PEABODY — This city wants you to know it has culture.
It’s a sore subject just now, after a commenter in a Salem News story cited Peabody’s lack of culture as one of the biggest obstacles it will face in its efforts to revitalize downtown and attract new residents to live there.
In her assessment, Patricia Zaido, executive director of The Salem Partnership, zeroed in on the powerful benefits to Salem of the Peabody Essex Museum and to Beverly of Montserrat College of Art. Such institutions, she said, attract other cultural establishments, including theaters and music venues, and these in turn attract people, particularly young people, bringing the kinds of crowds that support smart shops, restaurants and apartments.
Downtown Peabody has nothing comparable.
Zaido wasn’t finding fault with Peabody, but the remarks stung enough that city boosters contacted both The Salem News and Zaido, making the case that their downtown ... well, if it isn’t all about culture, it soon will be.
The Main Street project is ongoing. Workers are ripping up the road, reducing it from four lanes to two, hoping to coax drivers into slowing down and stopping to look around as they pass through on their way to Salem or the Northshore Mall. But thus far, some of the businesspeople who populate the area are skeptical when it comes to culture.
David Serpa, who cuts hair at the Barber Shoppe on Foster Street, gives a hopeless smile when asked about culture in the downtown. He shrugs and resorts to pointing next door: “We have the greatest Italian restaurant, Petrillo’s. It’s like going to eat in the North End without having to drive there.”
The word “culture” takes Don Stubbs of North East Trains in a different direction.
“The culture down here has changed,” he says. “A lot of the Greeks and Portuguese have left, and the Brazilians have moved in.” He invokes what for many is the greatest cultural setback in recent downtown Peabody history — and yes, it involves food — the loss of Brothers Deli on Maine Street, which moved to Danvers some years ago following a dispute with the landlord.