SALEM — Instead of heading to the malls or shopping online this holiday season, you could head onto the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway to find that special something, and support some women-owned specialty shops along the way.
This grassroots effort came as a surprise to folks at the Essex National Heritage Commission, the Salem-based nonprofit that spearheaded the effort to designate the route from Lynn to Salisbury as a scenic byway. The designation is an economic development tool to guide to visitors and sightseers around the region.
The effort by the shops along a 10-mile stretch of the byway was the first time Essex Heritage had seen the roadway used as a marketing device since signs were installed for it in May 2016. For their efforts, the women received the Pioneer in Partnership award from Essex Heritage at its annual meeting this fall.
The shopping brochure is a tool the shop owners use to urge customers to take a drive down the byway to visit all the women-owned shops on it. It markets shops that sell antiques, gifts, folk art, home decor, furniture, jewelry, flags, windsocks and pet supplies, among other things. It also establishes a connection among shops in neighboring communities that share the byway of routes 133/1A as a common thread.
“The women who own these specialty shops along the byway are driven by a personal passion that is evident in the success of their businesses,” said Johanne Cassia, owner of Olde Ipswich Shop and Gallery in Ipswich. “They provide unique products and services that benefit the economy and the vitality of their community.”
Katrina Haskell, owner of Essex Exchange in Essex, approached Cassia with the idea of putting together a brochure for some shops.
“We realized right away that the byway would be our connection,” Cassia said.
About the byway
The state Legislature established the byway in the mid-2000s, and a corridor management plan in 2011 identified directional signs as a priority. The signs, all 175 of them, were installed in May 2016, paid for with state and federal grants.
The 90-mile byway starts in Lynn and heads north through Swampscott, Marblehead, Salem, Beverly, Manchester-by-the-Sea, Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Ipswich, Rowley, Newbury, Newburyport and Salisbury.
They include Pauline’s Gifts, which Pauline Bresnahan opened in Gloucester in 1999. She and her husband, Glen, live in her childhood home next to the shop. As a little girl, she said, she always wanted to own the shop, so she purchased the property about 18 years ago.
“The rest of the gifts grew from there,” she said. Flags are one of her biggest sellers.
“We want to support each other,” said Bresnahan when asked why it was important for women business owners to promote one another. “I know that working with the other women, even if they are younger women, we can teach a little bit or try to mentor some young women business people.”
Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply in Essex is another of the shops on the byway. Susan Lufkin has owned the store with her sister, Shelly Nicastro, for nine years. They both knew the former owner of the business, Jane Perkins, and purchased the store from her.
The women had already been referring each other to one another’s shops, but the initiative broadened their base of referrals, she said. The byway gave businesses along a 10-mile stretch a connection to one another.
“That was the key,” Orcutt said. “We are all on the byway.”
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.
Pauline’s Gifts, 512 Essex Ave. (Route 133), Gloucester; owner, Pauline Bresnahan
Essex Bird Shop and Pet Supply, 121R Eastern Ave., Essex; owners, Susan Lufkin and Shelly Nicastro
Sea Meadow Gift and Garden Shop, 7 Main St., Essex; owner, Georgeanne Richards
The Essex Exchange, 235 John Wise Ave. (Route 133) Essex; owner, Katrina Haskell
Lost Treasures, 29 Main St., Rowley; owner, Anne Thomas
Serendipity at Todd’s Farm, 275 Main St., Rowley; owner, Cathy Reardon