Business Commentaries

Taking Stock of the North End During the COVID Era as We Turn the Page to 2021

By Bernie Sapienza

For anyone who lives or works here, we all know how intrinsically tied together the business and residential communities are in the North End.

Over the past five decades, the North End has had a few transformational events—the harbor clean-up of the 70s and the Big Dig of the 90s come to mind as, perhaps, the two biggest. These two events, both for different reasons, completely transformed the North End into the neighborhood it is today. Valuations for both commercial and residential real estate are among the highest in the city (and the country) as it has become a “go to” neighborhood for both locals and visitors alike. Both residential and commercial are now interdependent, and one does not fare well without the other.

Recently, I decided to take a walk through some nooks and crannies of the neighborhood to take stock of what has transpired during the COVID era. I was sad in some ways, and hopeful in others. As usual, the neighborhood has plenty of activity—some visible, some not.  

Taranta, for me, is by far the biggest business/restaurant loss. Besides having a prominent position in a premium location at the top of Hanover Street, it was one of the unique cuisines in the area. In a neighborhood that can sometimes suffer from too much of a good thing, their Peruvian/Sicilian fusion was truly something special and an always welcome change of pace for me and my guests. For most people who knew Jose Duarte (owner/founder/chef), he was an unmistakable presence in the ‘hood, and very respected among his peers.

Other restaurant losses appear to be Cobblestone, Pushcart, Pomodoro, and Joe’s American. I’m not really sure if those were all strictly losses due to COVID, some may have been already on the way out for other reasons. The coffee place next to Antico Forno on Salem Street also closed-up shop; it was a fairly non-descript place as far as I was concerned (I can’t even remember the name of it). Il Molo on Commercial Street has not re-opened, but it is my understanding that it will when the restrictions end… we’ll see. And, more recently, Prezza and a few others are going into hibernation. 

Former site of Dr. Ottavio Nardone’s medical practice at 358 Hanover St.

Dr. Ottavio Nardone on Hanover Street seems to have closed, as has Happy Pills on Salem Street. And, I Am Books at North Square also bid farewell.

But, true to form, the neighborhood marches ahead. Looks like Nando is getting ready to open on Hanover as it replaces the decades old Green Cross Pharmacy; recently, they were approved for their liquor license. Work continues, in earnest, in the space that was once Maurizio’s next to the Paul Revere Mall—looks like something will be coming soon. Quietly, AquaPazza went from temporarily closed to now being another Frank DePasquale Venture. Café Ducali has been added to the Ducale empire as has Table Mercato to what was already a recent arrival—Table on Hanover Street.

Forcella is expanding in the space next door and the courtyard they now share with Limoncello is a masterpiece of outdoor dining. If you haven’t visited that space, you should. And it would be derelict to not mention Daily Catch’s second location on Atlantic—they too have had some good fortune as it relates to outdoor space.

But nothing beats Mama Maria and Ciao Bella in North Square. If ever something screamed “Europe,” it would be the 2020 use of the recently remodeled space in North Square. No dining in the city is more picturesque. I’m guessing some folks may not be happy with the use of public space, but it is truly a special place during a warm summer night. The neighborhood and the city would be foolish to not figure out how to make that more permanent.  

Outdoor Tables in North Square

A few months prior to the COVID era starting, Libertine opened in the space that was once Galleria 33. It seems like a big space for pub food and I’m not seeing much traffic, perhaps the timing of its opening has much to do with that.

The neighborhood was electric this summer with all of the outdoor dining. Mostly, it felt a bit like “Little Europe.” I feel bad for those who may have lost a coveted parking space, or have had other inconveniences, but selfishly, I would love to see the outdoor dining become a permanent part of summer. The “missing” tourists in the summer of 2020 have rendered the neighborhood less lively and outdoor dining could be an important element for the return of the tourist in 2021. Again, I’m totally sympathetic to those who do not share these views.

We all know about the tragedy at Christopher Columbus Park. While the old statue will be repaired and sent to 41 N. Margin Street, it somehow is a very unsatisfying resolution. Columbus should be replaced with a bronze Columbus and security cameras. I find it unacceptable that vandals are being allowed to dictate our fate as Italian-Americans.

As it has since the colonial era, the neighborhood marches on. Both the change and the status quo are what make the neighborhood special. Many of my out-of-town guests tend to ask me, “What’s new in the North End”? While others can’t wait to visit so that they can go to their favorite spot. The 100+ years of Italian influence is evidenced everyday, as are the clear signs of change, and eras that came before. Now, perhaps more than ever, is a time to support each other as we usher in the 20s. 

Finally, as we all know, the NorthEndWaterfront.com news is closing up shop after many years of excellent neighborhood reporting. A shout out to Matt—thanks for all your years of service!

Bernie Sapienza is a longtime North End resident.

NorthEndWaterfront.com welcomes commentaries on community issues. Opinions are those solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of NorthEndWaterfront.com or other writers on this site. Responses to this commentary can be posted below in the comment section.

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7 Replies to “Taking Stock of the North End During the COVID Era as We Turn the Page to 2021

  1. Great job with this story! I agree with everything you said. We must be strong this decade and never give up if we wanna keep the neighborhood striving.

      1. No problem Barolo, they know the North End is honestly the #1 neighborhood and doing anything possible ex: N.Bennet Street Proposal, more condos, Christopher Columbus, Feast critics to turn it into a regular town, more yuppies. And funny most things Italian are starting to diminish even some of the eateries. Here is a general expression the nicest are always treated badly. It’s jealousy. That’s why Mike Nazzaro is a hero, the NE could’ve been gone instead it’s still thriving.

  2. Bernie, your focus should be on the true casualties of Covid-19. The 350,ooo people who have lost their lives & their family & loved ones instead of writing about restaurants & businesses that have closed.

    1. Appreciate your opinion, but I don’t agree. If I were in the medical profession or in the media, perhaps I would be focused on the 350,000 deaths. However, the pandemic will end and those who remain will have to move forward. I’m thinking post-pandemic.

  3. The article could be titled, Sadly All Good Things Come To An End. Restaurants have continually come and gone, good places go, but good new places take their place. It’s a tough business and the pandemic has made it tougher. Not sure this neighborhood initiated news can ever be replaced. It has been significant.

  4. I am so sorry to read that this daily newsletter is discontinuing.I always look forward to reading what’s happening in our neighborhood especially when we are away for the winter. Thank you for all your hard work and best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

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