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Tools for Preserving Locally Owned Businesses

Special to Union Square Main Streets by Emily Tulman

With the expansion of the MBTA’s Green Line into Union Square we can expect increased pedestrian activity and new development in the neighborhood.

These changes offer opportunities and challenges for locally-0wned retailers. New developments tend to attract corporate-owned or chain businesses because new construction properties generally command higher rents and because corporate-owned developers typically prefer businesses that are well-established and, therefore, a safer bet.  Throughout the square, even among existing retail spaces, rents are expected to increase with both the increased foot traffic and neighborhood improvements.  High occupancy costs and the willingness to engage with less well-capitalized business owners are significant barriers for local entrepreneurs.

When locally owned businesses thrive, the benefits extend far beyond that individual business owner. On average, more than half of every one hundred dollars spent in a locally owned establishment is reinvested in the local economy — in local business services, supplies, taxes, wages, and community involvement. A national or non-local business generally outsources more businesses services and supplies, resulting in only a quarter to a third of those same 100 dollars reinvested locally. There are other benefits; studies have shown that small stores and restaurants have a better rate of employee retention and promote greater income growth across the community than formula businesses, which often have a net negative impact on average income and employment. A local store or small business is more likely to sponsor local events and be connected with the needs of the community.

With such significant community benefits, how can we bolster locally owned, independent businesses in Union Square, both those currently in the neighborhood and for future generations?

While it’s been determined that laws outwardly favoring local businesses over national or out-of-state ones are not allowed, it is still possible to enact policies that give local and independent entrepreneurs a fair chance to succeed alongside their larger, non-local competitors. One policy that other communities have successfully employed is a formula business ordinance, a legal measure that controls if, how, and how many formula stores or restaurants can open in a certain area.

A formula business or restaurant is defined as either part of a large chain, offering the same merchandise or menu, or by standardized services, methods, décor, and other identical features. A formula business ordinance is a policy, usually a local zoning policy, that controls if, how, and how many formula stores or restaurants can open in a certain area. They can be completely banned, limited in number, or submitted for approval on a case-by-case basis. The law can also apply only to a specific area rather than an entire district, or distinguish between retail and restaurant, and have different rules for each.

Five towns in Massachusetts already have this type of bylaw in place, either completely banning or restricting formula businesses: Provincetown, Chatham, Nantucket, Dennis, and Barnstable. Formula businesses are completely banned in Nantucket, while Dennis and Barnstable banned them only in certain locations, and Provincetown requires each one to apply for a special permit, to be given on a case by case basis. In other parts of the country, some cities have banned only formula retail, or fast food restaurants, or limited formula businesses to a percentage of total businesses, or to a certain total number.

This type of ordinance does not technically distinguish between local and non-local, but rather between independent business owners and larger companies. The result is that local businesses are still able to open and thrive alongside new developments, including some number of formula businesses. Therefore, it serves a legally sound public purpose: to protect Union Square’s unique character, to promote economic vitality by creating good opportunities for independent entrepreneurs and keeping the businesses community diverse, and to make sure that the commercial district continues to serve the basic needs of the surrounding neighborhood, not only the new non-local foot traffic.

In Somerville, a proposed zoning ordinance would go through the Planning Board, part of the Planning and Zoning division of the OSPCD (Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development). The Planning Board holds public hearings and makes recommendations to the Board of Aldermen, who are elected by the community every two years (odd-numbered years) to represent specific wards or Somerville at-large. The Board of Aldermen would ultimately vote to pass or fail the measure.

Interested in learning more? The Institute for Local Self Reliance has some great resources. 


Like a Crocus, Pop-Up Events in Union Square

This weekend, over at Kitchen Inc on March 28th is a six course dinner and wine pairing from guest award winning chef from Rome (and Dublin, Ireland) Marco Roccasalvo. Saturday, March 28th the shared commercial kitchen will be home to a Pop-up Donut and Gelato retail  at 11am. 
Next weekend, April 5 and 6, Fringe Union hosts a pop-up for Eat Boutique, showcasing select items from the Eat Boutique webstore as well as some exclusive items for the event. Along with the market will be a book signing by the creator of, and the Foret ladies will be doing a floral design workshop on Saturday afternoon.
For details on the Eat Boutique event and the Foret workshop.

Bantam Cider Tap Room Now Open in Union Square

From Bantam Cider

Inside the Bantam Tap Room. Photo by Boston Magazine.

Bantam Cider Company’s Tap Room is now officially open for business. The Tap Room located at 40 Merriam Street in Union Square, Somerville will be open Thursdays and Fridays from 4pm – 7pm and on Saturday from 1pm – 7pm. Customers will be able to purchase a flight of five ciders or full-sized pours. Bottles and Bantam gear will also be for sale.

The new Tap Room will feature 8 taps showcasing Bantam’s flagship ciders such as Wunderkind and Rojo but will also include new and experimental creations including barrel aged, wild fermented, spiced and sour varietals. The Tap Room is located within the footprint of Bantam’s production facility. It resides in what was once the home of the White Rose Baking Company that provided bread and pastries to servicemen during World War II. Through Bantam’s cider production in this historic building, it remains true to its industrial heritage, with large open volumes of exposed concrete and steel offering a view of the cidermaking process.

With the support of the local business community, Bantam Cider Company chose the burgeoning Union Square as the location for its new facility. “We’re so thrilled to have Bantam Cider join the cluster of exceptional food producers in Union Square” says Mimi Graney of Union Square Main Streets. Co-founder Michelle da Silva, a long time Somerville resident, grew up in the house immediately across the street and feels at home in the neighborhood. “We couldn’t be more excited to be in Union Square – and since I lived here as a child, it makes this that much more special,” explains da Silva. “Our Tap Room will offer customers a more personal interaction with Bantam Cider, our process and the products we’re making – it’s not only going to be fun but will be a great way for us talk directly to consumers and to be in touch with what the market is looking for.”

Bantam Cider is distributed throughout the state by the Massachusetts Beverage Alliance: “We are so excited for Michelle and Dana to be opening their Tap Room facility in Somerville. We realize that having a place for the consumers and fans of craft breweries and cideries to go and connect with the people behind the liquid is an important selling tool. Having a facility that is local to our market means greater brand exposure for Bantam Cider and will help all of us long term growing our respective businesses.” Brian Murphy, Director of Sales and Marketing for the Massachusetts Beverage Alliance.

 About Bantam Cider Company

The Bantam Cider Company is a privately held craft cidery dedicated to making unique and distinctive cider from local fruit and premium quality ingredients. Founded in 2012 by Michelle da Silva and Dana Masterpolo and developed in partnership with local orchards in Massachusetts, the company aims to change the way people experience cider. Bantam Cider Company currently has four commercially available products: Wunderkind, Rojo, La Grande and Smoked Saison. 

Photo by Edible Boston.

Festival in Union Square by the Somerville Arts Council

Fire & Ice: A Winter Festival in Union Square
presented as part of the Somerville Arts Council’s ArtsUnion
Saturday, March 1, 2014 – 3:00 PM – 6:00 PM
Fire spinners, ice sculpting, and family-fun activites abound!

Tired of snow? Wishing winter lasted even longer? Whether you love this season or not come celebrate being cold and getting warm at Fire & Ice!

Keep warm as professional fire spinners A Different Spin take the stage outdoors in Union Square Plaza. Keeping you entertained throughout watch Don Chappelle of Brilliant Ice Sculptures, the same ice sculptor of First Night Boston, demonstrate his craft on two blocks of ice!

There will also be specials in restaurants and food being sold out in the square as well as kids craft activities. Don’t miss Black Magic Coffee selling their brew outdoors! Also the Frozen Hoagie food truck will show up to sell ice cream to those who want to chill out. Restaurants doing deals in their business include: Casa B selling three different soups to keep you warm: sancocho, lentil soup , caldo gallego; Ebi Sushi making their spicy Volcano Roll the special for the night; A mescal cocktail called “Fire Walk With Me” at the Independent (in duel honor of Twin Peaks week and Fire & Ice); and a special TBA from El Potro Mexican Grill!

Also if you have kids you’ll enjoy participating in some fun winter activities! This includes ice bowling, sand art by SVB, and a recycled lava lamp craft sponsored by Next Step Living Inc.

Leaps in Assessed Values Tell Varied Stories for Union Square Properties

MapThe City of Somerville recently data on the City’s Key Systems Indicators.  Most interesting for Union Square Main Streets was the change in assessed values for commercial properties in the neighborhood.

The City explains, “This map shows the average growth in the assessed value for each parcel in the City. Dark red parcels tend to either be newly developed commercial properties, or parcels where the owners made significant improvements. White parcels indicate negative or zero growth (or in a few cases, missing data). “

While the increase in assessed values is nearly universal across the city, there’s some areas showing a higher than average increase in value.  What story is this map telling about changes in Union Square?
BronwynThe black arrow highlighting this dark parcel shows the property were Bronwyn restaurant is today. The increased assessed value represents the significant renovations by new business as they invested in the building.

Wagner JewelryPointed out here, Wagner Jewelers is a long standing Union Square business that expanded this past year. As part of the expansion, the retailer maintains their entrance and added an accessible entrance on Bow Street.  A significant renovation is clear to see here.


It’s not as clear why this parcel has increased in assessed value.  It’s the playground atop Prospect Hill.  It’s city-owned property so assessing for tax purposes wouldn’t properly apply here so this may be an error.  But why a different rate of change for the playground and not for the rest of the park with Prospect Hill Tower?  The playground was renovated a few years ago.   While the increase in values are for rate of change between 2013 and 2014 its important to note that properties are up for a more detailed reassessment every five years.  Those much appreciated improvements to the park would be reflected in that increase in value.


There’s a couple properties where it’s more challenging to see why a property might have increased in value.  Citizens Bank + Reliable Market

This arrow shows the property with the Citizens Bank and Reliable Market.  Both of those businesses did some very modest improvements this past year. They were also added to the Union Square Revitalization Plan.

181 Washington (1)The properties at 181 and 197 Washington Street, marked here, increased in value. The buildings on the sites were approved for demolition.  Applications to build on the properties were approved by the City but are currently under appeal from abutters.

Future Greenline Allen St

The future Green Line station undoubtedly is having an impact on nearby properties.  This one on the end of Allen Street saw a big jump in value, despite being mostly a vacant lot with a low commercial building on it.  The property is in the Union Square CCD-55 — so while that adds value isn’t not as significant as the CCD-70 immediately beside it facing Prospect Street.  It was however one of the properties included in the D-2 block as one to be acquired under the Union Square Revitalization Plan.

Mike's AutoThe changes on this block, from Dunkin Donuts to Mama Gina’s, tell a more complicated story.  The darkest band on the right is where Ebu Sushi’s improvements inside and out added some value, moving from an assessed value in 2012 of $533,800 to $885,300 in 2014.

However,  the quality of the structures on these parcels are such that the typical downtown model is reversed – the land value here is greater than the value of the buildings.   This block, referred to as D-6, is part of the Union Square Revitalization Plan, and the coming of the Green Line and the opportunity for redevelopment are changing the profile here.

Several of these properties have changed hands this past year.  For example, Mike’s Auto at 1 Union Square (also listed as 298 Somerville Ave) was sold for $2 million. Back in 2012 it was assessed for $774,700.  After the sale the property was assessed this year at $1 million.  9 Union Square, where the Chinese Take Out is, has had no investment in the building itself, the value still grew from $1.125M in 2012 to $1.575 in 2014 as the property sold and the land increased in value.



Union Square Farmers Market Now Accepting Applications

veggieswithsmileThe Union Square Farmers Market is now accepting applications for the 2014 season.

Our standard season runs every Saturday from 9 am to 1 pm, June 7 through November 22, and this year we’re excited to offer an extended season for three weeks in May, beginning May 17.

Union Square Main Streets manages this market to support a culture of healthy eating and active living, to nurture local food based businesses and the identity of Union Square as a dynamic food destination, and to increase pedestrian activity that advance the brick and mortar businesses here in the neighborhood.

2014 marks our 9th year on the plaza. The gathering of local food producers is a vital and vibrant neighborhood tradition.  Last year 45 vendors offered a variety of fresh vegetables and fruit, meat and cheese, as well as specialty items.

Returning vendors are giving priority and their deadline is February 28, 2014. The deadline for new vendors and first selection of guest vendors is March 15, 2014.

Vendors can apply for a 10 x 10 for the season, for a half booth or as a guest vendor.

Applications accepted through ManageMyMarket’s on-line portal.  Follow this link to apply:

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