Ever notice the walls of the two tunnels linking State Street to the Inn Street Mall?

Me, neither.

However, in the entrepreneurial spirit of filling a vacuum, John William Brown envisioned a “temporary art exhibit for kids” while planning the first Inn Street Artisans Revival last year.

A selection process is debatable, but who could possibly say no to such a pleasant, unobtrusive and genuinely local addition to Yankee Homecoming?

So thought Brown, the vendor with the Spirit of Newburyport cart filled with his photographs and artwork on Inn Street. City Councilor Jared Eigerman, whose ward includes downtown, agreed.

Cooperation would be needed from owners of the State Street buildings, Brown admitted.

“I’ll take care of New England Development,” Eigerman assured him.

Next time they met, Eigerman shrugged, and Brown chalked it up as yet another example of how there’s no such thing as a vacuum in a city of saturation.

Put another way, “Welcome to Jewelryport!”

Apparently, NED just couldn’t think of a way to monetize Brown’s idea, which may have helped prompt Eigerman’s April 26 column, “City is being pennywise, pound foolish,” condemning the grip landlords hold on downtown.

A reader could not help but think of the ever-increasing glut of jewelry stores and high-end clothing chains replacing mom and pops. Or, as many call it, “Nantucketization.”

Herman Melville long ago forecast how Nantucket could become a playground for the rich in his big-fish story. Citing several “extravaganzas” of island isolation, narrator Ishmael concludes that “Nantucket is no Illinois.”

While no one would ever mistake Newburyport for Peoria, many are at a loss to explain what does or does not play here.

With a commuter rail station and ample parking just a shuttle ride — and rail trail — away, we are on the verge of shoehorning a parking garage into a downtown already clogged with summertime and weekend traffic.

Another dollar-driven, NED dictation to its broker in City Hall’s corner office.

Neither NED nor Mayor Donna Holaday were named, but there could be no doubt about the targets of Eigerman’s mud-wiping summary:

“Newburyport is a doormat.”

Nevertheless, Brown persists. As coordinator of the Artisans Revival, he scored a huge success with last year’s Yankee Homecoming.

His opening came two years ago when the inclusion of McDonald’s drew loud scorn and ridicule for the tradition born in 1958 in the spirit of what could be called “Have it locals’ way!”

Ridding the festival of the global Corpo-Clown proved easy, but Brown was thinking outside the Happy Meal box when he offered a plan to satisfy the merchants’ loudest objection:

Replace the line of tents that blocked shop doorways with a “nonlinear” layout. This encouraged Inn Street merchants “to participate more in sidewalk displays” and allowed a “free flow of traffic in and around vendors.”


On YouTube, Esther Sayer, proprietor of the Inn Street Barbershop, beams with “hat’s off” delight, calling Brown’s design “more beneficial to all people on Inn Street and State Street.”

Claudia Harris, proprietor of The Elephant’s Trunk, testified in an e-mail:

“Dear John,

   “I just want to sing your praises. … The crowd could move and no one blocked our door. The most enjoyable YHC ever!!!!!!!”

She closed with two bespectacled smiley faces, nine pair of clapping hands, and “Bravo!”

Her emotive e-missive became public record at the City Council License and Permits Committee meeting on May 8 soon after this paper’s front page reported a petition to move all festivals, including YHC, out of downtown.

A petition written and pushed by the same Claudia Harris who did not bother to explain her about-smiley-face.

Instead, the committee received a written endorsement for vendors from Sandra Turner of Plum Islander Art & Design, who echoed Brown’s idea for the tunnels:

Promoting local artisans downtown serves “as an example” for “generations of children now frequenting the playground and going to our local schools, that the arts are alive, well, supported, and valued” in Newburyport.

If the City Council wants to advance that vision, it must say “no” to the soulless high-end conformity that belies quaint façades such as NED’s Nantucket.

If Newburyporters want to advance it, that corner office is up for grabs come November.

Jack Garvey can be reached at hammlynn@gmail.com

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