Bonnet and Main, as new proprietors take over the space inside the Northshire Bookstore. The space next to Seasons is under construction; so is Manchester Medical Center on Bonnet Street.

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That's not to say the outlook is all rosy. Nationally, retail is still suffering from changing shopping habits and the sketchy business practices of some vulture capital firms. Manchester is not immune to those trends.

What's required here is a bit of perspective, and a lot of patience.

Manchester is in the middle of an evolution, and if you've watched PBS' "Eons" digital series on paleontology and natural history, then you know that evolution is a very slow process. Some retail will continue to thrive, as evidenced by the crowds of shoppers seen here every weekend. In the meantime, we're already seeing some square footage being repurposed for other uses such as housing, offices, and eateries.

But don't conflate being patient with standing still.

We know better than most that the state has a demographic problem, especially when it comes to an adequate workforce. We also know the state's response to this problem has been insufficient to date. So if Manchester wants people to move here and fill available jobs, it can't afford to wait on Montpelier. It needs to create such opportunities, and then market them to a target audience.

For example, last year's changes in the land use ordinance made it possible for mixed use development in Manchester, with the goal of competitive rents working people can afford as well as retail, office, food and entertainment. But rule changes don't develop buildings by themselves. That's going to take people who care about Manchester and its future, who see value in that future, and who are willing to bet on it, to move things forward.


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