As I pass the ever-increasing number of empty stores on Central Street and Church Street in what once was the most charming of town centers, I keep wondering…Why? Of course I have heard over the years that the rents were too high for independent (not chain) stores to be able to survive. But why isn’t the Town recognizing the danger of losing the beautiful heart of our town? Why isn’t there some measure of accommodation by the landlords? (I remember in the height of COVID hearing from one restaurant owner that his landlord hadn’t budged at all on the rent, and in fact his customers chipped in to keep his 30-year business going.)
Why hasn’t the town stopped using the parking meters in that area? Is the income THAT great as to justify the deterrent to shopping in the Square?
My recent thought is… oh no… was the destruction of a graceful, classic mid-century modern library and its replacement by the mausoleum-like ham-handed blocks of the new library a precedent for those wanting to raze our wonderful, more diminutive historic buildings around the Square? In THIS town, that would be a possibility. The Town in which the razing of the Wellesley Inn just couldn’t wait, and its history from Civil War days, its gorgeous arts and crafts wooden panelling were of no value. Even for some years after that, a sign was in the window saying, “What do you want here?” It is still empty.
If anyone has any clues about this depressing scene downtown, do share them. To me, Linden Street is always too crowded, free parking or not, it is not pedestrian-friendly, and certainly not charming. Our real estate values, at least in the College area of town, in my opinion, are linked to the fact that we still have the precious experience of being able to “walk downtown” and interact with our local stores, as a community does (as in Needham, Natick…) I’m sure there is more information about the fact that even chain stores like The Gap, CVS are leaving… of course, following the trend set by the independent stores who couldn’t afford to stay.
The emptying of Wellesley Square and downtown was avoidable. It makes no sense fiscally, and denigrates our town. So, again, why? And at the least, can the Town just stop using the parking meters?
Michael Tobin says
Laurel, I took these videos in April of 2020 at the start of the pandemic. While some see we are in the “4th quarter” of the pandemic, I also see the aftermath damage is extensive and pervasive. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T_nCfu1gGus
Jim Speros says
I completely agree with Laurel Meyer’s comments. We are losing our beautiful town center to banks and real estate offices. Getting rid of the parking meters would help but subsidies are needed to curtail the impact of overly high rents. The very stores and shops that add character to our town can’t afford the rents charged by greedy landlords. The result – more papered windows. It’s truly sad.
Michael Gigante says
Recently my wife and I had lunch in Concord and marveled at the vibrant and attractive town center and wondered why and where Wellesley had gone wrong. I agree with the previous comments, especially the loss of the Wellesley Inn and the replacement of the old library with the albatross currently occupying the site. it. Removing the parking meters may help but it does not address the real problem and is akin to putting your finger in the dam to plug a leak. It is obvious that the enhancement of the Linden Street area has impacted the downtown business area. While it can be argued that the redevelopment of Linden Street lacks charm, it certainly does draw shoppers and there are no empty storefronts.
At some point as vacancies grow, landlords may have to face reality and either lower rents or keep absorbing loss of rental income. If at some point you start to see ‘for sale’ signs or read of foreclosure auctions on downtown property, that will mark the turning point for the downtown area. Hopefully, new owners will face reality and make the change necessary to attract businesses and shops that have fled the town.
Dex Chadsey says
Growing up in Sudbury during the 60’s, I remember my mother bringing me with her as she often shopped the many stores in Wellesley. While I wasn’t thrilled about trips to Filenes, John Douglas, Ara’s, EA Davis, Anne Starr, or the Triangle Shop, I was always hoping for a stop at Baileys or Popover’s as a reward for my patience. I might even be able to slip into Olkens or Marco Polo for relief from the dreaded “clothes shopping” while she wasn’t looking. Wellesley had all kinds of stores in those days. It was an exciting destination, even for a preteen boy.
I echo many of the comments of others, although not necessarily about the parking meters. There is nothing interesting about banks, real estate offices, or empty storefronts. We have lost so many businesses in the last several years that added character and gave people a reason to visit. Pete’s, The Gap, Brueger’s, Elizabeth Renee, Talbots, Dunks, Blue Ginger, Upper Crust, Papyrus to name a few. Some for Covid reasons, but not all.
Dex Chadsey says
Continued from my previous comment:
The town must take some leadership to reverse this trend. As with any social or economic problem, the solution is not not simple nor singular. I have heard that one contributing explanation is that many landlords have what is called rentor’s insurance, giving them an income whether the property is rented or not. An agreement of this type would eliminate any incentive for landlords to fill their store fronts, leaving them empty. Potential businesses, especially small independents would look elsewhere and existing one’s would eventually go out of business or move due to high rents. Not sure if this is true, but it would explain what we are seeing. in real time. Other places like Concord, Lexington, Osterville and Chatham have attractive town centers, why not Wellesley.
Susan Sklover says
Newton Centre has had so many new modestly priced small businesses and eating establishments opening lately. Why is that possible in Newton and not Wellesley?
Bob Brown says
Not sure about whether they’ll be moderately priced…there’s always a Wellesley tax…but things are looking up with 3 new restaurants on tap in Wellesley Square (Lockheart, Toscana’s, Laughing Monk) all set to open in the next few months depending on how supply chains, permitting, etc. go.