Nashua’s downtown retail district is located only a few miles away from mammoth chain stores to the south and the recently-opened outlet center to the north in Merrimack. As the holiday shopping season kicks off this weekend, the mom-and-pop stores face stiff competition.
Downtown Nashua has the small town New England vibe that newly-created outlet centers like the one in Merrimack try to imitate. But while the downtown’s charm is authentic, it’s not enough to lure shoppers who want deep discounts and good parking. Kathy Cardin-Smith owns one of the local jewelry stores. She says the new outlet mall has affected downtown merchants.
"There are only so many pieces of the pie. People in the summer did venture up there when they first opened. A lot of money is still being spent in the outlets," Cardin-Smith says. "What are we doing to combat that? Always offering custom service, going the extra mile, recycling old gold. "
Then there's Cheryl Plunkett. She owns a small women's boutique across the street from the jewelry store. "The outlets. I was really, really nervous about them coming in," Plunkett says.
But she says the outlets haven’t been the detriment she feared. That’s probably because like other independent retailers, she carries products the malls and outlets don’t.
She also says there might be a way to piggyback on the outlet’s popularity.
"I’ve heard there are busloads of shoppers coming from Montreal and from all over the country. How can we steer them downtown?" Plunkett asks. "It’s something we’re seriously talking about it. We have to do some marketing."
And she says that marketing requires deep pockets.
Meanwhile, downtown merchants are thinking only about this week. Most say they’ll bring in between 35 and 40 percent of their annual revenues in just a few short weeks.