Saturday, March 1, 2008

What's Up Down Town; A Tally

When Gus & Paul's deli closed up late last year, there was a small uproar on the local forums, blogs, and news about the declining fortunes of an already struggling downtown Springfield. Then just recently there were three more businesses to leave downtown. Frigo's Gourmet Foods moved on after 20 years on Main St. Then it was L'uVa restaurant, about 4 years of business. Finally, and perhaps most telling, it was Rein's Deli. Rein's had taken over at the former Gus & Paul's location with a second store, and had to close it up after only three short months. What a dilemma. Debate has reignited about how and why this is happening. In order to cast a little light on the issue, I thought it might be a good idea to tally up what exactly is in downtown, specifically the Main St. area. What kind of stores and businesses does downtown have to offer? Me and the kid spent the afternoon taking a walk up and down Main St. We had time to kill. We went from the railroad underpass separating the North End, and walked south, to State St. and beyond. I made an attempt to photograph all the businesses along the way. (I left out pics of most of the non-consumer type businesses, like lawyers, accountants and such). Chris dutifully tried to record the number and types of businesses as I snapped pictures.

Take it from the bridge

Starting at the bridge, and attached to it, there is the Stone Wall tavern.

Then the famous Hippodrome. An old theater now transformed into a nightclub and concert venue. Many well known artists have performed here. The marquee has been hit by a truck, and remains to be repaired.

The first of many jewelry stores along Main St.

The Sitar restaurant, offering Indian cuisine.

The L'uVa restaurant, one of the three businesses that recently moved on.

Across the street is the location of the former Kennedy Fried Chicken, of notorious fame. The Mediterranean Grill is taking it's place and opening soon.

Next block up, after Hampden st. there is an urban clothing store and a few small shops.

The famous Student Prince and The Fort Dining Room.

Across the street from there, a pizza shop and some attorney and insurance offices.

Next block, there's the popular City Jake's cafe, with a tailor and clothing store next door.

The Asylum, a night club.

PCX - "Pocket Change Exchange".

Memories, a newly opened 'Rumba' bar.

Jewelry stores. There are a lot of Jewelry stores downtown.

Next up is the Federal Courthouse and recruiting center.

Followed by Tower Square. Tower Square is where Gus & Pauls, then Rein's Deli, came and went.

Here's a towering picture of the former Baybank tower, now the Mass Mutual tower...towering above tower square, in a towering fashion.

As does Monarch Place across the street.

Next door to Monarch Place there's a martial arts school and clothing store...

Middle Eastern Cuisine at the Cafe Lebanon next to that.

Jewelry store.

Beauty supply store. Beauty supply stores, hair and nail salons, barber shops and studios seem to be the other major Main St. business type, after jewelry stores.

Sportswear...and Sports pub next door.

A cafe at the end of that block.

We now arrived at Court Square, and took a look around...

Developers are looking into purchasing this beautiful old building along with others on the block.

Across the street, the brand new MassMutual Center.

Across the street from the convention center, we finally come to Frigo's Gourmet Foods. The restaurant that had to move, after 20 years in this location.

A pawn shop, a couple salons and a pizza/chicken joint finish out this section of Main St.

To give an idea of the cross-section of businesses downtown, here's Chris's final tally, on Main St. only, from the rail bridge to Winthrop St. in the South End:

Weekday businesses (Lawyers, Insurance, Accountants, ect.): 26

Empty Store Fronts: 24

Restaurants: 12

Salons, (Hair, Beauty, Nail salons and Barber Shops): 11

Clothing Stores: 7

Bars: 7

Jewelers: 5

Cafe's: 4

Venues: 2

Package Stores: 1

(We did our best to make sure these numbers are accurate, as we scribbled them on the back of a Dunkin Donuts receipt.)

Smile, your on Candid Camera

Mayor Sarno is big on making downtown a safe place to be, as was Mayor Ryan. Sarno has recently created a 'Quality of life' task force, and has cameras set here and there, with more to come.

Obviously, safety is absolutely one of the keys to attracting visitors. And today anyway, it seems as though the police department's efforts are working. As Chris and I walked along, there wasn't a minute where we really felt unsafe. There were some 'urban' types that make you want to profile, but everyone we passed was courteous enough. It takes a certain degree of savvy to walk around any big city anyway. You have to keep your eyes open. If Springfield is hoping to create an atmosphere where you can let your guard down, there's a lot of work to do yet, and a reputation to build.

The South End

Across State St. there are many more stores, restaurants and services that line the sidewalk into the South End. Some of them have been there a long time, like Buckeye Bros. Smokeshop,which has been there for 19 years, and recently expanded with the addition of Harry's, a cafe doing great business.

The Viper's Nest Tattoo has been doing their thing here for 9 years. There's a nail and beauty salon right next door.

Along with the salons are a couple barber shops nearby. The traditional, like William's...

And the new, like Killa's.

Dave's Furniture has been there quite some time.

Got bread?

Samuel's is a classy drinking establishment. A Jeweler and ethnic gift shop occupy the same block.

The South end has a little bit of a different feel to it than the central section of downtown. You can tell it was (or still is) a tightly knit neighborhood. We ended our tally at Winthrop st., only because I felt we were starting to venture away from the actual 'downtown' area. But before I end this post, I have to mention some of the fine eateries that are found in the South End. These are just a few, and most reflect the strong Italian presence of the neighborhood.

The Red Rose.

Milano's Imports.

La Fiorentina Pastry Shop.

Boston Sea Food.

And Mom & Rico's.

We stopped at Mom & Rico's to eat. This is a fantastic little Italian Deli/Eatery. They always have a great buffet going. And the main thing that makes this place so special? The incredibly friendly service. As soon as we walked in today, the owner handed me and Chris samples of salami and cheese over the counter. "The best your ever going to taste" he assured us. He may have been right. We loaded up our plates with great Italian food, and stuffed ourselves. The walls are covered with memoribilia and pictures of people -famous and not- that have enjoyed this place throughout the long years they've been in business. Truly a Springfield staple.

After our meal, I asked them how they were doing as far as business. In an ever optimistic way, Rico said they're hanging in there OK, and are awaiting the certain return of good times.


forestparkboy said...

spfld.- a cemetary with the lights on .

Mary E.Carey said...

This is a wonderful post, Tony. What a great idea and congratulations to your helper. I had never head of Mom and Rico's. Sounds like a place I'd like to visit.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Sad story but a nice post. Makes me feel old and nostalgic. Do it again in the Spring, at least it'll look a little better.

Anonymous said...

to bad you left out some places like milano's importing very popular store and Buckeye Bros smokeshop/Harry's Caffee also the Public house newly opened bar and resturant on corner main and state samuels tavern popular sports bar try a little harder next time instead of foucusing on empty storefronts foucs on small bussines in spfld

Anonymous said...

What a great job you and your son did. I've always thought that Springfield could be another Northampton. We have interesting buildings and shops down there. With some imagination and investment, I feel it could be done. A nice walking community. We'd have to get security upgraded, reroute the traffic in some areas and make it pedestrian safe.
Thanks for sharing!

Tony said...

Anonymous, I just added Milano's to the post, agreed, another great place.

The downtown is set up for foot traffic, (it was after all layed out and built up in an era of major foot traffic). My opinion, the main problems now are about feeling safe, and the selection of businesses/shops. Another problem is nobody really lives on Main St. There's no core everyday foot traffic among residents, so it seems barren on weekends. Traffic and parking are secondary issues, though rerouting, on weekends at least, would be a good idea.

Michaelann, your right, the weather did make things seem gloomier than they really are...

I recommend stopping in at Mom & Rico's to anyone, to get an idea what friendly service really means.

Anonymous said...

i think it would be a great!!!!idea to walk down different sections of the city. on state street less than 1/2 mile on either direction of kickback lounge-carribbean club-copper door or the sci-tech high/putnam high schools & Dorman grammer school. i often wonder what the lawmakers were thinking when they enacted the neighborhood schools policy??? i guess they forgot what permits they handed out where. But they want us to keep an eye out on our streets-after we are not allowed to know nor voice who comes into our neighborhoods.

Tommy said...

I'm not sure what your post says about the future of downtown Springfield, but I do know that you have created a valuable historical document with this posting that will be consulted by historians for generations to come.

Tony said...

Thanks Tom...Geez...

Anonymous said...

your post was very nice i agree with anonymous leaving out Buckeye Bros. smokeshop was a grave injustice , i know him been on main street for 17 yrs just opened small cafe called Harry's in same location one of busiest place on main ,also lives downtown spfld deserves place on this, also missed vipers nest tattoo and piercing been in business 9 yrs in same location

Tony said...

Thank you for mentioning those businesses. I did have pictures of both those places and just went back and included them in the post with a couple others. But that's all I got, I had to draw a line somewhere, otherwise we'd have had to go all the way up Belmont st.

Jeff Keck said...

I appreciate the effort and curiousity. Not many in the Valley are willing to do this anymore - "see for themselves". I am surprised you didn't see a Springfield Guide during your walk. There is a lot happening downtown in 2008. Check out The recent closings are unfortunate but there are others about to open in the next few months. Stay tuned...

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.
Anyone who does not see Springfields potential is blinded by their own shame at not making it a better place for all. One doorstep at a time
Mom & Rico's is great- too bad they are trying to sell out.