The on-going pandemic has created—and continues to create—challenges for all of us. Our downtown merchants, so important to maintaining a vibrant and welcoming Village area, have had to deal with forced closings, fewer summer visitors with the beach open to residents only, and many of us staying at home often making on-line purchases through national chains rather than patronizing our local shops. In short, they need our support more than ever in order to remain in business.
The Selectmen, recognizing that shopping local will be more important than ever, voted Monday to use some of their unrestricted donation funds that they have received to help promote Manchester businesses. We will team up with local merchants under the leadership of Erika Brown at The Cricket to rollout a series of new initiatives that, together, will focus on promoting our downtown merchants to residents of Manchester and to the larger Cape Ann community, starting with the critical holiday shopping season and extending right through early Spring in order to give customers a solid and safe length of time to enjoy our stores. The ultimate idea is that, together, we can make a difference to the businesses we know, appreciate and very much value.
The three-month promotion includes display ads in The Cricket to offer merchants a space to promote themselves and their offerings in the paper and online. At the same time, the paper will create, free of charge, a “Support Local” enter-to-win promotion consisting of seven “shopping sprees” between $100 and $250 each to be spent at our downtown shops. The program will also partner with the Bridge Cape Ann Facebook community operated by Kory Curcuru to regularly highlight our downtown stores in video streams to the Bridge Cape Ann’s 16,000 followers. Everyone involved has pitched in to offer their services heavily discounted or free to ensure these donated dollars go as far as possible.
Also, in the works is a revamped Christmas By The Sea celebration from the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce, including a new and safe Holiday Stroll weekend of events for the whole family and a “Winter Lights” push for businesses to decorate their storefronts. The special lights on the Town Common will complement this effort nicely.
Much has been written about the role local merchants play in a community. From local jobs and taxes to being sponsors of many local fundraising efforts and providing needed services and goods, businesses in town contribute to the vitality of the community. Many of our businesses have been here for decades, while others are relatively new. Regardless, if we are to have local shops, they need our patronage. So, take advantage of the promotions coming up in the next few weeks and months and know that you are helping the whole community in doing so.
40B Project Update:
Over 160 participants listened and commented on the 40B project proposed on land across the street from the Utopian Farm Stand and Atwater Avenue during the first public meeting on the project held October 29th. The developers presented an overview of the project and highlights of their traffic and fiscal impact studies. The project submittals, a recording of the presentation and a record of the many comments submitted in the “chat” function can all be found on the 40B page of the Town’s web site.
Among the comments were calls to “just say no” to the project. The challenge with this strategy is that ultimately the state is likely to say “yes.” Even if we say no locally, the developer can appeal such a decision to the state’s 40B appeal board. This board is likely to approve the project and we may lose the opportunity to obtain various mitigating measures that could make the project more beneficial to the community. State approval is likely given that our affordable housing stock is less than half the minimum the state asks towns to have. The appeal board favors the construction of more affordable housing units, especially in this time of escalating real estate prices and documented housing shortages.
The Selectmen will continue to review how they might pursue a preliminary endorsement of the project subject to various conditions. If such an endorsement is successfully negotiated with the developer, the conditions become the minimum that the ZBA includes if they decide to issue a comprehensive permit and are binding on the developer (though an appeal to the state is possible unless agreed not to ahead of time.) Typically, the conditions the Selectmen negotiate address broad areas of need/concern while the ZBA takes a deeper dive into various technical aspects of the project and will usually add additional conditions.
Deciding whether to issue a preliminary endorsement of the project will take place during upcoming public meetings of the Selectmen. The next session is scheduled for November 12 at 6:30PM and will be a workshop session were the Selectmen will be discussing an initial list of issues/concerns they wish to pursue with the developer. Remember, this is all a precursor to the public hearings that the ZBA will eventually hold.