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September 16, 2009

Marshalls' Gloucester debut signals new retail landscape on Cape Ann

On rack after rack, handbags, jeans and hosiery sit tagged, beckoning shoppers under bright fluorescent light reflected in polished floors and new metal.

Outside, newly striped parking spaces stretch across fresh black asphalt without a single tire mark or gum stain.

Tomorrow, the retail landscape on Cape Ann changes as shoppers arrive for the first opening of Gloucester Crossing, the city's largest and most modern suburban shopping center.

It's a familiar set-up across the country, but new to Cape Ann, which has been nearly ignored by the retail development that has bloomed across the country and elsewhere on the North Shore.

For many on the island, driving several miles "off the island" to shop has been an inconvenience that's part of what makes Gloucester unique.

First to open will be discount fashion retailer Marshalls, and by the end of next month, the complex off the Route 128 and Blackburn Circle will have a functioning Market Basket supermarket, Five Guys Burgers and Fries hamburger stand, Dollar Tree store, liquor store and Game Stop video game shop.

The product of nearly a year-and-a-half of construction and five years of community debate over its potential to change the city's character and affect downtown businesses, for many shoppers Gloucester Crossing will simply lessen their desire to drive 15 miles to the shopping malls of Danvers and Peabody.

For its creator, Boston developer Sam Park, Gloucester Crossing is a $60 million claim on one of the last remaining "underserved" retail markets in Massachusetts, if not the East Coast.

"Some people wonder why we would make this big a bet on Gloucester, being at the end of the line," Park said standing in the middle of his new parking lot Monday, eager to be within days of seeing his brainchild launched. "But the demographics are perfect — so underserved. There is more supply than demand."

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