‘Main Street’ investment helping Bristol's Wood Street thrive

Revitalization efforts helping draw the foot traffic downtown businesses enjoy

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The ongoing facelift of the Wood Street area aiming to beautify the neighborhood and revitalize the business climate recently got a financial boost and is drawing attention from state officials impressed with the “thoughtful approach” the town is taking to help the street thrive.

Rhode Island Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor joined local officials and business owners on a walking tour of Wood Street Monday afternoon, visiting local businesses, checking out improvements that have been made in the area, and learning of plans for further revitalization.

Mr. Pryor’s office has helped in those efforts, approving a $42,000 “Main Street Grant” the town plans to use to repaint the historic light poles on the street, install bike racks and new trash and recycling cans, and adhere decorative medallions to many of the light posts.

“I’m encouraged by the thoughtful approach the administration is taking to the streetscape. The business owners here deserve this type of investment,” said Mr. Pryor, who shopped at Union Commercial Co. and the Azorean Butcher Shop, among other businesses, including Kendall Reiss, an art and jewelry shop scheduled to open on Wood Street in July after benefiting from a state small business loan. “To see a Rhode Islander creating a small business on this street, it doesn’t get better than that. That’s what we exist to do.”

The Wood Street grant is one of 16 projects the Main Street Rhode Island Streetscape Improvement Fund has contributed to in 13 towns around the state, representing a $2 million investment. Mr. Pryor said the governor’s office plans to increase funding for the project that aims to increase customer traffic to central business districts where small shops, restaurants and artisans tend to locate.

“Main streets is where most of the business is conducted. These small businesses are what make Rhode Island’s economy go,” Mr. Pryor said at Common Pub, where Monday’s tour ended. “The goal is to give these stretches a facelift. We need to pay attention to these small businesses that make streets like these thrive. It’s clear that it’s working.”

The upcoming project is part of a larger effort to revitalize the Wood Street area that once rivaled Bristol’s downtown business district but had fallen into disrepair.

The Bristol Industrial Park, made up of factories that were once the lifeblood of the area, has seen significant improvement in recent years as non-profit owner Mosaico invests in revitalizing the historic buildings and attracting new tenants. Landscape improvements — including the removal of overgrown hedges in front of the Industrial Park, and the establishment of Mosaico Park and Fred Pacheco Square at Wood and Franklin streets — along with cleanup efforts and an increased focus on beautifying the street, aim to encourage visitors to wander east of Hope Street and support the Wood Street district.

Those efforts are paying off, according to Courtney Poissant, owner of Common Pub and one of the leaders of Wood Street Works, a grassroots organization dedicated to revitalizing the neighborhood.

“Before, it was dark and dreary; it was easy to be a little nervous to visit,” said Ms. Poissant, who also volunteers with the Bristol Health Equity Zone. “Now we have a nice, clean, comfortable area where people feel safe. It’s helping to bring in some of the foot traffic the businesses downtown get.”

The organization is actively working to attract visitors to Wood Street, hosting events like its second street fair this August and a Summer Kick-off battle of the bands this Friday, June 16, 7-9 p.m. at the Industrial Park. The events also help the groups raise money to continue the revitalization. Mosaico has committed to raise $10,000 to add to the Main Street grant, and the town plans to kick in another $10,000, Town Administrator Steven Contente said.

“There’s a lot of rehabilitation going on,” Mr. Contente said. “It definitely provides some positive energy on Wood Street.”

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.