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Photo Travel Essay of Downtown Keene,
Article and photos by Eric H.
In this world of solely focusing on bringing in superstores and other big box retail attractions, Keene ignored all myopic trends and also focused on improving its already impressive downtown. Sure, Keene has its share of much-needed chain stores on the outskirts, but the vibrant nature of its downtown shines through with every step of the way -- it's not only for locals but a destination for travelers. And with a mix of in town Keene State College students and a residential population ranging from young families to conservative old-timers, downtown Keene has something for everyone. Add one of the widest Main Streets in the United States, historical homes and municipal buildings, a lovely town common with gazebo, landscaped, tree-lined walkways and stores with colorful signs competing with each other for your attention and you have the presence of one of New England's best downtowns, period. What's especially remarkable is that you'll see very few vacant storefronts -- a real testimony to how a downtown can succeed, even during a down economy. It's also proof that with a little bit of visionary planning, retail chains and locally-owned downtown stores can co-exist in the same community.
You could literally do all your Christmas shopping in downtown Keene. How many small towns or cities can boast that? During the summer, downtown Keene is perfect for an evening stroll and in the fall a perfect location to rustle through the leaves in this Currier and Ives-like downtown, and grab some hot chocolate and a muffin at Brewbakers (97 Main Street). On a cold winter night, you can warm up by catching a movie or play at the Colonial Theater (95 Main Street, at any time of the year, for that matter!).
Keene looks great year-round, but especially during the holiday season with all the lights and stores decked out in their Christmas glory, and during the fall at the October Pumpkin Festival. Nearly 30,000 votive candles illuminate the night — and, of course, pumpkins — while “pre-game” activities typically include a costume parade, seed spitting and pie eating contests, live music on three stages, face painting, craft booths, and plenty of food provided by area non-profits, according to the Keene Pumpkin Festival Web Site. The evening ends with a spectacular fireworks display!
Keene is the the type of downtown we grew up with, so it's heartwarming to see a town like Keene show such community pride. It's also amazing that a town of about 23,000 people can offer a downtown that rivals communities with much higher populations.
As the main commercial center of southwestern New Hampshire, Keene represents this beautiful region quite well. An added benefit is that you're just minutes away from the scenic Mt. Monadnock and border Vermont towns areas filled with scenic vistas, pristine lakes and ponds and classic small New England towns like Harrisville, Peterborough and Walpole. It's really the best of both worlds -- a fantastic downtown and rural New England, at its best.
Here is a rundown of what to experience in downtown Keene:
Antiques & Artwork
Home Interiors &
But wait, that's not all. If you have an appetite, there's a restaurant for virtually every taste:
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