NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 14, 2013

Move afoot to revitalize downtown

Businesses frustrated by lack of foot traffic

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — AMESBURY – Facing a bleak economic outlook, Amesbury’s downtown businesses are banding together to help raise awareness of all the downtown area has to offer in hopes of boosting foot traffic and business for everyone.

More than a dozen businesses have come together to form the Amesbury Downtown Business Association, which is in many ways a revival of the Amesbury First initiative the businesses started three years ago to serve a similar purpose.

“We were working to try and get attention called to the downtown businesses, bring people downtown and revitalize Main Street,” said Joanne Wimberly, who runs Bertram and Oliver Booksellers in Market Square. “There was a recognition that we hadn’t really done that for a few years and it was time to start that whole process again. So we thought what better time than right now?”

The Association’s members have already voted Kathi Gannett of Attentif Design as the organization’s first president, and one of the first main projects will be planning a big festival in the downtown area this coming fall.

But in the meantime, the Association’s focus will be on marketing, and one of the big changes downtown will be a proliferation of personalized wall flags, each with a different business’s name, a summary of what they do and a big “Amesbury First” logo in the center.

The flags are being designed by local artist Jon Mooers and will be modeled after a flag already hanging outside his downtown art gallery. The downtown businesses’ flags will be red, and there are plans to make different colored flags for the local historical societies and restaurants as well.

Mooers said he is excited about the initiative, but painted a much more dire picture of the situation most downtown businesses are in.

“The reality is that most of us are on the verge of closing,” Mooers said.

Mooers said the downtown businesses aren’t getting a lot of customers these days and that very few of the people who visit the downtown’s popular restaurants end up going into the shops.

“It will seriously change the downtown landscape if people can’t stay in business,” Mooers said. “If we want to be like Newburyport, we have to believe it and make it happen.”

It’s not like Amesbury hasn’t been getting outside attention either. The city was recently featured in a regional magazine, and just the other day the Boston Globe ran an article in its travel section espousing the great things Amesbury has to offer.

But while the article highlighted places like the Amesbury Sports Park and Cider Hill Farm, both Mooers and Wimberly pointed out that the article didn’t mention a single downtown shop.

“I thought their article was fabulous and it really portrayed Amesbury well, but I was disappointed a little bit because I thought they should have called attention to that,” Wimberly said. “Because that’s a part of any vibrant community.”

The Association’s leadership has already reached out to the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber director Melissa LaChance said she is excited that the businesses are coming together and she is willing to do anything she can to bolster their efforts.

“I think it’s great,” LaChance said. “I told them anything we can do to help, we will.”

At the end of the day, the Association’s goal is simply to help plant a seed in people’s minds that if they’re going to go shopping, they should think of Amesbury first. Similarly, if someone who’s not from around here is looking for a fun place to spend an afternoon, they should think of Amesbury first too.

“As much as people know who we are and do come downtown, there are still a lot of people out there who don’t know about Amesbury and don’t know what a fabulous place it is to come, walk around and spend a day just shopping and looking,” Wimberly said. “There’s so much going on, it’s a very vibrant community, and very rich culturally.”