By Mike LaBella
---- — HAVERHILL — For decades, Radio Market was a popular deli, grocery store and sandwich shop that drew everyone from city workers to people who lived or worked near the downtown.
The longtime owners sold the business nearly 20 years ago. Others tried to bring new businesses to the neighborhood landmark, but nothing succeeded for long. Now, a new business is ready to take over the spot — furthering a trend of restaurants opening downtown near new housing complexes.
“Radio Market was the last going concern, and now it’s going to be a full restaurant,” said William Pillsbury, the city’s economic development and planning director.
The building at 63 Locke St. is receiving major renovations inside and out, and the owner’s plans are to open Butch’s Uptown restaurant in the prime spot near old shoe factories that have been converted to hundreds of apartments.
“It’s in close proximity to the Hamel Mill Lofts, The Cordovan and the Hayes, which were formerly vacant and abandoned buildings, but now we have hundreds of people living in the area,” Pillsbury said. “Our development strategy for downtown was to begin with the inclusion of new residents, and those residents then require or desire services such as restaurants and shops, and that’s the kind of thing we’re seeing and we’re happy about that.”
The roof of the old Radio Market collapsed under heavy snow in February 2011, revealing broken rafters and a gaping hole to the sky. New owner Samantha Petrou has completely rebuilt it.
“All that was left was the original foundation and the four walls,” said Petrou, who is opening the business with her father Butch Petrou and her sister and brother. They hope to open the restaurant Jan. 30.
She said Butch’s Uptown will offer casual dining in a friendly atmosphere. The menu will feature classic American fare such as steaks and burgers, as well as seafood and Italian dishes. The restaurant will also offer take-out food. The spacious bar are will also have tables, while the adjacent dining room can hold about 60 patrons.
“We want it to be affordable and fun so that people will keep coming back,” she said.
Samantha Petrou said her father was the original chef at the Tap Restaurant when it was owned by his aunt and uncle. He’ll be in charge of the kitchen, she said. Mayor James Fiorentini said he worked with Butch Petrou decades ago at the Roma Restaurant, when it was operated by his grandparents.
“Butch, a cook for many years, will bring back a lot of recipes from the Roma, which we’re all very excited about,” Fiorentini said.
“We’re putting uncle Guido’s famous cutlet on the menu,” Samantha Petrou said about a dish that her father’s uncle made while working at the original Roma.
Butch’s Uptown is close to about 500 new apartment and condominiums that have opened in recent years in and around the downtown. Pillsbury said the influx of new residents has drawn new businesses to the area, such as the Barking Dog Ale House, which recently opened at 77 Washington St., the site of the former George’s Restaurant and Mal’s Lounge.
The Washington Street area in the heart of downtown has what Haverhill calls its “restaurant district,’’ a series of eateries and lounges that are popular with people who live downtown, elsewhere in the city and even outside of Haverhill. The new Butch’s Uptown restaurant is several blocks away from the restaurant district, signalling that the downtown’s business growth is spreading, city officials said.
On Thursday, Gov. Deval Patrick was in Haverhill. He toured Hamel Mill Lofts and the rest of downtown, and met Samantha Petrou’s sister and mother.
“Then we walked down Essex Street and we talked about the great things happening in Haverhill,” Fiorentini said.
Radio Market first opened its doors more than 90 years ago, when Aristotle Zazopoulos and his son Andrew sold specialty Greek foods and lured customers with a radio, a rather pricey item at the time. The Zazopoulos family sold the market in the 1990s, then the property changed hands four times.
In 2005, former Highway Department employee Kevin Flaherty opened a specialty sandwich store there, then closed it six months later. Robert and Theresa Diffin bought the business in 2006 and continued to run it as a deli until December 2007, when it closed. It remained vacant since then. Samantha Petrou bought the building at an auction in August 2009.
“At the time of the auction, the Hamel Mill Lofts (apartment complex) were nearly completed and I wanted to add a great, family neighborhood restaurant right outside the front door of all the people who were moving into the area,” Samantha Petrou said. “Then the area really started developing and I’m so glad it did.”
Interior demolition work at the old Radio Market began in 2010 in preparation for rebuilding. Then in February 2011 the roof collapsed, setting the project back.
“Once the roof collapsed, the renovations became much more expensive that we’d originally planned,” Samantha Petrou said. “Fortunately we got help from Lambert Roofing and Lowell Five (Bank) as we had to completely rebuild.”
“To take a building that has been vacant a number of years and populate it with a great new business is very exciting,” Pillsbury said. “We’ve seen a new restaurant with the Barking Dog replacing Georges, and now we have Butch’s Uptown.”