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Friday, December 23, 2011

Hot Topic of 2011: Magoun Gains Attention, Little Else...

Even as I logged on to the website, I approved two comments asking me to recap Magoun Square's journey through 2011. Meetings, Board of Alderman legislative items, businesses bidding farewell, a delayed Green Line stop, botched construction and an OSPCD report were all the focus that Magoun received this past year. 

Bye Bye Bye...
Lil' Vinny's couldn't hang on any longer. Whether it be changes in: parking regulations, staff, food, or people's diets, the popular Italian eatery that helped put Magoun on the map announced that it will close its doors for good. Within the sadness and the "I told you so's"-a glimmer of hope from a Somerville native shined through. Dimitra Tsourianis plans on opening a retro bar with reasonably priced entrées created by a chef with a following. This was Christmas early for those of us who frequented Lil' Vinny's and, in the end, did everything we could to save it. The last bit of consolation we got was the piece of mind given by Tony who insisted he was ready for a change and a whole new life. 

Basil Tree took up three storefronts and boasted an earthy, organic menu that was equally delicious and environmentally conscience. Dear friends, Ron and Dave, even had their wedding catered by the Magoun Square company. In early December, however, they too threw in the towel on Magoun after finding a better location at a better price in Cambridge. You may need to read that previous sentence a few times to get it to really sink in. Lease signs are up, but no definite occupant has been named.

The meters cometh, the business get taketh away...
Lets get one thing VERY CLEAR...most businesses in Magoun do not have a problem with parking meters. Lets say it again...most businesses in Magoun do not have a problem with parking meters. The understanding that there needs to be a harmony between revenue, parking enforcement, frequent turnover and creating a business-friendly environment for everyone is something that we are all well versed in. There is, however, a slant to what's happening at the intersection of Medford and Broadway. Hmmm...what metaphor is the best to describe this? I got it! Parking regulations in Magoun are like a pendulum swinging back and forth. For a long time, they swung very deep into the business territory as, for many years, Magoun did not have meters. Then again, that was when Mike had a hardware store, Frenchie had a restaurant, Cara Donna had a bakery and Kathy had a corner where she cut hair. Curtatone took office, meters went in, prices were set to times that were similar to other cities and everyone seemed happy. As Magoun's economic vitality decreased to the almost rock bottom level it is now, the parking regulations changed. Meter costs went up, meter time allotments per quarter went down, businesses suffered and, on top of everything, the 10pm meter time (along with Davis Square) loomed over Magoun like a dark cloud. Has anyone seen that pendulum in Magoun since? Somehow, City Hall accountants made cents of something that really didn't make sense. The only connection between Davis & Magoun is the Community Path and that's not coming until 2013. A moratorium was requested by Alderman O'Donovan who got a "reconsideration" from the administration instead. Meters would stay at 8pm and be returned, post-construction, just in time for the holidays!

OSPCD Reports and recommends...
May of 2011 brought a multi-page report compiled by the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development and presented to a group of Magoun loyalists at a committee meeting held at City Hall. Although the report stated the obvious and offered some valid recommendations, it did reveal that all businesses were approached during appropriate hours by someone who spoke their language. This brought a sense of completion to the report and proved that the push for Magoun had a foundation much more substantial then a few businesses and outside folks. Alderman O'Donovan has promised that discussions will continue in 2012. 

...yeah, about that Green Line thing...
As the sun rises and sets, the Green Line Extension gets delayed further and further into the future. MassDot said, "Between 2016 and 2020." Mike Capuano said, "It's never coming!" The city said, "We're buying an orange line stop" and I said, "How fast can Ella get me a Bud Light and an order of wings for me to drown my sorrows in?" In the end, MassDot reconsidered and rescheduled for 2017, the City floated $27 million for an orange line station, and Mike retracted, promoting purple instead of green which is not as green as green, but we have a better chance getting purple then green because it will take less green to get purple, but are definitely getting orange. Ella, can I have a Bud Light, an order of wings, and box of tissues?

Hey, is that supposed to be a funny reference towards the team I play for?
So, I asked Joe Curtatone what his vision was for Magoun Square and, apparently, it was a softball question. I was a catcher when I played softball down Trum Field, so pitching was never really my thing, but if it's yours, please come on up to a meeting when Magoun is on the agenda so we can toss a couple back and forth. Hey, you never know, you might be able to bring some information back to your neighbors and associates. In the meantime, cue up the Indigo Girls...

In conclusion...
There was a lot of talking, reporting, and supporting, but there was little difference made. Magoun Square remains the diamond in the rough that it did in 2010 only with a couple more empty storefronts and one new addition to look forward to. However, I remain hopeful that the current administration will realize that it is these small business districts that can be the game changers when it comes to bringing in consistent commercial tax revenue that can surpass any amount of quarters or prepaid parking cards shoved in a meter. Creative parking solutions I introduced in 2011, including time limits on loading zones, interactive parking maps for business websites showing where patrons and residents can park, and gaining footage by sidewalk bump-outs, should offer some relief to the parking crunch the square experiences now. The inclusion of secured bike parking and better coordinated traffic lights can further open Magoun to pedestrians and cyclists. Until then, please continue to patronize my beloved square, remain open-minded and positive and please offer suggestions and feedback to elected/city officials and those of us who are genuinely concerned and dedicated to the economic improvement of Magoun Square!


Anonymous said...

one of your best

Anonymous said...

Magoun, for lack of a better description, at one time many years ago, was a successful "neighborhood" square occupied by retail entities with minimal turnover and long tenures---meaning little or no vacancies for any extended period of time.

It, and its stores, survived basically on the patronage of walking customers residing north, south, east, and west of the square.....including bordering Medford residents..

Sit-in full service restaurants----such as Lil Vinny's for example, were not there years ago; altho, some fast-food entities, such as Canty's Pizza-[where one could also have a beer with their pizza, if of age]--were present back then.

So what retail entities were there years ago when the square was bustling?

Some here might counter with the current ongoing adverse economy being what it is----has stifled businesses in Magoun Square; and, of course, might very well be.

I "counter" with, Magoun, during the 1930's "Great Depression"---back in my childhood time, was very much alive and well.

In addition to Courtney mentioning a few, there also was a 5&10 cent store; Kennedy's Butter & Egg Store; Sloane's Furniture, Well's Jewelery--[Mr. Well's also ran successfully for Mayor of Somerville]-- North End Fruit & Vegetable Market; Russ's Donuts [yes, the same Russ's Donuts that eventually relocated to the corner of Morrison Avenue and Highland Road---now gone. Russ started in Magoun Square.] A butcher/meat market; a fish market; Italian-American Grocery Store; a A First National Store; A & P Store; a musical instrument store, sales and lessons; a barber shop; a hair-dresser salon; at least one other bar-room in addition to Frenchy's---name escapes me; a small independant drug store; an arts and crafts store; a take-out sandwich shop; a radio/appliance repair shop. Possibly forgot one or two of the entities that were there when I was a kid, and my mother shopped there with me, or another sibling in tow. Needless to say, we walked to and from the square carrying shopping bags.

Again, for emphasis.... NO SIT-DOWN FULL SERVICE RESTAURANTS back then. I guess "Old MAGOUN" is doing O.K. at this time; and hope they survive.

Much more home cooking, sit-down, family meals those days.
[Before TV, computers, cell phones, video games, etc., etc.]
Now, regard sit-down home-cooked meals... different "strokes" for different "folks"---too bad!

There were trips to Davis Square too---particularly to shop the "big" department stores.
Parke-Snow; Gorins; Grants, Kreske's-[Now K-Mart]-- Woolworth's; and other specialty stores not present in Magoun...and a quick lunch treat st the Waldorf Restaurant, now Mikes. We Walked back and forth from Davis too.