Merrimack Valley

Merchants lure consumers with giveaways, discounts

By Richard Thompson
Globe Correspondent / May 3, 2009
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Move over, Uncle Sam: Businesses in downtown Newburyport will be offering shoppers their own stimulus relief this spring by raffling off a pair of $500 gift certificate packages.

As Mother's Day approaches, local merchants hope the giveaways, coupled with extended operating hours during the first two Fridays in May, will help spur sales and persuade consumers to loosen their purse strings amid the economic slowdown.

"People aren't really going on their regular trips or hopping on planes, they're staying local," said Pam Marrese, special events coordinator for the Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which is sponsoring the initiative. "I think we've all seen that, and this summer will be no different."

From chain hotels and small inns to historic museums and neighborhood restaurants, business owners and chamber officials throughout the Merrimack Valley have been reducing rates and adding incentives, such as free movie tickets or trolley rides, as a way of boosting tourism revenue.

The Holiday Inn Express in Andover, for example, is throwing in a large, two-topping pizza and a 2-liter bottle of soda with one package for each night of lodging at the hotel, while Courtyard Marriott in Lowell has bundled movie tickets as part of its "Lights, Camera, Action!" promotion.

Meanwhile, the Doubletree Hotel in Lowell is giving a 20 percent discount for its family weekend getaway package, which includes a breakfast buffet for four, through May 22.

That's encouraging news for Deborah Belanger, executive director of the Greater Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau, who thinks attendance numbers at local museums and historical attractions could jump as some parents look for low-cost family activities in the current economic climate.

"We've got anything from white-water rafting to art shows to some of these smaller events," said Belanger, "and again, it's springtime, so what a great opportunity to get out."

To help drum up business, the convention and visitors bureau is also planning to sponsor a Restaurant Week in August that will feature about 20 eateries throughout Merrimack Valley, offering fixed prices for lunch and dinner.

Until then, a host of other events round out the regional calendar. Coinciding with National Preservation Month, the eighth annual Doors Open Lowell will offer free tours of buildings that are usually off limits, from May 14 to 17. Last year, spots included the Old Lowell National Bank (88 Prescott St.), the Masonic Temple (79 Dutton St.), and the Spalding House (383 Pawtucket St.), which was built in 1761 and is the third-oldest house in Lowell.

The American Textile History Museum is scheduled to reopen on June 21 with free admission for all ages to mark the completion of its 18-month, $3.9 million renovation. A new exhibition, "Textile Revolution: An Exploration through Space and Time," allows visitors a firsthand glimpse at how textiles have changed the world, and features activities such as a simulated parachute ride from a single-engine plane.

Museumgoers also can feel the rumble of 90 working power looms - and save $2 on admission - at the Boott Cotton Mills Museum at Lowell National Historical Park, which is offering the discount through June 30 as part of the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism's MassValuePass spring promotion.

Starting Memorial Day, the park will begin operating 90-minute canal tours along the Pawtucket River, which can be packaged with admission to the museum at a $2 savings.

"There's more optimism in the business community now than there had been," said Joseph Bevilacqua, president and CEO of the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce. "People believe that the worst is over and they're trying, and becoming, very innovative in terms of their stores and offerings."