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WREN seeks No. Border Regional Commission grant to buy 117 Main St.

July 09, 2014
BERLIN — WREN, the nonprofit Women's Rural Entrepreneurial Network, signed a purchase and sale agreement to buy the vacant building at 117 Main Street from its owner Paul Charest, who ran his high-end Morning Lane Photography studio there for many years and later rented space to NCIA — North Country Internet Access, explained WREN's executive director Marilinne Cooper in an interview at Thursday's Farmers' Market.

"The P & S is contingent on WREN receiving two grants: one for some $160,000 from the Northern Border Regional Commission (NBRC) and also a 20 percent matching grant from a foundation that likes to leverage its money to the greatest extent possible, Cooper said.

The NBRC was created as federal-state partnership under the 2008 Farm Bill to address the economic and community development needs of severely distressed areas in the four-state Northern Forest region. NBRC is designed to provide assistance for projects in seven priority sectors: basic public infrastructure; transportation infrastructure; telecom infrastructure; workforce training and business development; renewable and alternative energy sources; resource conservation, tourism, recreation and preservation of open spaces; and, finally, health care and public services in distressed communities.

If WREN is able to acquire 117 Main Street, it would then move its activities out of the former Congregational Church, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, to which it moved in 2012.

The new Min Street location would be used for classes and events and to allow public access to technology, including a proposed "maker space" for entrepreneurs, artists, and crafters.

WREN's board voted its approval to go ahead with the grant applications and to sign the P & S at a special meeting held the second week of June, Cooper said.

According to its website, WREN is continually seeking new ways to strengthen and support the North Country's small-town economies, to encourage the development and patronage of hometown businesses and to actively urge our communities to spend their dollars locally.

In 2009 WREN began a feasibility study to explore the possibilities of a satellite office in Berlin as part of our long-range vision to replicate the WREN model for economic development in another community. With its mill closures and lack of entrepreneurial opportunities, Berlin was ready for WREN's micro-enterprise boost. By 2010 WREN launched the Berlin Local Works Farmers Market and opened a Main Street office for classes, workshops, one-on-one tutorials and the WREN BETA program.

Under the guiding hand of coordinator Laura Jamison of Berlin, WREN's Local Works Farmers Market has not only brought new customer traffic to its stuttering downtown economy but has also provided much-needed market access to help aspiring and existing entrepreneurs and to boost the economic development of the City and the Androscoggin Valley's neighboring towns.

In 2012 WREN moved its Berlin office to the Congregational Church that was bought by TRI-County CAP. With multiple rooms and a much larger footprint, the new location provided more opportunities for expanding both its services and ongoing events and to become more visible in the City and its neighboring communities.

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