BY ANDREW RAVENS, Valley Dispatch Staff
METHUEN — A modern mall and an old-fashioned apple orchard dating back to 1877 might seem like strange bedfellows.
But The Loop mall and Mann Orchards, which are only separated by Pleasant Valley Street, have shared customers and a solid relationship for decades.
Several other businesses outside the mall also enjoy the new company as the massive shopping plaza continues to funnel consumers to merchants in the area.
“We couldn’t have a better neighbor,” said Bill Fitzgerald, owner of Mann Orchards. “The Loop adds a lot to the area — quality businesses and places to eat. And their property maintenance is second to none.”
When the mall opened for business in 2000, the 45-acre Mann Orchards saw a 30-40 percent spike in business, said Fitzgerald. That eventually fell to about a 10 percent increase, but he is not complaining.
“The Loop definitely created a lot of consumer traffic in the area — no question,” he said.
And the actual traffic — cars — has not clogged up the streets.
“The traffic has gone the way it was predicted — most people are using Exit 4 (off Route 213),” he said.
Mall officials also make sure to give surrounding businesses a heads-up before large events that could snarl traffic, Fitzgerald said.
“We are all neighbors,” said mall general manager Gayle Anderson Nigro.
Ali Jabak, the owner of an Exxon and Mobil gas station a few blocks from the mall, was pleased to see a larger flow of cars thirsty for gasoline.
“I’ve seen 15 percent more business since the opening,” said Jabak. “They have been very good neighbors. It’s a lot better than before because all you had was a closed mall (where The Loop now stands).”
But not everyone is entirely happy.
Priscilla Henshaw, the owner of Priscilla’s Place diner on Pleasant Street, blames the mall’s eight chain restaurants for a sharp drop in business.
Henshaw estimates she has lost about 50 percent of evening business at her breakfast, lunch and dinner eatery.
“I like The Loop — I am all for it — I just wish it had less restaurants,” said Henshaw. “We didn’t need all the restaurants.”
Henshaw said she saved money for two years because she feared The Loop’s impact. She would like to see tax breaks for small businesses. Presently, she said she pays the same rates as restaurants at the mall.
But while Henshaw is in direct competition, most businesses are more fortunate.
Mark Saraceno owns the Methuen Sport Shop on Pleasant Street and feels he is not competing with the mall’s Olympia Sports.
“They (Olympia) don’t do what we do,” said Saraceno, who specializes in selling hockey equipment. “The Loop is actually the reason why I came here.”
Saraceno was counting on the area’s growing consumer population when he opened in 2002 and so far he is happy to be in the mall’s vicinity.
“If The Loop wasn’t here,” he said. “I wouldn’t have opened a store.”