Market Square in Amesbury.

AMESBURY -- The winter has been tough for several downtown Amesbury merchants, but spring may bode better: the city will get better signage to direct visitors to the historic downtown.

A $10,000 “wayfinding” grant was awarded this week by the state of Massachusetts’ Department of Housing and Community Development.

“Wayfinding is an important tool for awareness,” Executive Director of the Amesbury Chamber of Commerce Melissa Lachance said. “The awareness of downtown Amesbury has been lacking for quite some time and I am thrilled and thank the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development.”

The state approved the Amesbury grant as part of $80,000 in Massachusetts Downtown Initiative awards granted to Amesbury, Great Barrington, Reading, Westminster, Wakefield, Maynard, Harwich and Ipswich. Chosen from 26 applicants, Amesbury will receive the funds to establish signage to help drive business to the downtown area.

“On an average, there are approximately 19,000 vehicles that travel (Route) 110,” Lachance said. “And the travelers are not guided to the downtown. We need to use this resource now to create a sign system to bring them in. So when they are at the beach and heading home, they can see a sign and come to downtown. It’s a way for us to capture people to stop and see the great downtown that we have.”

The grant comes a little too late for three downtown Amesbury businesses however. The Fashion Bus, Jon P. Mooers Artists Gallery and Studio and Bertram&Oliver Booksellers all recently announced they will be closing shop in the coming weeks and months.

“We need more than just signage,” Jon Mooers said. “We need more aggressive advertising or a marketing concept that would bring us across the region. We as business owners have been shouting out on Facebook to come out and shop but I think we are just preaching to the neighborhood really. This has to be taken on more of a regional level to experience and explore Amesbury.”

Mooers has been in his Main Street location for 16 months but said the problem lay more in his business model.

“The only reason I am closing is that I don’t have deep enough pockets to maintain my business at the moment,” Mooers said. “It’s hard to find people with discretionary income to spend on paintings for their homes, that coupled with this horrible winter that we have had and the downtown being difficult to traverse. It’s just been a really difficult year. I believe in downtown Amesbury, I just don’t have the funds to perpetuate this business just so we can have an art gallery in downtown.”

While Mooers will be holding a closing sale this weekend, Carriagetown Chocolates owner Pat Perry is sticking it out after a rough winter.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Perry said. “Do I love what I am doing, do I love the town of Amesbury? Yes. But it has been tough economically for everybody.”

The weather was a factor in Bertram&Oliver owner Joanne Wimberly’s decision to close her doors in April. Wimberly said she believes additional signage will help downtown businesses.

“We get a lot of traffic coming off (the highways), especially in the summertime,” Wimberly said. “You see a lot of people come through on their way to Salisbury Beach, a lot of people are going north to go on vacation. I have gotten customers who stopped in for lunch in Amesbury and found my bookstore and packed up some books to take on vacation with them. The signage is great to begin with but you can’t stop there. There has to be some initiative to promote Amesbury as a destination. Especially since we are on (Routes) 495, 95, Route 1. We are close to so many roads that lead to vacation spots. Getting the word out will be great.”

“We do have great restaurants and that is a great thing,” Mooers said. “We have great history and beauty, that is fantastic.”

In downtown since April of 2005, Perry said her best years so far were between 2007-2009 and while weather does affect business, it is just one of the challenges of the retail industry.

“Unlike a service, retail is tough,” Perry said. “Because you have to first purchase before you can resell. The weather (has been) terrible. I’m a chocolate store and we had a blizzard before Valentine’s Day but we are looking forward to a good spring. I have never been tremendously successful. But I love what I am doing and I love the people. I feel there is need probably to just be here and enjoy the people and maybe give them a little bit everyday.”

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