Category Archives: Allston-Brighton

Brighton Center Holds Steady – As Always

By Miriam Valverde 

  If you stroll down Market and Washington Streets, you’ll see Brighton’s metamorphosis from a meat packing outpost to a 21st century neighborhood commercial district.

   A neighborhood of less than three square miles bordered by Brookline and Cambridge, Brighton has grappled with business closings, empty storefronts and – most recently – a rash of bank robberies.

   But the neighborhood seems stable and successful in the current economy, thanks in large part to Brighton Main Streets, a non-profit organization that works with local businesses to encourage residents to buy flowers, do their banking and get their hair cut close to home, to boost sales and promote the local business district.

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  In 1995, Mayor Menino launched the Boston Main Streets program, aiming to improve the quality of life and strengthen the relationship between businesses and the community.

  According to reports from the City of Boston, between 1995 and 2006, 580 net new businesses and close to 4,000 new jobs have been created among the districts. 

Brighton Main Streets has worked hard to turn a commercial district that was   afflicted by deteriorating shops and many vacant lots into a pleasant place.

    “The stores are in pretty good condition, they had been run down for a while, but now they look better,” said Paul from Blowout Hair Design & Tanning, whose shop has been part of the community for over 30 years.

   “We work to maintain economic stability,” said Rosie Hanlon, executive director of Brighton Main Streets.

     Brighton Main Streets is driven by volunteers who work to enhance the shops’ appearances, promote business, restructure economically troubled companies and raise money. 

    “They [Brighton Main Streets] help put up store signs and raise money for store improvements and new businesses,” said Amanda Rojas, from Amanda’s Flowers on Washington Street.

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   Yet, despite the best efforts of the neighborhood organization, recent bank robberies have plagued the commercial district. In March 2009, five different bank robberies called for the attention of local police and the FBI.

  “We don’t deal with bank robberies, but as far as crime goes, by creating a vibrant and safe neighborhood we hope to decrease crime,” said Hanlon.

    Main Street encourages advertising and marketing of the neighborhood’s businesses in difficult economic times.

  “If I was very young and starting a business today, I would have a tough time, advertising is too expensive,” said Paul. 

    Although the organization encourages businesses to advertise their services and products online, they do not want to lose the human touch with the neighborhood. Brighton Main Streets still encourages residents to shop locally as well as virtually.

  “I recognize 90% of my customers, it’s always ‘Hi Mary, Hi Johnny,’” says Paul. “We’ve been around for 30 years so it’s very rare to see a strange face.”

       But it’s important to keep them coming back.

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Herrell’s serves up more than a cup o’ Joe

By: Christopher Balchum

ALLSTON – No one’s wearing Prada, and Red Sox Nation doesn’t dominate the conversation in this run-down neighborhood on the western edge of the city, far from Newbury Street, the financial district, and Faneuil Hall.

But Allston is at the center of what’s young and new in Boston, and Herrell’s Allston Renaissance Café is one of Allston’s centers.

Herrell's Allston Renaissance Cafe on the corner of Brighton and Harvard Avenues.  Photo courtesy of myspace.com/teamherrells

Herrell's Allston Renaissance Cafe on the corner of Brighton and Harvard Avenues. Photo courtesy of myspace.com/teamherrells

A café on the corner of Brighton and Harvard avenues, where people play guitar on sidewalks and Bob Marley murals dot the streetscape, Herrell’s serves homemade ice cream, breakfast all day, and some of the only vegan food around.

It also caters to the Allston art scene, mounting rotating shows of work by local artists and, occasionally, hosting live music even though the café has just about 30 seats.   

On the ceiling when you first step in, a ceiling fresco of God handing Adam a mug of coffee welcomes customers.  Hip hop blares over the speakers – a sharp juxtaposition to the punk rock types standing in line.  Outside, buses and cars wheeze by as students and Salvadorians lug home cases of beer from Blanchard’s Liquors and takeout food from nearby hole-in-the-wall ethnic restaurants.  Loud and obtrusive artwork dominates  the walls, and people from all walks of life sit at hand-painted and glossed-over tables, a beautiful distraction from the sandwiches, coffee mugs, and writing pads sitting a top.

“So many indecisive stoner kids,” says Justin Delaet, the manager, noting the many patrons who stand in a daze staring at the large, bright board listing the café’s extensive menu. 

Allston is made up of a lot more than just the college students who call this place home each September–May, says Delaet.  While the neighborhood is notorious for late night parties, a high concentration of bars, and its close location to Boston University, Boston College and Harvard University, it’s also an eclectic community of artists, musicians, hipsters, and Central and South American immigrants.

“This is one of the only places an old man can paint,” says Delaet, a musician and artist when he’s not pouring cups of coffee and chatting up customers at Herrell’s. (At 32, he believes he’s much older than the rest of the community, but that doesn’t bother him too much.)

Most of the work hanging on the walls of Herrell’s comes from local young painters,  most of who seem to favor bright colors and large, haphazard designs or street art.  There’s a four-month waiting list for artists who want a spot on one of Herrell’s walls.

“Pretty much everyone who works here is an artist or musician,” Liz Panella, an employee at Herrell’s, said.  She plays in two female punk bands when she’s not spreading vegan cream cheese on an Everything bagel or digging for scoops of chocolate pudding ice cream. 

A time lapse of business at Herrell’s Allston Renaissance Café on March 28, 2009.  Video by Justin Delaet.

Many of the 20-somethings and the regulars that hang out here also frequent the music venues and other trendy businesses in the area.

Just down Brighton Avenue, for example, is LAB, a locally owned boutique that sells graffiti-clad T-shirts and hard-to-find techno and hip hop records.  The owner, Kim Harris, clears out the store’s merchandise at least once a month to host listening parties and galleries from local artists and musicians. 

“We wanted something that was a pretty cultured neighborhood,” Harris said.  “It’s completely diverse.”

“There’s a lot of underground music, arts, and culture in Allston if you look hard enough,” said Justin Shapiro, an Allstonian who plays drums in one local band and manages and produces for another.  “I think that Herrell’s has served as almost a home base for many of the people who participate in that subculture.” 

Shapiro, who graduated from Northeastern a year ago, says he just can’t leave the area.

“I’ve never been anywhere else where there’s so much spontaneity,” Shapiro said.  “In Allston, there’s a laid back style that personifies the neighborhood, but something’s always going on, too.”

And a lot of it goes on at Herrell’s.

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