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Andover has faced some major challenges in recent years.

In September 2018, a series of gas fire and explosions ripped through the town, and neighboring North Andover and Lawrence, injuring dozens, killing one, damaging buildings, and shutting down businesses. It took months for service to be restored and repairs to be completed. Then, just as the community was recovering from the disaster, the coronavirus hit, bringing with it mandated closures and economic uncertainty. 

Today, however, after two years of evolving and adapting, the town is emerging poised for a future that is better than ever, with a thriving downtown that increasingly draws in locals and visitors and plans for even more retail space and eateries on the horizon. 

Photograph by Hannah Whirty

This resilience, say local business owners, can be credited to a strong community that believes in helping out its own during tough times. 

“Andover still has the small town feel where people like to support local businesses,” says Roseann Williams, owner of Elm Square Oyster Co. “A lot of our regulars—and we have a lot—are local business owners supporting each other.”

For visitors looking to experience the community, Andover is a convenient destination, nestled into the intersection of routes 93 and 495. The commuter rail also serves the downtown area, for those who prefer car-free explorations.

And it’s worth the trip, says Annie Gilbert, chair of the town’s board of selectmen.

“You can amble around and find a whole range of restaurants, all kinds of shops and boutiques. And we have a lot of places where you can hike,” she says. “You can spend a day here.”

La Rosa’s. Photograph by Elise Sinagra 

Stylish shoppers will find a lot to love in Andover, whether they are looking for home décor, apparel, or gifts. Boutique SoleAmour has recently expanded its footprint, allowing it to grow its selection of clothing alongside its inventory of footwear and accessories. Owner Stephanie Sipley attributes this growth to her customers’ commitment to supporting her store through recent challenges.

Across the street, Native Sun offers contemporary women’s wear from top designers, refreshing its inventory every week, so there is always something new to check out. Native Sun is a sort-of newcomer: The store was a popular mainstay in Newburyport and Andover in the 1990s and 2000s, before closing for a time. This year, it returned to both towns. 

Visitors looking to embellish their homes can check out Savoir Faire Home for a range of furnishings, dishware, and décor, much of it sourced on owner Lisa Duffy’s global buying trips. For more international inspiration, floral shop Les Fleurs is a required stop, where you can browse new and vintage items that evoke the beauties of the European countryside. 

Smythe and Dove. Photograph by Brian Demello

“Andover really is a unique community,” says Joe Bevilacqua, president of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. “It still has that charm.”

Foodies will be tempted to eat their way through town. 

For “fast food” try the wings and burgers at Sauce, the artisanal sandwiches at La Rosa’s, or a slice or two of pizza at OTTO—perhaps one topped with buffalo cauliflower and blue cheese or mashed potatoes and bacon. If you’re in the mood for something different, try takeout at Yella Grille, serving modern Mediterranean fare or the approachable steakhouse menu (think $27 steak frites) at Smythe and Dove, a new restaurant that is fashioned after an old barn. 

Between meals, consider a stroll. Just south of downtown, the campus of renowned Phillips Academy is an iconic New England scene. Pop in at the Addison Gallery—admission is free—to view its notable collections of American art. 

Harold Parker State Forest. Photograph by Hannah Whirty

Or go a little wilder and hit the trails in one of Andover’s numerous conservation areas, parks, and reservations. Ward Reservation provides sweeping hilltop views, Harold Parker State Forest lets you immerse in the woods, and the many properties managed by the Andover Village Improvement Society offer up dozens of options for casual strolls or lengthier hikes. 

Looking ahead, the town is laying plans to redevelop land in the historic mill district, a short walk from downtown, along the Shawsheen River. Home and furniture store MAK and Co. already has a location in the neighborhood, in addition to one downtown. Local beermakers Oak and Iron Brewing also operate out of the area. 

Adding more shops and community spaces will help Andover become an even more appealing destination, as it continues its recovery from the troubles of recent years, Gilbert says. 

“It will greatly expand our current downtown,” Gilbert says. “It will be transformative.”