Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultThe building, known as Bickford Place, was renovated by the city and sold last fall to Water Street Retail for $315,000. The developer has rented the building to Family Dollar, which is in the process of moving into the building from its current location at 121 Main Street.
Customers will enter the new Family Dollar store through Bickford Park. The Main Street entrance has been bricked up. The eight windows on Main Street are covered with an orange sun block window film containing the Family Dollar logo.
"I think what was allowed to have happened at Bickford Place is atrocious," said Sylvia Poulin, who heads up the Berlin Main Street Program.
Cindy Morin noted the merchants are working hard to redevelop the downtown.
"This is kind of an insult," she said.
But Massachusetts developer Stephen Stapinski, of Water Street Retail, said he met with local merchants some time ago and is following through on what he promised.
"What we're doing is everything we discussed we'd do," he said. Stapinski said he agreed not to remove the Main Street windows at the request of the merchants. He said the sun block window film is designed to be permanent.
Stapinski said he told merchants the store could not maintain two entrances. He said the entrance through Bickford Park was discussed as a way to get people to use the city's newest park. He said the entrance also connects the Pleasant Street parking lot to Main Street.
"I don't think a business needs to have a Main Street access to be a Main Street business," he said.
Poulin and Morin and two other downtown merchants met with the planning board Tuesday night to discuss site plan regulations.
Board member Fran Cusson said former board member Dick Poulin told her he thought city regulations required a Main Street business to have a front door on Main Street and windows that were visible to the street.
Planning board member Dave Morin, who owns Morin Shoe Store on Main Street, said when the building was originally built for Rite Aid, the drug store was required to have an entrance and windows on Main Street. He said the intent at that time was to make sure if a store wanted to be a Main Street business, it had an entrance on Main Street.
Planning board member Lucie Remillard said she thought the store should have an entrance on Main Street, even if it was not a main entrance.
Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the city's site plan regulations do not address either issue. She reviewed the city's site plan regulations with the board.
Planning board member Tom McCue, who sits on the Main Street board, said it is unfortunate there are no regulations in place to address the Family Dollar issues.
"This is something we didn't see coming," he said.
McCue suggested the downtown merchants develop some basic downtown design regulations and come back to the planning board. The board would be the first step in getting new regulations enacted.
Poulin said her committee would welcome downtown design regulations. She said she feels Water Street Retail and Family Dollar are not interested in partnering with the Main Street Program. She noted her program is paying to keep the Bickford Park clean and picked up.
Cindy Morin said Family Dollar has a big box store mentality and not that of a local merchant.
The merchants agreed to meet with the planning board next month to discuss downtown design regulations.
Stapinski said he expects Family Dollar will move into Bickford Place in a few weeks.