By CLAIRE MICHALEWICZ
MIDDLETOWN – The closing of Little Tibet marks the end of an era for Main Street, but community leaders are hoping the building can help usher in a new era of economic growth.
“Anybody who doesn’t think businesses are viable in the North End is thinking the wrong thing,” said Harold Murphy, the realtor who owns the building. “We really want to make it a progressive, healthy commercial space.”
For 15 years, Bhumba Drok-Sang owned the Little Tibet store in the building, selling a variety of furnishings and other artifacts from his home country. Drok-Sang announced late last year that he would be closing his business, and after months of seeing his wares sold, one at a time, the store closed earlier this month.
Murphy said it was because of Drok-Sang’s “stick-to-it-iveness” that he realized that the building is a viable commercial space.
Murphy said he’s owned the building for about five years, and knows there’s a lot of potential in the space. He’s partitioning the commercial space into six separate units, and said that so far, four of them are taken. The units range in size from 560 to 2,100 square feet, so renters have several options to choose from.
The rental space was just advertised on Friday, he said, and to see interest so quickly is a positive sign for the neighborhood. “It’s gonna definitely add new life to this section of town,” he said.
Murphy said the largest unit, with windows overlooking Main Street and Rappallo Avenue, will hold a food market, which will fit with what community leaders hope to see.
In speaking with leaders from the city and the North End community, Murphy said, he realized that a grocery store would be an asset to the neighborhood, especially to residents who don’t drive.
Bobbye Knoll, a community organizer at the North End Action Team, said that while Middletown has several large supermarkets, North End residents who don’t have cars had to take the bus to the stores, and it can be difficult to bring several days’ worth of food home on the bus.
“What is most import to us is a business that can be utilized by people in this neighborhood,” she said. Ideally, NEAT would like to see a grocery store that offers fruits, vegetables and other wares at an affordable price.
Knoll said the apartments above the stores are also important, providing housing to new and existing North End residents.
“It could be a really cool space,” she said. “It could be a great addition to the neighborhood. We’re excited to see what happens.”
Rick Kearney, an economic development specialist for the city, said that while the building is old, it contains modern retail space. Bringing new businesses into the space will fit in with a trend of development that has dramatically changed the Main Street area over the past few years, including the Community Health Center, which is currently under construction, the It’s Only Natural Market building, and the Rite Aid at the corner of Main and Union streets. When new businesses open, he said, they bring in employees and customers, who often branch out and frequent other businesses in the area.
“He’s obviously seeing the opportunity with the Community Health Center,” Kearney said about Murphy. “There’s a lot of activity going on up there.”
The northern end of Main Street gets heavy traffic from people coming in and out of Middletown, Kearney said, which makes it an attractive option for businesses.
“We get lots of calls from people saying that want to be here,” he said.
New businesses could be there very soon, Murphy said. He said some of the tenants hoped to come in next month and start renovating.
To go along with his plans for the space, Murphy gave the building a new name – The Pearl.
“We really think it’s the pearl of the North End,” he said. “We want to make it the jewel in the crown.”
Reprinted with permission of the Middletown Press