Behind the painted windows, Dale Preboski saw something more. For decades, the corner of Wetmore and Hewitt avenues in downtown Everett was anchored by Fidelity Mutual Bank. Then came shopping malls...

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Behind the painted windows, Dale Preboski saw something more.

For decades, the corner of Wetmore and Hewitt avenues in downtown Everett was anchored by Fidelity Mutual Bank. Then came shopping malls and the troubled economy of the 1970s.

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Frontier Bank took over the space for a few years before it moved across the street to a bigger lot. A beauty parlor and a secondhand-clothing store came and went next; a day-labor shop didn’t last long, either. The front and side windows, which had reflected decades of commerce, were painted a dull blue.

Preboski saw it all from her office a block away and dreamed of making the corner something special again. In 2001, she quit her job as the city’s spokeswoman, rented the storefront and watched the blue paint disappear. She recently celebrated the third anniversary of her store, Beyond the Blue Bridal, which sells formal and wedding dresses.

“I wanted to be on the corner of the downtown I’m crazy about,” Preboski said.

She considers herself a “merchant of change,” part of a corps of new businesses on Hewitt Avenue that is re-establishing downtown as a shopping and eating destination. By regrading Hewitt and placing planters and covered bus stops along the busy street last year, the city redefined the five-block retail corridor between Colby Avenue and the Everett Events Center.

City leaders and business owners say the future of downtown business rests on the commitment of diverse specialty retailers and shoppers seeking something different.

“You are seeing some unique shops opening in downtown Everett and staying open because they offer services you can’t find elsewhere,” Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said, noting the Horseshoe Saloon, Bistro Vino and other restaurants and retail shops that have opened in the past year along Hewitt.

“You also get personal service, which brings you back to what it used to be like to shop.”

Preboski said the opening of the events center in October 2002 has brought more people — more shoppers — to the streets. The center has drawn at least 700,000 people downtown thus far, events-center officials said.

“Very few people at an event are going to buy a dress or tux,” Preboski said, “but they do see us and come back.”

Downtown may never again have JC Penney or another national retailer on its corners, but Preboski and her husband, Paul Kaftanski, contend that more people will come downtown seeking alternatives to “big-box” shopping.

Kaftanski, the city’s transportation-services director, is so firm in that belief that he opened Blue’s Brother, a formal menswear store, 15 months ago. The shop shares space with Beyond the Blue but has its own entrance at 1703 Hewitt Ave.

The couple has invested about $250,000 and countless hours in the stores, Kaftanski said.

“It’s always risky to invest capital — yours or someone else’s — in a small-business enterprise,” added Kaftanski, who spent about five years considering risks before opening his store. “In the end, I had to bite the bullet.”

Preboski and Kaftanski met 12 years ago when she was an editorial writer at Everett’s Herald newspaper and he was a transportation-project manager for the city.

Preboski later took a job as the city’s public-information officer and led successful efforts to get Everett an “All-America City” designation. The National Civic League hands the award out annually to 10 U.S. cities that demonstrate civic excellence in solving problems. Everett won in part because of Everett Station, a regional transportation and employment-resource hub.

Kaftanski was a key player in the creation of the transit station, which has emerged as one of the city’s favorite selling points to lure businesses downtown.

City officials are compiling the results of a survey of 1,000 people who live and work in Everett. The survey asked people what they would like to see more of downtown.

Karen Shaw, the city’s economic-development director said that next year, she plans to use information from the survey to recruit more specialty restaurateurs and retailers downtown.

Small-business owners must persuade people who live in or near Everett to check out the city’s downtown, Preboski said.

“If people haven’t been to downtown Everett in a while, they’ll be surprised by all of the wonderful additions,” she said.