New Places, Faces

By Susan Morse

Hampton Union, Friday, July 22, 2005

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

Sean Kelley is renovating the former Atlantic Grill for a new restaurant scheduled to open Wednesday, {July 27, 2005}.
[Photo by Jackie Ricciardi]

HAMPTON -- The face of downtown Hampton is changing once again as a new bookstore has opened, a restaurant undergoes renovations, and a venerable children's store has moved out.

Parking and traffic remain challenges to getting people to shop downtown, said store owners and managers interviewed.

Greg Dollarhide, owner of Seacoast Coin & Jewelry said lack of parking in front of his store on the east side of Lafayette Road was one reason he moved out of downtown.

"I had the opportunity to purchase a retail location with parking," said Dollarhide, whose business is now farther north on Route 1 in Hampton, near Robbins Auto Parts.

Business has been good since opening on March 1, he said.

Renting Dollarhide's former space next to Marelli's Market is Rob Pondelli, who this week opened the Stoneweaver bookstore.

Pondelli said he thinks the bookstore is in a good location, with the well-trafficked Caffe Fresco across the street and the newly opened lunch shop, Just Gen's, a couple of doors down.

Stoneweaver includes two comfortable green reading chairs in the front window. It looks out onto a street often crowded with vehicles backed up at the traffic light at the Exeter Road/High Street intersection.

Parallel parking spaces line Route 1 in front of Stoneweaver, but drivers may feel intimidated about backing into a space during times of heavy traffic, which is daylight hours when the store is open.

Store owners said customers often overlook a municipal parking lot located behind businesses on Route 1, with access off of High Street.

"I have to assume it's a problem," Pondelli said of parking.

Al Szymczcha, co-owner of Caffé Fresco on the west side of Lafayette Road, said traffic, more than parking, is an issue for his business. The spaces in front of the cafe are head on, which allows drivers to easily pull in, but not back out, said Szymczcha.

"People coming past the lights really fly by," he said.

Next door to Caffé Fresco is the now vacant Bib 'n Crib Shoppe, a children's store which had been in downtown Hampton for many years. The space is now for rent, with no one at that number available for comment.

The opening of Caffé Fresco within the last decade gave people more reason to make downtown Hampton a destination spot to meet.

Sean and Cara Kelley, the original owners of the cafe, now have a new venture. They have taken over the former Atlantic Grill on High Street and plan to open it as the 72-seat Hagan's Grill on July 27.

The new restaurant is named after the couple's two daughters, Hanna and Morgan.

This week, Sean Kelley and crew were busy renovating the space, which has an almost Key West flavor, with dark blue walls, matchstick paneling, hardwood floors, ceiling fans and a wrap-around bar.

Kelley said he thinks downtown Hampton has plenty of parking in the municipal lot located almost directly across the street from his restaurant.

"I like the space," said Kelley. "It's got a good feel, in a great historical building. It's centrally located downtown, (with) a lot of local parking here in the square."

The new restaurant will be open from dinner onwards, with an expanded steak and seafood menu. Kelley will continue the Atlantic Grill's tradition of live music Thursday through Saturday nights.

Kelley said he thinks Hampton is a good place for dining. Other local restaurants, The Old Salt, Widow Fletcher's and the Galley Hatch are all busy, he said.

"They do 600 covers on Friday and Saturday night," he said. "Hampton has a great audience for food."

Hagan's will take over adjacent space, now occupied by Luna Chics. The trendy boutique, which has been in town for 3½ years, is moving to Water Street in downtown Exeter.

Manager Nicole Mead said she thinks Exeter is a better fit for the store. Downtown Hampton has potential, she said.

"It needs a facelift," she said. "This place could really thrive."

Jeff Travers, whose wife, Elen, recently opened the Fuller Brush Team and More on High Street, said he thinks Hampton is the best location for the store, even if business is only good for half of the year, July through December.

"People don't want to walk in the weather," he said of the winter lag.

"We've been to Exeter," he said. "What's nice here, people walk by all day long."