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Downtown View: The Vision — Where Is It?


Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation, the operator since 2011 of the city-owned Faneuil Hall Marketplace, has been in recent tussles with its merchants, pushcarts, street performers and history-loving Bostonians. After public outcry and several meetings, some matters may be worked out.

The latest round occurred last week when the BRA board, showing little knowledge and only a smattering of interest, approved Ashkenazy’s “vision” for FHM.

The BRA should look at Ashkenazy’s plans more closely and with history in mind. Right now there is little evidence this company understands the market’s early retail success or how festival markets work. It has presented no evidence it can entice Bostonians to return to the market they flocked to in the 1970s and ‘80s.

According to Barry Lustig, Ashkenazy’s executive vice president, the company’s “vision” is to continue to attract tourists, 85 percent of whom visit the market. Plans for a hotel, a compatible use that would operate mostly on upper floors, ought to help increase tourist traffic.

Lustig wants to increase total traffic from 22 million annual visitors to 30 million, so part of his “vision” is to lure back Bostonians, whose interest in the historic marketplace has faded.

BRA board member Ted Landsmark asked Lustig, “What’s the thing that would get Bostonians there?

“Celebrating the architecture,” said Lustig. He waxed poetic about the architecture. Is architecture going to lure Bostonians who already have a surfeit of 19th century buildings to enjoy?

Landsmark did not follow up.

Not that Lustig’s plans for the architecture aren’t good. He plans to light the buildings strategically and reveal the interesting interior walls of Quincy Market now hidden behind refrigerators. But it’s hard to see how good lighting and revealing the walls will entice us to spend time at the market.

What he didn’t mention in answer to Landsmark’s question was that earlier in his presentation he had described ping-pong tables and other games he thought would draw Bostonians. A good park, in other words.

At the public meeting in early July he was even more specific. He described Bryant Park, which he said was a marvel for the nation.

“This property has the opportunity to be second only to Bryant Park,” he went on.

Faneuil Hall Marketplace second to something in New York?

To a park?


Did he notice the market is adjacent to an actual park, the Greenway, modeled to some extent on Bryant Park?

He kept talking about a park, but what Bostonians want is a good marketplace.

It was just that in the beginning. If they really are interested in history, as Lustig says they are, Ashkenazy should look at the market’s early success.

In 1976 and throughout much of the 1980s, FHM was quirky, local, vibrant and fun. Bostonians thronged to the place. There was no need for ping-pong because it had retail luster.

The Bear Necessities was probably the best of the best. Its teddy bears, priced from $5 to $500, had something for everyone. Its local owners, Tim and Nancy Atkins, knew retail entertainment. The bears’ names—Scarlett O’Beara, Douglas Bearbanks, Bearishnikov. Those alone made you want to check out the merchandise.

In 1982 the shop held a Bring Your Own Bear contest that drew 150 entries and many spectators. The shop drew children and adults, locals and tourists, who came upon it with delight and surprise.

“The retail was definitely unique,” Tim Atkins remembers of the early Faneuil Hall Marketplace. He recalled the Celtic Weavers, Pave Real, The Boxes, a scrimshaw place and Have-a-Heart—independent stores with merchandise unavailable elsewhere. Secretary of State John Kerry even had a store called Kilvert & Forbes, with hot-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Many of these independent stores were successful.

Then in the late 1980s, when some of the independents faltered, the operator replaced them with chains. Bostonians stopped going. Even the chains had problems. Atkins recalls a national store selling umbrellas with butterfly decorations. A woman loved them. Her husband said, “Let’s wait. We can get this back home in the Scottsdale mall.”

About the same time as the chains came in, the Atkinses closed the Bear Necessities. “We expanded beyond our business acumen,” Tim Atkins said. “We did it too fast and didn’t have the business experience to manage other stores and a mail-order catalog.”

Nevertheless, they never had any problem with sales at FHM. “We had a great response from customers,” he said.

The downside, Atkins acknowledged, is that local, quirky, vibrant and fun retailers sometimes lack experience and can run into financial difficulties.

This is where an expert, hard-working operator would add value—shepherding retailers with unique ideas into businesses where sales go through the roof.

Hearing Ashkenazy’s plans as they stand now, Bostonians will yawn. Sephora—a dime a dozen. Uniqlo may entice a few teenagers.

If Ashkenazy would actually study the history they say they revere, they would find retail models for play, entertainment and attraction for Bostonians. It’s called imagination, outreach and true retail skill. It’s in the history they say they want to re-create.

Downtown View is a column by newspaperwoman Karen Cord Taylor who founded The Beacon Hill Times in 1995 and served as its editor and publisher until late 2007. She also founded and served as editor and publisher of the Charlestown Patriot-Bridge and The Back Bay Sun weeklies. Karen now works from her home in downtown Boston and blogs at Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

4 Replies to “Downtown View: The Vision — Where Is It?

  1. I always find your articles both very interesting and thought provoking, Karen. I often learn something from them as well. Thanks for another great one.

  2. As a bystander at the city hall BRA board meeting last week, I was actually amused by the non-actions of the BRA. Most of the board looked at their cell phones when presentations were conducted. Brian Golden never looked up once at any of the speakers that were presenting various projects happening around the city because he was too busy on his cell phone. It amazes me that he is the BRA board’s director. The article that was published in the Globe the day of the meeting was quite timely. Seems to me that the board never read that article. The only thing that the BRA accomplished was rubber stamping all projects that came across the table. It was quite a surreal experience for me as I observed all of the political maneuvering happening in the room. Interestingly enough, Ashkenazy’s general manager for the marketplace is a former BRA employee. Coincidently, Ashkenazy also hired Paul Barrett, a former BRA director who is currently embroiled in a very public tax invasion mess with the IRS to lead the charge in achieving a “yes” vote from the board for Ashkenasky’s planned “vision”. It was truly a lovefest of handshakes and hugs. All of the cronies were together again! Ashkenazy received a warm “wink and nod” for their “vision” from the BRA. The construction crews have dismantled and destroyed a large section of Quincy Market under the direction of first Ashkenazy and then Uniqlo, a Japanese retailer that sells cheap clothing. The Boston Landmarks Commission should be proud that they gave their stamp of approval to destroy the beautiful, historic, federal landmark. They would be horrified to see that the construction crews have been directed to ignore the Landmark Commission’s guidelines for what can not be constructed on a historic landmark. It’s really unfortunate that Faneuil Hall Marketplace will soon enough become just another American mall filled with dull national chains with no free parking void of a local Boston flavor.

  3. Ashkenazy and apparently the BRA needs to understand that the success of Faneuil Hall from the beginning were the unique local shops, carts and the local food pavilion. I am a resident and I am upset that the city isn’t hearing what the people are saying about this important property. Looking at the public hearing and reading all the articles, I am surprised that the BRA Board would give a green light for the vision plan that includes an okay for chains such as Uniglo (cheap throw away clothes made in sweat shops overseas) and Sephora to come there and in big spaces. Where is the imagination? Neither of these two retailers would attract local Bostonians to marketplace, Neither of these retailers belong in a marketplace. These retailers are outfitted for malls not for for a historic marketplace. As we have read, educated shoppers aren’t interested in the mall experience anymore. One of the reasons is that the malls are all the same and now the City of Boston is going to allow this special piece of property to become a dying mall? Faneuil Hall’s success was built on what is local. Compromising the integrity of the structure by reducing the number of local carts and kiosks and adding in brands that are everywhere will not bring any additional people to the marketplace as it simply won’t be a marketplace anymore. Mr Lustig and AAC doesn’t seem to have anyone’s interests in mind other than their own interests. Faneuil Hall belongs to the people and the people expect a local marketplace.When they took over the lease, did they not understand what they acquired? They should see it as a privilege to operate such an important landmark with both local and national significance in our country’s history. When Rouse and GGP began bringing in the chain stores back in the 90s, the local shops began to disappear and so did the local visitors. There are only a handful of interesting local stores left in the north and south buildings. It’s a good thing they put on a good holiday program with beautiful lights and music because that is something for the locals to enjoy once the tourists have cleared out. I have never missed a tree lighting show, you can’t fit another person onto the grounds that day and everyone there is a local.
    I think the City should protect and preserve the local businesses at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and start by explaining how construction is underway before the many questions of the public have been addressed. Does the Mayor care about this place? Where has he been? His BRA certainly has played their role in screwing things up down there. I remember The Teddy Bear shop, The Leather Shop, The Lace Store and yes, even The Peanut Butter and Brownie Shops. There is no place like Faneuil Hall. It is not as good as it once was but the stores slated to come will ruin it’s spirit and it’s originality.

  4. I find this article one that is more accurate than any other I have read about the Faneuil Hall renovation project. Being a local Bostonian and knowing this city like the back of my hand, Faneuil Hall was the beacon of innovation when it opened in 1976. The small local businesses are what drew the mass amounts of locals and tourists alike and what made the property so unique. Many of the retailers made their own products. The small spaces that housed a peanut butter company, the lefty shop, the purple shop, puzzle shop and many more have long since gone….and to also remind you that Au Bon Pain started there too in a small stall in the middle building- also gone but making it BIG! Faneuil Hall Marketplace was the innovation for small business. More people came to visit the property because it was different….It offered products and an experience that you could not find anywhere else in the world. Ben Thompson and his team had a vision like no other. The Mayor at the time, Kevin White embraced the project and knew they would create the “jewel of the city”. Come many years later….greed took over. Many of the small shops had to close their doors because whoever was running the property decided bigger was better. I saw Warner Brothers move in taking such a huge corner in the North Market- many small businesses that I frequented were forced to close down. One of the oldest pubs in Boston, Lord Bunbury had to close it doors. All for what? A big corporate business that ultimately closed its doors too. The marketplace over the years has lost its charm and has become typical. There still are a few small businesses left but for how long? Will they be able to survive this makeover that the Ashkenazy group is planning on? You mentioned Mr. Barry Lustig said that 22 million people visit the marketplace every year and that he want 30 million to visit. Seriously? Disney World has a little over 17 million visitors. I am going out on a limb here but someone should check these numbers. Maybe this is how they get the big companies to sign leases but notice how so many have left- the volume just isn’t there. As a local I like to support the locals and will continue to do so. As for their vision- hopefully they will rely upon the merchants and locals who know the richness of the property and will listen to them. Maybe the BRA should do the same….

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