What Living in Downtown Gloucester is Really Like

For those who reside in East Gloucester, Annisquam, Bay View, Plum Cove, Lanesville, Rocky Neck, West Gloucester, or anywhere else within the city limits where you can actually hear crickets and you have more than 36 centimeters from your house to the house next to you, I salute you and your quaint, relaxing, country way of life.

But I fear you’re missing something quintessentially Gloucester by being in a relatively far-flung part of town. So here’s some of the stuff that happens downtown. Brace yourself.

Anonymous Trash Donations

A perennial favorite. Since our city’s switch to a pay-as-you-go trash system, there has been an unceasing number of fartknockers who just don’t feel the need to pay $2 to toss out all their garbage. As a result, they’ll just wing it wherever suits them. Since we’re only one generation removed from when people used to LITERALLY THROW THEIR GARBAGE IN THE HARBOR, it’s not particularly surprising that some folks have a diminished sense of personal responsibility when it comes to their trash.

Take that, ocean. What have you ever done for us, anyway?

Take that, ocean. What have you ever done for us, anyway?


Which means that if you reside in the downtown core, you will at some point be the recipient of anonymous trash donations. Errant nip bottles, McDonalds bags, empty packs of cigarettes, takeout containers, and sometimes larger, more maddening items. I once had a neighbor put empty refrigerator shelves in front of my house, like I hadn’t seen them previously in front of his house for two weeks. We live 2 houses down, bud, this isn’t exactly Unsolved Mysteries levels of sleuthing.


Also, old running shoes. Apparently. Wut.

Also, random pairs of running shoes. This literally happened two weeks ago.


Folks of Questionable Sobriety Milling About your Property

I don’t think anyone I know has escaped the sanity-questioning that results from looking out your window on a sunny afternoon and realizing there’s someone just ambling through your yard. It doesn’t matter that your yard is fully fenced and abuts a rocky cliff full of poisonous snakes, there’s still somebody staggering through your yard like it’s a cut through to the best packie on earth.

There's a girl in the garden.

There’s a girl in the garden.


One time a man entered my driveway and leaned against my kitchen window, 15 feet from the street. When I asked him if I could assist him in any way, he gave me a dirty look and told me he was making a phone call. Another time I took a gander outside on a sunny day, while pregnant and chasing a toddler, and realized that there was a man sleeping on a discarded mattress in the driveway across the street from mine. I mean, we all have the desperate urge for a nap (see “pregnant and chasing a toddler”, above) but even I of little dignity would refrain from putting a trash mattress in a random driveway and slipping into unconsciousness.


Petty Thievery

Along with the visits from the riffraff  mentioned above, items not lashed down in one’s yard tend to disappear not infrequently. Unlocked bikes are a pretty common thing to wander off downtown. We had a mountain bike go missing from our backyard, only to be found a year later at the end of our street, propped against a fire hydrant. In broad daylight, someone absconded with a ’60s Schwinn Town and Country adult tricycle with a top speed of .3 MPH and a ’70s women’s 3 speed which notably did not have working brakes and the loose handlebars would sway wildly side to side. I found the latter beside the train tracks on Maplewood Ave, which should surprise no one.

We’ve also had people steal a half-full can of wood stain from a coffee table project, an empty gas can missing its cap, a recycling bin, a quart of oil, and bike locks with the keys missing.

I can fit twelve gallons of stolen paint in the back.

I can fit 12 gallons of stolen paint in the back of this baby.

The Noise

City living also, quite obviously, produces a lot of noise. The houses are literally arm’s length apart, so you are all up in your neighbors’ business, whether you want to be or not.  Over the summer, I was awakened at 4 AM by a fight mere feet from my bedroom window in which two very inebriated girls in their early 20s were grappling with each other, pulling out hair, and eventually hitting each other with bricks as the police showed up.

It was not like this at all.

It was not like this at all.

I can hear neighbors talk inside their own houses from inside my house. There’s nothing like overhearing a heated spousal quarrel and thinking to yourself, “She is right about his drinking habits, but really, nagging won’t fix it.” There’s also random parades, random late night concerts, and the fortnightly midnight walking-while-screaming incidents.

But The Walkability!

Honestly, the relatively small drawbacks of city living I’ve mentioned above pale in comparison to how wonderful it is to live within 5 blocks of EVERYTHING. I can ride my bike or walk to almost every bar in town (some more questionable than others), and my 300-foot walk to work every day includes passing a cupcake shop, a dumpling place, a pizza place, and a taco joint. As well as a Dunkin Donuts without even needing to cross the street, naturally.  I live a 30-second jog to a full supermarket. I can wander over to a wine and cheese shop, any number of pizza places, Chinese food, CHINESE FOOD DRINKS, a tattoo parlor, thrift shops, paint store, graphics company, and a million other places that are absolutely worth visiting and patronizing.

And you know what? The neighbors are fantastic, even when I can overhear them fart in their sleep. We have a vibrant downtown community of artists, teachers, commuters, and people who care. Families with kids riding bikes on the same street where someone overdosed last week. Because the perseverance is still there. This is not a community of people who give up and move out or throw up their hands and let the underbelly of the opiate problem win. And you know what? It’s awesome. Move downtown. Do it.



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  1. So good

  2. I grew Down The Fort and during my childhood I thought all I wanted was a white picket fence surrounding a single family home in the suburbs.

    Soon after we moved to our dreame house, I missed the city sidewalks and noise. Being able to walk or ride my bike. When we retired and thought about moving, I described my perfect location and it sounded a lot like downtown Gloucester. Instead we moved to downtown Williamsburg, VA. The winter of 78 left its mark on us. MA is too cold after living on the Gulf Coast for so many years. Love it here.

  3. You forgot the constant, painful, unending road work.

  4. Well put – there is a Ying and Yuck to living downtown. The “trash incentive” program does encourage people to throw it on the street, due to the “fine” imposed for putting it in barrels. And the teenaged wanna-be hoodlums that asked my son to fight the other night were a slight annoyance (Fortunately my son was unfazed, is smarter than fighting and has a black belt just in case). But trips to the geek store, coffee shops, and seagulls clacking make it a great seaside-city atmosphere. Maybe we can put the pseudo-hoodlums on trash patrol?

  5. Fantastic! Looking forward to a follow-up themed article re: shoveling snow, parking and saving spaces in the winter (and parade days) with lawn furniture.

  6. I sit outside on my downtown deck all summer long with NO MOSQUITOS ! Eat your hear out country folks.

  7. dorothyzbornakssholderpads

    I dunno about the Geek store…it smells too much like unwashed teenaged boy in there at times. Pity, Gloucester needs a proper geek meetup spot.

  8. I had a tiny little shop downtown on the West End very briefly during the 80′s; long enough to absorb the wonderful sights, sounds and smells of the West End-Paul and Joe Virgilio baking that wonderful bread-

  9. We live at the outskirts on a major walking route between the ends of Washington St. We are used to a daily routine of trash clean-up, traffic, peel-outs and sirens. The walk over the hill downtown is about 1.2 miles. Walkable but extreme caution needed on a bike. I love exploring the neighborhoods on foot. If we are feeling particularly hardy we climb the big hill for a panoramic view of the harbor and downtown. Walking to events downtown in summer makes for more adventure.
    Love my city, like the idea of “trash detention”.

  10. Jenn Fernandes

    You nailed it…we must be neighbors. Just last night I was woken by a man talking to himself loudly at 1:30am at the bus stop across the street. But after 13 years I would choose to live no where else. Bravo!!

  11. Seems like you live in our former neighborhood near Governor’s Park. Don’t forget the frequent fireworks up there that occur just as your small children fall asleep.

    • very close! we live abutting the cemetery on prospect st, which has its own random fireworks!

  12. I grew up in West Gloucester. I’ve lived in North Attleboro (near the Pats stadium), WI (near the Packers stadium, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama… Now I’m back in Gloucester raising my kids downtown. It’s taking some getting used to but there is no where else I’d rather be. Downtown Gloucester just has something special.. When we first moved back I had my car broken into, then a few weeks ago someone hit my other car, our flower pot and holiday decorations have disappeared, trash has been left on our front steps (over and over again) and we haven’t even been here for a whole year. It’s ok though, almost expected. I love it, just not sure why!

    • i grew up in foxboro, not too far from the pats stadium (before all the stuff it’s got now – it was just the stadium and the crappy motels!) it is boring and stifling compared to how awesome downtown gloucester is!

      • Downtown Gloucester is totally awesome! It is the heart of an amazing and real community. Warts and all, there is nothing like it anywhere.

  13. JUST moved downtown 4 months ago from Riverdale and love it!!!
    Thank you for the great story.

  14. Very handy to numerous twelve step meetings

  15. We’d love to join you downtown but would like garage parking, one level (thinking of our potential future needs),view of the harbor, and at least 3000 sq ft. I’m happy to use my gardening energy to maintain a public space. Any ideas?

  16. I love this! But must clarify that there is no need to live downtown to experience these charms! When I lived “at the gateway of Annisquam,”* I had garbage, drunken fights 3ft from my house in the wee hours and car crashes, groups of hooligans cutting through the back yard, thefts and odd leavings. And don’t get me started on why good fences make good neighbors!
    *location according to my neighbor’s petition regarding the color of my house – btw, can we see a piece on the joys of silly witch hunts of the rich and useless in the modern village soon? )

  17. This is so spot on, I could have written this word for word! Love it 🙂

  18. Another great post. So right on as are the comments. I’ve recently moved from The Fort to East Gloucester, sure I live in a nicer house (which I pay dearly for) and it is more quiet and peaceful and all of that, but I sure do miss The Fort and walking downtown. At least I can easily walk to Rocky Neck now that places are starting to open for the season.

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