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WEST ROXBURY

CENTRE STREET

by Peter
Czyryca

Revitalizing Centre Street in West Roxbury

The West Roxbury Main Streets office above Centre Street

The gleaming, newly constructed Starbucks on Centre Street not only brews a great cup of joe but also lends credence to the revitalization of this neglected business thoroughfare in the heart of West Roxbury.

"When Starbucks, one of the premier corporations in America decides on putting a store in your neighborhood, you know you've got something special going," says Brigid Boyle, director of West Roxbury Main Streets.

Chicago's "Magnificent Mile" it's not. But the addition of household names to Centre Street such as Starbucks, Hallmark Gold Crown, Home Depot, CVS, Walgreens and the local grocery giant Roche Bros. has served to spread the shopping bug for many West Roxbury consumers.

An empty storefront in West Roxbury

It's a fervor that was missing in this community for many years as a combination of empty storefronts, neglected facades and a dull mix of shops, bars and restaurants sent many residents elsewhere to shop.

Now Starbucks stands as a symbol of what Boyle and the residents and businesses associated with Main Streets have worked so hard for: to lure shoppers back to a neighborhood that 2000 census data says is one of the wealthiest in Boston.

An empty lot in West Roxbury

Main Streets, a nationwide neighborhood improvement initiative, was approved in West Roxbury in September 2001. The City of Boston provided an initial funding package over a four-year period, with $10,000 slated for façade improvement in 2003 alone.

West Roxbury Main Streets contacted residents and businesses last summer in an effort to boost awareness of the revitalization. Now hundreds of residents and businesses are volunteering in the effort to spruce up Centre Street, Boyle said.

Main Streets also distributed an informal survey to the community that highlighted a disturbing trend, the flight of consumers to out-of-town town shops such as the Mall at Chestnut Hill, the Atrium Mall and the Dedham Mall. Consumers' negative perceptions of shopping opportunities on Centre Street is what Main Streets is battling to reverse.

Despite the survey and the underlying trends behind it, Starbucks didn't hesitate to open its new store in January 2003.

The storefront of the new Starbucks in West Roxbury

Starbucks' District Manager Jeff Anderson found West Roxbury appealing on several levels, including its proximity to major roadways such as the VFW Parkway, the tight-knit nature of the community and favorable demographics.

"We were excited to build a store in the area because of the closeness of the community," Anderson says. "It's very rare especially in urban spots these days. Foot traffic in the area has increased gradually since we opened the store in January. I'm positive this summer we'll see this trend continue."

Roche Bros., a local grocery chain that has its roots in Roslindale, plans to capitalize on the increased flow of consumers as well. In February 2002, it constructed a new building right around the corner from Starbucks.

So far the move has worked out well, says Roche Bros. Assistant Manager Richard Broderick. He maintains that as businesses become more lucrative on Centre Street, a healthier mix of stores should evolve as other entrepreneurs look to get in on the revitalization.

"Roche Bros. has strived to set a precedent in giving back to West Roxbury, in the hope that the neighborhood grows even stronger and more independent," Broderick says.

In 1995, the company opened the Roche Community Center on Centre Street as part of its corporate philanthropy.

The storefront of Steve Slyne's Deli

Proprietors of smaller stores, such as the family-owned Steve Slyne's Deli, say they are heartened to know that large corporations are beginning to see value on Centre Street.

But Steve Slyne, whose deli has been a cornerstone of the community since 1970, says that even as West Roxbury changes, its roots remain the same. He points to the fact that his shop has thrived without big business before. The key ingredient to a revitalized downtown, he believes, is community backing, not anchor stores.

"People just need to support what's in town, that's the bottom line," Slyne says. "The heavy reliance society has on cars and the Internet have both taken something away from businesses in the area. But that's not just a local problem, that's a nationwide trend."

Slyne does believe one major obstacle stands in the way of completing a turnaround on Centre Street: parking.

Median Household Income per 2000 Census Data

Back Bay
$77,282
Beacon Hill
$70,854
West Roxbury
$65,156
Jamaica Plain
$40,968
Dorchester
$35,805

Census data illustrates that West Roxbury's median household income ranks near Boston's wealthiest neighborhoods. But money is leaving West Roxbury to be spent in Chestnut Hill or Dedham, which is hurting the local businesses on Centre Street, a trend Main Streets is beginning to reverse.

The scant parallel spaces lining the main business artery vanish with the onset of the morning commute, sending consumers scrambling for several public parking lots located off the main drag. Even store-owners along this winding thoroughfare in the heart of West Roxbury say they spin their wheels for far too long seeking out a spot.

Ask George DeFina Jr., who works at his fathers restaurant, Deno's Pizza and Subs on Centre Street.

"Parking here is so terrible," DeFina Jr. says, adding, "I often leave my car behind the store at night and walk home to my apartment...up and down this street there's just nowhere to put your car!"

City Liaison Jay Walsh confirms what everyone in West Roxbury already knows about the parking woes: It will be difficult if not impossible to resolve.

"There's just no room down there, you can't widen the street.," Walsh says.

Walsh contends residents just need to use the parking lots that are but a few minutes walk from the shops lining Centre Street.

Main Streets does plan to make the streets more accommodating to foot traffic, with repaved sidewalks and more green space, in a further attempt to showcase West Roxbury's shops.

Boyle and her volunteer corps hope that the street will draw more and more local residents as its facelift continues and that, in turn, more stores, boutiques and restaurants will join in reviving the street.

PETER CZYRYCA

GO...

SEE IT

- The storefront of the new Starbucks

- The storefront of Roche Bros.

-The storefront of Steve Slyne's Deli

-An empty lot in West Roxbury

LINK IT

- City of Boston: West Roxbury Main Streets

- Chicago's "Magnificent Mile"

-American Factfinder: Search the U.S. Census Bureau

- Roche Bros.

 

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