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Former armory, sports league building gets new life as home to three businesses in Claremont

  • As a child, Jeff Barrette, of Claremont, N.H., rollerskated with friends at the Junior Sports League building. Photographed in the hall on Nov. 17, 2020, Barrette and his wife, Sarah, recently purchased the 18,000 square-foot building and after renovations will be moving their three Water Street businesses to the location. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Originally built as an armory in 1931, ownership of the School Street building was transferred to the City of Claremont, N.H., in 1962 and the Junior Sports League held basketball games, rollerskating and other activities for children in the space until its closure in 2014. Jeff and Sarah Barrette recently purchased the 17,000-square foot building and will be spending about a year on its renovations. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • With news of its closing on the horizon in 2014, children who rollerskated at the Junior Sports League building left notes on a section of wall that still remains in Claremont, N.H., on Nov. 17, 2020. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Nick Lamper sets up the Ink Factory's automatic screen printing press for a run ot the Claremont, N.H., business on Nov. 17, 2020. Owners Jeff and Sarah Barrette moved their business into the Water Street building they purchased in 2016 and renovated. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Paul Ruest, right, and Josh Widmer box up 650 containers of Vegetaball's Pesto in Claremont, N.H., on Nov. 17, 2020. The business, purchased by Jeff and Sarah Barrette in 2017, will be moving in about a year to the Junior Sports League building the couple purchased and will be renovating. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Business Writer
Published: 11/21/2020 10:44:49 PM
Modified: 11/21/2020 10:44:33 PM

Jeff Barrette marveled at the 3,500-square-foot basement level of a former armory building in Claremont that he’d recently bought.

“I believe they kept the howitzers in here,” he said.

Barrette and his wife, Sarah, owners of The Ink Factory screenprinting and embroidery company, have their own big-gun plans for the imposing structure on School Street, which was originally built as an outpost for the New Hampshire National Guard and later repurposed as a home for the Junior Sports League.

The Claremont entrepreneurs intend to relocate their three businesses, which include pesto production and a truck-lettering and sign-making operation, from their present location on Water Street into the old armory once they complete a renovation next year.

“This will more than double our space. We need it because of the growth we’re seeing in all our businesses,” Barrette said last week. The building has been vacant since 2014, when the city closed it after the Junior Sports League, which had utilized the space for many years for youth sports activities, was found to be in violation of safety codes.

“It’s our third home but hopefully will be our last one,” he said.

The Ink Factory was located on Pleasant Street when the Barrettes acquired the business in 2009.

They relocated it into the former 12,000-square-foot historic mill annex on Water Street, which at one time served as a women’s dormitory with a second-floor catwalk to the factory across the street, in 2016.

“What we didn’t foresee when we acquired The Ink Factory 11 years ago was actually acquiring two more businesses,” said Barrette, who bought Claremont artisinal Vegetaball’s Pesto in 2017 and then, in 2018, acquired KG Signs, a graphics, truck lettering and sign-making business “which went hand-in-hand with our apparel business.”

The rapid expansion has meant that The Ink Factory and Vegetaball’s have outgrown their Water Street location.

“We’re busting at the seams and need more space,” Barrette explained.

Rebuilding mode

The Barrettes’ purchase of the former armory — the official price of the building was $5,000 because the city was eager to get the mothballed property off its hands and onto the tax rolls — comes as downtown Claremont, once seemingly abandoned to thrift shops and other emblems of a hollowed economy after the closing of the city’s mills and factories, is seeing a slow but steady rejuvenation.

The cornerstone was laid in 2009 when Red River Technology joined with the Common Man restaurant chain and South Burlington-based ReArch Co. to undertake an $11.5 million renovation of the long-vacant Monadnock Mills’ Wainshal Building on Water Street and convert it into corporate offices, a restaurant and a hotel.

Since then, along with The Ink Factory relocating to Water Street, New England Family Housing spearheaded the $11-million renovation of the once-condemned Goddard Block building on Pleasant Street into a 36-unit affordable housing complex, which opened last spring.

That is now being followed by a proposal from Newmarket, N.H.-based Chinburg Properties to convert the Peterson Mill building on Water Street, which was on the way into being developed into condominiums before the project fell through, into 80 to 90 rental apartments.

Another keystone project, expected to begin next year, is the $2.7 million renovation of the former Claremont National Bank building, which is adjacent to Claremont City Hall and has been vacant for 25 years, into a performing arts and education center for the West Claremont Center for Music and the Arts.

And at the heart of the downtown revitalization effort is a $4.5 million plan for Pleasant Street set to begin this winter that calls for widening the sidewalks for pedestrians and rerouting trucks around the city’s center.

That was preceded by the opening in 2018 of Claremont MakerSpace, which converted a former downtown foundry into a shared workspace for entrepreneurs, craftspeople and hobbyists.

“I would have to say I think we are all pretty pleased, this year of all years, we have been seeing this level of activity in downtown redevelopment,” said Nancy Merrill, director of planning and economic development for Claremont. “I would not have anticipated that.”

Barrette, who is stepping down in January after 14 years as a commissioner for Sullivan County from Claremont and Cornish, said the 17,000-square-foot armory building, built in 1933 according to city records, includes a 3,500-square-foot basement garage that will be well-suited for his vehicle lettering business.

He plans to put his Vegetaball’s pesto-making operation into windowless space that formerly was the armory’s indoor shooting and archery range.

Barrette buys 10,000 pounds of basil annually from a farm in Hawaii and 2,340 pounds of pine nuts from a supplier in China, and he goes through 1,000 gallons of olive oil per year.

The company now sells 50,000 containers of its sauce annually — up from 35,000 annually when he acquired the company three years ago — and is about to be taken on by a second distributor that will get it into stores throughout New England and New York, “which is one of the reasons we need to expand,” he said.

Inking the deal

Barrette’s interest in the building, he said, was unexpectedly triggered by his involvement two years ago as a county commissioner when the Sullivan County Department of Corrections proposed a plan to convert the vacant armory into a sober-living residence for inmates transitioning back into the community.

But the plan met with fierce opposition from neighbors, forcing the county to look elsewhere, which led to it instead acquiring the Eagle Times newspaper’s former building on Sullivan Street for that purpose.

After the county’s attempt to buy the armory fell through, however, “that’s when I connected the dots,” Barrette said.

(Barrette said the purchase of the armory building from the city did not require him to recuse himself in his role as a commissioner because the matter did not have to become before the county for a vote.)

The city recently lowered its assessed value on the armory building from $728,400 to $311,400, which more than halves the annual tax bill to $12,700, but nonetheless returns the property to the tax rolls.

Barrette, who worked as a contractor before he and his wife bought The Ink Factory — said he envisions doing much of the renovation himself and subcontracting out plumbing, electrical and heating work.

“The heavy lifting in terms of cost will be electrical, insulation and heating,” he said. “The city showed me the numbers. They were keeping the building at 50 degrees and buying 1,000 gallons of (heating oil) per month.”

But when Barrette opened the basement door last week to give a tour, he was greeted by several inches of water which had collected in puddles in some of the rooms.

“Where’s that coming from?” he asked aloud, running his hand against the wall plaster to find damp spots (eventually he traced the source to a ground-level window, from which he theorized rain leaked through the casing from a storm a couple nights earlier.

Barrette said he will either sell or lease his companies’ current headquarters on Water Street after the move.

“I would prefer to lease it and sees what comes along,” Barrette said of the historic building that dates back to 1840. “Our building is gorgeous and should have a higher and better use for the public. It’s just a cool, old mill building.”

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.




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