Second in a two-part series.
Pre-automobile downtown was the hub of Andover life. While in most cases the fortunes of downtown merchants did not match those of the mill owners, their influence certainly did.
Business success stories were highlighted during the town’s 250th anniversary in 1896. Andover’s growth, alone, was cause for celebration. In 1672, it was estimated that the town’s expenses were less than $60; in 1895, they were $70,000. From 41 settlers in 1672, the town had grown to 6,200 citizens. In the Andover Townsman’s 1896 business supplement, there was the acknowledgment that Andover had been “slow and conservative in matters of local improvement.” That was, until 1880, when the town saw “electric lights, improved sidewalks, a system of water supply, and planning for sewerage.”
All of these improvements were key to supporting the downtown merchants, many of whom served on town boards and committees and whose presence in 1896 set the stage for the vitality of today’s downtown. Individual businesses were varied, providing for the many needs of the local population.
According to the Townsman, “while the comfort and welfare of a respectable and thriving town requires the services of many merchants, none are more welcome or desired than those who administer to our physical well-being.” The newspaper was referring, of course, to those merchants who maintained the local groceries and food markets. Not coincidently, there were more food stores than any other.
T.A. Holt & Company was considered the pioneer in the grocery business. Begun as Higgins & Abbott in 1838, its location in the basement of the Baptist Church on Essex Street was its first and only location. T.A. Holt had been a clerk for 11 years for the original firm before the company took on his name in 1875, expanding more than ten times over according to Mr. Holt.