Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why Density? Well This Is Why.

I had a good albeit trying evening out in Worcester on Wednesday night. After bringing the car to Lou's Custom Exhaust on Harding St Tuesday morning my car no longer sounds like a heavy duty front end loader so I don't mind driving it around town. If you haven't heard of these guys what they do is pretty cool. They are able to do everything for a cheaper price then the competition because they manufacture all their exhaust systems on site. I sat and watched as they custom cut all the pipes for my car right in their shop. Pretty neat.

For entertaining/movie watching purposes I am in the hunt for a new TV. Being as I like to give the local folks my dollar first I went over to Percy's on Gold Star to see what they could offer.


Percy's is only open until 6pm on weekdays so obviously they do a brisk housewife business. Good for them. Odds are I won't be back. What ridiculous hours for a retail store to keep. I mean open a little later and close a little later, you know?

From there I hit up Best Buy in the Greendale Mall and then swung over to the Shoppes at Blackstone in Millbury to price out TV's at the soon to be an eye sore Circuit City and Target. 8 minutes from the Greendale Mall to The Shoppes. Not bad.

After that it was back into the city for something to eat. I drove back into Worcester via 146 and took a right onto "Olde" Millbury St and into the Canal District. I briefly though about Baja Grill but decided to keep going to see what captured my interest. I drove across Kelley Sq and down Water St seeing the fairly new Cavo Doro which used to be the old Club Car. I figured I would stop in and see what the food there was all about.


Per the bartender the kitchen is closed for a little while because it wasn't doing so well. Really? You've only been open for how long and you are already drastically altering your business model. Most people I know probably don't even know you exist. Wow.

I parked on Harding St so instead of getting back in my car I decided to try another place I have yet to go to, Roma Pizzeria. Roma is a restaurant that has opened over the past year that is brought to you by the same folks who ran Primo's on Shrewbury St and The Restaurant at Union Station. Dude makes good food and Roma is no exception. Brick oven style pizza with fresh toppings and a sauce that was a little chunky which was nice. Will I be back? Well here is where we get to the title of the post. I know, it took a while.

As I am sitting at my table looking out onto Harding St I am struck by a couple things. The first is that Roma has four, maybe five, parking spots of their own. Second I think about how many people are actually living right here. There's the newly redone apartments directly upstairs from the restaurant, which actually probably give them a little bit of business and there are a few people living over on Water St across from Blu. Other than that, everyone who comes to Roma has to go out of their way to go there. Wait through a bunch of traffic signals, deal with city traffic, find a parking spot. So again I ask, will I be back?

I live right Downtown so yes, I will be back. It's right around the corner, and especially when the weather turns it will be no big deal to walk down there. If I lived over on the Westside though would this pizza be good enough to sit through 15 red lights on my way here? Probably not. That is nothing against Roma though. Fact is the pizza here is probably better than 90% of the pizza you'll get in Worcester. But here is where the problem of neighborhood density comes in and the dirty little secret of why so many folks probably consider opening a storefront in the urban core of Worcester to be such a losing proposition.

If you are going to open a new retail, food, or bar business in Urban Worcester you better be good. You better be really good. Destination good. You can't afford to be anything less. Most of your potential clientele doesn't live right around the corner. Most of them are going to have to get in their car, circle the neighborhood a few times to find a parking spot, walk a couple blocks, maybe obtain a designated driver or a cab. Long story short they are going to have to go out of their way.

Odds are your business isn't going to be this way though. It's not going to be a destination. Odds are if you know what you are doing it's just going to be pretty good, AND THERE ISN'T ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT AND IN A CITY THE SIZE OF WORCESTER THIS SHOULD BE ENOUGH TO KEEP YOU IN BUSINESS.

There are probably close to 100 stores, restaurants, bars and specialty shops in the city that are pretty good with varying levels of success. It's the lack of success of the good "neighborhoody" type places though that gets me down. Take a bar like The Greyhound in Kelley Sq which is a great neighborhood bar. Aside from the Scotch selection (which in my opinion has no equal inside the city limits) there is nothing to really draw you to the Greyhound. Fill the Canal District with 40 or younger urban minded professionals though and I would lay money on the Greyhound maybe not being packed, but doing a very good, very steady business. Same with Roma, same with Baja Grill.

The sad part about Urban Worcester though is that we aren't just losing our best and brightest college graduates, we are also losing our best and brightest entrepreneurs, whether due to losing their shirts simply for not being able to open a 5 star establishment, or due to them seeing the writing on the wall and choosing to go elsewhere with their ideas.


I ended my night with a couple of ciders at a couple of bars. First off I headed over to Nick's on "Olde" Millbury St and bought a Strongbow from Mr. Chip O'Connor and grabbed a seat in the back of the room to listen to Hat On Drinking Wine for a bit. They advertised this as being a full band show however they sounded a bit thin without a bass player. I did enjoy their laid back brand of Americana while I was there though. A few times they straid a little to close to Counting Crows territory for my tastes but they never fully went there so that was cool. They play over at Nick's every Wednesday night from 8-11 and are worth checking out.

I then went up to see my man Paul Curley at the Greyhound for a pint of draft Magner's and some impassioned Canal District themed conversation with some familiar faces. I love The Greyhound.

So a very thought provoking Wednesday night in the Woo.


Sprout said...

Oh, oh, I have so much to say on this and no time! You are so right! The only way to get people to tolerate negative conditions (15 traffic lights, no parking, etc.) is to be a destination.

Off the top of my head, I can only think of one business that is consistantly that kind of destination - Ed Hyder's - and I wonder if that would still be true if he didn't have decent parking.

The old Tatnuck Bookseller was a destination, although in my opinion nothing fabulous. People seemed to crave the community meeting place it became, even as they went to Amazon for their books.

I constantly hear complaints about parking near my shop, "I was going to come last week, but I couldn't get a space". There are 6 meters, 11 if you count the other side of the road, but folks won't park even one block away and walk, even in good weather. Ridiculous! You'd be greatful to park a block away in any other city.

My wish for the city - two consecutive blocks with contiguous retail on both sides of the road, with a municipal lot nearby. I would LOVE to be sandwiched with other retail, but I'm hard pressed to think of a place where this can exist in Worcester.

I have so much more to say, but gotta go sell some flowers!

James O'Brien said...

As soon as you scribble the words
urban core" into a blog entry, it's time to give thought to City Council. You have an a sizable social circle in the city, you can write and communicate about city issues with apparent skill, and you seem to love the place. This may be your calling.

Gabe said...

How come Worcester can't get guys like James O'Brien?

Gabe said...

Hey Sprout, I agree about the two blocks of retail. It can exist in the Canal District, but it would take a large makeover.

Water and Harding could have this, Especially between Harrison and Kelley Sq.

Weird how the city is laid out huh? Strange how in a city this large you really can't come up with a place where a couple blocks of retail could actually happen.

By the way... I see your 2 blocks of retail and raise you 2 or 3 floors of residential above that two blocks of retail.

I would be a happy camper.

Heather B said...

Hi Gabe, this is perhaps a random place to mention it, but the subject matter seems appropriate. I wanted to let you and your readers know (if you have not heard) about the recent filing of a gateway cities economic development bill that would include Worcester. I wrote yesterday about it, including the text of the bill.

Anonymous said...

Gabe,your so right on the money 'bout that Greyhound Pub,what a nice' friendly neighourly bar,forget about it!! Andy