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Listen Buying Bridgman’s Site, Moving to Miracle Mile

  • Holly Hollenbeck, store manager of Listen Community Services' location in Lebanon, N.H., sorts donated clothing on Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Lebanon. The bags of clothes behind her are donations from the past week, Hollenbeck said. Listen Community Services plans to buy and move into the Bridgman's furniture building space on Lebanon's Miracle Mile. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Listen Community Services on Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. Listen Community Services plans to buy and move into the Bridgman's furniture building space on Lebanon's Miracle Mile.(Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Steve Bridgman, owner of Bridgman’s Fine Home Furnishings, left, and Kyle Fisher, director of Listen Community Services, at the furniture store on Friday, June 16, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. Listen Community Services is acquiring the Bridgman’s Fine Home Furnishings building on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Listen Community Services is acquiring the Bridgman’s Fine Home Furnishings building, pictured on Friday, June 16, 2017, on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Karen Stone, retail director of Listen Community Services, works on a new point-of-sale systems from a temporary training space at the current Listen office building in Lebanon, N.H., on June 16, 2017. Listen Community Services is acquiring the Bridgman’s Fine Home Furnishings building on the Miracle Mile in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A sign of caution for employees in the sorting room at Listen Community Services on Saturday, June 17, 2017, in Lebanon, N.H. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2017

Lebanon— Listen Community Services plans to buy and move into the Bridgman’s furniture building on the Miracle Mile, a move that could help the nonprofit group raise more money from the sale of used clothing and other donated goods and expand community programs and services in the Upper Valley.

Listen and Bridgman’s co-owners, Steve Rutledge and Dan Rutledge, have reached an agreement for the social service organization to buy the 32,000-square-foot building along Route 4 that has been home to the Upper Valley furniture seller since the 1950s, they said last week.

Neither seller nor buyer disclosed the purchase price and the deal has yet to be finalized, although a purchase and sale agreement was signed earlier this month.

The Rutledge brothers, who launched a store-wide inventory clearance sale earlier this spring in anticipation of Bridgman’s control passing from Steve Rutledge to Dan Rutledge, will instead wind down the 125-year-old family business through the summer and early fall as Listen prepares the building for its eventual full occupancy early next year.

“We have had on our strategic plan how we are going to address our space constraints,” said Kyle Fisher, executive director of Listen. “So we have been on the lookout for something that meets our needs for a long time but it took a back seat when we built our River Point Plaza store” in White River Junction.

Listen will convert Bridgman’s into its “anchor” location in the Upper Valley and consolidate the inventory from its downtown Lebanon store and White River Junction furniture store, the site of the former 25,000 Gifts and Woolens building. Those locations will be closed and the two buildings will be put up for sale to help finance the Bridgman’s purchase. Listen’s River Point Plaza location, now called the Bourne Center, and Canaan store will remain open.

Initially, Dan Rutledge, who was to buy out his brother’s interest in the family furniture store, had planned to restock the showroom and continue running the business, said Steve Rutledge. But the publicity surrounding the “retirement” sale — huge signs were posted outside the building and the brothers heavily promoted the event through mailings and advertising — drew interested buyers out of the woodwork, he said.

“It brought so much interest in this property we had multiple offers for it,” Steve Rutledge said in an interview on Friday. “So we changed course. Dan said if the building is available and people are interested, we should do it … in the end it makes it an easier deal for me. We split it down the middle.”

Dan Rutledge was on vacation last week and not available for comment.

The property is assessed at about $1.8 million, according to Lebanon city assessment records.

Fisher said he estimates that the Bridgman’s building will quadruple Listen’s retail space, enabling the sale of a higher volume of clothing, household items and furniture to generate enough income to spend an additional $300,000 annually on community services. The nonprofit currently spends $900,000 annually on its programs.

“It’s huge,” Fisher said of the projected 33 percent increase.

Listen’s community support services include helping people who can’t afford to pay their heating or utility bills during the winter, housing grants, vouchers for gas and laundry, footing the bill to send about 200 kids to camps every summer, a drop-in youth center, a food pantry and community dinners.

The programs are funded largely through the $2 million in revenue Listen receives through its four thrift store locations (the difference between revenue and program spending is largely eaten up by overhead expenses).

“River Point Plaza opened our eyes to how big the second-hand item market is in the Upper Valley,” Fisher said.

As envisioned, Listen will utilize Bridgman’s 13,000-square foot lower level as a centralized donation and sort center while the building’s attached multi-story 8,000-square foot warehouse with mechanical lifts will be utilized for storage and recycling. Fisher said Listen will extend a hand to other Upper Valley nonprofits such as Helping Hands and The Haven to utilize the Bridgman’s storage space if needed.

Another benefit: The Miracle Mile location comes with plenty of on-site parking, unlike the Lebanon store, where customers often have trouble finding a curbside space.

One disadvantage of the Miracle Mile site, however, is that the downtown Hanover Street location allowed people who live in the surrounding residential neighborhood but who don’t or can’t drive to walk to the store.

Nonetheless, Fisher noted Miracle Mile is on the Advance Transit bus line, and is “one of the reasons this location was so attractive.”

Other Listen officials also said the community will benefit.

“We have long sought the opportunity this plan offers to anchor our presence in the Upper Valley,” said Laurel Stavis, board chair of Listen, in a news release. “It will position the agency to successfully meet our community’s needs now and for decades to come.”

Under nonprofit ownership, the Bridgman’s property — Fisher said he does not yet know how it will be renamed as Listen’s flagship store — could move off the tax rolls. Fisher said it is Listen’s intent to apply for property tax relief from Lebanon next April, at which point the Hanover Street location would return to the city’s property rolls, he said.

“I have been upfront with city of Lebanon officials about our plans and the impact it would have on taxes,” he said via email. Fisher said he approached the Rutledge brothers in May after he noticed the retirement sale underway and a story in the Valley News reporting how the event marked Steve Rutledge’s retirement and selling his stake in the business to his brother Dan Rutledge.

“All the advertising they were doing attracted our attention to the facility,” Fisher said. “When we saw this it was more retail space than we ever thought we’d ever have, a golden opportunity, so we approached and asked.

“They were planning on Dan continuing with the business. They had to think (about selling) long and hard and come back to us and say this was something they were willing to do.”

But people still interested in buying furniture at Bridgman’s still have several months to stop by and pick out a couch, dining set or bureau, said Steve Rutledge. “We’re going to continue to operate until Listen gets their city approvals, which may be a couple months down the road,” he said.

Since the store has been restocking, the sales floor is likely to remain open until October, he added.

Indeed, Rutledge said that “we had such a reaction and success with the retirement sale –— we did a good half-year’s business in 30 days — it logjammed us. We sold half of what we had here in the store plus a bunch of special orders.”

Steve Rutledge said he and his brother are happy with the outcome of the building sale to Listen, although he acknowledged the occasion was also bittersweet because when Bridgman’s closes it will mark the end of a family legacy. The business was founded by his great-great grandfather Nathan Crossman Bridgman in 1891. But none of the brothers’ five children, several who live elsewhere around the country, were interested in becoming the sixth generation of the family to take over the business.

In addition, Bridgman’s faces the same challenges as many bricks-and-mortar retail businesses, which have increasingly been forced to close as people shift their buying to the internet. Moreover, millennials tend to prefer lower-cost furniture, and less of it, than traditional, U.S.-made brands such as Lyndon, Bradington and Harden, which their “boomer” parents and “greatest generation” grandparents favored and which have been the staple in Bridgman’s showrooms.

“I’m really happy that Listen is going to take over this building,” said Steve Rutledge, who noted that “I practically grew up in this building. Other than the service and going to school, it’s the only job I ever had.”

But, he added, “as far as a new proprietor, I don’t think we could have done any better.”

John Lippman can be reached at jlippman@vnews.com.