May Brings “Essex In Bloom”


After months of planning and successfully moving past some challenges, the town of Essex will kick off its “Essex In Bloom” weekend community celebration from May 19 to 21 that will open the visitors’ season with floral-themed events and activities all over town.

The weekend is sponsored by the Essex Economic Development Committee and paid for with state pandemic recovery monies to energize local business during off-peak months.  

“The idea is to give local businesses a boost during a key time of year, before the summer season is in full swing,” said Jodi Harris, chair of the Essex Development Committee.  

Organizers have created a festival-like vibe, with an official and a series of off-shoots by individual businesses.  The official program includes a public ribbon cutting for the freshly reconstructed Causeway Bridge after more than a year of construction.  

Then, flanking the new bridge will be an excavator decorated entirely in flowers and a vintage pickup truck with an outsized floral arrangement in its bed.  There will be live music on Saturday and Sunday next to the bridge and an outdoor photo exhibit selected from an amateur contest finalists that will displayed throughout town.  Organizers will continue accepting photo submissions through May 5.

There will also be balloon artists, a scavenger hunt, author talks at the library, a “Light Up the River Basin” evening event with private boats lit to offer a beautiful riverfront, sidewalk chalk art, a giant mobile selfie station and, of course, flowers.  Lots of flowers in dramatic oversized installations along the Causeway designed by interior designer Anna Hardy of Anna Hardy Design & Showroom.

And that’s just the official Town of Essex activities.

Local businesses have been encouraged to get into the game, and they’re planning creative extensions all their own.  The Essex County Greenbelt’s Cox Reservation is planning a “Birds, Bees & Butterflies” event for the whole family.  Cogswell Grant, the Historic New England property, will host a Plein Air Day of sketching with Slow River Studio.  Sea Meadow, the gift shop on Main Street will hold a Paint Night.  Anna Hardy Designs will host a butterfly release event as well as a workshop on making flower crowns.  Restaurants and specialty food shops like Shea’s, Woodman’s, River’s Bend, Googan’s Galley, and Down River Ice Cream will be featuring themed menu items, cocktails, and desserts.

“It’s been great to see businesses partner with the town,” said Harris, although she added that businesses aren’t obligated to do anything special.  The event is there to support them, she said.   

A Long Time in the Works

Essex In Bloom is the result of an effort started almost two years ago, when Manchester and Essex partnered up for a state-funded planning project to investigate ways to support downtowns negatively impacted by the pandemic.  After that, the towns together applied together for a $52,000 state grant to develop a community event tagged to boosting downtown traffic during the softer, off-season months.

Then, last year, came a surprise when the state doubled the grant and approved separate events for Manchester and Essex.  Manchester pulled the trigger with a February event—a successful community skating event that drew visitors from around the region to skate, eat and shop.

In Essex, the town set its sights on May with the idea of expanding the official summer season with a festival-like event in late spring.  Harris said the approach is something Essex businesses could get behind every year, regardless of state grants.  

“This grant will provide a playbook that businesses can use for this event in future years,” said Harris.  After all, expanding the season just might be the best way to support businesses.

Trouble With “The Race”

While organizers were planning Essex In Bloom, an unwanted controversy emerged in the form of the Cape Ann Rowing Club’s Essex River Race, a 5.5-mile river race that has been a May staple event for at least the last 10 years, and that was planned for—you guessed it—May 20.  The race has since been canceled, but not before race organizers publicly accused the town of Essex of closing the door on its event in favor of Essex In Bloom.  

Town officials say that is simply not true and they remain dubious of the club’s claims.  They say race organizers shut themselves out after last year’s race, when they proceeded with the race at the downtown public boat launch, ignoring that it was closed to non-residents.  And while race organizers had secured permission from the Essex Shipbuilding Museum (ESM) that abuts the town boat ramp for access to parking and hired a local police detail, on event day there was reported disruption by the more than 180 boaters that descended upon Essex.  According to ESM Director K.D. Montgomery, boaters parked everywhere, including those she said were off limits areas.  Further, she said, some people associated with the race had broken into the museum building.  And, according to BOS Chair Ruth Pereen, it’s not clear if the Cape Ann Rowing Club ever paid for the 2022 police detail.

In 2017, 2018 and 2019, the Cape Ann Rowing Club used a property with private river access before the race was suspended during COVID.  

For its part, Jodi Harris said the Economic Development Committee reached out by email to the Cape Ann Rowing Club as early as January to gauge the club’s plans for this year’s race.  

“We were more than willing to work around their event, but we heard nothing,” said Harris.  By March, the event was set for May and planning was well underway.

In the end, Harris said Essex In Bloom has moved beyond the issue and she says locals are more focused on a great spring weekend of visitors coming to Essex to enjoy the shopping, the restaurants, the museums, art, hiking and the beautiful setting that is downtown Essex.    They’re excited, said Harris, and the excitement is real.

“People are already talking about next year,” she said.

The Essex In Bloom organization has a website that is regularly updated as events are added ( as well as a Facebook and Instagram page (@SpringIntoEssex).

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