Dick Putnam

Dick Putnam - Main Street Merchant
Dick PutnamThere has been a Putnam’s Clothing store on Main Street since 1934.

“That’s when my Uncle Charles (see left) bought the store from the Emerson estate,” Dick Putnam said recently. “He’d been working in the store for Charles PutnamWilliam Emerson for a few years.” Emerson’s was a long established business. Charles Putnam called the store C.E. Putnam’s.

Lawrence Putnam“It then became Putnam’s Clothing in 1952 when my father bought it,” Dick said. He took over the store from his father, Lawrence Putnam (see right), in 1977. “It’s always carried a full line of men’s clothing, with a few for women.”

Dick graduated from Wilton High School in 1964 and from the University of New Hampshire in 1969. “Interestingly,” he said, “I graduated, got married, and joined the Air Force all during the second week of June 1969.” He served with the Air Force from 1969 to 1973. “Vietnam-era,” he said, but he did not go there, serving mainly in Missouri. Then he worked for N.H. Public Television, Channel 11, for a couple of years.

“I came back to town in 1975.” He worked with his father before acquiring the store.

“It’s always offered dry-cleaning,” he said, noting that “way back when” the clothes to be cleaned went to Boston on the train. “We had pretty good train service back then.” Clothes are now cleaned in Nashua.

“Alterations have always been included in the price,” Dick said, “and that and mending came to be a big part of the business.”

Penny candy was another big draw. “I bought the store next door (the former Maude Adams Quality Shop) and kept it for 20 years.” When he sold the store, he kept the candy. Maude’s was known for the penny candy,” he recalled.  “I got to know all the kids over that time. I still keep in touch with some of them, and they have grandchildren.” He reconnected with some of them when he joined Facebook. “I found a lot of old acquaintances.”

Lions CLubDick has been a member of Lions Club about as long as he’s owned the store and taken part in its many charitable activities, including the annual Penny Sale, the duck race, gifts for the needy at Christmas, collecting used eyeglasses, and supporting community ventures.

In 2012, he was honored by the Lions Club with the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, the highest honor they can bestow. At the time, it was noted he had “probably held every office over the years, but his real contributions are on the street.” He was called “our command central for helping the community. If there is an emergency in town, people know they can contact Mr. Putnam and he will try to get them help.” He tends to kind of shrug off that activity, but he has the knowledge and the connections. Putnam’s windows always display the posters for community events, and he has tickets available.

He hosts a Wilton history blog entitled Doorstep on Main Street, describing Main Street as he remembers it. His recollections include the several grocery stores, Cleary’s Drug Store, Wells News, and Mildred’s Luncheonette. Of himself, he said, “I have four children and two dogs; five grandchildren, four grand-dogs and two grand-cats.”

Dick is a member of the Economic Development Leadership Team “to provide the historical perspective and to act the curmudgeon, tell them they can’t do that.” In spite of its geographical problems – squeezed between the hill and the Souhegan River, he has hopes for Main Street.

“There are new businesses,” he said, even a bar next door that is “doing well.” The Riverwalk is encouraging people to walk along Main Street. When the foot bridge is constructed across Stony Brook from the parking lot by the police station, walkers will have a loop. There is also talk of reconstructing the footbridge between Riverview Mills, (the former Abbott Machine Company), and the current MCC Solutions building (formerly the Abbott Worsted Mill and then Label Art). That building may be converted to mixed-use affordable housing and commercial development.

Reviving the former Wilton Scenic Railroad is another area of focus for Dick. The project was put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as were a lot of plans, he said. That plan is now impacted by the pending sale of the railroad and state approval.

Dick is hoping to retire, and his business is for sale. “I hope somebody comes along who can continue it,” he said, “the dry-cleaning, the alterations.”

Main Street hopes so, too.

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