The face of downtown Beverly has slowly been getting a makeover, one business at a time. And people are starting to notice.
“From one border to another of the downtown, we’ve seen upgrades in facades, and it makes a difference,” said Rich Marino, owner of Chianti Restaurant & Jazz Lounge on Cabot Street. “The sum of the years has made a dramatic change. Downtown has never looked better.”
Marino is talking about a facade improvement program funded by the city and managed by the nonprofit Beverly Main Streets.
Gin Wallace, executive director of Beverly Main Streets, said when the facade program began in 2008, “We had to seek out people and say we have this money, it’s a great incentive, and it’s free.”
Now, she said, “We get twice as many [applicants] as we can help.”
A total of about 20 businesses have participated in the past five years. This year, nine businesses have received grants of up to $5,000.
One went to the building at 214 Cabot St., near City Hall, which is owned by Goldberg Properties and was formerly a China Buffet restaurant.
“We are changing the entire front of the building,” said Andy Goldberg. “New windows, new clapboards, new colors, new lighting and signage. New everything.”
The restaurant will reopen as Green Papaya, a high-end Vietnamese restaurant, Goldberg said. The inside is being renovated as well, but that work is not paid for by the facade program.
“There’s a lot of buzz and excitement,” said Goldberg, whose family’s company owns real estate throughout downtown. “There are a lot of good things happening in Beverly.”
Tina Cassidy, the city’s director of planning and development, said Beverly had an active facade improvement program in the 1980s, supported by state funds for small cities. When those funds dried up, so did the program.
In 2008, Beverly Main Streets approached the city about restarting and managing the program. But it needed money.
Cassidy said because the small city grants were required to be repaid to the city over the years, there were “recaptured funds” that could be used for community and economic development. A partnership was formed.
“The city recognized the value of an improved streetscape,” Cassidy said. “The goal is to make it more inviting for pedestrians and those driving through in a car.”
The city provides $25,000 a year for the facade program. The targeted areas are Cabot and Rantoul streets. Applications for the coming year are due in August.
Interested businesses apply to Beverly Main Streets, and must submit a plan and be approved by a volunteer design review board. The grants do not have to be repaid, but the businesses must themselves spend an amount equal to at least 50 percent of the award.
Cassidy said the program “only pays for improvements that are visual and that will be seen from a public street.” Projects can range from a new sign or lighting to a complete overhaul of the front of a building.
Beverly Main Streets offers two free hours of consultation with a local architect or designer. And it partners with local businesses, such as sign makers and paint stores, to provide discounts.
“It’s a very versatile program,” said Demetrios Hillios, owner of A New Leaf, a natural health food store on Cabot Street. He used money from the program to paint his storefront and get a new sign and awnings. “The signs alone made a tremendous difference,” he said, adding that taking advantage of the program was “a no-brainer.”
Todd Lampert, owner of Todd’s Sporting Goods on Cabot Street, used $5,000 in program money — and spent another $7,000 — to remove a security grate from the front of his building and to repaint the building. But he said the biggest improvement was the installation of tripled-paned windows.
“I like to think I’ve already saved $5,000 in fuel costs,” he said.
As for the facade program, Lampert said, “it brightens up the whole downtown and brings a comfortable, warm, and homey feeling that we had been lacking for a long time. But it’s coming back strong.”
With the addition and improvements of restaurants in the area – called by some “restaurant row” — Lambert said, “at night now, especially in the summer, we see people strolling around downtown. We haven’t seen that in years.”
Merchants said the improvements have had a domino effect. “Your neighbor does something, and it gets you thinking about doing something as well,” Goldberg said.
“You only need two or three to set the examples for others,” Cassidy said. “A rising tide lifts all boats.”
She added that even businesses that didn’t apply for the grants have been improving their exteriors.
Beverly Main Street also has a program for storefront adornment, Wallace said.
It pays for things like flower boxes and flowers, flags, and brooms and shovels. “We provide anything we can to help them keep their property looking nice,” Wallace said.
Beverly Main Streets also recently paid for an artist to paint a mural on the side of the Casa de Moda building on Cabot Street.
Marino participated in the facade improvement program when his restaurant added a jazz club. He used the money for new windows and a new door on the club side of the building.
“But it’s what it’s done for the entire community,” he said. “I walk around and see results all over the place. I mean it from my heart; I am taken aback by the impact. Beverly was a beautiful town before, but it has never shined brighter.”
Wendy Killeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.