Opponents of a proposed North End Starbucks made a powerful showing at a nearly three hour public meeting on Thursday night. The issue at hand is a take-out license request by the coffee company under consideration by city officials at 198 Hanover Street, part of the Charter Realty development along Cross Street. The gathering was moderated by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services North End representative, Maria Lanza.
A consistent chorus representing many North End businesses, along with several residents, repeatedly expressed the view that Starbucks does not fit at the Gateway to the North End, a term referencing the stretch along Cross Street facing the Greenway between Hanover and Salem Streets. The proposal is being viewed as an attack on the neighborhood’s longstanding Italian heritage, recently portrayed in a short video, “The Last Little Italy” by a Starbucks opposition group.
“We don’t want Starbucks here as a corporate giant,” said John Picariello, owner of Modern Pastry that has been in the North End for 85 years. (39:00 in video). Other establishments that vocalized opposition at the meeting included Caffe Paradiso, Monica’s, Caffe Dello Sport, Carmelina’s, Vito’s, V. Cirace & Son, Modern Pastry, Connah Store, Post Gazette, among others.
Taking aim at Charter Realty was Damien DiPaola of Carmelina’s and Vito’s who attacked the proponents methods as part of the community process, “Why do you need a lobbyist to talk to our public officials?” (42:00 in video). Referencing Starbucks latest discrimination issues, he continued, “We don’t need sensitivity training. We learned that from our parents.” Criticizing the proposed Italian monument and use of the proponent’s marketing effort was Jeff Cirace saying, “You can schmooze the Italian community by calling it a piazza, when in reality it is outdoor seating for Starbucks.” (26:00 in video). In a similar context, Adriana DeStefano of Caffe Paradiso said, “We don’t need a monument to tell us who we are. This is in our heart. We are united in this one.” (1:47:00 in video)
Among the 100+ people packed tightly into the Nazzaro Community Center, there were no vocal supporters for the coffee chain in the crowd other than employees of Starbucks and the proponents at Charter Realty. Speaking on behalf of the companies were Karen Johnson of Charter Realty (presentation at 4:30 in video), Attorney Daniel Toscano representing Starbucks, and Irene Haley, Regional Director. The coffee company highlighted its ability to provide rest rooms along the Freedom Trail and be a viable long-term tenant providing employment opportunities. Attendees asked the representatives how Starbucks would support the community with mixed comments regarding its nearest location on the North End waterfront at 2 Atlantic Avenue. Jorge Mendoza of Monica’s spoke against the nationwide corporate policies of Starbucks, including public restrooms. “How are you going to police the mezzanine and rest rooms? We have a heroin epidemic in Boston. We don’t want that at our Gateway. The piazza is going to be a hangout for drug users and homeless people,” said Mendoza (50:00 in video).
Despite significant opposition in 2016 to the glass and metal design of the one-story (plus mezzanine) building, Charter Realty has already received permits for core and shell construction. The Boston Redevelopment Authority, BRA (now, the Boston Planning & Development Agency, BPDA) has already approved the design as part of their small project review. A demolition delay by the Boston Landmarks Commission ended in June 2017. At the time, the BLC has requested the proponent consider a design more sensitive to the North End location but no adjustments were made. Construction is now expected to begin in the Fall 2018 with an opening in 2019.
Also discussed was the Citizens Bank proposal (14:15 in video) for a branch in one of the three business locations in the building. The third retail space at the corner of Salem Street does not yet have a proposed tenant but has been previously been used for eateries including Caffé Graffiti and Bread & Butter.
After the Big Dig, the brick plaza on Cross Street appeared to be a stellar business location and became known as the “Gateway to the North End” across from the Greenway. Not only does it feature the famous Freedom Trail path in front, but it also spans the busiest commercial areas in the North End, between Hanover and Salem Streets. Attorney Daniel Toscano highlighted the area has not been successful with past businesses. “It really has not met expectations since the Artery came down,” he said. Other than a juicery and nail salon (both of which are moving), most of the storefronts never gained much momentum. Proven businessman Nick Varano put his sandwich shop up for sale a few years after opening. Similarly, Frank DePasquale moved his pasta shop to Mechanic’s Court, off Hanover Street. Although daytime parking was eliminated from part of the plaza, plans by officials for permanent seating and tables never developed.
If approved, Starbucks will be the second national coffee chain on Cross Street, joining Peet’s Coffee that opened in the former Goody Glover’s space at the corner of Salem Street. Boston’s own Dunkin’ Donuts does not currently have a North End store, with its closest outlets at Harbor Garage and North Station. Property owners on Hanover and Commercial Streets have reportedly considered Dunkin’ stores, but withdrew plans rather than face potential backlash from neighbors. Starbucks already operates several nearby locations on the waterfront including Lewis Wharf (2 Atlantic Ave.), Long Wharf (Marriott), Rowes Wharf and is opening a new store with outdoor seating at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.
Although there are no “anti-chain” zoning regulations, past proposals in the heart of the North End have been highly contested at neighborhood meetings and the stores have operated with mixed results. Most recently, a Pinkberry frozen yogurt franchise store closed after a failed three year run. Yet, there are still two 7-Eleven chains on Hanover Street and a CVS pharmacy.
The North End’s State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, spoke at the meeting and indicated he will take a position shortly after the community hearings. Similarly, representatives of Councilor Lydia Edwards and State Sen. Joe Boncore, said the officials are holding back on positions until after the meetings. City Councilor at-large, Michelle Wu, attended the meeting in person to listen. Upcoming public meetings will be held in the North End on July 9th at North End / Waterfront Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) and July 12th at the North End / Waterfront Residents’ Association (NEWRA). (Meetings are 7pm at the Nazzaro Center, 30 N. Bennet St., see the Community Calendar for agendas and updates.)
Representatives said feedback from the meeting will be considered as the Starbucks C.V. license is considered at City Hall. Comments can also be sent to the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services Liaison, Maria Lanza, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
View the video at the top of this post for the full 2 hour, 45 minutes public meeting.