BY ETHAN FORMAN
---- — SALEM — Period brass candlesticks and other items are 30 percent off at Peter D. Barter Flowers and Colonial Gifts on Derby Street on Pickering Wharf.
It’s not a simple summer sale, but a sign that the last remaining original store on the wharf is closing this summer.
“People are sad,” said Betsy Barter Menici, the store’s manager and owner Peter Barter’s daughter, about the locals who are coming by the shop. “A lot of the local people know Peter so well.”
Peter Barter’s wife of 55 years, Hilda, who ran the neurology department at Beverly Hospital before retiring in the mid-1990s, also works in the shop. Their daughter has kept the store going while Peter Barter, 82, has been sick the past three years, Hilda Barter said. Their son, Brian, also helps out.
“I think it’s good right now,” said Hilda Barter. “Betsy, it’s a lot for her to do. It’s about time for Peter to take some years and not have to worry about anything.”
Peter Barter said he had great fun running his shop, helping supply flowers for fundraising galas for the North Shore Music Theatre or being a merchant for all things Colonial Williamsburg. He would often be asked to help make a wedding special or memorialize someone who died, sometimes someone he knew personally.
“I was told I did not have to put a card in my arrangements — everyone knew they were done here,” he said.
An artist, painter, floral designer and lover of the Colonial aesthetic, Peter Barter opened his shop a few doors down on Pickering Wharf in 1979, at the present location of Jaho Coffee and Tea.
“That store was designed right after a Williamsburg building interior, and it had perfect, perfect balance,” he said.
In 1985, when the rent became too high and the flower shop needed more visibility, Peter Barter moved his store to its present location, which used to be a men’s clothing store. He also took over a small shop next door.
“We did as much as we could to continue with the Williamsburg feeling in this store,” he said, “utilizing as much as I could from the old store.”
He even moved the centerpiece from the old store — a fireplace and mantel he had designed — to the new location.
“Williamsburg was always a great love of mine, Colonial Williamsburg, the restoration, so that was one of my ideas when I came in here, that I would do something that would be a Williamsburg-style store, using the beautiful reproductions and quality items that they carry,” he said.
Eventually, Peter Barter became a licensed dealer of Williamsburg reproduction gifts, furnishings and merchandise. The shop carried all the items from the collection, from wall coverings, carpeting, furnishings, fabrics and upholstery, not only from Williamsburg but other Colonial living history museums such as Monticello and Sturbridge Village. He even sat on the board of review for licensed products and attended seminars, traveling to Williamsburg four or five times a year.
“Flowers also reflected that period of design, 18th century, European, English,” he said.
A “12th descendant” of John Balch, one of Beverly’s original settlers, Peter Barter loved history while growing up in Beverly. He spent lots of time at the Beverly Historical Society, the Peabody Essex Museum and the Essex Institute.
“People ask me if I’m a native of Salem; I say ‘yes,’” he said. “My family was in Salem in 1626.”
Peter Barter is also a painter, with degrees from the Museum School (his time in college was interrupted by two years of service in the Army infantry during the Korean War) and the Art Institute of Boston. He worked as a commercial artist and would paint for tourists.
When he got married and started a family, he went to work in floral design with his brothers at Barter Brothers Flowers and Gifts on Cabot Street in Beverly, which today is run by Peter Barter’s nephew, David Barter. After one brother retired in 1973, and older brother, John, died in 1978, Peter Barter decided to strike out on his own.
While looking for a location, someone told him: “This Pickering Wharf thing is really going to take off.”
Pickering Wharf may have started trying to be like Faneuil Hall Marketplace, but Peter Barter said, “This was never going to be a Quincy Market.” There used to be a food galley that was jammed on the weekends, quality boutiques and clothing stores, but they did not last. A series of management companies over the years did not help matters. He has praise for present managers Rockett Management and Realty Co., which he said cares and wants to make Pickering Wharf work.
The store has changed since then, too. His daughter does much of the buying now, and she brought in other gift lines that appeal to a younger crowd.
“I’m very, very sad that we are closing,” said Peter Barter. Business is also down with the recession, and the flower business has changed. People order flowers from the Internet with no idea if what they are ordering is even in season. The store must compete with supermarket chains. Worst of all, online flower buying means there is no need for flower designers.
“I would do an arrangement, and my people can tell you this, I’d be doing it and I’d be making it, and I would stand back and I would get these shivers and I would do a dance,” he said.
Peter Barter is thankful for business from the Hawthorne Hotel and the Peabody Essex Museum, plus his regular customers, many of whom were brides and their moms looking to plan the flowers for a wedding.
“You take care of them and you listen to their needs,” he said. “Listening is one of the most important things in this business.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.