By Seth Daniel
When the economy boomed, Squire Road busted.
Now that the rest of the world has gone bust, itâ€™s Squire Road that seems to be booming.
The City did all it could to market the Squire Road area as an affordable and viable area for business when the economy was hot, but efforts always fell flat – always coming in a distant second to the Route 1 corridor.
It was puzzling.
Now, whatâ€™s even more puzzling is that the district seems to be taking off during one of the worst recessions in the countryâ€™s history.
The Northgate Mall – a centerpiece of the strip – has been upgraded significantly.
The old, abandoned Stop & Shop has been turned into a bustling Price Rite Grocery Store. The National Wholesale Liquidators building – empty and falling down – is before the City right now and will soon be demolished, making way for a Planet Fitness Gym and retail space.
Beyond that, the Mall has revamped the parking lot, added the McDonaldâ€™s and filled virtually every store with a viable tenant.
The trend has also spread outside the Mall.
The East Boston Savings Bank (EBSB) just built a brand new branch on the old McDonaldâ€™s site, and across the street, the Italian Kitchen has a bustling business in its brand new building.
The new BJâ€™s Wholesale Club acts as a major anchor on the back of the strip, and old steadies like Pizzeria Uno, Sound & Vision Media Studios and the Four Points Sheraton help make quite a case for a new-look Squire Road.
â€œEven the gas stations keep their property nice looking now,â€ said Ward 3 Councillor Arthur Guinasso. â€œThey have flower beds and put flowers out all the time.â€
Itâ€™s quite a change from the Squire Road of the early 2000s – when there were more parked semi-trucks in Northgate than shoppers, and the entire Squire Road stretch looked worn out.
â€œThat was always an area I had focused on to try and get vacant areas renewed and to bring some vitality to the district,â€ said Mayor Tom Ambrosino. â€œIt didnâ€™t always work, but things are looking pretty good there now. The biggest blight was always the abandoned Stop & Shop building, but now, with Price Rite, that has made a difference. Once that old NWL gets started I think there canâ€™t be a whole lot left to redevelop.â€
City Planner Frank Stringi said it is ironic that the district is taking off now, given the efforts that were made several years ago. However, he said the City is glad to see the area improved.
â€œItâ€™s starting to show some vitality and itâ€™s like the snowball effect,â€ he said. â€œThings start rolling and for some reason everything starts to fall together…Thereâ€™s no secret formula here. Things just happen and you have to be patient.â€
Doug Allan of Allan Associates – which owns the Northgate Mall – said that they are also excited about the prospects of the district. He said that they are helping a new developer place tenants in the old NWL building, and theyâ€™re excited about that.
â€œThere are quite a number of tenants interested in that building,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s not if, but who we will put in there. We will be picking the tenants we want in there…The shopping center will be brought back to its glory of many, many years ago, long before we took it over, when it was a dump. We had to spend lots and lots of money to make that center presentable again and we did it. Weâ€™ve always believed in Northgate.â€
Stringi cited the BJâ€™s Club as one of the major catalysts for the change in Squire Road, but said that the key recently has been the occupancy of the once-abandoned Price Rite building.
â€œOnce that was occupied, things did turn around,â€ he said. â€œWhen you have a building sitting on the forefront with no activity and abandoned, itâ€™s bad vibes for the whole development.â€
On the street side of things, the well-groomed Brown Circle has been a centerpiece on the eastern side of the strip for several years. Now, the City and the Revere Beautification Committee (RBC) are preparing to install an irrigation system along the median strip of Squire Road – from Brown Circle to Charger Street. For years, the trash-strewn median strip has been an embarrassment to the City, and the barrier to improving it has always been the lack of water.
Now, Stringi said they are putting the job out to bid this week, and expect to have the system installed and running by the summertime.
It will be a welcome push to an area already gathering momentum, a trend that has been noted a number of times lately by Guinasso and Ward 6 Councillor Charlie Patch.
â€œI think what has happened is people have started improving their areas one property at a time, and itâ€™s becoming very nice,â€ said Guinasso. â€œNow if we can get others closer to Broadway to catch on, it will be that much better.â€
Added Allan, â€œMaybe the whole thing is a little sign that things overall will get better.â€
Sign slated for a makeover
There is nothing more familiar on Squire Road than the old Northgate Mall sign.
It towers several stories above everything else – visible from many blocks away and a fixture for several generations. But like the rest of Squire Road, itâ€™s soon going to get a makeover.
Doug Allan of Allan Associates said they are going to be upgrading the old sign very soon, making it more energy efficient with LED lighting and also giving it a cosmetic makeover.
â€œWe will be having the sign upgraded,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re certainly working on that. The only delay in upgrading it and making it more efficient with LED lighting is that weâ€™re waiting to figure out our tenant mix.â€