Ask any resident of Nashua how far it is to the Massachusetts border. “We’re ON it,” comes the quick reply.
Not only that. They’ll quickly add that the Pheasant Lane Mall — the biggest in New Hampshire, by the way — shaves the state line, and the parking lot is in Massachusetts. What the proud Nashuan is really telling you is that the mall draws Bay Staters from south of the border because there is no sales tax in New Hampshire.
In this state renowned for clinging to that old-fashioned idea of independence, the motto, “Tax-free or die” is almost as apropos as the original “Live free or die” coined by New Hampshire Revolutionary
War hero John Stark.
More than two centuries later, and in spite of high property taxes, New Hampshire still basks in the lowest individual tax burden of all 50 states and DC as well.
This could change. Legislative money rumblings seem to be getting louder, and there is clamoring for state funds to build stronger social safety nets. But for now, local and out-of-state shoppers not only get off tax-free at the cash register, but residents are also free from state income and capital gains levies.
The payoff of a low-tax policy, explains Nashua Mayor Bernard Streeter, is a business bonanza for merchants that rubs off on the rest of the local economy, too.
It took more than a penchant for independence and low taxes to attract the attention of Money magazine, though. Based on extensive reader polls, the publication cited Nashua as the best place to live in America in 1987 and again in 1997. It is the only US city to be so honored twice. The reader voters considered such criteria as the economy, crime rates, health care, housing costs/availability, quality of education, leisure opportunities, the arts, transportation, and the weather.
If there were a gold medal for economic rebounds, Nashua might win that, too. Since its at-first wildly lucrative textile mills shut down for good in 1948, the city has picked itself up from economic
disaster twice, each time moving on to greater prosperity.
Tax-free and prosperous are two compelling attributes, but there’s a third: “You could sum up Nashua by saying ‘location, location, location,’” says Anne Willey, a long-time Chamber of Commerce employee. “We are 36 miles north of Boston. We are an hour from the seacoast. And we are about an hour-and-a-half from the White Mountain Region.”
With a nickname like the Gate City, it’s not surprising that everyone seems smitten with Nashua’s proximity to New England amenities, from the mayor to a merchant, an artist, a CEO, and a dozen
physicians. But some, like Willey, go on to rave about such closer-to-home delights as historic homes, white spires, pick-yourown berry farms and fruit orchards, natural wonders such as dramatic
Purgatory Falls, serene covered bridges, leafy colorlands in fall, and such downhome pleasures as soccer and softball games after work.
For Pierre Dionne, MD, a dedicated softball player himself, and Jeffrey Brown, MD the big excitement is Nashua Pride, the city’s minor league baseball team. Brown’s elation over the team’s short-lived
addition of Major League slugger José Canseco has been contagious.
Streeter reports that the 15,000-seat Holman Stadium is in the middle of a $4.4 million renovation—with sky boxes—that should have a 20-year impact of $35 million on the city’s economy.
In the meantime, a once-lugubrious downtown has come back up in lights as a leisure heaven with art galleries, outdoor cafes, and gourmet restaurants. The streets especially fill up with people at a
number of events, such as the Victorian Christmas tree lighting and candlelight stroll, Downtown Spring Awakening, and Thursday Night Street Life. Taste of Downtown, another popular festival, is
music mixed with bites and sips from the nearby bistros.
Downtown has a music, dance, and drama scene that can catch newcomers off guard, especially if their ideas of fine performing arts boil down to that potent six-letter word: Boston. Nashua boasts a 65-member professional symphony, a 125- member choral society, a chamber orchestra, a resident ballet company, and even the Nashua Flute Choir—16 performers who delight audiences with four kinds of flutes and piccolo. The Community Concert Association books national talent, as does the American Stage Festival, and a local group, the Actorsingers, produces Broadway musicals.