‘Open Newbury’ Draws Mixed Reaction from Business Community

By Dan Murphy

The city’s decision to shut down Newbury Street to vehicular traffic on Sunday, Aug. 7, is drawing mixed reactions from the Back Bay’s business community, with some representatives steadfast against the idea and others enthusiastically embracing this first-time initiative.

From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., “Open Newbury Street” will transform the full width of the street from Berkeley Street to Massachusetts Avenue into a pedestrian-only walkway. Parking will be restricted beginning at 8 a.m., with signs posted to inform drivers of the change, according to a press release.

Michele Messino, executive director of the Newbury Street League, said a recent survey showed that 82 percent of its membership is opposed to the idea, however.

“We’re looking for the city to help direct retail shoppers into the neighborhood to spend money, and this type of activity has typically attracted browers not spenders,” Messino said. “We’re really scratching our heads as to why the mayor is moving forward with this.”

In contrast, Meg Mainzer-Cohen, the Back Bay Association’s president and executive director, welcomes the initiative.

“We are encouraging our members and Newbury Street businesses to use the opportunity to gain new customers and brand exposure by offering promotions, hosting activities and/or presenting a special event,” Mainzer-Cohen wrote in an e-mail. “We are so pleased that Mayor Walsh and his team are here to support businesses toward ensuring the success of the day. Over the past few years, there has been an increased desire to experience public spaces in new ways; Newbury Street businesses can benefit from that.”

Jacob Wessel, Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s liaison to the Back Bay, said the event is the result of long-term internal dialogue with city officials, as well as extensive discussions with business owners and other stakeholders.

“We have engaged with almost all the businesses on the street in some fashion, and have heard a lot of great feedback on the event, but we understand there’s a mixed reaction from some businesses,” Wessel said. “We realize it could create difficulties for some types of businesses, while others that thrive on foot traffic and have a large presence at the street level are excited by the prospect of attracting new customers and using the event to promote their brands.”

Wessel added, “This is a one-day event that is just a trial to see how this type of pedestrian activation will change the landscape on the street, and we’re eager to find out its economic impact.”

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