101 problems for Wilton businesses
>While we applaud Wilton’s efforts through its Business Retention and Expansion Program (BREP) to help local businesses grow and find greater prosperity, we think that in one way its members will find themselves frustrated.
The primary problem facing Wilton, we believe, is Route 101. If it didn’t exist, hundreds more cars would go through downtown Wilton each day on their way west, but of course Route 101 does exist, and those hundreds of cars, many of which might have stopped in Wilton, just keep on going.
What Main Street, Wilton, primarily gets are cars that pass through every day, driven by folks either on their way to work or on their way home, heading toward Milford in the morning, and Lyndeborough and Greenfield in the afternoon. Some of them stop, sure, but most are just on their way.
Contrast that with Milford, where the Oval is ringed with interesting shops and places to eat, but equally, if not more important, it is a Mecca for cars. Certainly many of those cars are heading west and many of the drivers won’t stop, but many will because, unless you like driving on the Route 101 Bypass, you have to go through downtown Milford to get somewhere else. So, some drivers do, indeed, stop.
So, access to downtown Wilton is limited.
It’s great that Wilton is trying to help merchants and that the information gathered by BREP will eventually be reviewed by a task force of community leaders and economic development professionals. It can’t hurt, of course.
But drivers on Route 101 can’t see downtown Wilton; to them, it’s over there somewhere. Unless those drivers can be given a really good reason to take that slight detour off 101, they’re not going to go out of their way. There are some great draws to the west of Wilton – Peterborough, for one – where folks who didn’t stop in Milford can get many of the same things they could have gotten on the Oval – antique stores, good places to eat, a great bookstore.
Wilton has to find something that will draw people off the highway and into town.
That is always the issue for small towns, especially those bypassed by a road that goes to many easy-to-reach places, even Keene and Brattleboro, Vt.
So why stop in Wilton?
Aha. That’s the question that BREP must answer: What can Wilton offer to make those drivers veer to the right when they’re heading west, or make a sharp left when they’re heading east?
Wilton has one of the great movie theaters in the region, a classic building that often shows classic movies, but the Town Hall Theatre, great as it is, won’t do the trick by itself. Something has to bring people to Wilton two hours before the movie starts.
Folks have tried restaurants, and some of them have been good, but they never seem to last. Why not? We don’t know. Perhaps the BREP group can figure it out.
There is no bookstore, and the two antique stores face major competition from Milford, where such stores abound.
We wish we had the answer. We are fans of Wilton, fans of its attractive Main Street, fans of its people, and we wish the town great success.
Something has to convince drivers that Wilton is worth a quick detour.