The Challenges of Newbury Street
In response to Ms. Treffeisen’s article in the April 20th edition of the Boston Sun, I would like to
offer the following:
As one of the major Landlords on Newbury we, and more importantly, our retailers, certainly face challenges in doing business on Newbury Street. Many of these challenges are beyond our control, but others, like the negative tone and inaccuracies of the article can be addressed with some research and facts.
Newbury Street is Boston’s premier retail experience. It has evolved over time despite abundant obstacles. We are in a historic district with unconventional entrances to many buildings requiring customers to walk up or walk down stairs to access the space. Retailers prefer a simple, street level entrance. We have strict architectural guidelines regarding signage and making any changes to these exterior storefronts, the two areas where the retailers need is the greatest. What may seem like simple solutions to access the lower level retail space directly, rather than entering on the side of a stairway, are prohibited. The Back Bay Architectural Commission has been excellent to work with, but they too are restricted by these guidelines.
We have a neighborhood association where the voices of a few, entrenched, members are heard over the changing, trending younger, population of the neighborhood. They vote to oppose, or to not oppose an applicant…the option to “support” is not even an option. They oppose new food uses on the sunny side of Newbury Street and the addition of any new liquor licenses on the street with blanket positions. Food is one of the only areas of retail that is growing and adds to the experience of shopping on Newbury Street. It can be a part of the evolution of Newbury Street, but all users are grouped into a single “oppose” position, rather than being evaluated by their merits.
In my opinion, we have an “advocate” in The Newbury Street League with leadership that doesn’t understand how retail evolves over time, doesn’t listen to its membership, and opposes fresh, creative approaches to addressing Newbury Street’s opportunities. Is it a wonder why the three largest Landlords, who in combination own over 25% of the properties on the street, have resigned their membership in the organization? We have a Back Bay Association, that is business focused, open to change and has the resources to help The Newbury Street League but is turned way by the Newbury Street League’s outdated leadership over a territorial dispute.
We have a city, that has raised real estate taxes on Newbury Street dramatically over the past three years and now has raised parking rates on the street. Our retailers are being hit from all directions, higher taxes, higher labor costs, higher benefit costs, e-commerce, and now some of their customers must absorb more expense to simply visit the store. It is not our growth that is being sacrificed over the growth of the Seaport, Fenway and other neighborhoods, it is our survival that will be sacrificed. Fortunately, we have Mayor Walsh, who is open to listening to our issues and a team that is working to help the street evolve…although they face many of the obstacles mentioned above.
We have absentee Landlord’s on the street, focusing only on filling a space with a viable retailer that pays their rent, rather than curating that retail space to enhance the merchandising mix on the street, and the consumer’s changing needs. Or we have individual Landlords that own a single property or two and care simply about collecting the rent and not the use of the space.
We have two dominant, climate controlled malls in the neighborhood. These malls are owned by national Landlords who are the best in their industry, with national relationships and the deep pockets to choose the retailers they want and curate the retail in any manner that they choose. They are free of the physical, architectural and neighborhood obstacles discussed above.
Finally, we have a press that focuses on the negative side of the story whenever possible, even at the expense of the truth. There are approximately 336 retail stores on Newbury Street, with approximately 30 vacancies, an occupancy rate of over 90%, which in today’s retail climate is exceptional. 10 of the stores declared “vacant” in the article are either leased and under construction, or are already occupied. The author of the article simply used a “For Lease” sign as their indicator of vacancy, without noticing if that sign applied to the office space above, rather than the retail space. When I was interviewed for the article, the tone and conclusion of the article was predetermined, despite my offer of additional data. Our retailers don’t need and shouldn’t tolerate the additional burden of overcoming this negative perception that is certainly not reality.
Despite all of this, Newbury Street endures and continues to evolve. It is a testament to visionary retailers, the strong economic demographics of Boston, and to the consumers seeking a special experience. The street has no political views, it has no social views, it is intended to be enjoyed by all and to contribute to life in Boston for residents, employees of businesses and for tourists.
What is our vision for Newbury Street? We seek retailers that will be on Newbury Street and their next closest store should be in New York City. We are the anti-mall. We want the Newbury shopping experience to be memorable, distinct, and have some element for everyone. It is not about luxury, it is not about discount, or anything in between. It is about something for everyone, from shopping, window shopping, strolling, or simply watching it all while enjoying a cup of coffee. Newbury Street is not for all retailers and all retailers are not for Newbury Street. We seek a blend of the local retailer with the sound business plan and the national retailer who is opening a single location in the area. Experience Alice+Olivia and Arche at 166 Newbury, Barbour at 79 Newbury, Daniel Wellington at 211 Newbury, and Patagonia at 346 Newbury for examples of this. Welcome Suit Supply, a 10,000 sf international retailer to 240A Newbury late this year for an experience not found in Boston.
We are local Landlords and we live in the neighborhood. We see our buildings and our retailers on a daily basis. The majority of our investors are not millionaires or billionaires, but are pension fund stakeholders seeking a return that exceeds what is offered by banks. We do not seek tax breaks or special treatment when we re-develop properties. We simply seek a level playing field and unbiased, fair treatment by all of the interested parties.
Engaging retail for engaging retailers…please remember that as you watch Newbury Street evolve. You will hear more about this very soon.
Mike Jammen Back Bay Resident Principal UrbanMeritage, LLC