Retail Alive and Well on Charles Street

While they had originally not intended to open the second location of their Gloucester-based home goods store and full-service interior design studio for another six months to a year, Jeff and Joan Grady fast-tracked the launch of J. Grady Home at 133 Charles St. to June 28, 2021, when they saw the retail renaissance underway on Charles Street for themselves and decided to capitalize on the moment. And so far, their hunch seems to being paying off.

A look inside Beacon Hill Books at 71 Charles St.
Gabrielle Mohl, an employee of Blessing Barn Beacon Hill at 122 Charles St.

“We’ve been really happy here,” said Jeff. “The community has been so great and supportive, and we’ve gotten to know not only  the residents of Beacon Hill, but the other store owners as well.”

The clientele at J. Grady Home on Charles Street is a mix between neighborhood residents and visitors to Boston, Jeff said, so the store has expanded its inventory in an effort to accommodate its customers across the board.

“Since we’ve opened, we’ve expanded our offerings to get a feel for what works,” he said, adding that the Charles Street store has frequently catered to tourists who stop in to pick up a “nice gift” during their travels.

And just as the Gradys predicted, Charles Street has turned out be the ideal location for the expansion of their business.

“The store and the location complement each other well,” said Jeff, “which is what we thought would happen.”

In contrast, when high-end home goods retailer and a longtime fixture on Newbury Street, Matsu, reopened at 76 Charles St. in May of 2021 after a nearly seven-year respite, the business’s husband-and-wife owners, Masayuki and Dava Muramatsu, were unsure of the reception awaiting them, especially in the midst of the pandemic.

Their apprehensions and doubts were soon put to rest, however, when the return of Matsu was met with success beyond their hopes and expectations.

“To open in the middle of the pandemic, we were wondering if we’d do okay, or if it would turn out to be stupid,” said Masayuki. “But Charles Street has turned out to be an excellent street for us.”

The Charles Street store, which spans about 400 square feet, is less than half of the size of their former, approximately 1,000 square-foot home on Newbury Street.

While the smaller location was chosen due to an abundance of caution by the Muramatsus, it has resulted in not only decreased overhead, but it’s also conducive to a more personal shopping experience for patrons.

Likewise, when Greta Belsole opened her East Coast Ivy Boutique at 88 Charles St. in July of 2021, the Pennsylvania native wasn’t sure of the response the shop that specializes in women’s clothing, accessories and jewelry would receive. But she too said business has exceeded even her wildest expectations so far.

“Honestly, I wasn’t sure everyone would shop with me, but I’ve met so many amazing friends, locals, and people who shop with me that live on the other side of the country,” she said. “Almost all the credit goes to the people who shop with me because they could go somewhere else and to my employees, like Jules Mucher, who holds down the fort when I’m away.”

The storefront spans around 350 square feet, with an additional 200 square feet in the basement, but Belsole already feels like the business is already outgrowing the space. She has no plans to leave Charles Street, however.

“I can’t leave the location because it’s so charming,” she said. “Everyone shops small, and there’s a different vibe [on Charles Street.]”

Lindsay Perrelli opened The Happy Journey, her children’s shop that specializes in toys, books, and educational games, two years ago at 73 Charles St. But she said this wasn’t meant to capitalize on the robust state of retail on Charles Street, but instead because she’s a “Beacon Hill resident who has always called Charles Street home, and it was always a dream of mine to own a shop there.”

Like other new businesses on Charles Street, The Happy Journey has turned out to be a success story.

“Business has been wonderful,” wrote Perrelli. “Being in my second year of owning the shop, it’s so much fun to re-order items that I have seen customers love during different seasons/holidays (i.e. summer, Halloween, etc.), and also bring into the shop so many wonderful and new products that I find from overseas, particularly in France and the UK. We had a bustling Christmas season, and I loved seeing customers from seasons past come back to holiday shop.”

The Blessing Barn – a Mendon-based nonprofit thrift and antique shop that supports crisis-care programs via its charity, Compassion New England – opened its second location at 122 Charles St. in September of 2021.

Gabrielle Mohl, an employee at the Charles Street store since January of 2022, said during her “limited time” working there, business has been brisk, especially during warmer weather.

The store’s patrons have been extremely generous, she said, especially towards the Blessing Barn Beacon Hill’s Room in the City, which provides short-term housing accommodations for patients (and their support individuals) who require medical care away from home.

“The more people we talk to and hear about what we’re doing, even more people show up [to patronize us],” said Mohl.

While some of the newly arrived businesses on Charles Street have admittedly sought to benefit from the recent retail resurgence there, the eagerly awaited Beacon Hill Books, which opened at 71 Charles St. on Sept. 30 of last year, arrived after a lengthy process.

The undertaking began in January of 2019 when owner, Melissa Fetter, moved back to Beacon Hill from Dallas, Texas, and immediately identified the need for a bookstore in the neighborhood.

“I was so surprised to find no bookstore and decided to do something about it,” she said.

Fetter started searching for a location for the bookstore the following month and closed on the building at 71 Charles St. in September of 2019.

“Renovating a decaying building in a historic district in the City of Boston was doing something challenging under the best of circumstances,” said Fetter.

Then, the pandemic struck, and it became an even more arduous process as she waited for the myriad city agencies she was seeking approvals from to transition to a virtual model.

But despite the initial challenges, Beacon Hill Books has gone on to great success. Since opening, it sold 39,000 books in just four months, which, she said, was the sales number that experts had predicted for an entire year.

“The volume of business has exceeded our expectations, which has been great fun,” said Fetter, adding that the trend shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon either, since as recently as Saturday, Feb. 11, there was a line out the door.

Still, Fetter chalks up her good fortune in part to the favorable retail climate on Charles Street.

“When you consider that over 21 businesses on Charles Street closed during the pandemic, and we’re now back strong with very few vacancies, there’s definitely a positive momentum,” she said.  “It took a while, but I really do believe we’re back strong.”

Beacon Hill Books has also drawn new patrons to Charles Street who might not have otherwise visited the neighborhood.

Around the holidays, Fetter even received letters of gratitude from the owners of two Charles Street business – REMY Creations and Gus & Ruby – thanking her the positive effect that Beacon Hill Books has had on Charles Street’s retail landscape.

“Because of our social media presence, we’re bringing in hundreds of people from outside the neighborhood,” said Fetter. “And bookstores in and of themselves are known to be a draw to a neighborhood.”

But for retailers on Charles Street to continue to thrive, Fetter  said camaraderie among the street’s business owners is now essential.

“It’s important that all retailers on Charles Street really work together to be sure that we improve the commercial district and keep customers coming back,” said Fetter. “We all need to pull together to make the neighborhood in general a worthy destination.”

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