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Yes, there’s more to Peabody than just the mall.

By Jack Morris

Photography by Robert Boyd

At 3:30 on a Tuesday afternoon, a lively mix of workers and retirees saddles up to the bar at Champion’s Pub on Foster Street for some steak tips and beer. The bartender, Lorrie Crean, a Peabody resident for the past 48 years, calls out to a patron at the other end of the bar.

“Hey, Jimmy, you gonna have another one or not?”

“No, that’s it. I’m outta here,” the voice shouts back from behind the taps.

“Thank God! It’s about time,” Crean barks as the bar erupts in laughter.

Clear on the other side of town a few hours earlier at Nordstrom’s Cafe Bistro in the Northshore Mall, a young man dressed to the nines with an apron wrapped around his waist welcomes shoppers looking for pan-seared salmon and a glass of Chardonnay.

“Good afternoon, sir,” he says. “Would you care to dine with us today?”

You might say Peabody is suffering from bipolar disorder, but in a town with close to 50,000 residents from all walks of life, it turns out there’s a little something for everyone here.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Peabody was known as the “Leather Capital of the World,” thanks to the many leather factories and businesses in town (the Peabody Leather Museum recently opened on Washington Street to honor this heritage). These days, the city is a major shopping destination, thanks to its bustling retail district along Rte. 114, which features the newly-upgraded Northshore Mall (including Nordstrom and P.F. Chang’s) as well as other big names like Gia Ventola, Long’s Jewelers, BMW, Barnes & Noble, Pellana, and many others. This well-trafficked section of town seems to cast a shadow over the older facades that line Peabody Square along Washington, Main, and Foster streets. It’s here, in front of places like the Fire Bull Restaurant, Little Depot Diner, North East Trains, and Rose’s Bakery, where time ticks a little slower.

Peabody Square is also where water has a tendency to flow a little stronger. Since 1996, the area has seen five major floods, including three federal disasters, but plans are in the works for a $30-million remedy, which calls for the installation of twin culverts under Foster Street through the square and increasing water capacity in multiple brooks throughout town.

In addition to infrastructure improvements, Peabody is putting the final touches on its long-awaited rail trail project, which means you will be able to ride a bike (or cross-country ski) from one end of town to the other along a perfectly paved and dedicated bike path. There’s always the option to go ice skating at the McVann-O’Keefe Skating Rink, or warm up with a cup of hot cider at Brooksby Farm, then go snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or sledding on 250 acres of hills. When it comes to getting a serious workout in Peabody, it’s hard to beat Latitude’s brand-new megacomplex, which features just about every way to burn calories known to humankind. But for local kids and families involved in the town’s organized sports, they’ve already got it made. “That was the best part about growing up there,” says Peabody native and NECN Sports Anchor Chris Collins. “The kids took it seriously and the leagues were always very competitive.”

The tanneries may be long gone, but thanks to recent developments, infrastructure upgrades, and a little bit of a marketing buzz, you can still take a step back in time in places like Peabody Square while shopping for a new pair of $250 jeans at Nordstrom.

Super Sonic

Written by Jillian Ducharme

Four-hour wait times reel in the fast-food junkies.

After years of airing the amusing and enticing television commercials to unsuspecting Massachusetts consumers, nsdj09_peabody_5national fast-food chain Sonic opened on Rte. 1 in Peabody this past summer. Aside from signature drinks like the Cherry Limeade and tasty sandwiches built on Texas Toast, what makes Sonic stand out from its competition is the drive-in.

If you’re lucky to avoid the massive delays that plagued Sonic customers initially, the drive-in “stalls” await you with individual menus and interactive speakers for ordering. Promptly after the order is placed, a carhop on roller skates delivers the food right to your car window. During colder months, carhops still come to your window, but in the event of snow and ice, skates are swapped out for boots (good call).

“They got everything right, and we’re having a great time,” says Virginia Burge, who came from Saugus with her husband and two granddaughters. “It’s a nice experience, a bit different from what we’re used to.”

Meredith Beauchesne from Melrose says she was able to drive right in on her second visit. “The first time I came was three days after it opened, and I waited over an hour with my teenagers, and it was crazy!”

Tales of similarly crazy experiences after Sonic opened in August had some wondering if building this chain on such a busy stretch of road was a wise idea. Some reported wait times of up to four hours, while a line of cars caused major traffic congestion as it backed onto Rte. 1. But that just served to create even more of a buzz for the location. According to franchisee Gina Monastiero, in the first week, there were roughly 31,500 customers.

“We haven’t slowed down since the opening, but everything is flowing better as time goes on,” says Monastiero. “We’ve hired police detail for the weekends and a valet service during the week.”

nsdj09_peabody_8In Plain Sight Add these not-so-hidden gems to your Peabody hit list.

Fire Bull Restaurant

So, you want real Brazilian barbecue, but a trip to São Paulo is out of the question? Fire Bull is the solution. Plunk down $25 for the Rodizio and the chef will carve juicy slices from 10 different kinds of roasted meats (including Picanha) onto your plate until you pop. 5 Central St., 978-531-5744,

The Little Depot Diner

You may have to wait a few minutes for a seat in this 1929 converted boxcar diner, but it is worth it. Soak up the yolk from your eggs with some of the biggest and best pancakes around. 1 Railroad Ave., 978-977-7775,

Petrillo’s Italian Kitchen

Walk inside this unassuming restaurant just outside Peabody Square, and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into the North End. This is Italian dining at its finest and a locals’ favorite. Tasty notables include the Chilean sea bass, as well as standards like veal parmesan and chicken piccata. 6 Foster St., 978-977-5330.

North East Trains

Collectors and kids at heart love the selection of model trains and accessories here, with everything from locomotives and cabooses to boxcars, passenger cars, and plenty of add-ons. 18 Main St., 978-532-1615,

Sports Collectibles

Tracking down rare sports memorabilia without giving some shady website your credit card isn’t easy these days. Fortunately, this downtown haunt has just what you’re looking for, including a 2004 World Series baseball signed by David Ortiz ($200), as well as a 1954 Ted Williams card ($500). Of course, there’s plenty of local jerseys, hats, and gear to spruce up anyone’s private sports cave. 14 Peabody Sq., 978-532-4686.

Brooksby Farm

Sprawled over 250 acres of rolling hillsides high above town, this working farm is the perfect place for birthday parties, field trips, or a quiet snowshoe trek through the fields. Select Christmas trees, go for sleigh rides, and try your hand at cross-country skiing. Kids especially love to feed the barnyard animals. 54 Felton St., 978-531-7456,

Latitude Sports Club

Walking into the 100,000-square-foot megaplex along Rte. 1 is like stepping aboard the Starship Enterprise. Everywhere you turn, there’s modern equipment, monitors, and buff bods. Throw in a daycare center, cafe, wireless Internet, racquetball, a climbing wall, and at least 5,000 different ways to get fit, and you’ve got yourself the epicenter for working out on the North Shore. 194 Newbury St. (Rte. 1), 978-536-0777,