Downtown Peabody is still struggling as a result of COVID-19 | New

PEABODY — The pandemic may seem to be waning, but businesses in downtown Peabody are still feeling the effects of COVID-19 — and say they need more support.

This is the case of Create & Escape on Main Street, a shop that organizes events and craft workshops. The business has been open for five years, but co-owner Wendy Lattof said 2022 was the worst.

“Big corporations had a budget to do team building during the pandemic, and colleges had the budget to hold events with mail kits when everything jumped online,” Lattof said. “Now that people are going back to work, those team building budgets are gone.

“We’ve definitely seen a decline in our business,” Lattof continued. “And that’s concerning.”

The numbers are a bit better for Granite Coast Brewing Company on Main Street, co-owner Jeff Marquis said. Granite Coast has good and bad months, but still manages to pull through, Marquis said.

“Unfortunately, sustenance does not mean profitability or growth,” he continued. “When a customer asks us how we’re doing as a business, the standard response is ‘We’re still here and the lights are still on’.”

Marquis isn’t the only business owner to have given this answer, he said.

“Downtown Peabody, as a whole, seems to be in a neutral place to float,” Marquis said. “Nobody seems to do gangbusters, but nobody seems to go up to the windows.”

About 110 local businesses have received grants from the city’s Community Development Authority to pay their rent and other unavoidable costs while they are closed. There was also a CDA loan that businesses could defer to pay off most of the pandemic, but that deferral period is now over.

“For those of us with city-funded loans, waiving interest would be a great deal that would lower our monthly costs, and every little bit counts,” Marquis said.

Peabody used money from the federally funded Community Development Block Grant program to create a program for small businesses, said Curt Bellavance, director of community development at Peabody.

“There are more requirements to get that money, so it’s a bit more difficult. Not everyone can apply,” Bellavance said. “But we’ve had it in place for about a year now.”

Still, Lattof said aid for small businesses appears to have been phased out since the spring of 2020.

“I find a lot of governments and cities and people were supporting and funding us through COVID when things first happened, but they’ve kind of forgotten about us now,” Lattof said. “I think everyone thinks it’s okay since we’ve all gone out and everything’s back to normal, and it’s not.

Peabody Main Streets strives to attract people to Main Street businesses through events and exposure. Deanne Healey led the organization before the pandemic hit in 2020 and said COVID-19 halted much of the group’s momentum.

“But we’ve had a number of initiatives throughout the pandemic that have tried to get the community to focus on supporting local businesses and those in need,” said Healey, who remains at the Main Streets Board of Directors.

This included a calendar raffle highlighting restaurants offering takeout and donating the money to Haven from Hunger, Healey said. Main Streets has also created a Facebook group called Support Peabody Business Now, where businesses can post ads and special offers.

Sarah Narcus, owner of the Main Street Olio event venue, launched a Downtown Peabody Business Coalition as storefronts began to fully open in the spring of 2021.

The group meets monthly and is made up of local business owners. They discuss ways to help each other and solutions to problems that affect their business.

“My goal was really just to have a chance for all of us to come together and share ideas, so that’s what we’ve been doing every month or so for a little over a year,” Narcus said.

Main Streets held similar meetings before the pandemic. They continued for a bit after businesses closed, Narcus said, but didn’t happen once storefronts really started to reopen.

Healey said “there certainly haven’t been as many meetings” hosted by Main Streets during the pandemic, but the group is working to address that. Main Streets also recently completed a review of its bylaws and voted to include seats for businesses and property owners on its board of directors.

“Once that’s in place, I think you’ll start to see a stronger line of communication between the group that Sarah has created and the Main Streets board, in terms of making sure we’re all walking in the same direction and that we support each other,” Healey said.

Narcus shares the minutes of each coalition meeting with the Peabody City Council. She said she hopes Chris Ryder, who was recently named business liaison for Peabody and is also the mayor’s chief of staff, can help Main Street.

The last liaison left the post in March 2020, leaving the city largely without anyone to take on those duties so far.

“Unfortunately, with the turnover rate of the liaison position and the inability to execute the actions required to help the companies, there has been little help from [the coalition] other than allowing us to network and chat with our fellow business owners,” Marquis said.

Several issues continue to be raised at coalition meetings, Lattof said.

“There has been no progress,” she said. “We literally talked about the same thing for years. Like last summer, we started talking about snow removal to be proactive, then we had a lot of problems because nobody was doing anything.

The coalition has also attempted to address parking and cleaning issues, but with little success, Lattof said.

Main Street is regularly swept, but sweepers don’t always get close enough to the sidewalk because of parked cars. This often leaves trash and other debris on the street, Narcus said.

“There have been conversations about how we might not have overnight parking one day a week, or once every two weeks, turning the sides of the street so the city can sweep to the curbs , but it still hasn’t happened,” Narcus said. .

The coalition also suggested adding signs more clearly indicating where visitors can park downtown and replacing or removing broken parking meters.

The city has secured four grants totaling $675,000 to address downtown parking and lighting issues, Bellavance said. These grants will be used to install new lighting, electric vehicle charging stations, new parking kiosks and allow the city to replace meters in municipal parking lots and along Main and Foster streets with kiosks.

The project is still in the design stage, but Bellavance expects work to be completed this fall.

“It’s a long process,” Bellavance said. “People are understaffed here at City Hall, and we’re not even fully functional yet, but we’re still trying to move forward with some of these ideas.”

One idea that Lattof would like to see come to fruition is events like sidewalk sales or art festivals held right on Main Street.

“[Main Streets] did pop-up pods that are in Peabody Square in the courthouse, but that’s not helping Main Street businesses,” Lattof said. “You can’t bring people to Main Street if you’re hosting events off of Main Street.”

Main Streets hosts a summer concert series at the Leather City Commons each year. Granite Coast is the exclusive beer vendor at the shows, and while that helps generate revenue, Marquis hopes more people will visit his restaurant and other local storefronts.

“Before COVID, the nightlife was establishing itself and events were happening,” Marquis said. “These things are still happening – all we need is for people to realize that Peabody still has amazing things to do.”

Contact Caroline Enos at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @CarolineEnos.

David H. Henry