ORLEANS — Seventy-five years ago, Jack and Laura Johnson of Truro cooked up an idea for a weekly newspaper. Under its second owner, Malcolm Hobbs, The Cape Codder built a headquarters at 5 Namskaket Rd. in with ample space for a printery, including a giant ink tank. The building would shake as a press operator announced each run: “Caaaaape Cod-uh!”
The press is long gone, stilled and sold by an off-Cape corporation that came to own the paper. Today, the Codder is printed in Auburn, near Worcester, the old printery converted to a fitness and wellness center.
Yet, once again, a Truro inspiration may find its way to Orleans. Yesterday (Jan. 20), Katherine Reed and Josiah Mayo of Truro’s Chequessett Chocolate were to meet with the site plan review committee changing the use from a fitness center to a workshop, cafe, and fulfillment operation.
Materials submitted for the informal review note that the company has been “turning organic cacao beans and organic sugar into single-origin chocolate” for more than eight years. “We travel the world building lasting relationships with cocoa farmers, and then return to North Truro to craft small batches of high quality chocolate… We work directly with cacao farmers in Madagascar, Tanzania, Ecuador, Peru, Guatemala, Columbia and the Dominican Republic...”
In 2014, Chequessett opened a seasonal cafe and gift shop in front of its year-round workshop on Highland Road in Truro. With the business growing, the business looked to the 7,400-square-foot former printery in Orleans “for expanding our chocolate workshop and fulfillment operations...as well as to create a second cafe and expanded retail shop to better serve the lower Cape and mid Cape areas… Additionally, we will be able to present the valuable ‘production view’ retail experience to cafe and retail customers that has been so successful for us in Truro.”
The company is seeking a change of use from fitness center to restaurant and retail. The location is within the General Business district and abuts a residential neighborhood. By a very short distance, it was not included in the current phase of the downtown sewer project, so will need work on its disposal system.
Contingent on obtaining the change of use, Chequessett would close on the property in the spring with plans to open to the public in 2022. “The facility that we build will allow us to produce more chocolate, of higher quality and at a lower cost, and it will allow us to satisfy the increased demand that we experience each year,” the company stated in submitted documents.
Also on the committee’s agenda yesterday was an informal review of Agway of Orleans’s plans for its Lots Hollow Road campus, including development of a nursery, removal of a pergola, widening of the main entrance, and construction of a new greenhouse.
This uptick in activity comes at a time of renewed focus on economic development by the planning board and the select board.
“There is a need for the town to find ways to encourage business development within our business districts,” the planning board stated in a Jan. 5 memo to the select board. “We have noticed that even before the pandemic, local business did not appear to be as vigorous as in the past. Downtown Orleans is in a transition period. The installation of sewer and relaxed regulations will allow Smart Growth to occur. We want that growth to be positive for the town and its residents, and your help is critical. Just as you jump-started affordable housing over the last two years, with the formation of a housing trust and annual funding, your leadership is needed to take the actions necessary to help the business community.”
In the memo, the planning board calls for “an overall business development strategy that will foster future vitality of the downtown area for the benefit of residents and visitors alike. This effort will require staff resources, and in our opinion, the services of a professional who can assist the town in understanding its economic strengths and weaknesses, and how best the town can respond to create a prosperous future… Before seeking funding, the planning board intends to take more time to gather the thoughts, ideas, and opinions of residents.” Planning and Community Development Director George Meservey said a strategic development plan could cost between $50,000 and $60,000.
At a joint meeting of the boards Jan. 13, the select board endorsed with enthusiasm the planning board’s intent to focus on economic development. Select board member Andrea Reed urged the planning board to take advantage of state resources, including cultural districts (“sleeping giants waiting to be awakened”).
“This is sort of a permanent role for the planning board to take on,” said select board member Mefford Runyon. Noting that “the business of tourism has fundamentally changed,” he said the town “needs to become ready to supply more financial support to the whole process. Other towns are more generous in their support of the chamber of commerce.”
Select board member Mark Mathison, who said he’d just attended a Cape Cod Commission climate action roundtable meeting with builders and developers, noted that the state “is looking to get to net zero (greenhouse gas emissions) by 2050. The implications of that are huge economically as well as ecologically… If we try to enhance business development here, we need to make sure we’re in sync with what’s happening with the state and the Cape Cod Commission and the county when it comes to the climate action plan.”