EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 13, 2013

High Street businesses express hope despite loss of Converse

By Paul Tennant
ptennant@eagletribune.com

---- — NORTH ANDOVER – When a company boasting 400 employees announces it’s leaving town, there’s bound to be an impact, especially for coffee shops and restaurants frequented by those workers.

Kathy Santoro, owner of the Good Day Cafe at 19 High St., faces that challenge. The corporate headquarters of Converse, the famed athletic shoe maker that’s located across the street, announced last week it’s moving to Boston.

Many Converse workers go to the Good Day Cafe for breakfast and lunch. Santoro said they contribute a “fair amount of revenue.” Santoro, however, said she’s going to be ready for the loss of those customers.

“You have to have sustainability,” said Santoro, a pharmacist by profession who opened the Good Day Cafe two years ago. She said she’s expanding her catering operation and offering an online store that sells salad dressing, soups, coffee and coffee mugs.

“It will affect it to some degree,” Jaime Faria, owner of Jaime’s Restaurant at 25 High St., said when asked if Conserves’ departure will hurt his business. He’s confident, he said, that he has a “good base of town people” who will keep the restaurant going.

Jaime’s opens at 11 a.m. each day, so it doesn’t rely on the breakfast crowd. Converse employees often go to Jaime’s for a beer and a sandwich after work, Faria said.

“They’re nice people. I’m going to miss them,” he said of the Converse employees.

He’s considering, however, offering business breakfasts as a way to bolster revenue, he said.

Selectman Donald Stewart and others have predicted the loss of Converse would “devastate” Good Day Cafe and Jaime’s.

“It’s not going to devastate us,” Faria said. Like his neighbor Santoro, he said a business owner needs to be flexible and ready to offer new services.

“You can’t think of just the people across the street,” he said.

Terry Holland, owner of Stachey’s Pizza at 21 High St., said he doesn’t think the loss of Converse will hurt his business, which has been there for four years. Both Holland and Santoro said the space now occupied by Converse will be attractive to businesses.

The former mill buildings that house Converse and Schneider Electric on one side of High Street and Good Day Cafe, Jaime’s and Stachey’s on the other side were used by the Davis & Furber textile company many years ago.

They have since been rehabilitated into commercial and residential space.

“I feel really good about the mills,” said Holland, who also owns a Stachey’s Pizza shop in Salem, N.H.

RCG LLC, of Somerville, owns the building occupied by the restaurants, while Mansur Investments, an Indianapolis company, owns the Converse and Schneider Electric sites. Both Holland and his nephew, David Holland, manager of Stachey’s, said there is a waiting list of people who want to rent space on their side of the street.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect us too badly,” David Holland said.

Santoro said she’s confident her products will keep her business thriving. She and her staff make their own muffins, pastries and coffee rolls “from scratch,” she said. They also roast their own meats instead of buying them from a delicatessen, she added.

“No one does what we do,” Santoro said.

“I don’t think it’s going to put anyone out of business,” said David Steinbergh, the head of RCG. The improvements he has made to his property have made the Converse and Schneider Electric sites more attractive to potential tenants, he said.

All 27 apartments in his building are occupied and there’s a waiting list of potential tenants, according to Schneider.

When RCG bought the property in 2007, it was 20 percent occupied, Steinbergh said. It now averages between 90 percent and 95 percent rented, he said.