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HAVERHILL, SALEM

Lowe’s closes Haverhill store, shelves Salem project

By Steven A. Rosenberg
Globe Staff / October 27, 2011

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Lowe’s, which markets itself as the second-largest home improvement retailer in the world, pulled the plug last week on a major investment and a planned project, closing its Haverhill store and handing out pink slips to more than 100 employees there, while also walking away from a store it had proposed to build in Salem, where an estimated 125 jobs would have been created.

Karen Cobb, a Lowe’s spokeswoman, said the decision to close the Haverhill store and not build in Salem was part of a companywide move to downsize in the stagnant economy. The Haverhill Lowe’s was one of 20 the company decided to close, including three New Hampshire locations in Manchester, Hooksett, and Claremont. Cobb also said that because of the lagging economy, Lowe’s will open only 10 to 15 stores in the United States next year and beyond, compared with the 30 it had projected.

“We’re very disappointed,’’ said Haverhill Mayor James J. Fiorentini, who noted that he had heard rumors about the store’s underperformance for months. Lowe’s employed 105 people in Haverhill, with 62 of the workers full time. Fiorentini said he hoped some of the workers would find employment in the industrial park where Lowe’s operated.

“Lowe’s was a victim of the recession,’’ he said.

In Salem, the Lowe’s announcement took many by surprise and brought an end to a contentious period during which Lynn brought a lawsuit against Salem in an attempt to stop the project because of traffic and flooding concerns. The decision also halted development that would have expanded the Highland Avenue shopping center near the Lynn border, where Walmart is the anchor tenant.

Two years ago, Salem approved a $125,000 tax break for the proposed Lowe’s. The plan called for Lowe’s to expand the shopping center and acquire about 15 acres from a Salem camp. On the expanded property, Lowe’s had proposed building a store that would have created 125 jobs and brought in an estimated $225,000 in annual taxes.

Also, as part of the project, Walmart had planned to raze its current store and build a larger one.

“We just recently last week became aware of the decision by Lowe’s to discontinue the Salem project,’’ said Walmart spokesman Chris Buchanan. “Walmart is currently evaluating our options for our larger store at this site, and hopes to be in touch with the city of Salem in the near future.’’

The news also took Salem City Hall by surprise, where officials had anticipated a spring groundbreaking for the Lowe’s project.

“I am extremely disappointed that the proposed new store does not appear to be moving forward and have asked Lowe’s officials to revisit the decision,’’ said Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll in a statement. “They indicated they would bring my request back to corporate officers, but I’m not hopeful anything will change.’’

Salem City Councilor Tom Furey said the decision by Lowe’s would have a huge economic impact.

“It’s a major loss for the city of Salem,’’ said Furey. “With the Walmart, that whole area would have been an amazing win-win for the city, since we need more commercial development in the city. It’s a major blow and we hope somewhere along the line they will reconsider.’’

The decision by Lowe’s against building in Salem also could affect a lawsuit the city of Lynn filed against Salem. During the past two years, Lynn officials and abutters had warned the project would create more traffic and more water runoff in a heavily congested area that already floods.

Lynn had filed a lawsuit against the city of Salem and its Planning Board, which approved the project. Earlier this month, a Salem Superior Court judge dismissed most of the lawsuit but allowed one charge to proceed.

With the Lowe’s project dead, Lynn city attorney James Lamanna said he expected to drop the lawsuit.

“For the residents that would have had to deal with this every day, it’s a good development,’’ he said. “We would have received none of the tax revenue for the project and most of the headaches.’’

Tim Phelan, president of the Lynn City Council, also hailed the news. “I look at this as a victory for the small guy and the neighborhood over the corporate giant,’’ he said.

Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at srosenberg@globe.com.