hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

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May 30, 2013

From murals to sculptures, art helps fuel comeback of downtown

Merchants: Shopping, dining atmosphere improves with help of local artists

In his memoir “Townie’’ about growing up in Haverhill in the 1970s, best-selling author Andre Dubus III recalled shopping with his mother downtown for school clothes.

He described large department stores and Barrett’s men’s clothing store in particular, where it seemed every local man and boy went to buy his best clothes.

The once vibrant large retail downtown with successful shoe factories nearby eventually disappeared, replaced with smaller, specialized shops and offices.

“Haverhill has changed,” said Melinda Barrett, who runs Barrett’s Specialty Foods at 103 Merrimack St.

There, in the same building the elders of her family ran Barrett’s men’s clothing store, she operates a deli that supplies downtown shoppers and workers with fresh sandwiches and cold drinks.

What also helps make the downtown successful is the art work that adorns various spots in the city center, she said.

“The use of art to beautify and educate at the same time is wonderful,’’ Barrett said. “The shoes (large shoe sculptures reminiscent of Haverhill’s shoe-making past) around town was a team effort, which included artists, the chamber (of commerce), the Historical Society, as well as Team Haverhill. I am not sure that there is any way to correlate art and the bottom line, but its presence has to be seen as a positive.’’

Image sells, or at least that is how Haverhill businesses see it. Art contributes to the way a city presents itself and attracts visitors who want to spend money, merchants said.

They said art work plays an important role downtown, especially during this revitalization period. Art work displayed downtown such as murals painted by students, the sculpture of a sturgeon (a prehistoric fish that lives in the Merrimack River today) and the giant painted shoes around town improve the appearance of the community.

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