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Downtown View: Can O’Malley Cut It?

Forty-year-old Faneuil Hall Marketplace has recently had a tough time, especially since the New York-based Ashkenazy Acquisition Corporation took over the ground lease and became the manager of the retail and restaurant businesses five years ago.

Although it is Boston’s top destination for tourists, it is less popular with residents, who reportedly flocked to the refurbished BRA-owned historic structures when they first opened.

Although it was envisioned as a “festival” mall with local vendors, over the years its spaces have been filled with an increasing number of national mall chains, including the most recent addition, Uniqlo, and coming soon, make-up giant Sephora, making for a lesser “Boston” experience for some.

Marketplace managers and local marketplace vendors have clashed, with vendors complaining that Ashkenazy won’t give the locals long-term leases, that some have been pre-emptively kicked out, and others have been moved to lesser locations to make room for chains in more visible areas of the marketplace.

Finally, proposed renovations have met with complaint from both vendors and neighbors.

Enter Joe O’Malley, Ashkenazy’s new general manager. Aged 34, Dorchester-born, Dorchester-bred, South Boston-bred too, cousin of Marty Walsh—who was like a big brother to him, charming, friendly, optimistic, and determined to succeed. He’s had a background in retail, starting at Patty’s Pantry in Dorchester as a teen and working up to the convention center for the last ten years. O’Malley started at the marketplace in April. Will he be able to work through the difficulties?

“I want to bring it up to where it should be,” O’Malley said of the marketplace. “I’m working to be the conduit among all parties.”

O’Malley said one objective is to give the market a facelift by power washing and by replacing the rough, cobbled bricks with a smooth granite surface for easier walking. He wants to also complete the new glass building on the Congress Street corner that replaces the smaller, Ben Thompson-designed structure, which was not winter-proofed.

He said he wants to attract more Boston-area residents, which now comprise only 25 percent of the 20 million annual visitors at last count. He has installed tables and chairs for families. He said he wants the merchants’ association to help determine what type of crowd the vendors want. This summer, the market successfully hosted book readings, chess tournaments, dance classes, outdoor yoga and other offerings to attract the college-age and after-work crowd.

O’Malley doesn’t buy the fact that some people think national chains are boring, are better patronized on the internet and make Faneuil Hall look like every mall in the country. “I want a good mix of local versus national,” he said. He did not, however, spell out what that mix is.

He has reached out to a Dorchester non-profit, the Bird Street Community Center, to sell from a pushcart the blown glass its students produce in its glass-blowing program. He has also approached a Somerville non-profit to discuss how its members might participate. He has focused on these non-profit consortiums because he said he understands that individual artists and crafts people have trouble finding the time to both make their products and sell them.

Then there is the matter of long-term leases. Jeff Allen of Boston Pewter Company, which has been at the marketplace for 39 years, has had no lease for many months. O’Malley said he offered Allen a longer lease. Allen said the terms offered were not acceptable, especially where they said that after one year Ashkenazy could either relocate or terminate him with 90-days’ notice and wanted him to sign a confidentiality clause. The two are still battling it out.

Other leases? Unclear, said Carol Troxell, president of the market’s merchant’s association. She said vendors understand the need during construction to relocate a business or gain access to utilities within an individual space and are trying to be patient. But putting merchants on hold for too long disrupts their ability to get financing or make bulk purchases.

Nevertheless, she said the local merchants welcome O’Malley. “He’s new, young and very likable and understands the need for leases,” she said. “We’re hoping for the best.”

O’Malley is vague about the renovations Ashkenazy proposed many months ago. He won’t be pinned down on either the type of renovations or their timetable. He said everything is in the concept phase, except for having “shovels in the ground” for the new paving by October, 2017.

Right now, there is little to worry about profit-wise. Faneuil Hall Marketplace is enjoying its best year out of the last five with an increase of more than $1 million in sales so far over last year.

Profits are one thing. Resolving the conflicts are another. At least it will be easy to measure O’Malley’s effectiveness if by next year enough local merchants have signed long leases, if tempers have simmered down, and if the renovations are supported by both vendors and neighbors. If O’Malley, with his charming ways and optimistic outlook doesn’t succeed, who can?

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 BostonColumn.com. Please feel free to leave responses in the comments section below.

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19 Replies to “Downtown View: Can O’Malley Cut It?

  1. We need to realize there is a huge new store in the market and that is where the increase came from . The vendors that have been here long term are losing there shirt, lots of us are making it by the skin of our teeth wondering what tomorrow will bring. We were told at a meeting last year with the City council that no one else would be asked to leave and one by one that is changing dramatically.

  2. o’malley sounds 100% unqualified for this position. how does working at the convention center for 10 years translate to being able to run a retail shopping center? it sounds more like ashkenazy was trying to get on the good sign of the o’malley’s cousin, they mayor. the city dropped the ball with faneuil hall along time ago, and the latest reincarnation of it sounds like more of the same. faneuil hall should be 100% local/regional vendors that sell nothing made in china. in actuality, the boston public market should have been located here. it’s really a shame to hear and see what is going on at faneuil hall these days. a new sephora? what a tragedy.

  3. It’s a mess. Local push carts are dying from lack of sales. Big name chains have taken over and the only ones that are benefitting. Small unique shops and push carts have no chance….someone needs to address that problem first, instead of continuously signing leases for the chain stores. That’s how you fix it. Stop ignoring the issues..

    You are never gonna solve a problem by ignoring it.

  4. Please post this article in a larger paper so everyone can see what is really happening. We can save Fanuiel Hall!!
    We have to, this is where so many of us have our heart and soul.

  5. Faneuil hall is the most visited place – we need to offer unique gifts, souvenirs and great food..period…The small business owners are being pushed out by exorbant rents- Lots of empty carts shows that the rent is off the chart- construction has cut off the north market and is going to be home to Sephora???? Seriously ? How about Apple? Or the Boston public market? Or a great Restaurant That would have been phenomenal!!! But make up??..Ashkenazy are looking for another 99 year lease? Stop it City Hall.. Please..Stop!! Take control and make the market a place everyone wants to be and where people can Afford to continue their business there- Give them a fair contract and reasonable rents – the pushcarts are the reason most people go there to shop at-AAC needs to be respectful of tenants and not try to wipe them out in their new construction plan-

  6. If they want locals to go there, they should sell less tourist targeted merchandise… I am all set with stuffed lobsters and Boston mugs…

    1. If your rent is almost 4,000 month you need to have products that tourist want… That’s the reality- there are Plenty of shops that are NOT Boston stuff too- Go visit, lots to see and specialty carts plenty

    2. I agree with the stuffed lobstas but there are some great merchants and small businesses in the marketplace.
      They also think theres enough lobstas and magnets and sports and tshirts.
      Its mgt that keeps that stuff in…….why?????

  7. Too bad… its a gorgeous property being taken over by new yorkers who dont give a hoot about our grand city and its major history and the psrt fhm plays in it all. Never understand why this great city would allow this to happen right underneath their noses.
    Well lets see, aac hired kristen keefe from bra as gm, they have paul barett on their payroll, and now, the new gm is the mayors cousin. Wow, is this a conflict of interest???? One would say?
    How can small hard working businesses stay alive with this type game playing?
    Shameful is what i call it
    All about greed and money……..

  8. I think that if the management company wants to attract local visitors then the marketplace should have more of a local flair. If international and national retailers keep signing on then who’s going to want to visit the marketplace? Those stores are located in malls all across America. If I want to visit one of those stores I can go to any local mall and park for free. It appears that the management company is only interested in the large retailers because it could charge them more rent. The management company doesn’t want to have to deal with any of the smaller local vendors. The rent is too high for the smaller vendors because the sales don’t justify the rent. It’s all about greed. It is pretty shady of the management company to hire Paul Barrett who charges them $10k a month for his services of getting permits pulled for changes to the marketplace without a public process. Then again he has to pay his mortgage on his multimillion dollar home. The Boston Landmarks Commission is a JOKE! They rubber stamp everything that comes across their table. Then the management company decides to hire the mayor’s cousin. Why? Easy….so that the mayor will rubber stamp his approval for anything that is presented before him from the management company. It seems that complaints, suggestions and novel ideas have fallen on deaf ears. Vendors are complaining that the new manager isn’t as proactive as they hoped he would be. Guess the honeymoon is over. The new manager should have had extensive retail management experience. A new manager shouldn’t be hired just because they are related to the mayor. Then there is the issue of wanting to privatize the beautiful historic rotunda of Quincy Market again just for the sake of collecting rent. The rotunda is PUBLIC space and shouldn’t be for hire so that every square inch of it can be rented for the sake of the almighty dollar. They will rent anything for the sake of money. I wonder where is the Attorney General in all of this? Someone should call the Attorney General’s office and fill them in on what is happening at the marketplace. City Hall employees have been arrested for allegedly forcing event planners to use union workers. Isn’t the mayor connected to the unions? All the union officials show up the landmark meetings to profess their approval for projects that developers have presented and the commission just rubber stamps everything. It is sad and comical at the same time. Who is fooling who here? Does the mayor really think that his constituents are morons? City Hall is loaded with all of Marty’s friends and relatives! Look at the big FU to the North End residents. City Hall decided that it would be a great idea to make the streets of the North End even smaller than what they are by installing bike lanes all the while inconveniencing residents, visitors and businesses. The businesses there have suffered because of all of the construction. Commercial Street is now even more dangerous than it was before and City Hall couldn’t care less. Then you have another FU from City Hall to the North End elderly residents that inhabit the nursing home on Fulton Street. Partners Healthcare doesn’t give a rat’s behind about its nursing home residents. They want to sell the property to the highest bidder and again City Hall will rubber stamp its approval. Governments should be protecting people and regulating corporations not protecting corporations and regulating people. Seems to me that City Hall didn’t get that memo.

  9. This should get in the globe, wbz, cnn, etc. Mayorvwalsh, we voted for you brcause we thought you cared about our history and hard workers, not corporate greed. Come on

  10. For the folks without cars (and that is a fairly LARGE number), we cannot just “jump in our cars” and go to the mall (guess that’s only for the rich folk). Our favorite stores, the ones we purchased from on a regular basis, were Crate & Barrel, Brookstones, William Sinoma, and the florist shop. We gave up eating at Durgin Park, third floor, due to poor food (three consecutive bad meals), Durgin is now a NY company. So.. now there is no need for us to even visit Quincy Market — there is nothing there for us.

  11. Having the Mayor’s cousin from Dorchester managing the property seems to be having an effect on the city’s decision making. O’Malley has a job to do and I would think the Mayor will help him be successful. AAC was clever to select this guy with no real retail experience to help push their agenda through City Hall. I live in the North End and walk through Faneuil Hall almost every day on the way to my office on Congress. I know some of the shop owners. I saw the first closed up shop in the food hall, formerly Boston Pretzel that was there for at least 20 years. I wonder what happened to this small operation. It’s sad to see the mom and pops leave the market. What made the market so successful to begin with were all of the ‘one of a kind’ operations that couldn’t be found anywhere else. Yes, it’s a tourist trap and there is a lot of hawking and trinkets happening that annoys the locals but utilizing the space for the Uniqlos and Sephoras of the world is the wrong thing to do.
    Those merchants are up against a wall without leases, high rents, construction in the process all while the landlord is going to say how great the property is doing. Uniglo replaced a 9 or 10 year vacant space and there hasn’t been a tenant in the greenhouse in years…sales have to go up!
    This property is a landmark, it belongs to Boston. The operators at the market pay taxes to the city. Troubling to see the hiring of an ex-Bra director now being paid to push an agenda he once most likely did not believe in himself as well as the cousin of the Mayor being paid to just ‘do it’ is very wrong. Landmarks and the BRA will most likely say they are sorry to the local merchants and approve even more bad plans for the market.
    The property needs a local, historically minded owner who respects the landmark, supports those who gave it life to begin with and to do the right thing… More dirty politics at work here. Awful! Maybe time for another Boston Tea Party?

  12. I think that Ashkenasky Acquisition Corp, Mr. O’Malley and all of the vendors need to come together to create an environment that is conducive to selling not just to tourists but also local residents. Unfortunately, the mix of retailers has been a bit one sided with the arrival of Uniqlo, an international retailer who occupies space where many pushcart vendors were once located. Many of those vendors no longer reside at the marketplace. As someone addressed before in a previous comment, the marketplace should not become just another mall. If someone needs something located at a traditional mall then they can easily find transportation to that mall by using the MBTA for instance which will take them straight to Assembly Row in Somerville or Cambridge Galleria Mall. The pushcarts at Quincy Market have been around since the 1800s. The pushcart concept at Quincy Market has been emulated all over the world. Pushcart vendors are a part of the historical fabric of Quincy Market and need to remain that way. As the pushcart representative, I am hopeful that we can all work together as a team to make the marketplace the vibrant and fun place that it once was 40 years ago.

  13. This article was obviously written by a friend or relative of Joe O’Malley. How can the writer frame him in such an angelic light, while also admitting he has no concrete plans besides renovating the pavement. Not only will this cost a ton of money, it will also seriously disrupt business for a long time, not to mention destroy an important part of historical charm.

    As a friend of local artists who rent a pushcart at Faneuil Hall (who will probably be upset with me for writing this), this article infuriates me for many reasons. First, as others have stated, claiming sales are the highest in 5 years is extremely misleading. Any increase in sales must be from the addition of Uniqlo, a massive Japanese GAP-clone, which ousted several long-time local vendors. All of the the remaining small local vendors are struggling through their worst year ever, while rents remain higher than ever.

    Second, O’Malley bragging about supporting local artists is a direct slap in the face to my starving artist friends. He gives one non-profit organization two carts for free, while charging other local artists full price, and forcing them to stay for the dreadfully slow months, even refusing to lower the prohibitively high rent by one cent for those months. He supposedly “understands that individual artists and crafts people have trouble finding the time to both make their products and sell them.” Because business this year has been so slow for the pushcarts, my friends (along with many other carts) cannot afford to pay employees, and are essentially chained to their cart for 11 hours a day. So after my friends spend several hours a day producing products, they are forced to remain open for business for 11 hours to avoid heavy fines. To add insult to injury, often business is so slow and rent so high that after 14+ hours of work, they actually have lost money. Talk about non-profit! O’Malley knows how badly they are doing, but refuses to let them leave or negotiate the rent.

    Third, the primary appeal of Quincy Marketplace has always been the local pushcarts. Yet they are increasingly being neglected and mistreated in favor of cookie-cutter national chains. Ashkenazy wants to turn FH into another Newbury Street, filled with fancy boutiques to draw in more locals. But FH has always been and will always be a tourist destination. There is no way that the traffic is 25% locals, more like 10% at most, and those that do visit mostly work in the area and are just passing through or grabbing a bite to eat. The direction AAC is trying to take with the marketplace shows their gross incompetence and mismanagement.

    Finally, the fact that O’Malley was hired despite having no relevant experience, simply for being the mayor’s cousin, shows how rampant nepotism runs in this city, and actually runs the city. That and corporate greed, of course!

  14. The problem could be easily solved by respecting the long time push carts and food vendors, and giving them Leases. The backbone of FH is the food and carts, not sephora or uniglo! While these giants get 20yr Leases the collenade vendors haven’t had one in years. How does that make them feel? The stability of a lease gives them power for loans and if they want to sell their buisiness they have a negotiating point. I’m sure Marty walshes and his cousin are very aware of what’s going on, but turn a blind eye for the monetary gains that AAC will provide and allow backdoor, cloak and dagger crap! As anyone can see, from Kristen Keefe to Mr. O’Malley wasn’t that big of a jump, they just got AAC closer to the mayors office and having the former head of the BRA, Paul Barret, in their back pockets it seems nothing will be done to discourage an all out war on small buisiness . Sad to be a Bostonian in these times.

  15. I am a merchant at Faneuil Hall Marketplace and I am happy to have Joe O’Malley as the new GM. He is a local guy with a passion for for this historical property and for also keeping small business alive! Why don’t we all try to stay focused and give Joe some support and maybe good things will come together for all!

    1. As actual merchants in Quincy Market, we find this to be incomprehensible. Speaking with all of the surrounding carts, we have never heard any positive remarks about O’Malley, only complaints. One specific example being his grand idea of extending the Sunday hours, when there is little foot-traffic, putting undue burden on the merchants’ shoulders and their payrolls. The above praise sounds like somebody working for Joe, pretending to be a merchant.

      We don’t understand how somebody wrote this article without actually talking to the merchants, who are all open and willing to give their opinions to any media outlets that will ask. If they had interviewed us, they would have discovered that this is the worst year ever, for both our pocketbooks and our morale. Many long-term tenants are considering leaving after such a disappointing season.

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