Saturday, August 30, 2008

Part of the Worcester Frustration

Part of it, for me at least, is the lack of choices that do not allow you to live your life as you would in a real city. Businesses and establishments are inconsistent the world over for sure, but when you walk out your door at 11:30am on a Saturday morning and your choices for something quick Downtown are Subway, Woosta Pizza, and Spoodles and only one of them is open when all three claim to have regular Saturday hours you can't help but walk back to your apartment with your head down muttering obscenities about Worcester under your breath.

34 comments:

johnmenard said...

I completely agree! A friend and I drove around the city on a saturday afternoon looking for a bite to eat at a sit down place. More than half of them had sat hours listed, yet were closed. Others only opened for dinner.

And on that note... how about a decent coffee shop other than starbucks. And by decent, this includes the crowd.

Gabe said...

You know, I think even more than bars, urban coffee shops are neighborhood institutions that reflect the neighborhoods they serve.

Pedestrian friendly places, coffee shops.

If Worcester ever gets a decent urban neighborhood densely populated with the type of folks you would like to see in your ideal coffee shop, then you will see you ideal coffee shop. I would bet everything I own on it.

I don't know why people in Worcester cannot grasp this concept. It's very logical. Then again maybe that's why it's not being grasped.

John said...

There are plenty of outdoor seating restaurants on Shrewsbury St. The Starbucks there is hoping too. I like Starbucks, but I'd much rather support an indie coffee shop. Why isn't there one on Shrewsbury st. or in the downtown area?

Sprout said...

I'm going to vent now - I'm so tired of people whining about what Worcester doesn't have. I'm especially tired of folks who own houses on the West Side, Greendale, Tatnuck Square whining. If you want coffee shops and boutiques to patronize, why don't you open them? Why don't you use your life savings, mortgage your house, max out your credit cards, depend on your parents, spouse, or friends to support you while you eat ramen noodles (2 servings per package!) and hope someone will come patronize you? Why don't you take the risk?

Let's be honest, Worcester is mostly a sprawling suburb, with a poor urban center. The folks who live in their tidy homes in Greendale, Burncoat, Tatnuck, the West Side want some space between them and their neighbors and a place to let the dog run at a reasonable price. They mostly have a suburban view that if it's not convenient by car, it's not convenient.

The folks in the urban core aren't looking to spend their limited funds in a coffee shop. They seem to be amply served by convenience stores and dollar stores within walking distance. The folks who want urban hipster amenities are a very small population compared to these others.

I'd move my shop in a heartbeat if Worcester had a walkable retail area, but I've looked, and I can't find one. My shop turns 8 years old at the end of September and while I never had visions of being something huge, I would have thought that I'd have more than 2 part-time employees by now.

I can tell you as someone who sells things which make life a little nicer, but which are in no way things people need, business is hurting right now. Groceries or flowers? Not even a question. If Worcester could support cute coffee shops and boutiques, wouldn’t we have them by now?

Thanks! I needed to get that off my chest. :-)

Gabe said...

Hi Sprout glad you chimed in, but you are not going to like what I have to say.

You are the owner of an established business in Worcester on the Westside correct?

You are right that Worcester is never going to have that vibrant hip neighborhood if it continues to be sprawling. It's density is so much less than other cities it's size.

You have to remember though that the the city we call may be the most insider, it's who you know city in the entire Northeast.

It is all a matter of branding neighborhoods and being very specific about the culture that goes on in that neighborhood. If any two people in Worcester could ever agree on anything you could get neighborhood groups together to come up with a development plan and an identity for the neighborhood and then try to steer the neighborhood towards that plan and that identity. All of the urban neighborhoods need this. Crown Hill seems to be the only one doing it. The Canal District is trying but they seem a little confused and there also seems to be a little false hype there which is going to backfire in the end.

I here you Sprout. I wouldn't open up a shop in the urban core either. Not yet. Maybe on Highland, maybe, depending on the type of business in Main South. Those to me are the only two neighborhoods densely populated with a very specific demographic. Nowhere else in the city does this exist. Two neighborhoods. One which is vibrant only 8 months of the year and is a very small neighborhood at that. The other which is very very poor. This is a problem. A huge one that the city has brought upon itself but not keeping up on the natural boundaries and cultures of it's neighborhoods.

People of specific demographics densely packed into neighborhoods are what create the vibrancy that a lot of us "whining" about missing. I think a large problem is a lot of the suburban culture you speak of that permeates Central Massachusetts fail to acknowledge this because to do so would be admitting that they are part of the problem.

I agree these people who own out in the county (the county being everything outside the urban core) and bitch about what goes on in the urban core need to buy in the urban core or drink a big glass of shut the fuck up.

They are the problem. They bitch but they aren't willing to fight and take their own city back that every day is being taken away from them by people they are feeding, clothing and housing with their own tax dollars. Shit just isn't logical. Take back your friggin city would you?

Wow Sprout, you really struck a nerve with me. Feel free to vent any time.

Gabe said...

Hey Sprout, please ignore the question about the business. I was going to go one way with my statement and half way through I realized I was totally wrong and went another way. Again, I wouldn't open retail in the urban core right now either, and you are wise to stay where you are.

Gabe said...

Hey John, Miranda Bread at the corner of Central and Shrewsbury while not a coffee shop is a pretty cool place to sit and relax in the mode of Panera, and there are a ton in Downtown, mostly catering to the work force. I think within maybe a year leasing some space from Mayo and trying to open a cool little coffee shop down on Franklin or Portland might be a good move but until you see a neighborhood densely packed with people looking for a hang out and relax type coffee shop, you aren't going to see a hang out and relax type coffee shop.

Miranda works because it's run by Brazilians who are quickly becoming the dominant citizens of the Shrewsbury St neighborhood.

Bill Randell said...

Gabe:

I know how you feel. Couple of comments.

Starbucks on Shrewsbury Street is closing. Have you ever been to my tenant's place at 82 Pleasant Street, El Pupeseria. Raymundo and his wife run a great place specializing in El Salvadorian food. You should check it out. our Lt Gov loves it.

Nothing will change until we get more people, like Gabe, living downtown.

Bill

Gabe said...

I will go check that out Bill. Thanks for the recommendation.

All we have in Worcester is our own word of mouth.

Paulie said...

Carol & I went to the Science Museum yesterday...stopped into the 3D theatre to see Sharks..only two peeps on the face of the earth have that hairdo I said to myself as I tried to peek over the cat in front of me..low and behold our esteemed City Manager and his la famalia were sitting in front of us and all with 3D glasses on:>)I said hello and then respected his la famalia privacy and boogied on after giving a thumbs up.

The Science Museum was packed....incredible crowds..then we went ovah to the North End...thousands everywhere..again incredible stuff!

Decided to come back home instead of heading ovah to the Cantab in Central Square, Cambridge to check out the festival at the Emerald on Millbury Street...11:30 PM there was only 20 folks listening to the band..terribly depressing! Same thing last week at CreeganStock..11:30 and abou 8 in front of a pretty darn good ACDC cover band..

The sidewalks in the North End were so crowded that we had to walk on the street to get anywhere.

Sprout..I am not sure anyone could say it better..my office is in Worcester as is my storage facility..other than a charity event-I stay clear of doing any business here--to expensive to do business and no money back in return.

Bill Randell said...

Have you been to the Worcester Sciene Center lately? I went last year and the same exhibits from my West Tatnuck field trip 30 years ago were still there. The polar bear looked sick, the planetarium was closed and the whole place was pretty pathetic.

Gabe said...

I am planning a trip to the Ecotarium (It's called the Ecotarium now Old Man Randell) soon. I will report back with a review when I do.

Sprout said...

Let me first say – I like Worcester!

My flower shop is on the West Side, along with 5 other flower shops, because that’s where the folks with discretionary income to spend on something as frivolous as flowers are.

I was pleasantly surprised when I opened by how warmly I was welcomed into the neighborhood. Folks seemed genuinely pleased to have us there and to see us succeed.

I’m also fortunate to have lucked into a landlord who is decent (decent meaning he has only raised my rent $50 a month in 8 years, with no increase in the current renewal which was written on a Post-it – who does that?!), although not perfect (it took nearly 8 years to get a door that closes properly and one of the bathrooms above still leaks into my shop).

I live here and I, too, want things like cafes, quirky bookstores, and nifty boutiques. I’d also like my shop to be in a nice walkable locale with those other businesses. But until folks stop thinking mall and plaza when they get into their cars, there’s no impetus for change. I’m not sure we can change that car driven attitude…maybe if gas goes even higher?

I figure there’s a reason Alice Lombardi of the Bean Counter has expanded into Shrewsbury with 2 more stores. It’s a shame she didn’t think Canal District or Downtown, but perhaps her market research showed upscale coffee lovers are suburban folks who like lots of parking. Have you tried to get a seat in Borders Bookstore cafĂ©? It’s always packed. Why is that?

Sorry, too many questions, not enough answers. I think about this “Worcester problem” every day. By the time I compose my thoughts, the threads are old, so sorry if I’m dumping it all here!

Anyhow, we need some kind of “Wicked Good Worcester” forum where we can spread word of mouth! I second Miranda Bread on Shrewsbury St. for coffee and a bite to eat. I’m in love with the cupcakes from Sweet (although she looks a bit like she opened before she was ready). And the Worcester Center for Crafts gift shop has cool jewelry and a really nice staff!

Miles said...

why isn't there a Mcdonalds, boston market, etc in downtown?

fast food? weird.

Ms.Crystal said...

My last few weeks working downtown I have to say I am sick of Spoodles, Subway or having to go over to Saint Vincents to Garden Fresh..More is needed in the area

Gabe said...

Have you tried Z Cafe? They are pretty good and in the same area as the places you have mentioned. Also I have heard the Spanish place inside the Midtown Mall is real good too but I haven't been. You're vegetarian though right? Seems like that could narrow the possibilities.

Then again though I think it was a vegetarian who told me the place in the Midtown Mall was good.

Anonymous said...

Maybe try cooking something for yourself?
But of course that's not the point.

Will @ WoWo said...

Lots of "muttering" people downtime, that's for sure and they're not doing it under their breath. Especially those around the common.

Gabe, try TV dinners.
Practical and delicious!

Bill Randell said...

Gabe:

The Z Cafe is good. Nice soup and salad combo from him and his wife,also free wireless.

Steve also has a good sub at the Subway, not the franchise, on Front Street.

If you have time Kevin at Vive Bene is good but you need to plan for an hour lunch.

Another good change of pace is the cafetaria at Chestnut Place. Don't forget my friend Raymundo at the Pupaseria if you like that food.

Lastly the new restaurant where the TiNova is will be opening in 30 days.

Bill

kid-rolla said...

For what it's worth, I don't have much disposable income, but if I buy flowers I buy them from Sprout. And when people need to buy flowers I recommend that they go to Sprout.

Why do business with that particular business instead of 800-flowers? Because she offers really beautiful, different, and substantial arrangements for a reasonable fee. Her prices are amazing for what you get for it.

That is the quality that I would like to get from any business in in the cities that I want to patronize.

Second point, if you want a bustling big city, you are going to have to deal with bustling big city problems which often include a huge problem with traffic, parking, and travel. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Will @ WoWo said...

Ask yourself, why isn't there a McDonalds in downtown Woosta? Geez, every Podunk has one. Everyplace except your beloved Woosta Gabe.
Or why isn't there a WalMart in the city environs?
A lot of analysis goes into store placement by corporations. That they overlook Woosta, with a population of 175K, is testament to our status as economically backwards. Are we?

Gabe said...

I am completely okay with there not being a MacDonald's, although the reasons I like to think there isn't one and the real reasons there isn't are probably two different things.

I think the point of my original post is getting lost in all this though, which was that not in just restaurants, but just about everything in the city when you are let down by a business that you enjoy going to, you are let down in an even bigger way because there is so little variety that your only alternative is to just not enjoy that particular service.

I wanted a quick meal that I could walk to and only had three choices, two of them were closed and the third, Subway, wasn't appealing so I went home. Subway by the way has been the one that was closed on Saturday afternoon also.

This type of thing has been happening to me all over the city for as long as I can remember in Worcester and I have always felt that this particular thing isn't the fault of the city government but the fault of businesses in the city itself.

In the 10th grade we had a half of year small business class at Shrewsbury High and one of the things I took out of it that made such logical sense is the idea of being open when your competition isn't. The class advised that in the first five years of your business you should be available to potential customers as much as you possibly can be. Holidays, Sundays, weekends, early hours, late hours.

You know, business owners can whine about the business climate in the city all they want (no offense Sprout, not referring to you when I say this) but they should all look at where they are pointing the finger. Poor signage, bad and inconsistent hours, poor atmosphere, inferior product, awful customer service, bad overall attitude and many other things are all things I have experienced as a patron in Worcester and it is unbelievable to me because I really do think there are some very discerning customers in the city who would really appreciate a quality product done right.

Along with the ridiculousness of our city government, the poor self esteem we suffer from as a population and the welfare state of our urban core this lack of variety when it comes to quality establishments, goods and services is another big reason why Worcester has the regional reputation that it does.

Paulie said...

was in Gardner today..Gardner has a Ocean State Job Lot, Staples and Aubuchon Hardware Store in the middle of the city...even has Jumpin Juice & Java..I had to go all the way to Gardner for a Ocean State Job Lot:>)

Anyway, have a dumpsteron my property..got home late last night to see about 20 bags of house debris..mucho kitchen waste that stank:>) This morning me and the neighborhood barfly opened the bags to find:>) Mail from my neighbor next door:>)..called the police and am now filing complaints...Health & Code coming down tomorrow...my new neighbors have been in town 6 months..came in from New York...within 6 months they got a sexy 8 cert, Mass Health and food stamps..I guess they figured free trash removal was included:>) I am going after this hard and I will find out how serious the City of Woostah is about dealing with these kinds of issues that are driving good folks out.

Can any of you imaging your neighbor walking across your lawn to throw trash bags loaded with putrid food on it??

Gabe said...

Paulie, I don't have to imagine that.

I am living the dream!

Sprout said...

Thanks kid-rolla! You made my day. :-)

Gabe, I totally understand your complaints about Worcester businesses, and I’m guilty of some of them, I know. I’m closed on Sundays and Mondays which I know disappoints some people but while I love what I do, I also need a life outside of work. I’m fortunate that the regulars have gotten accustomed to it.

My sign has faded and it’s time for a new one, but I want a better one, so I’m saving up. Many businesses just go for the cheapest sign with no thought to the presence it creates on the street, or even if it’s a readable sign. Don’t get me going on spelling errors!

There’s an abandoned car in the alley between my business and the next that no one wants to deal with. Fortunately trash dumping is not a huge problem, but kids trashing the plants I put out to beautify the neighborhood is. (http://www.sprout-flowers.com/2008/08/greening-mean-streets-of-worcester-part_31.html)

Waiting 8 years for a door that opens and shuts properly is excessive, but what’s a tenant to do?

So I guess I’m wondering, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Does a poor business attitude develop from a poor customer response? Or does a poor customer attitude come from a poor business response? Does the city wear us down or do we wear on the city?

And what can we, as customers and business people, do about it?

Gabe said...

As customers, whether by reviews, blogging or simply voicing opinions at the business (the best way to handle it), we can let businesses know exactly what our beefs are with the business while at the same time celebrating by the same means the places that do it right. Don't be an apathetic customer.

As businesses listen to your customers concerns and complaints without the attitude that if you don't like it, go somewhere else and never stop striving to be the best in the city, no matter what local opinions say is the best in the city.

I really feel that the city is changing culturally and more people are out looking for quality establishments to frequent. As these quality establishments surface I hope that the old Worcester guard are able to raise the bar and compete instead of just drowning in their own old school Wootown attitude. If this continues to happen then all this boom that is going on in time is just going to result in the old businesses going under and all the sudden we are 80 and our grandkids are taking us to the Armsby Abbey on Saturday mornings for breakfast as we sit there with our white haired friends talking about the salad days that never really existed in the first place.

When you don't have variety bad experiences can really hit home. You can have 100 good experiences as a customer but how many bad experiences in succession will put a bad taste in your mouth? If you really really really like steak and you live in a town with only one steakhouse and that steakhouse sucks well you are going to be pretty unsatisfied with your city of choice aren't you? Yet that steakhouse has somehow been open since 1926 and every year wins best steakhouse in the local press souring your attitude even further toward your city and fellow citizens.

Paulie said...

I've had four flower pots out in front of mi su casa on Chandler for four years now..been fighing the backwards battle whether it be the shit human beings living in mi neighborhood who have no sense of right or the drunk Suney's customers who drop their beer bottles in them, piss on them or hit with their cars:>) A little stomping is a walk in the park for me:>) Some sort of destruction o my flowers and posts happen on a daily basis:>)

This city is wearing folks down-no question about it!

Bill Randell said...

sprout:

You should look into the facade program with the City of Worcester.

Bill

Ms.Crystal said...

I was wanting to try ZCafe the other day and was on a time crunch,for some reason I couldn't get their menu to come up online so I didn't put in an order. Spoodles has a great selection of veggie food and sometimes we order from Boomers.

Ms.Crystal said...

P.S. I am scared of the Midtown Mall.... Anyways my externship is done and for the time being I will be driving my butt to Framingham until November...Tomorrow is my last day downtown, no more bums asking me for money...damn

Bill Randell said...

try the z on your last day..

Paulie said...

Sprout;

went by yer pad yesterday...very nice what you have done outside..I eat across the street often..looks like Tyler has also put out some plants!

Tyler and the Pizza Shop should do something around those two trees..grass to high..wonder why they have not noticed this??

I have to buy the ole lady some flowers one of these days..do you have a service that delivahs to Leominster

Sprout said...

Paulie - Thanks for the compliments on the plants, although I'm thinking we should plant something that gives people a rash next year if they touch it! I tried thorns but the kids think it's fun getting other kids to sit on the plants...sigh...

Tyler did get inspired to put out some plants, weeds trimmed along the side of the building...He talked to me about trying to form a neighborhood business group, but I don't know if anyone else (besides the 2 of us) was receptive.

Bill - Where's the Pupeseria? Is there a sign...? What's it next to?

Also, I couldn't find any info on the city web site about the facade program. Any suggestions on who to call?

Sprout said...

PS I forgot to answer your question - Sorry, we don't deliver to Leominster, just Worcester and one town out.

There used to be decent florist in Sterling...Lilacs, but I don't know them any more.