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Amid memories and ash, historic fire-ravaged building in downtown Keene demolished
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The faint scent of ash mixed with debris and exhaust Tuesday morning as an excavator ripped through the back of 147-151 Main St. in downtown Keene, months after a five-alarm blaze displaced the building’s residents and businesses.

As the brick facade of the historic structure crumbled, the excavator’s metal teeth dragged mementos of what the fire at Cobblestone Ale House on Jan. 8 had destroyed.

A soot-covered basketball rolled from a pile of rubble. A purple floral scarf caught in twisted metal flapped in the wind. Furniture and clothing, including a lacrosse jersey with the number 42, fell from the second-story apartments as machinery ripped charred wood, mangled appliances, piping and wires from the wreckage.


The building at 147-151 Main St. in Keene, destroyed by a five-alarm fire in January, is torn down beginning Tuesday morning. The building hou…

Andrea Madison, who had worked at the Domino’s Pizza in the building since 2000, watched the demolition with a pained look on her face.

“It’s really, really, really sad,” Madison said. “I spent almost half my life in that building, making pizzas, delivering pizzas.”

Over her more than 20 years there, there were pregnancy, marriage and divorce announcements. The employees supported each other through family deaths and formed lasting bonds there, she said.

“I didn’t think it was possible for this building to come down,” Madison said, recalling when Main Street flooded in 2006, bringing water to Domino’s doorstep. The staff continued delivering pizzas all the while, she said.

Though no one was seriously hurt in the blaze that started in the ale house’s kitchen, the Keene Fire Department declared the building a total loss and estimated damage to exceed $1 million.

In February, the city’s Historic District Commission — which is tasked with preserving Keene’s heritage and regulating alterations of structures within the historic district — gave the go-ahead for the demolition of the nearly century-old structure. The Community Development Department issued the permit Friday.

Constructed in 1926 by Frank Occhipinti to house his shoe-making shop and First National Groceries, 147 Main St. accommodated various businesses over the years, according to the historical report city staff prepared for the Historic District Commission.

Throughout the 1950s, the block was occupied by The Red & White grocery store, a commercial credit shop and a doughnut shop, the report says, with the second story becoming apartments around that time.

The building also housed Handy Market, Goldberg’s Deli & Café and the offices of the Minuteman Press over the years. At the time of the fire, the bar, Domino’s and Piazza, a locally owned ice cream shop with another location in West Keene, occupied the structure.

After standing for so many decades, the square-frame brick building came down with ease. The excavator tore into the building around 9 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., it had cleared about a third of the building, leaving the brick wall along Davis Street wobbly without support.

“It doesn’t take much to knock brick down,” said Mike Pappas, who purchased the property from George Levine, of Massachusetts, after the fire. The owner of Pappas Contracting, the Keene-based construction company that also did the demolition work, Pappas said his family has owned the adjacent building, 143 Main St., for more than 80 years.

He said he is planning to construct a four- or five-story building, with businesses below and apartments above, at 147 Main St. and hopes to repurpose the usable brick, perhaps as trim along the windows or corners of the new structure.

“I’m not throwing away any brick. I’d like to use it in the next build,” Pappas said. “I’m not saving any money doing it; I’m doing it for a little bit of aesthetics, a little bit of past history.”

At the Historic District Commission meeting in February, he described the razing of the building as an opportunity for new development downtown, while also expressing sympathy for the history of the site.

“I’m going to go from having the ugliest-looking building on Main Street to hopefully having the best-looking building on Main Street,” Pappas told The Sentinel on Monday. “The city hasn’t had a new building go on Main Street in a long time.”

A second excavator at the scene Tuesday sorted metal from the debris. Pappas said he will sell and recycle what scraps he can. The demolition is expected to take a couple of days, with cleanup lasting into next week or longer, he said.

Scott Wesley, a Keene native who lives within walking distance of 147 Main St. and came to photograph the demolition, said he heard a commotion the night of the fire. He said he grabbed his camera and rushed down the street that night, showing up outside just in time to see the windows explode as flames burst through the building.

Describing himself as a “happy-hour kind of guy,” Wesley recalled how he could get a burger, fries and a beer at Cobblestone for about $6, and said he met famous Red Sox players there over the years.

“It’s going to be missed,” he said. “It was a good place.”

Meanwhile, Emmett Johnson, 4, of Orford, watched the demolition from a bike that still has training wheels. Out of school for spring break, Emmett had gone for a bike ride with his grandparents, Sam and Karen Johnson, of Keene, who said they had often brought their grandson to Piazza when he would visit during summer bike rides down Main Street. Without the ice cream shop’s downtown location, Emmett, who said his favorite flavor is chocolate, asked where he would get ice cream on these rides, his grandparents said.

Alexander Franco, a senior at Keene State College from Saratoga Springs, N.Y., also watched on.

“I’ve seen this building here since freshman year,” Franco said. “Seeing it come down near graduation, it’s weird.”

He remembered visiting the bar and ice cream shop a few times, but said the loss of Domino’s — one of the only places for college students to get late-night food — had affected him the most.

Madison, the general manager of the Domino’s that was formerly there, said there are plans to open a new location on Island Street. But she said the demolition brings an end to a place that touched on many people’s lives.

“This is really the end of this chapter,” Madison said. “It’s really, really heartbreaking.”

Outcry in Laconia prompts about-face on NH Pumpkin Fest

LACONIA — If Karmen Gifford wanted to know how people felt about the N.H. Pumpkin Festival, all she had to do was cancel it.

Gifford, president of the Greater Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, announced late last week that there would be no 2022 Pumpkin Festival, due to a lack of support from sponsors and volunteers. She then spent all weekend fielding literally thousands of emails and social media postings, all of which added up to her saying these words on Monday: “We are having a festival.”

Many details are yet to be decided, but Gifford said that this year’s Pumpkin Fest, the first one after two years of pandemic-related closures, will be a one-day affair Saturday, Oct. 29, in downtown Laconia.

Last week, Gifford’s announcement came with an explanation that the two-person staff at the Chamber of Commerce, which puts on the event, couldn’t perform all of the tasks necessary without help from volunteers, nor could the organization cover the costs associated with the equipment rentals, road closures, electricity and insurance that a street festival entails.

Since that went public, “the outpouring of support was amazing. I got a ton of emails from people who offered to help, offered their services,” she said. “They just came out of the woodwork.”

Gifford plans to share later this week the date for a community discussion about the 2022 Pumpkin Festival — what it could entail, and how much it would require in the way of sponsorships and volunteers.

Jennifer Corriveau, owner of Remix Nutrition, located within the CAKE Theatre, started selling shakes and other beverages in October of last year, so this would be her first Pumpkin Festival.

“I’m excited, the more the merrier when it comes to festivals and activities and getting new people downtown, this place is really coming back to life, from what I can understand,” said Corriveau, adding that she would be willing to play a role in putting on the event.

Trillium Farm to Table also opened since the last time the event was held. Hannah Rush, owner, said, “I’m really looking forward to it.”

Rush used to work at Local Eatery, and, “We used to do stuff for Pumpkin Fest and that was very successful, I know there’s nothing bad that can come out of it.” She isn’t sure what Trillium will do — some pumpkin-themed menu items are highly likely — but is certain that it will be a boon to downtown.

“It just benefits everybody. Pumpkin Festival is good for all the businesses. I’m glad it’s coming back,” Rush said.

At Lucky Vibes Tattoo, on Main Street, owner Ray Bass said he would welcome children to get free face paintings during the festival, while other artists in his shop would be tattooing customers.”It does bring a lot of people downtown,” he said.

“I think the more events we can bring downtown, the better,” said Myles Chase, owner of MC Cycle and Sports. “I think it’s great that we can get the event up and going again, get the crowds back to downtown.”

Bank of New Hampshire can be counted on to help, said Tiffany Baert, vice president and marketing officer, who noted that the bank has been an “enthusiastic supporter” of the event since it came to the city in 2016.

“We are happy to hear that after the recent announcement of the 2022 cancellation the city has rallied to bring it back. Events such as this are, in part, what make Laconia so special,” Baert said. Since the last festival, the city has become a more attractive tourist destination, she said, “and we should all be excited to invite this event back to experience all that it offers. Bank of New Hampshire will continue to proudly sponsor and provide volunteers in support.”

Ian Raymond, photographer, said he’s usually been too busy capturing images of the event to offer any activities for visitors to engage with. However, he said he has always enjoyed the festival, particularly when Canal Street was turned into its own festival-within-a-festival by artist Larry Frates. “If we could do that again, that would be fantastic.”

One of the Canal Street business owners, John Bethel, of Piedmont Print and Frame, said, “We’d love to do something like shut it down and have a big party.”

Bethel took issue with Gifford’s initial explanation that a lack of community support was making cancellation necessary, and he wasn’t the only one. Bethel said local business owners responded when asked to support the upcoming Coffee Festival, for example.

“When asked, everyone came up with something they could do. What may have been missing was, we weren’t asked,” to help with the Pumpkin Festival, Bethel said. “So it’s disheartening to see an article about all of us not pulling weight.”

Jim Daubenspeck, who owns a cobbler shop on Canal Street, echoed Bethel’s sentiment. Daubenspeck said he even surveyed other downtown businesses to see if others were asked and he was skipped over.

“Not one of the people I personally spoke with were contacted,” Daubenspeck said.

New commission aims to increase confidence in NH elections in wake of conspiracy-fueled claims

The state’s top election official is creating a new commission aimed at bolstering voter confidence in elections, warning that a growing mistrust in the accuracy of voting results poses a threat to the institutions of government.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Dave Scanlan announced the Commission on Voter Confidence Tuesday, appointing attorney and N.H. Ballot Law Commission Chair Brad Cook, as well as former Ambassador to Denmark and Congressman Richard Swett to serve as co-chairs.

The commission will hold listening sessions across the state in the coming months, gathering input from citizens on how the state could improve transparency in the voting process. Members of the commission will also work to explain New Hampshire’s process for casting and counting votes, a largely decentralized process that involves thousands of local election officials and volunteers.

“Our challenge is to make the process more transparent, help people understand it, so that there is no mystery,” Scanlan said. “If we can do that, it is much harder to create a situation where people can claim conspiracies.”

New Hampshire’s state and local election officials, as well as Gov. Chris Sununu, have repeatedly said the state runs fair and accurate elections.

But conspiracy theories bellowed by President Donald Trump and some of his supporters about a rigged election have gained some level of support in New Hampshire. A closely watched audit in Windham fueled false claims that the state’s only approved ballot counting machines can’t be trusted, even though the audit traced the problem to how some ballots were folded prior to being counted, and proved that the election was not affected by hacked or manipulated software. There have also been concerns raised about Bedford’s handling of a batch of uncounted absentee ballots from the 2020 election.

Throughout this year’s legislative session, a small but vocal group of Republican activists have attended public hearings on proposed legislation to alter how the state conducts its elections. Most of those measures, including a full audit of the 2020 election, a proposed ban on the use of AccuVote ballot-counting machines, and incorporating magnetic ink and other new security measures into the process, have ultimately been voted down as unnecessary or impractical.

Scanlan and his co-chairs acknowledged that human errors have been made in New Hampshire’s elections, though there is no evidence of widespread fraud or the winner of a race not deserving their victory.

“That’s the purpose of elections: to make sure the will of the people is adopted. Not that it’s perfection,” Cook said.

Scanlan didn’t put a timetable on when the commission may conclude its work, but he stressed the urgency of state and local election officials stemming growing mistrust in the process. When voters lack faith, he warned, they may stop voting.

“If you start losing voter participation in elections, it starts becoming more difficult to govern, as well,” Scanlan said. “People lose confidence, not only in the election, but the institutions of their government.”

Rules finalized to phase out incandescent, halogen lightbulbs

The end has come for the old-fashioned incandescent lightbulb.

The Energy Department finalized two rules Monday requiring manufacturers to sell energy-efficient lightbulbs, effectively putting a “sell-by” date on older, inefficient bulbs that don’t meet the new standards. The move will speed the pace of a lighting revolution that is already well underway, driving down electricity use, saving consumers money and slashing greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.

The new rules, which reverse a policy from the days of former president Donald Trump, expand energy-efficiency requirements to more types of lightbulbs and ban the sale of those that produce less than 45 lumens per watt — a measure of how much light is emitted for each unit of electricity. This will eventually prohibit most incandescent and halogen lightbulbs and shift the country toward more efficient and compact fluorescent and LED bulbs.

Biden administration officials estimate that, taken together, the two rules will save consumers about $3 billion annually when fully implemented. They also project that the changes will cut carbon emissions by 222 million metric tons over the next 30 years, roughly equivalent to what 28 million homes generate annually.

“By raising energy efficiency standards for lightbulbs, we’re putting $3 billion back in the pockets of American consumers and substantially reducing domestic carbon emissions,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “The lighting industry is already embracing more energy efficient products, and this measure will accelerate progress to deliver the best products to American consumers and build a better and brighter future.”

Although sales of LED lightbulbs have grown rapidly, the most recent sales data shows that incandescent or halogen bulbs still made up about 30 percent of the market in 2020.

The new efficiency standard will take effect 75 days after it is printed in the Federal Register. But the Energy Department will phase in enforcement over time. For manufacturers, full enforcement of the new rule will begin Jan. 1, 2023. Retailers and distributors will have an extra seven months to comply, giving them more time to sell existing inventory.

The American Lighting Association, a trade group, had asked the Biden administration to postpone fully implementing stricter lightbulb efficiency standards for two years. In June, it warned that a faster pivot away from incandescent bulbs to energy-efficient LEDs would result in “major financial losses” for lighting manufacturers and retailers, as well as “a glut of stranded inventory, piling up at individual showrooms and eventually landfills.”

If not for Donald Trump, the U.S. would have banned the sale of incandescent lightbulbs two years ago, with only a handful of exceptions. Instead, his administration rolled back these energy-efficiency standards on the grounds that they were “not economically justified.”

At the time, the Natural Resources Defense Council advocacy group said the rollback could boost energy consumption by an amount equal to the output of 30 large power plants.

But Trump decried more efficient lightbulbs, telling House Republican lawmakers in 2019, “The light’s no good. I always look orange.”

Each month that incandescent bulbs remain on the shelves equates to about 800,000 tons of preventable carbon dioxide emissions that enter the atmosphere over those products’ lifetime, according to the Appliance Standards Awareness Project.

The lightbulb rollback was part of the Trump administration’s government-wide war on federal regulations. Trump officials also weakened standards for dishwashers and created a new class of less-efficient washing machines and clothes dryers. They did not act on dozens of overdue efficiency standard upgrades for household appliances, such as gas furnaces and freezers.

Biden’s Energy Department has restored many of the original efficiency standards, reversing the Trump-era rules for dishwashers, washing machines and clothes dryers. The department also closed a loophole, created under Trump, that increased how much water could be used in a shower by allowing multiple nozzles to carry equal amounts of water at once.