An idea to help preserve our village centers

As a member of the Newton Villages Alliance, I am proud that we were recently praised by a Boston.com article entitled “5 Things to know about living in Newton” for our role in preserving village character.

A vital component to any successful village is a variety of shops and restaurants that attract patrons. An important aspect of this attractiveness is the unique and independent character of shops that differentiate the destination, as opposed to a string of chain stores and restaurants , or a heavy domination of banks.

A major concern about new development is that it displaces existing small businesses and raises the rents in that location, as well as the surrounding areas. This severely limits the types of businesses that can survive in our village centers, which are not necessarily the type that will keep them vibrant.  Newly developed areas seem to attract chains and banks that can afford high rents. Sure, I like Panera, but wouldn’t a locally owned coffee shop or bakery give a village more character and add to its success? And isn’t it better to support a business owned by a local resident than add to the profits of CVS or Bank of America?

So how do we retain these crucial independent businesses that are on the endangered list in Newton? Here is my idea…

Since Newton requires 15% of units in new residential developments be designated for affordable housing, why can’t the city institute the same idea to keep small, independent businesses from getting priced out of Newton? The idea is that new developments that have a portion of commercial units be required to set aside a percentage of them as affordable units for small, independent businesses that are desirable for the location. Priority could be given to established small businesses already in that location that could not afford the higher rents the newer buildings will charge. For example, Newtonville Camera, if the Orr building project is approved.

Many details would need to be worked out, such as who would qualify and what the proper mix is for a successful village center. But there should be a plan or strategy  to retain and attract diverse and desirable independent small businesses. They are just as important to a successful village center as affordable housing is to achieve successful diversity in our population.

Thoughts?

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7 Comments on "An idea to help preserve our village centers"

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Sallee Lipshutz

I love and support the idea. What do you think we can do in Village centers where large numbers of stores are owned by one absentee owner? Or what about Village centers where single businesses own their own building for that particular business? This could definitely work if a block of stores were to be re-developed.

Bob Jampol

The proposal makes lots of sense. I have always treasured Waban Market and Waban Hardware in my neck of the woods, and I always regret the appearance of the generic chain stores in Newton. How many Dunkin’ Donuts are there in the Garden City? Not to pick on them, but you get the point.

Lynne LeBlanc

Good idea but 15% seems much too low. I would say 50% sounds about right.

I love the idea.
It’s important to keep Newton’s uniqueness in tact, but it’s also important for us to change with the times. If we increase the footage in our commercial zoning. we can build more mixed use development projects. Keep the retailers in the first floor and have people live above them. Just a thought.

Mark Marderosian

The impact that local business has on the community itself cannot be understated. Some local businesses support their surrounding area more than others but generally because a local business has its ROOTS in the community, they are PART of the community. Had friend who owned a diner out in western part of state. Small town. He and she did good business and supported and donated both time and money to local events and clubs like the high school football team. McDonald’s came in RIGHT next door. The citizens of town were sadly short-sighted. You would think none of them had ever eaten at a McDonald’s before. Friend tried hanging on, within 8 months was gone. When the local football team went to the McDonald’s for a donation now that my friend’s store wasn’t there, suddenly the manager at the McDonald’s “had just left”, “wouldn’t be back for a week” etc etc. Finally they told football team to write to corporate and put in a request.

Great points Mark. Something very unsettling about a football team sponsored by McDonalds – maybe that’s just me – just doesn’t seem to have the right message or connection.

Greg Reibman

It’s terrific to see such a strong commitment to our local business and keeping them here. And it’s entirely appropriate to cite raising rents as a real impediment. Keep the great ideas coming.

Mark’s point about how generous our local restaurants are to local teams, non-profits, etc is spot-on too.

Our merchants need our support. Most, if not all, would also benefit from added density, especially in our village centers. Retailers and restaurants depend on foot traffic and the best way to accomplish that is to have more feet.

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