NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

December 17, 2007

Karp’s shadow looms over Nantucket

NANTUCKET — Michel and Joyce Berret were willing to pay the 12 percent jump in rent. They were willing to make required repairs on their rented retail space at their own cost. They even would have put up with a new rule that prohibited handwritten notes in the store’s front window.

But when Stephen Karp’s Nantucket Island Retail told the couple that the store they had operated for more than 11 years must stay open 10 hours a day, seven days a week, from Memorial Day to Columbus Day, it was more than they could take.

“We said, ‘that’s enough,’” Joyce Berret said.

The Berrets — along with other retail business owners in Nantucket’s plush downtown district and town officials — described in interviews the life of retail in a community that has been dominated by Karp for years.

Some say they lament the strict controls, continual rent increases and an attitude of disregard to long-standing businesses and those struggling with the high cost of business. Others say Karp is a shrewd businessman who understands how to make the downtown click.

It is, the retailers say, what Newburyport retail store owners could expect to happen in its downtown district.

Karp owns about 75 percent to 80 percent of the storefronts in the town’s downtown district, Nantucket Assessor Deborah Dilworth said. His two major retail property companies on the island — NIR Retail and NIR Retail III — are worth $137 million and $27 million, respectively, according to documents provided by Dilworth.

Each of those entities ranks in the top 10 of the most expensive property holdings on Nantucket.

NIR Retail is the top taxpayer on the island, bringing in more than $650,000 in taxes each year to the town’s coffers, the assessing documents show.

In Newburyport, Karp is also the largest taxpayer, owning about 20 percent of the downtown storefronts. He is mulling a major development along the Merrimack River in an area called Waterside West, the 8 acres between the Black Cow Restaurant and Michael’s Harborside.

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