Retonica lights up Peabody’s Black Box Theatre for Drag Bingo in 2019.
by Joey Phoenix
North Shore Nightlife is a Creative North Shore series highlighting unique and alternative programming on the North Shore after dark.
While many eyes have been focused on Salem, Peabody has been making quite the rise on the periphery, bringing new programming, venues, and life to the city. In the past few years, new businesses and restaurants have trickled into the area, bringing new experiences and activating the downtown.
Northeast Arc (ArcWorks Community Art Center, Peabody’s Black Box Theatre, and Breaking Grounds), Granite Coast Brewery, and Olio, along with many pop-up venues, and established city venues like Wiggington Auditorium and the Peabody Institute Library have been giving people plenty of reason to show up downtown and spend money on food, drinks, and entertainment.
How Nightlife Can Help Revitalize a City – Peabody’s Black Box
Northeast Arc, founded in 1954, has made it their mission to create environments where people of all backgrounds and abilities can communicate openly and respectfully, and learn from each other. This has led them to seeking out ways to activate community third spaces, giving people in Peabody an opportunity to go somewhere that’s comfortable for them.
In the past few years, this goal has led to the development of the coffee shop Breaking Grounds, ArcWorks Community Art Center, and most recently, Peabody’s Black Box Theatre.
“Peabody’s Black Box began with a conversation,” Tim Brown, director of Innovation and Strategy at Northeast-Arc and member of the Peabody Cultural Collaborative said. “One of the things missing in downtown Peabody was a live event space, and we knew that having the performance space in the city would be an economic driver.
“According to the national average, people will spend $34.50 outside of a venue the same night that they have a live ticket,” Tim described. It’s a number that’s hard to overlook.
The city had an obvious need for a fun event venue and Northeast Arc led the way by converting space an unfurnished, tin warehouse behind their existing building on Foster Street downtown.
Through a strong push towards new fundraising efforts, they were able to raise the money they needed to get the project off the ground in early 2018. The project took six months to complete, and a hefty price tag, because there was no A/C or fixtures or anything that would make the space comfortable.
“The reason why we were so interested in this project is because of an improv troupe – Accidentally on Purpose – that we had been working with, and what’s special about this troupe is that, through improv, they teach social skills to children on the Autism spectrum,” Tim said, “And they never had their own space to rehearse perform in.”
While comedy and improv is a huge part of Peabody Black Box’s ongoing program, they’ve amped up their programming to include everything from Drag Shows to live theatre to DJ dance parties. They’ve created a draw to downtown Peabody that has never existed before this past year, and for Peabody, this is really just the beginning.
“Peabody has been working really hard over the last few years to change the downtown from being a pass-through community to being a community where people want to stop in and enjoy,” Tim said. “Having a theatre is another reason for people outside of Peabody to come downtown.”
A Brewery, a Destination – Granite Coast Brewing
The restaurant and bar scene in Peabody has been growing steadily in the last few years, making it possible to join going out to a show at Peabody’s Black Box, Wiggington Auditorium, or at Olio Peabody with food before and drinks after.
Granite Coast Brewing has taken it a step further by creating a space that’s as much a destination where you could spend a whole evening as it is a great stop-off point.
Granite Coast Brewing officially opened its doors on Memorial Day in 2019, promising to bring fun events and nightlife to the city of Peabody. And they’ve delivered. Founded by two friends, Jeff Marquis and Rob Dunn – who got their brewing start in an unheated and unplumbed garage, Granite Coast serves up a rotating variety of craft beers that are robust and refreshing.
“When we found our spot in Downtown Peabody we knew that this would be a great fit since Main Street is in the middle of revitalization and the city and many stakeholders are proactively working to improve downtown,” said Rob Dunn, Granite Coast Brewing Taproom Manager/Co-owner.
“Part of our vision with our taproom is to create a place where people can meet, sit and talk, play a game, and/or have a bite to eat all while enjoying a handcrafted beer,” he added.
In the past year, Granite Coast has hosted gaming nights, food pop-ups every weekend (including Big Pig BBQ, Speakeasy Donuts, and Jaju Perogis), trivia, comedy, and ticketed events, and they’ve got bigger plans in the works.
“We have been approached by several stand up comedy troupes and even a video game hosting company that will highlight this program,” Dunn described. “During the nicer months we hope to integrate a cornhole league into our draw options in our patio space.”
Part of the draw of the taproom is that it’s in the middle of everything, allowing people to stop off for a beer before or after they’ve headed out to other events in downtown Peabody. But because of what the Brewery hosts itself, many times it is the destination – especially considering that they welcome people bringing in food from outside.
“Peabody has an ever-growing and interesting draw to allow people to take advantage of the downtown area,” Rob said. “ There is a host of amazing food choices in Peabody that you can Bring food from to enjoy our space with family, friends, or even by yourself.”
Built for Big Imaginations – Olio Peabody
When a city is growing and developing it tends to attract businesses who will help it continue to do the same, and Olio is doing just that.
Olio Peabody opened in 2018, providing the downtown with a multipurpose event venue never before seen in the city. In 1912, the Olio space started its life as the Strand Theatre, built the same year as the Larcom and pre-dating the Cabot (Ware) Theatre (1920) in downtown Beverly as a gathering space for Silent Films and Vaudeville.
The term Olio has a dual meaning. On the one hand, it means a “miscellaneous collection of things,” and on the other, it can refer to the scrim backdrop used in early Vaudeville theatres. Considering the space’s goal of it being a venue-of-all-things, this nomenclature couldn’t be more perfect.
“Our space was built for the big imaginations,” said Sarah Narcus, owner of Olio, “so we invite anyone who is excited about planning something, be it a private event or party or a public show or ticketed event, to reach out directly to talk about partnering.”
While Olio doesn’t produce its own events, it exists as a place where others can have a versatile space to host theirs. The kind of events Olio has hosted to date include Weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, Corporate Meetings and Parties, Fundraisers and Galas, Photo Shoots, Trade Shows and Expos, Classes, Workshops, Retreats, and Vendor fairs. But ultimately, Olio is open to anything.
It’s no secret that co-owners Sarah Narcus and Ellen Basch were drawn to this 6,000 sq. ft. historic space. It has a lot to do with the location (and the legacy), the size and the possibilities that includes, but it has a bit more to do with the fact that downtown Peabody has become a thriving locale that’s drawing people in.
“It’s a great time to be in downtown Peabody,” Sarah said. “It’s an up and coming nightlife scene, with a ton of new restaurants and bars opening up in the last few years, and a few more on their way.”
“It’s easy to get in and out of the city, easy to park, and fun date night opportunities,” she added
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