Officials giddy with flurry of economic activity in Dracut

Patrick Spencer and his wife Sunny Kim of Lowell, owners of the recently opened Sweet Luv Bakery on Broadway Road in Dracut, with varieties of cheesecake: Oreo, blueberry and strawberry.  JULIA MALAKIE/LOWELLSUN
Patrick Spencer and his wife Sunny Kim of Lowell, owners of the recently opened Sweet Luv Bakery on Broadway Road in Dracut, with varieties of cheesecake: Oreo, blueberry and strawberry. JULIA MALAKIE/LOWELLSUN

DRACUT – Not particularly known as a business-friendly community over the years, the landscape in this town known for its open spaces and farms is changing and Business View, an online magazine with some 800,000 readers, has picked up on it.

The magazine ran this headline with a recent story on the town’s commitment to economic development: “Dracut Massachusetts: ‘Friendly, safe, and progressive.”

And with several recent ribbon-cutting ceremonies, it’s clear that the commitment is bearing fruit.

On a recent Friday, ribbons were cut at two new enterprises.

Lazy River opened its retail marijuana dispensary at 149 Broadway Road. Cultivation and processing of marijuana will follow. This is the second marijuana-based business in town. Green Star Herbals opened earlier on School Street off Pleasant Street. Two more are in the works.

Sweet Luv Bakery at 7 Broadway Road opened the same day. Inside the shop and against a backdrop of cotton-candy-pink walls, husband and wife team Patrick Spencer and Sunny Kim sell an array of freshly baked treats.

The couple live in Lowell but are hoping eventually to move to Dracut, where Kim spent a few years as a child. She loves the town.

Brownies, lemon poppy seed muffins, and a French meringue pastry called macarons (not to be confused with macaroons) are among the early hits. Cheesecakes baked in oversize muffin cups are the speciality of the house and perfect for a single serving with maybe a little to save for later.

Renta Hutabarat, who lives nearby, was back for the second day in a row for the cookies. “I used to go to Andover for my sweets,” she said.

Spencer named the store after a 1986 Anita Baker song “Sweet Love,” he said.

Then a third grand opening was held on March 30 at the Giving Tree Senior Living Center at 1827 Bridge St. This opening is representative of the Economic Development Group’s intent to bring more health care and senior living to town.

In fact, Dracut has already attracted several doctors and dentists to town. That’s largely due to Lowell taking by eminent domain an Arcand Drive building formerly occupied by dental professionals for the new Lowell High School project.

Another business that has left the city for Dracut is Sully’s Tuxedos on Lakeview Avenue. Sully’s was a 50-year institution on Bridge Street in Lowell.

The Economic Development Group consists of Town Manager Ann Vandal, Selectmen Alison Genest and Tony Archinski, Community Development Director Betsy Ware, Board of Health Director Dave Ouellette, and a Finance Committee member. Other members include Danielle McFadden of the Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce, Doug Dooley who is a local businessman, Jay Donovan of the Northern Middlesex Council of Governments, John McDonald,  another local businessman and Mark Van Der Hyde who provides technology and graphics support.

Ribbon cuttings for new businesses are not the sole focus of the group. They are also very much interested in existing Dracut businesses. For example, the Board of Selectmen last year waived 2021 license fees for bars and restaurants.

Ware said the town is conducting an inventory of existing businesses and initial results show 700. They’re double-checking due to the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on many businesses.

Members of the Economic Development Group hope that the Business View article will reach companies that are looking for a good place to locate, according to Archinski.

Among the things he wants both the town and prospective businesses to know is this is “planned growth, proper growth.” The group is also intent on preserving open space and ensuring local farms flourish.

Some of the group’s focus is acon the Navy Yard section of Dracut. Many empty stores dot the neighborhood. Genest sees florist shops, nail salons and other businesses that need a fairly small footprint as good candidates.

“It’s a great time to be part of this group with all the businesses opening.” However, she too emphasized the importance of supporting existing businesses.

Dracut has an appealing tax rate for businesses. While many communities have a two tier tax system — residential and commercial  — Dracut has only one rate.

Where Dracut’s single rate is $14.84 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, Methuen and Tewksbury’s commercial tax rates are $26.01 and $28.00 per thousand respectively. Lowell’s commercial tax rate is $26.83.

To support all the business activity, Vandal said the town will hire an economic development project manager to “get boots on the ground to provide interaction with business owners, so we can get an accurate understanding of what is needed to improve current businesses as well as attract new ones.”

“With the pandemic and the impacts it has had on our small businesses we have launched a marketing campaign with the slogan ‘Make it Dracut,’” Vandal said.  “The businesses have been very receptive and appreciative of our efforts.”

The group has also developed signs that will soon be visible around town to boost visibility to the town’s businesses.

Coming soon to town are another bakery and a Brazilian food business. These businesses will be in the now empty space on Lakeview Avenue once occupied by St. Onge Supply Company.

In the Business View article, Archinski said, “Since the day I was elected, I’ve felt the struggle between wanting to keep the town rural and generating enough growth so that the tax burden doesn’t fall on the homeowners.”

After a very tough year for businesses the world over, Dracut appears to be taking positive steps to come out of the pandemic in a good economic position.