Town Focus: Booming Beverly
Independent shops and galleries add a unique vibe to Beverly's thriving downtown district.
Photo by Joe Ferraro
Take a stroll through the Beverly Arts District on Cabot Street and you’ll find a multitude of businesses and art on this route. There’s the legendary Cabot Theatre, the newcomer Cabot Street Books & Cards, the beloved Atomic Cafe, and the Barrel House, a popular bar and restaurant.
Then there’s Family Dollar. In an odd way, the chain store—there are more than 8,000 Family Dollars across the United States—is responsible for downtown Beverly becoming a hot spot for mom-and-pop stores, new restaurants and bars, and the arts. When Family Dollar arrived in the early 2000s, a group of locals got together in 2002 and formed Beverly Main Streets (BMS) in an effort to encourage local business ownership throughout the downtown area, says executive director Gin Wallace.
“The Main Streets structure is to focus on four things,” says Wallace, “economic development; design, which is the look and feel of downtown; promotion, which means promoting the physical space, not just individual businesses; and organization.” Beverly Main Streets is part of the national Main Streets program, though each community sets its own agenda, and Main Streets is part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
“Main Streets is so supportive and such an asset,” says Jamie Metsch, who co-owns Roost & Company on Cabot Street with his wife Kate Leavy. When Metsch and Leavy opened their latest venture, Field House, on Cabot in November, they took advantage of Main Streets’ rental assistance program. There’s a set of guidelines, but the upshot is that specialty retailers—meaning anything from a jeweler to a bake shop and anything in between, says Wallace—can receive a grant of up to $7,500 for their first year’s rent.
BMS has a plan called Downtown 2020, and one of its goals is to make arts and culture a driver for economic development. With that in mind, BMS launched the Beverly Arts District (BAD) in 2014. In 2015, BAD was named a cultural district by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.
BAD stretches from the 301 Gallery on Cabot Street to the Beverly Historical Society and Visitors Center at 117 Cabot, and you can see arts-driven businesses all along the route. In fact, you can see the arts throughout Beverly Main Streets’ entire jurisdiction, which is bordered by roughly from Hale and Dane Streets to the east, McPherson Drive and River Street to the west, Cabot and Rantoul Streets to the north, and Water and Rantoul Streets to the South.
“With Atomic coming back and the Cabot having great shows, and Field House and Roost, you have this groundswell of businesses that support the arts, and they’re all coming together,” says local artist Andrew Houle, who co-chairs the Beverly Cultural Council, a group that helps fund cultural projects for the city and works with BAD. He adds, “To me that’s very exciting.”
Beverly’s goal to promote the arts is aided in large part by the presence of the Montserrat College of Art. The campus is in downtown Beverly, with some buildings in the Arts District, and graduates such as Houle help fuel Beverly’s economic development. Montserrat president Steve Immerman, himself a former co-president of BMS, sees Montserrat’s role in education crossing over with the city’s efforts to bring the arts forward.
“All of Montserrat’s galleries are free and open to the public,” says Immerman. “Montserrat’s curriculum, informally and formally, is weighted toward the traditional skill set in art and design, but also in professional preparation. Students leave capable of navigating the creative economy. A lot of them become entrepreneurs.”
That includes Art by Alyssa, run out of a space on Cabot Street by 2007 Montserrat graduate Alyssa Watters, Steez Design on Washington Street, run by Montserrat alumnus Andrew Bablo, and Mingo Gallery & Custom Framing on Cabot, which is run by two other Montserrat alumni.
For Sarah Johnson LoVasco, an art consultant and installer who recently added director of 222 Cabot Gallery & Artist Studios (above Family Dollar, no less) to her resume, building up the arts downtown is an opportunity to bring together the community and emerging artists. One of her goals is introducing what she calls “holistic art collectors,” people who may not be a part of the art world but come to a gallery opening or a show. “When you go to a gallery and meet artists, you’ve already impacted the arts community,” she says. “I want people to understand how accessible [art] is.”
222 Cabot Gallery houses 13 studios and a gallery. “Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with how many galleries there are in Beverly,” says Houle with a laugh, “and to me that’s Beverly’s identity.”