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.