My "Downtown Durham" Letter

published in the Dover, NH Foster's Daily Democrat, August 25, 2006

extra commentary by Timothy Horrigan, August 27, 2006

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On August 22, 2006, my local daily— Foster's Daily Democrat— wrote what I thought was a misguided and negative editorial about town-gown relations in Durham, NH, the home of the University of New Hampshire.  I happen to live in downtown Durham, which has a walkable downtown with a wide range of shops and services. It is largely free of national chains, aside from Rite-Aid, who recently bought out a regional drugstore chain, Brooks Pharmacy, which has had a store in Durham since the 1960s. (Also, the Gibbs Oil station has a Dunkin' Donuts counter in the back.)  The editorial writer seems very upset by the fact that Burger King left town— over 15 years ago!  (In all fairness to Burger King, UNH did play some role in driving them out of town.  The old store was a small facility in a strip mall next to the local grocery, right across the street from the picturesque campus, and Burger King wanted to tear down the market to build a big ugly fast food hut with a drive-through and lots of signage and lighting.)

The town library has been a matter of some local controversy for some years: the town library's collection was for many years housed inside the main UNH library. A temporary town library was established in the 1990s and a permanent library is still several years away at best. But there was no particular reason for the paper to be addressing this issue in August 2006: this seemed to be merely a pretext for attacking those mean ol' liberals at the University.

I am a resident of Durham, and I feel the need to address a couple of the factual points you raised in your August 22 editorial which painted a false picture of life in Durham. It is true that the University has been expanding in recent years, but this expansion has in fact made life better, not worse, for the townspeople. The relationship is by no means perfect, but it is a good one. (The Durham-UNH town-gown relationship is better, I might add, than that between our state's other world-class university, Dartmouth College, and its two host communities, i.e., Hanover and Lebanon.)

First, you complained about the demise of a Burger King which "once served residents and students." The space where the Burger King was located was in fact taken over by a much better (and locally owned) fast food joint, the Bagelry. Second, you complained about a local merchant who "tried to sell art supplies" until UNH competed with her. You probably are referring to Jackie Strauss, the founder of the Outback (who was herself the spouse of a UNH professor.) This store in fact still exists and is well into its fourth decade, and still sells art supplies, although it has evolved over the years into more of a gift and novelty shop. Art supplies are also sold at an even more venerable local establishment, Town & Campus.

I do agree with you that the town does need a new library. The temporary facility behind the Durham marketplace is woefully inadequate. Once again, however, you misstated a crucial fact. Townspeople are in fact still do have easy access to the Dimond Library (although there is not much parking nearby): local residents are still allowed to use the UNH libraries.

Timothy Horrigan
7A Faculty Rd
Durham, NH 03824
ph: 603-868-3342

See also:

Main Street, Durham, NH; December 2005

The Forgotten Liars by Timothy Horrigan