Where are Berlin's young professionals? Right on Main Street
|Stacia Roberge, the owner and manager of Rumorz Boutique. (Photo by Erik Eisele) (click for larger version)|
July 29, 2009BERLIN — Berlin is often cast as a waning city stuck in decline. But not everyone shares this view.
There is life in the downtown. There are young people staking claim to Berlin's prosperity, betting in the future that its fortunes will change.
Over the coming weeks the Berlin Reporter will profile some of these young people — business owners and entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s with the confidence and the vision to carry Berlin into the 21st century.
This week: Stacia Roberge.
Stacia Roberge opened her boutique clothing store on Main Street after repeated efforts approaching businesses to fill the vacant spaces. She was working for the Berlin Main Street Program and decided instead of trying to get others to do it, she should do it. And she got a little push in that direction.
"My sister said, 'Quit talking about it and just do it,'" she said.
And do it she did. She ordered her first $13,000 of inventory before her business had a phone number or a credit card. She dove into the business even after some called her business plan "ambitious," and others advised her against it.
Rumorz Boutique has now been on Main Street for more than a year. It has weathered a tough year, but Ms. Roberge, 28, has confidence in her decision.
"Berlin is on the way up," she said. "Even with the fires I see more of my peers moving back to town."
They are following a path similar to hers: moving to back to Berlin after time away. Ms. Roberge went to school at the University of New Hampshire, and then slowly worked her way back north. Now that she's back home she has big plans.
"My goal is to get this business finally stable enough to open another store in Littleton," she said. Then she'd like to start a Rumorz line of locally made clothing.
"It's all going to happen," she said. "It's a five-year plan, a 10-year plan. I'm only 28, I've got lots of time."
Her next step is to move her business online. Ms. Roberge is going to open a virtual boutique, where people can shop her inventory online.
But, she said, it is the Main Street store that she really loves.
"My favorite part of my store is how I have a variety of people coming and shopping," she said. "This has become a social place. People come in just to say, 'Hello.' On any given day you can come in here and laugh."
She said the city needs places like her store, small businesses with roots in the community.
"I may be the little guy, but the little guy means a lot to this city," she said. "In this economy small businesses rise up because owners take a pay cut."
But pay cuts aren't the way Ms. Roberge has tackled tough times. She has diversified. She started with just clothes, but then she brought in accessories, purses and belts. In the last several months she added a spray tanning booth and bridal accessories. Each has given her business a little boost.
Ms. Roberge hopes with more efforts like hers the city will become reinvigorated. She looks at other local projects, like the Gill building renovation and the movie theater, and sees hope. And with the prison coming in, she said, there will be even more opportunities.
She has seen challenges too. In January the buildings across the street burned, and customers from out of town often miss her store while staring at the rubble. And the past year has seen the country in the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. But Ms. Roberge isn't deterred.
"I have a lot of friend support and community support. That's how I know I'm going to make it," she said.