As businesses begin to reopen across the city for remote fulfillment and curbside pickup, organizations like the Neighborhood Association of the back Bay (NABB) have begun to think about how other factors of reopening might affect these businesses, particularly on Newbury and Boylston Streets.
“We at NABB don’t know what’s going to happen,” said NABB Chairman Martyn Roetter. Some people have questions about what might happen to some of the stores that have shut, and Roetter said that trying to predict what might happen is a “futile exercise.”
He said that a better way to think is “about what we might like to happen. How can we get it to be what the new normal is? We cannot go back to exactly the way things were.”
Roetter said that “interrelated issues” such as how many people will be coming into urban areas to work in offices and other spaces, particularly those who have successfully been able to work from home, will have an impact on how many people will visit businesses on streets like Newbury St.
“Will they come back into offices as frequently as they did before? Will they stay at home? Will hours and days be staggered?” Roetter said. “If the number of people commuting in and out on a daily basis changes, it will have an impact on restaurants and retail outlets in the downtown area.”
He also said that the number of people coming in and out of the city could have an effect on traffic and the capacity of public transit. “If people are understandably nervous about getting onto public transport, will there be more vehicles coming into town than before?”
Mayor Walsh has said over the past couple of weeks that he is looking into extending sidewalks in certain areas of the city so restaurants would have more room to socially distance patrons.
“It’s tricky on Newbury St.,” Roetter said. He said that NABB does not have “any definitive position” on this, but it’s “something we’re aware of.”
Something else NABB has been thinking about are the buildings on Newbury St. and what will happen should a retail store or restaurant go out of business due to the pandemic.
“What do you do with the space?” Roetter said. “It’s possible to convert it into residential.” He said that because Newbury St. is zoned for both retail and residential, this “might be a good idea to alleviate some of the housing shortage.”
He stressed that NABB is “not intending to predict” how anything will turn out in the neighborhood or across the city, but the organization has “just become increasingly aware of the difficult nature [of the situation] and decisions we’re going to have to make as we move out of the COVID-19 crisis.”
He said that NABB is working on thinking through what they might like to see happen and “see what steps we might be able to think of to help us avoid continuation of the worst possible situation.”
He said that NABB has been working with the business community on ways the organization can help support them. “We realize that if the business community in the Back Bay is in trouble, that does not bode well for residents,” Roetter said. He said NABB is thinking of ways they could possibly stimulate local buying in the community to help support some of the businesses that might have trouble getting back on their feet.
“Up to now, we’ve been pointing out which businesses and restaurants are open for curbside pickup,” Roetter added.
Roetter said that NABB continues to be a part of the conversation by meeting virtually as an organization, as well as participating in City and other community meetings that affect the Back Bay by attending meetings and submitting comments on project proposals.