Greg Cloutier of Lancaster has been instrumental in the revitalization of Main Street in Lancaster. (Courtesy Photo) (click for larger version)
May 31, 2017LANCASTER — It is no secret to the residents of Lancaster, that what was once a bustling town with thriving businesses, had lost its flare for a spell. Back in the days of Butson's and Laverdier's, the town was hopping. On Main Street every morning the Lancaster Diner as well as the Lancaster Fruit and Deli was filled with locals eating breakfast, grabbing a coffee or a bagel and talking politics. Kids would rush to Evans Market after school to fill up on penny candy and grab a soda for 50 cents.
Fortunately, the town has taken a turn for the better and it is shaping up quite beautifully. Main street is looking sharp and there are several new businesses that are doing quite well.
One man behind the upswing is Lancaster resident Greg Cloutier. We've all heard his name in passing yet we don't know much more.
Cloutier was hesitant about participating in this story due to the fact that he does not want or need recognition for his work; however, he wanted it to be known that, "It was the charm of a lady that made me agree to this." That being said, Cloutier has quite the background and finds true value in our small town.
Cloutier, 68, was born and raised in Groveton. He moved with his family to Jefferson and lived there until 1999 when he made the move into Lancaster. He attended the Academy of Aeronautics in New York, then finished his Mechanical Engineering degree in Los Angeles, California at Northrop University.
It all started at the movies.
"I got my first kiss at the Rialto Theatre, and when I saw it going downhill, I decided to do something to potentially save it," he recalled.
Cloutier bought the theatre at auction in 2011, and enlisted Dave Fuller to bring the place back to life. Mission accomplished.
Cloutier said, "I really enjoy and love small towns. I watched my hometown of Groveton struggle because of the changing economy and Lancaster was on the same path with buildings and entrepreneurs that were leaving the area and not willing to invest."
The rock climbing enthusiast who has climbed all over the world including Alaska continued his plans to rebuild Lancaster with another purchase on Main Street.
"There was a fire where the Polish Princess is now," he said. "It had been empty for a year and a half and they were talking about tearing it down so the town manager reached out and said we're looking for a way to save that building."
Cloutier saw that the conditions were ripe so the purchase was made.
Cloutier said, "Just before I bought that building, I had met with Magda Randall who I thought needed a start and had lots of talent and so we built her a bakery."
Next door to the bakery is now the Root Cellar owned by Melissa Grella. Cloutier said he was blessed to find Grella who needed a place to start her business.
"We modified the old jewelry store for her beginning, and I just try to support the difficulties of starting a new business. You get all these expenses coming in up front and you have yet to perfect your business, so I like to help those types of people get started."
Cloutier added, "I've got the ability to engineer and build but those people are making it work on Main Street. These people are all new to the next generation of entrepreneurs, in my mind nothing would work if it wasn't for these people."
When he's not buying property and helping to start businesses, Cloutier owns and operates hydro electric sites.
He says, "I like to build things and to restore old buildings."
Recently, Cloutier bought the building that was once the Lancaster National Bank. The bank closed its doors in 2008 and has sat empty ever since. Currently there is a tenant on the second floor and plans for an art gallery and micro brewery are in the works.
Cloutier's kind of people are the ones who have ever tried or attempted to start their own business.
"I feel that small businesses are going to be key to the future jobs in the North Country. I like the can do attitude that small entrepreneurs have. I like the North Country way of doing things and I think that looking back at the work I've done in Lancaster is all about the North County way. We kind of have to do it all ourselves. We never have to have someone come and rescue us," Cloutier went on to say. "Take the lead and have as many as those people around as you can because it all boils down to positive thinking. I'd love to list all those who have worked to help me accomplish these things. It's not me, it's a group effort."
The self proclaimed adrenaline junky said that his mother was his biggest influence.
"My mother felt that people were good and she saw the glass as always being half full. She taught me some people skills that have helped me get to this point. Honesty, ethics and sharing. Maybe the sharing she taught me early on was most important. At 68 I have skills and energy and part of that is why I won't invest in the stock market when I can invest it right here in my own home town."