Bert Freedman

George & Phillips sports store owner Bert Freedman has decided to sell Exeter’s historic Smith Building, which once was home to Woolworth.

EXETER — The historic Smith Building, the former home of the Woolworth department store in downtown Exeter, was put on the market Monday for the first time since 1922.

The 169-year-old building, which is located at 173-179 Water St., is listed for $2.6 million by the Bean Group of Stratham.

The building is owned by Bert Freedman and has housed George & Phillips sporting goods store since 1997, when it relocated after Woolworth closed in the mid-1990s.

Freedman, who also owns George & Phillips, said he hopes the new buyer will work out an agreement to allow his downtown family-run business, which will celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, to remain.

Freedman’s store now has about 10,000 square feet of retail space and another 10,500 square feet of warehouse space in the unfinished basement. The building has additional space that houses Exeter Cleaners and Krypton Comics on the first floor and a yoga studio and two offices on the second floor.

Kathy Corson, a Realtor with Bean Group, said Monday there’s already interest in the property.

The Smith Building in Exeter

The Smith Building on Water Street in Exeter is on the market. The building’s current owner hopes current tenants can stay.

With more consumers buying through online retailers, Freedman said his business specializing in running, tennis, swimming and soccer merchandise has changed.

“Retail has changed a lot in 23 years. The internet has really taken a bite,” he said.

The sale price would drop to $2.4 million if Freedman is allowed to keep 2,500 square feet of retail space for the store. He said he hopes the other tenants will be able to stay as well if a sale is made.

Freedman said his grandparents, George and Goldie Freedman, bought the building in 1922 as an investment property.

The building underwent several additions over the years.

“It’s one of the biggest buildings on the street and is also kind of the cornerstone of this part of town,” said Freedman, who took over operating George & Phillips from his parents, Robert and Selma Freedman, many years ago.

The building is best known for housing Woolworth, which occupied a portion of the retail space before taking over the entire building in 1969.

Woolworth on the sidewalk

Woolworth is still written on the sidewalk outside the Smith Building.

There are still a few reminders of Woolworth’s time in Exeter. Freedman made sure that the Woolworth name printed on the sidewalk remained untouched when the town installed new sidewalks a few years ago.

Freedman also still has a Woolworth safe and a framed copy of the company’s rules for stockroom employees.

He has worked on a redevelopment plan that would remove the rear section and replace it with 17 residential condos and 26 parking spaces, along with other amenities and the potential for additional office and retail space. The plan received conditional approval by the planning board and has been OK’d by the town’s Historic District Commission.

Freedman said he hopes a buyer will move ahead with the already approved plan.

“We had plans to renovate the building again right now, but I just can’t do it myself. I’m not a developer,” he said.

“I feel strongly about the town, and I really would love to see this building developed into something that it can be.”