‘MakeIT Haverhill’ Plans to Open Shared Mt. Washington Workspace

Keith F. Boucher of Mount Washington’s Urban Kindness speaking during a City Council meeting earlier this year. (WHAV News photograph.)

For those of a certain age, the Benedetti Shoe Store was a fixture on Washington Street, known by generations of children receiving their first professional fitting. If Keith F. Boucher of Mount Washington’s Urban Kindness has his way, the now-vacant building may well once again provide a firm fitting of a different type.

Boucher personally bought the building at 301 Washington St. in March and is turning it over to budding entrepreneurs to use to develop and test new products. While the neighborhood association had considered opening a community center, MassDevelopment’s Noah Koretz advised a “collaborative workspace” would better meet the city’s needs, and added there might be grants to help. That prompted Boucher to strike.

“Money that will help our neighborhood. I’m all over that,” he said.

“MakeIT Haverhill” has emerged and rough plans call for installing professional culinary and sewing equipment and a 3D printer, among other tools, to help future business founders. Boucher said retrofitting of the building could begin as soon as October with a formal opening during the first half of next year.

“It is going to be a volunteer-led effort. As we get organized, we’re going to have to get into grant writing. This is something that is new for Urban Kindness.”

Urban Kindness plans to work with Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School and Haverhill High School. In fact, he has already received an offer of support from Haverhill Assistant School Superintendent Jared Fulgoni to provide technology guidance. In addition, Boucher said, the workspace may well dovetail with plans by Northern Essex Community College to open a culinary arts center downtown.

Boucher said he has already attracted interest from someone looking to develop a specialized granola recipe at the center.

Besides helping would-be business owners kick off their plans, the collaborative also could turn out much-needed workers for industries such as Southwick, for example, the Brooks Brothers suit manufacturer in Haverhill. Recognizing the makeup of Mount Washington residents, Boucher said, many older residents have traditional and useful skills in fashion.

“Tailoring and sewing skills from the old country. How can we leverage that? We think about potentially getting people to either design new fashions or something as simple as a sewing-tailoring collaborative,” he explained.

Architect Matthew E. Juros, of downtown’s Fishbrook Design Studio, has already prepared conceptual drawings for the single-story building and basement. Some grants and loans have already been secured and the neighborhood group hopes to leverage those to receive matching grants from MassDevelopment, the state’s quasi-public finance agency.

“We believe strongly in the neighborhood. We believe strongly that we can provide jobs. We feel strongly we can engage the community in a multicultural effort. We are just committed to it. I think it is pretty obvious we are committed.”

Urban Kindness has already chalked up a number of successes in its efforts to transform Mount Washington. These include participating in securing a $500,000 Working Cities Challenge grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, creating a volunteer force to help at Tilton School, cleaning up parks and developing a 21-plot community garden.

To further these efforts, Urban Kindness is working to formally establish itself as a nonprofit organization.

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Conceptual drawings by Architect Matthew E. Juros, of downtown’s Fishbrook Design Studio.