“Sometimes to be successful you need to be able to spot opportunities where others only see pitfalls,” says Beth Vessichio, VP Commercial Loan Officer at Mascoma Bank. “That’s especially true, here in Northern New England, and the Cobb family have just that vision and drive.”
Today, Cobb Co. Tech & Hobby anchors a block on Main Street in Charlestown, New Hampshire, with two other thriving business. Cobb Co. Tech & Hobby is known regionally for hosting gaming enthusiasts at in-store events, while selling remote control (RC) vehicles, high-end LEGO sets, and cutting-edge games from Wizards of the Coast among other highly sought-after and hard-to-find products, both at the retail store and online. Only a few years ago their space was a derelict storefront that had sat vacant for many years, with a potential timebomb of polluted soil underneath. What started as a gas and service station in the 1940s had far outlived its utility and, with old gas tanks slowly rotting in the ground, the property did not strike most people as anything but an eyesore right in the middle of Charlestown.
Tom Cobb, who has been living in Charlestown for two decades, had become very involved in town and active in local government. He saw the potential of the location where others didn’t. His brother Joe was living in Nebraska and had run successful businesses there, but was ready for a change.
They found out the old gas station was eligible for clean-up funds from the State of New Hampshire, but only if there was a new owner ready to invest and take on the liability and the risk of starting the project. The building’s owner wanted to support the project and agreed to privately finance the start-up in the form of a short-term loan for up to three years.
The remediation (clean-up) effort was extensive. At the heart of it was the excavation of a 30-by-50 foot pit, 40 feet deep, from which they extracted 90,000 gallons of highly polluted water and 150 tons of solid waste dating as far back as the 1940s.
“That was just the pollution side of it,” said Joe Cobb. ““The building was pretty much only supported by an I-beam. We had to take three of the four exterior walls and replace them all and we poured a whole new foundation inside the building.” Peeling away layers led to continued surprises, not always pleasant ones. “We found out the original service station was essentially hiding inside the newer building, and pretty much the only insulation was dead squirrels and rats. People thought we were insane to take this on.”
While Mascoma Bank was not able to fund the remediation itself, Joe Cobb said, “Beth Vessichio was there to advise us and guide us to figure out what we needed to do and document from the remediation process so that Mascoma Bank could finance the project and we could retire the private loan we used the buy the property. In fact, the whole Mascoma Bank Charlestown branch is also super helpful—if they couldn’t answer our questions, they’d find Beth and when it came time to open a new line of credit to build inventory they were there to support us.”
Today the building is fully modernized with radiant heated floors, high vaulted ceilings, and modular walls so they can adapt to the changing needs of tenants or expand their main store. They have two tenants, a deli and thriving tattoo shop, and for events a food truck comes down for the evening. Now they are planning to expand the building, and with three strong businesses in place of the a former “black hole,” their success is also increasing property values for their neighbors.
“Our shop’s business has been amazing, between online sales and our local retail,” said Joe Cobb. “Last year we almost broke $1 million in gross sales and we are well on pace to top that mark this year. We feel like there is not much we can’t accomplish as long as we can come with the capital to do it and really appreciate having Mascoma Bank’s support.”