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October 16, 2012

Cultural lift for Essex

ESSEX — A portion of Essex encompassing Main Street, winding along the Essex River to include the Shipbuilding Museum, galleries and antique shops, and ending at the Methodist Church, has now joined 13 other such districts in holding the label of a state-designated cultural district.

The designation of the new Essex River Cultural District, decided in a vote by the Massachusetts Cultural Council Board, means the state will market the district through the state Office of Tourism, providing, among things, a profile page featuring Essex on the tourism office’s website.

Jean Grobe, the town’s cultural district representative and owner of the White Elephant, said the designation will assist Essex in becoming a destination spot and may also help fill emptied store fronts along the stretch.

”It’s really helpful to create our assets in Essex and pull everything together and define what Essex is for people,” Grobe said. “As this evolves and we get more creative, we’d like to see some interesting businesses come into the Silly Goose and Joshua’s Corner and some of the businesses that have gone by the wayside.”

Grobe said the three-year Route 133 state reconstruction project completed last winter knocked some shops and restaurants out of business. But, she said the construction also made Essex a better candidate for the state cultural district title by improving sidewalks and creating a more walkable Main Street.

The Massachusetts Cultural Council Board defines a cultural district as a “compact, walkable area of a community with a concentration of cultural facilities, activities and assets.”

Grobe said that, after reading the state’s description, she decided Essex should apply.

“This is really a perfect fit for Essex,” said Grobe — who, along with the Essex Merchants Group, the Essex Shipbuilding Museum and Selectmen, liaisoned by Selectman Susan Coviello, filled out the town’s application and hosted visitors from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Board on site visits.

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