I FELL IN LOVE with white chocolate bark as a child. It was the perfect treat packaged in a small white box from Martha’s.
The original Martha’s Sweet Shoppe debuted in downtown Nashua at 185 Main St. in 1936. It was opened by Katherine, the great aunt of present owner Bill Fokas. It was a cozy spot for a candy shop.
In 1944, Bill’s dad, James “Mitch” Fokas, expanded the business to include a luncheonette with 28 stools and a catering company. The eatery became the talk of the town and the ideal place for a quick bite and to get the scoop on Nashua happenings.
And with New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary status, politicians at every level would pop in to Martha’s to shake hands and pose for photos.
Today, the landmark is known as Martha’s Exchange, and it is five times the size of the original luncheonette. Thanks to Bill’s keen business foresight, the popular restaurant also boasts a great bar, established the city’s first microbrewery (in 1993) and features a large function hall upstairs. And the Sweet Shoppe is still on-site to “keep the nostalgia alive” as the restaurant’s website says.
Mitch and his wife, Ethel, worked hard running the family business with their children, Kathy, Bill and Chris. The prominent couple was generous and kind to the community and the Greek church. I can still see petite and elegant Ethel behind the candy counter with a ready smile and warm greeting.
Martha’s helped to define the downtown and played a key role in the 1980s revitalization of Main Street, with a significant restoration of its historic location and the entire block of Main Street that housed the Merchants Exchange building. Martha’s remains a symbol of a successful, longtime business that has weathered all kinds of changes.
When Nashua’s Board of Health voted to recommend that aldermen set a 9:30 nightly pandemic curfew for restaurants and bars here in the city, it was a tough pill to swallow for residents, restaurateurs, bar owners, employees and those struggling during the financial challenges of the global pandemic.
To slow the increase in COVID-19 cases, Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker announced a curfew order in November forcing restaurants and bars to close by 9:30 p.m. And some believe that by Nashua adopting a similar measure, we could avoid attracting Bay State patrons who wanted to keep the dining and drinking going in Nashua, possibly adding to the growing coronavirus numbers here.
I’ve been on board with Mayor Donchess and Public Health Director Bobbie Bagley for just about every action they’ve taken on keeping Nashuans safe during these trying COVID-19 circumstances, but not this time.
Massachusetts people spend many dollars across our southern NH border daily. Some work here, go to school here, shop here, and yes, drink and eat here. It’s unfair to single out the restaurant/bar industry.
And the Board of Aldermen apparently agreed by voting down the curfew 11-to-4 last week. I believe it was the right decision to make. Cheers to 2021!
Joan Stylianos is a Nashua native. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.