Baker Touts Gas-blast Recovery in Merrimack Valley Tour
By Alexi Cohan
NORTH ANDOVER -- Gov. Charlie Baker took part in a Merrimack Valley shopping spree yesterday in the name of helping small businesses affected by the September gas explosions still leaving lasting effects on the community.
The “Open for Business” tour closed out Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito’s inaugural week as they visited over a dozen businesses in the valley alongside supporters and local officials. Baker stopped into grocery stores, restaurants, salons and bakeries along his tour.
“People are up and operating and their customers are coming back and we thought it was important to highlight that as part of this inaugural tour,” said Baker.
“The best thing we can do around here is make sure the economy is strong,” said Baker.
Local business owners like Sue Robert of Frederick’s Pastries in North Andover were pleased to see Baker stop by and purchase some sweets after struggling during the long months of repair in the area.
“It really became a ghost town, it’s just been a matter of playing catch-up,” said Roberts.
Mimi Queen of Sweet Mimi’s Chocolates in Andover invited Baker into her shop, causing him to take a sweet and unexpected detour. Queen said she’s seen business start to slowly trickle back in since the explosions.
“I think in December people felt really badly for us, they really paid attention to shopping local,” said Queen.
Andover Town Manager Andrew Flanagan said he plans to help local businesses with a “shop local” campaign that will help to bring commerce back into the downtown area.
“The business community has been resilient ... but we are going to continue to work and partner with them to facilitate the recovery,” said Flanagan.
North Andover Town Manager Andrew Maylor implemented a similar initiative in his town with a gift card incentive that he said pumped over $300,000 back into the local economy over the holiday season.
“We do think there’s an opportunity to leverage the very bad situation that occurred here into a broader way to market the region -- the Greater Lawrence region -- and bring people to the region who otherwise wouldn’t have visited,” said Maylor.
Despite the promotion of local business yesterday, Lawrence Mayor Dan Rivera noted that Lawrence is still not back to normal.
“The scars are still there,” said Rivera. “I think the anxiety is going to be around for a long time and I think that every time Columbia Gas fumbles ... it makes it worse.”
Rivera pointed to the government shutdown which, as previously reported in the Herald, has put a hold on the federal NTSB investigation in the gas explosions.
“We need the federal government to be working in full tilt because it ensures that society and commerce and all that stuff happens in a regular way,” said Rivera, “It’s just another reminder that federal government is dysfunctional.”