EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA


April 17, 2014

Councilors concerned about vacancies

Also want potholes, sidewalks fixed

HAVERHILL — Vacancies in downtown’s “restaurant row” are piling up, and city councilors want to know what it being done about it.

Councilors also said the Washington Street restaurant district has become a mess of potholes and cracked hot top following the harsh winter.

At Tuesday’s meeting, they agreed to ask Mayor James Fiorentini for a report on the impact of empty storefronts downtown, and to send Highway Department workers to inspect the area and begin fixing potholes and cracked sidewalks.

“The street is in really bad shape by the Barking Dog (restaurant),” said Councilor Melinda Barrett, who owns a market and sandwich shop on the Merrimack Street end of downtown. “I know we just bought a hot box pothole machine, so I’m surprised they haven’t made it to Washington Street yet.”

Former Washington Street restaurants that have closed and left behind vacant storefronts include El Forno, Lounge 59 and most recently Coach’s Sports Bar & Grille.

Barrett said market forces control whether restaurants come or go, but she suggested the city could possibly do more to recruit new eateries downtown.

“Some of those locations have been empty for years,” she said of the Washington Street vacancies.

Coaches, which was on the first floor of the historic Whittier Hotel building, abruptly closed last month. City officials said they placed phone calls to the owners of that business to learn why they left, but that they never heard back. El Forno, on the other hand, closed in 2009 and that space has been empty since then.

Fiorentini said there’s lots of interest in those properties and others nearby and that he expects some of them to be occupied soon.

“The restaurant business is cyclical,” the mayor said, adding that he grew up working in his grandparents’ downtown restaurant and others in the city. “They come and go.”

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