The closing of a small grocery store on Charles Street has agitated, even enraged, the neighborhood, and has become a touchstone for all the fears locals have about what the street could become.
Charles Street Market, the corner store at the intersection of Charles and Mount Vernon streets, closed on Sunday, September 8. By Monday morning, the landlord had allegedly changed the locks, taped brown paper over the windows and soon thereafter a message appeared on the door advising customers to go the Beacon Hill Market on Anderson Street for their goods. Mailbox customers could go to Charles Street Supply for their mail.
This situation had been brewing for some time.
On December 30, 2010, Linear Realty, based in Burlington, bought the one-story building at 62-66 Charles Street for $4,100,000, according to The Warren Group’s real estate records. The space is one of the larger retail spaces on Beacon Hill with 3,324 square feet at street level and a storage basement the same size.
It had been a 7-Eleven convenience store since 1979. Tracy Hollander bought the business in 1988, and around the same time the store’s building was sold, he separated from 7-Eleven and created the independent Charles Street Market, doing some renovations and upgrading the offerings to fit better with neighborhood tastes.
Although some neighbors complained about early morning delivery noises, most appreciated Hollander’s convenient hours—6 a. m. to 2 a. m.—and the lighted windows that brought safety to the street. Moreover, Hollander helped out with community activities and has been a good neighbor, said MaryLee Halpin, the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s executive director.
Meanwhile, Linear Realty, perhaps reflecting on how much they had paid for a small, one-story building, wanted more rent. When Hollander balked, they struck a deal with Capital One Bank. The neighborhood went ballistic.
Banks, said local real estate broker Ivy A. Turner, at a meeting at the time, wanted only a billboard, not customers. The neighborhood already had too many banks, said meeting attendees. Moreover, they said, banks took up space that could be used for purposes that would attract both residents and tourists as customers, keeping the street lively.
Because part of 66 Charles lies in a residential zone, residents pointed out that Linear could face a costly lawsuit over an office use, which needed approval. Linear backed off with Capital One, but residents worried this matter was not over.
After the bank situation, Linear tried to negotiate a deal with Hollander, said Joel Kadis, leasing partner at Linear. But Hollander’s checks bounced, his rent was often late, and it was difficult to come to an agreement, Kadis said.
At some point this spring Kadis believed he had a deal, and Kadis said he and Hollander shook hands on it. In May when the approximately $27,000 monthly rent became due, Hollander did not pay. So on May 24, Kadis went to court and served Hollander with an eviction notice. Hollander did not pay monthly rent for the next four months, and Kadis then actually had him evicted.
Why didn’t Hollander pay the rent?
“I’m not going to address it,” said Hollander. “Unfortunately, I could not afford what the landlord was requiring.”
Not only was the rent approximately $27,000 a month now, it would rise to $33,000 a month and then $39,000 a month over a 10-year period, said Hollander.
Charles Street Supply’s owner Jack Gurnon, whose hardware store is located two doors down from 62-66 Charles, estimated it would take a monthly income of about $300,000 to afford that kind of rent.
But retail consultant Jesse Baerkahn said that grocery stores operate on smaller margins than do other businesses, and it would take an income of 20 times the rent or about $600,000 a month to afford what Hollander was asked to pay.
Hollander would not discuss his income. But he said he is negotiating with another Charles Street building owner who is a “great guy,” and he hopes to be open in another nearby location within a month. Although Hollander would not identify the location, neighbors believe it is at the laundromat at 39 Charles Street, owned by Pasquale Rao’s family, long-time landlords at several neighborhood buildings.
Meanwhile, Beacon Hill Market, which Hollander also owns, will make free deliveries, and he provided his phone number—617-720-3588. Mail delivery has also been moved to the Beacon Hill Market.
Beacon Hill residents hope Hollander can relocate, but his dilemma is only part of the problem.
Residents are concerned that new owners paying high prices for Charles Street buildings will lack concern for the neighborhood and increase rents, as Linear did with Hollander, that will drive out the one-off, locally owned shops that give Charles Street its unique character.
Joel Kadis insists that his company is not out to do in the neighborhood. “Look at my actions,” he said. “We withdrew the bank. We tried to keep the market. But the market didn’t pay for four months. Those are the facts. All I’m saying is that I thought I had a deal. If he changed his mind, it might have helped to have known six months ago.”
But residents fear outside companies may view Beacon Hill as just another rich enclave without understanding the qualities that long-time residents value.
“Charles Street is all about neighborhood,” said Sally Brewster, a long-time Pinckney Street resident and a local real estate broker. “It’s like a small British village in the middle of a big city where residents can shop and have fun with one another.”
Brewster said she values the local shops whose owners say hello and know what she wants.
“I hope for many little shops with rents affordable to small business and not to chains,” she said. “Maybe another bank or an institution that’s not people friendly could appear.”
Brewster’s opinion reflects a recent assessment made by a Beacon Hill Civic Association committee headed by Michael Bruck of Pinckney Street. The businesses residents said they wanted most were a bookstore, a cheese shop, a mid-priced restaurant, a bakery and a kitchenware shop. Bruck said that a fish market, good fruits and vegetables and a shop offering prepared foods were also desired.
On the heels of learning that Charles Street Market had been evicted, residents realized that Linear Retail had just bought the ground-floor condominium that houses The King and I restaurant, another well-patronized neighborhood fixture.
Kadis said The King and I has a lease, but since his company had just bought the property, he didn’t have the lease at hand and couldn’t remember when it expired.
When she learned about The King and I, Brewster was horrified. “They’re coming in like gangbusters, driving out every shop because they want to have a high rent,” she said. “It’s not going to be tolerated. They’ve not seen nothing yet. I’ll picket in front of the King and I if they can’t afford to stay.”