Despite Clouds, Haverhill’s Downtown Stages a Comeback

Haverhill created a Better Block during its participation in the Transformative Development Initiative.

An array of bands helped enliven downtown Haverhill Saturday. (Photograph by Jay Saulnier for WHAV News.)


Temporary pop-up shops brought additional commerce downtown. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

By all accounts, Haverhill’s big weekend was a giant success with throngs of residents venturing downtown Friday and Saturday despite damp conditions, and then venturing out to the countryside for Sunday’s brighter sky.

Like the debutante stepping out to society for the first time, Haverhill’s deb was a reimagined downtown—some of it temporary—beginning with nightlife during Creative Haverhill’s First Friday. Shops opened their doors, performers put on shows, bands played music and poetry was read. While no one was keeping track of receipts, business owners hope cash registers rang enough.

Saturday’s “Better Block,” along lower Merrimack Street, delivered something for all senses. Colorful art, loud music, aromas from kitchens, new foods to taste and beer to sip and fists gripping bicycle handles.

The block, backed by the state’s commercial finance agency, MassDevelopment, was designed as a prototype to attract more local business, encourage more time outdoors, add more beauty and bring more bicycles and foot traffic. It achieved its goal, as organizers hoped, that the downtown block would bring more friends, laughter and conversations.

Being an election year, most city officials made appearances—some greeting voters from new street side dining bump-outs along the city’s main drag, while others worked the crowd. Almost all ignored the elephants along the street—a large swath of promising, yet still-empty storefronts. The state is all but betting the farm on downtown Haverhill, spending tens of millions of dollars to prove a post-industrial “Gateway City” can make a comeback.

Speaking of farms, Sunday’s sun and mild temperatures brought out visitors to Whittier Birthplace to hear authors read from their contributions to a new Whittier-inspired book. “Murder Among Friends,” the second anthology in an annual series of new works edited by David Goudsward, made its debut Sunday afternoon.

Edith Maxwell reads from her contribution to “Murder Among Friends” at Whittier Birthplace Sunday.

Edith Maxwell reads from her contribution to “Murder Among Friends” at Whittier Birthplace Sunday.

Best-selling author Edith Maxwell, who contributed “Murder in the Summer Kitchen,” was the first to read from her work. Susan Oleksiw read from her “Miss Larcom Meets the Neighbors” and, despite the dark genre, Judi Calhoun’s reading of her “Exposed for Murder” brought laughter.

Greg Norris, a screenplay writer who wrote two episodes of “Star Trek: Voyager,” read from “Antiques.”

While some of the weekend’s activities are temporary, a number of elements will remain for the foreseeable future. Murals, such as one by Brian Canty, will continue to brighten the downtown. Outdoor dining bump outs will remain all summer. First Fridays continues next month and into fall.

While downtown Haverhill’s “Better Block” was temporary, City Councilor Andy Vargas wants residents to know how it will continue transforming the city. He has invited MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative’s Noah Koretz to speak at Tuesday night’s council meeting about next steps.

New works of art brought color to Merrimack Street. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

New works of art brought color to Merrimack Street. (Jay Saulnier photograph for WHAV News.)

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