BY ALAN BURKE
---- — PEABODY — Your list of what’s new for Christmas should include a fancy retail shopping destination just a few minutes from this city.
MarketStreet, the upper-crust, open-air shopping center — it’s not an indoor mall — in Lynnfield has begun welcoming shoppers. Built on the site of the former Colonial Country Club, it includes 180 adjacent apartments at Arborpoint and currently has more than 40 restaurants and shops open for business, with 80 planned eventually.
And more construction is slated for the future, said Ted Tye, one of the managing partners of National Development, which built the shopping center with co-investor W. S. Development. So far, he said, “all of our retailers and restaurants tell us business is good.”
But just how many shoppers it draws — and how many of them might otherwise have spent their money at the Northshore Mall — is no small matter in Peabody, where the mall is a big contributor to the city’s revenue stream.
Northshore Mall manager Mark Whiting said he is moving proactively to meet the competition. “We equalize anything they offer,” he said.
Whiting said he makes frequent trips to MarketStreet, keeping track of which retailers are there and sizing up the competition’s presentation.
“It’s an interesting concept,” he said, “and we’ll see how it does.” But he doesn’t believe it should take business away from the local mall.
“We offer a very distinct competitive advantage,” he said, citing “a dominant roster of tenants.” Comfort is also a clear selling point — Northshore has a roof and a dry, warm environment year-round. Its roster of stores is much larger, and it offers amenities like clean restrooms in convenient spots, a play area, lots of parking and a large food court.
Whiting also points to his facility’s traditions and history — it’s been a shopping destination for generations.
“And we have Santa,” he added. The holidays begin at the mall even before Thanksgiving; Santa arrives in Peabody tomorrow.
“We really present a family shopping experience,” Whiting said.
Both Tye and Whiting are predicting a strong shopping season ahead, basing the estimates on recent sales figures. “We’ve had a good year,” said Whiting.
Tye described MarketStreet as a “lifestyle center meant to mimic a town center.” He won’t engage the question of competition with the Northshore Mall but said he aims to attract shoppers from a 15-mile radius.
“It will be a regional draw,” he said.
Upscale and unique are good words to describe the shops there, he said. He won’t call it an anchor store, but he expects the sprawling Whole Foods at the entrance will attract plenty of people. It features organic and sometimes exotic food products costing a bit more than what’s found at traditional supermarkets.
The weather doesn’t worry the developers, Tye said.
“In New England, we’re used to the weather. Think about downtown Salem or Marblehead. People park their cars and move from store to store,” he said. He expects people will stay and shop after coming for restaurants like Legal C Bar (a Legal Seafoods spinoff with a smaller menu), which also has a prominent place at the entrance.
Deanne Healey of the Peabody Chamber of Commerce believes the impact of Lynnfield’s MarketStreet is an open question. But she expects the new center is aimed at a slightly different demographic than the folks who go to the Northshore Mall. Chains like Lululemon Athletica, Davio’s and the sports/entertainment complex Kings with its posh bowling alley aren’t found in Peabody.
Of course, Healey said, buyers pay a high price for all this, while the Peabody mall has “more mainstream retailers.” She also suspects that Lynnfielders gave thumbs-up to the project out of a desire to lend their town a little character. It has no center.
“MarketStreet is a downtown destination for the town,” she said.
The fact that MarketStreet is open to the elements also gives it a decidedly different atmosphere, Healey said.
In the end, she said, “It’s two different types of shopping experiences.”