BY PAUL LEIGHTON
---- — BEVERLY — It’s either an eyesore or an opportunity, depending on your point of view.
The recent closing of China Buffet next to the long-vacant former Bell Market has created two major vacancies side by side in the heart of the downtown.
The empty storefronts in such a prominent spot are not a great advertisement for the downtown. But Beverly Main Streets Executive Director Gin Wallace is hoping the vacancies will actually turn into a positive.
Wallace said someone could take advantage of the opportunity to buy both properties, which are on opposite corners of Cabot and Bow streets, allowing them to take advantage of the parking that accompanies the China Buffet property.
“There are some people who have been interested in downtown Beverly, but because of parking and access issues, they have not chosen to do anything here,” Wallace said. “This might open up some interesting possibilities.”
The two properties were staples of the downtown business community for decades. Bell Market, at 206 Cabot St., was in business for 42 years until it closed in 2007. The China Buffet building at 214 Cabot St. was the site of Desjardins Jewelers for more than a century until Desjardins moved to the Commodore Plaza in North Beverly in 2006.
The Bell Market site operated as Beverly Market for a few years but has been vacant since 2009. Real estate broker Brian Dapice said the building is difficult to lease because it is so large.
Dapice also said it’s tough to attract a national brand store to downtown Beverly because it’s not easily accessible.
“With all of the red lights on Route 62 (leading into downtown), it’s a disaster,” he said. “I’ve tried everybody. They won’t really go past the Cummings Center.”
Wallace said the former Desjardins building was reconfigured to accommodate a restaurant when China Buffet moved in, so it’s likely that another restaurant would go into that location.
Wallace said Main Streets would love to see the combination of a grocery store and a cafe at the sites, which she called “critical corners” in the downtown.
“While we’re never happy to see a tenant leave, I do think there are some good things coming in the block,” she said.
Main Streets has done its best to dress up Bell Market. The store windows have been decorated with a 40-foot-long mural by local artists Matthew and Margot Rogers as part of Main Streets’ Storefront Art Project, which beautifies the windows of unoccupied downtown storefronts.
While the two empty buildings stand out due to their proximity, Dapice said there are few retail vacancies in the downtown overall.
“It’s a great place to do business, it really is,” he said.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or firstname.lastname@example.org.