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Room for Growth on Fitchburg’s Main Street

December 3, 2018

FITCHBURG -- Losing a downtown institution like Shack’s Fine Clothing or a space like Gallery Stika is unfortunate, but it’s an opportunity to welcome new businesses that can help transform Main Street, said Tom Skwierawski, the city’s executive director of community development.

“Transition isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s what happens in downtowns,” he said. “Things are in flux. ... We can see something happen there.”

Shack’s, which opened on Main Street in 1950, is slated to close next month. Running the business became too expensive, said Wendy Shack, daughter of store founder Philip Shack, who died in 2016.

“It was just the end of a life cycle for the business,” she said Thursday.

The city and community have been great to the store over the years, Shack said, adding that she and her sister, Jill, wish Fitchburg the best.

The family sold the building that contains the store and the next door gallery, Gallery Sitka West, in September to SBP Realty Trust, which owns other property on Main Street.

Gallery owner Tamar Russell Brown opened the gallery in 2016 as a place for artists to display and sell their work and to host the community for events.

Like the Shack family, she said overhead costs were too much to sustain the business, which closed its doors on Saturday.

Currently, there is about a 50 percent vacancy of store fronts on Main Street, Skwierawski said.

Those open fronts give prospective and current property owners the chance to take a risk on a business that is different and can help attract foot traffic in downtown, he said.

Skwierawski said River Styx Brewing on Boulder Drive is an example of a business that has done that.

Ongoing efforts to revitalize downtown can help businesses on Main Street, he said.

The city started working on a three-year plan through the transformative development initiative, a program through Mass Development, a state agency that focuses on real estate and economic development.

Skwierawski said a quarter-mile area centered around the Theater Block and City Hall is the designated district for the transformative development initiative.

The goal is to encourage development and investment in downtown to make it an arts and culture hub, he said.

Having businesses and restaurants to complement cultural institutions like the Fitchburg Art Museum and Fitchburg State University could help the area become a destination.

“We need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to create an environment where businesses can thrive,” Skwierawski said.

There is more than $100 million in the pipeline for investment in the area, he said.

The B.F. Brown School, which had a topping off ceremony Tuesday, will eventually become the Fitchburg Arts Community with some designated housing for artists. There’s at least $20 million invested in that project, he said.

Other investments include more than $20 million each for the Theater Block and City Hall and $30 million for the library, Skwierawski said.

Follow Mina Corpuz on Twitter @mlcorpuz.

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