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The Heart of Nashua with Joan Stylianos: Landmark building at 201 Main St. has an eclectic history

By JOAN STYLIANOS
February 28. 2018 9:52PM




I thought it was time to revisit the landmark brick building at 201 Main St.

Last September, the proposal to turn it into a performing arts center failed at City Hall, but Mayor James Donchess persevered and resubmitted the plan to the Board of Aldermen.

And today, the city is the proud owner of the future home of a new performing arts center downtown.

On Feb. 13, aldermen voted 14-1 to purchase 201 Main St. for $2 million. Businessman John Koutsos owned the former shoe store building. The 15-member board also voted to issue a $15.5 million bond to pay for the cost of the acquisition, construction and equipment of the facility. A theatre with a 500-700 seat capacity is planned.

It’s not going to be easy seeing this dream become a reality because a hefty $4 million private endowment must be secured before the bond can be issued. But City Hall is not foolish; the powers that be understand what a prized location is all about for Nashua’s economy and status, and they believe residents will pull together and support the investment.

Few would argue that the address is perfect and smack-dab in the heart of Nashua at Main and West Pearl streets. It offers the ultimate visibility for the Gate City.

Most of you remember the building as the former Alec’s Shoes, and older folks (like me) also recall the building being home to Miller’s Department Store. Their catchy slogan was “Meet you at Miller’s.”

But did you ever wonder what else once stood at 201 Main St.?

I did some digging and found a fascinating history of the downtown of Main at West Pearl streets, according to an old city directory and some newspapers. There happened to be a variety of establishments occupying the 201 Main St. section — even 80 years ago, the area was hoppin’.

If not for a general alarm fire that ripped through the busy block on May 16, 1962, who knows if Miller’s would have ever occupied that key spot. The damage was heavy and destroyed most of the businesses there, leading to the construction of the large Miller’s building.

Main at West Pearl was also once home to the Sunlight Pharmacy; the Central Fruit Store (1940s), a barbershop and a clothing store. These operations were located on the Main Street side.

Central Fruit’s name was later changed to Central Variety, and the Boston and Maine Transportation Co. and a bus stop were also located there, according to a Nashua city directory.

Interestingly, a couple of city officials have connections to 201 Main St.

Central Variety was later run by James R. Griffin, an alderman who was also a state representative and assessor. The next owner was Robert Pollock, also an alderman (1960s). Over the years, multiple businesses sprang from the block before Miller’s moved in, including a paint store.

On the West Pearl Street side of the downtown corner stood a Chinese laundry establishment known as Som Sing in the 1930s. Adjacent to that was Nashua’s largest pool room, which was formerly located in what later became a main section of Miller’s Dept. Store. Playing pool was a big deal in those days, and the site was crowded in the evenings and sometimes hosted exhibition matches with professional billiards players.

Given the historical background of 201 Main, maybe a performing arts center there is a good omen. Koutsos’s store has since moved into a larger facility at 1617 Southwood Drive off exit 8 in Nashua.

Koutsos had keen vision in 2015 when he spoke with Union Leader correspondent Kimberly Houghton:

“I see Nashua’s downtown morphing into an entertainment and civic area rather than a retail hub,” he said. “I think families will eventually be coming here for recreation.”

Ms. Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column is published weekly. She can be reached at jtania512@gmail.com.


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