Big Apple Circus may not return to Northshore Mall next year

Peabody Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr., right, and Big Apple Circus CEO Gregg Walker, left, get ready to raise the tent with the help of tent master Michael Leclair. (Spenser R. Hasak)

PEABODY — The Big Apple Circus folded its tent on the Northshore Mall after its recent extended stay, but it may not return to the shopping center next year.

“We loved playing Peabody, and couldn’t have imagined being treated with more love, acceptance, support and encouragement,” said CEO Gregg Walker.

While Walker confirmed Greater Boston will be on the schedule in 2020, he stopped short of saying the jugglers, trapeze artists, horses, dogs, clowns and acrobats will return to Peabody.

He said the agreement to perform in the mall’s parking lot for five weeks in April and May was a one-time lease. The circus has multi-year leases in Washington, D.C., and New York City. “Boston is our second home, and we can’t wait to return to the Boston area,” said Walker, an admitted Yankees fan. “We’d be grateful if we had the opportunity to have as great an experience as we had in Peabody.”

He declined further comment.

The Big Apple Circus has performed in Greater Boston since 1988. They began in Boston’s Seaport District when it was acres of parking lots and railroad yards, then it was moved to Boston City Hall Plaza, and last year they performed at Somerville’s Assembly Row. Construction at the 66-acre neighborhood on the Mystic River off Route I-93 brought the show to the North Shore.

But sources told The Item the New York circus may not return to Peabody next year. While the company loved the North Shore location, they said, investors are looking to maximize revenue and there might be a better place. Circus management, they said, was disappointed the show failed to draw more customers south and west of Boston.

The privately-held company declined to reveal ticket sales.

“We had strong ticket sales,” Walker said.

Still, sources said “strong” ticket sales would have resulted in renewing the mall lease.

Robert Bradford, president of the North Shore Chamber of Commerce, said the circus boosted businesses, especially at the mall.

“I can’t give you a hard number, but whenever you have a popular event like the circus there’s a multiplier effect,” he said. “There’s no doubt it had a positive impact on the business community in Peabody and the surrounding towns.”

Michael Murray, chairman of the Peabody Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“Everything I’ve heard from fellow chamber members is they loved the circus and it was a rousing success,” he said. “It brought lots of traffic to the Northshore Mall in a positive way. Restaurants benefited too with people coming to the show.”

Burtons Grill, the upscale-casual restaurant at the mall, said they saw a burst of customers when the circus tent was in the mall’s parking lot.

“We saw lots more customers in the mid-afternoon before they headed to the evening show,” said Todd Harmon, manager.

But restaurants in the downtown, about a mile from the shopping center, said they didn’t see an increase.

“My staff and I didn’t notice any more people here while the circus was in town,” said Suzanne Waite, co-owner of Su Chang’s on Lowell Street. “Spring is a time when youngsters receive Communion and there are lots of engagement parties, so we’re always quite busy at this time of year anyway.”

Mayor Edward A. Bettencourt Jr., who encouraged the Big Apple to make its home in Peabody, said he was pleased at the five-week run. The mayor said he was unaware the circus may be looking to relocate and plans to meet with the show’s organizers.

“The circus exceeded our best expectations,” he said. “The goal was to have a family-friendly community event and it worked. There were traffic concerns before they came, but the police put together an excellent traffic management plan and we didn’t get any complaints.”


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