Darryl Settles: The Man Behind the Beantown Jazz Festival

With the Beantown Jazz Festival coming up next week, I though it appropriate to post a profile I did about a year ago on Darryl Settles, a Boston restaurateur and the man who created the festival we in the South End have come to enjoy…

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Once a year, the rather tucked back street of Columbus Avenue is transformed into a sanctuary for lovers of jazz. Floating saxophone, smooth trumpet, and a chorus of silky voices come together in a celebration called the Beantown Jazz Festival. And it’s all thanks to the genius and generosity of a man named Darryl Settles.

There are, perhaps, only a few more well known men on the Boston social and music scene than Darryl Settles.  A grinding business man with a heart for philanthropy, his interests have developed into many ventures over the years, but they all converge on one: jazz.

Settles, the tall and lean 50 year old African American business man and the owner of Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen on Columbus Avenue, in the South End, is a man that has woven a rather intricate web of connections and business ventures over the years.

“He’s an entrepreneur of the highest level, I think,” said Rob Ross, a Berklee College of Music professor. Ross is also the director of Settles’ brain child, the annual Beantown Jazz Festival. “He’s very good at what he does. In business, he’s always looking for new ways to bring people what they want. I think of Darryl as an entertainer, really.”

In addition to Darryl’s Corner Bar and the Beantown Jazz Festival, Settles has and remains involved in real estate ventures and businesses across the city of Boston. He is a man who has seen both sides of business, the ruthless and the caring side, and come out on top.

Born to Rebecca and David Settles in Aiken, South Carolina in 1962, Settles grew up around music. His father, who owned nightclubs with live music, introduced him at an early age.

“I’ve always loved music,” he said. “I would say I was probably an older soul. I was very mature for my age.”

Settles stayed in South Carolina through high school, working on his grandfathers farm, then went to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville to study engineering. After graduation, he attended graduate school at Virginia Tech, then went to pursue a career in Boston.

Settles came to the city with Digital Equipment Corporation, hired as a salesperson, which he did for a year and a half, before moving to marketing. In marketing, Settles began to see the true side of business.

“I think every business has a niche..I have always said that Boston is a great area for college age kids, because you could literally go to a different bar every night of a school year if you wanted to, and you would only see people, forget the underage kids, between the ages of 21 to 35. Very rarely do you see people in their forties. You might see them in the restaurant but we don’t have any lounges or bars that cater to them, and that’s a market that was wide open for someone to take advantage of.”

That’s exactly what Settles did. He was striving for more, more money and more success, so he started doing development with a partner, developing condos, and the broker told him that a restaurant that had gone into bankruptcy was available as a steal.

“I got into it by accident,” he said. “It wasn’t a plan, it was an opportunity that presented itself that I latched onto.”

The building, located on Columbus Avenue right off of Massachusetts Avenue, was the perfect place for Settles to develop the niche market he had seen available. Bob the Chef’s emerged, and it was where Settles would remain for 18 years. The name would change over the years, to Bob the Chef’s Jazz Café, then to Bob’s Southern Bistro, but the concept did not.

“When I worked with Digital as a sales person for seven years, I did a lot of entertaining with clients, and I used to take them out all the time, taking them to jazz clubs. There was this hotel called Turner Fisheries and, I just fell in love with it. And around the same time, or the year after, I bought Bob the Chef’s in 1990, a new general manager took over the hotel and got rid of the live entertainment. And that was the really the only place in the city that was jam packed, every night of the week with a mature audience, older people in their mid-thirties and up, and so I wanted to create that, and I did.”

After remaining on Columbus for a long while, Settles decided to move forward. He developed The Beehive, another live entertainment restaurant, with two partners, on one of the busiest blocks of the city.

“Beehive was really the concept of Bob the Chef’s or Bob’s southern Bistro but more of a bar scene,” Settles said. The building, located on the Boston Center for the Arts property, was “prime property for a boston night life,” as Settles told the BCA’s executive director.

“BCA was really at the heart of the city, it’s like right in the center of everything. And that notion turned out to be very true,” Settles said. “It is one block, the busiest block in the South End and probably one of the busiest in the Back Bay also. It’s a very very busy block.”

The Beehive thrived for several years, until the partnership went south. Settles and another partner, Jack Bardy, butted heads, effectively ending the relationship and Settles’ involvement with the restaurant he had helped to create.

“It was my concept,” Settles said, “and at the end of the day, I was bought out. I will say that I’ve been involved in a lot of partnerships, and it’s the only one that did not go well. And the lesson learned is that the people in this world are bad people; and my ex-partners are bad people.”

Bardy, had no comment other than “I’m not really interested in having this discussion. I really don’t have any comment.”

“After working with them for a while, he started to realize they were not the people that he thought they were. They were not people of integrity, they were just not who he thought they were. He would try his hardest to have meetings with them to work things out, as far as what he saw that was going on with the restaurant and what they were doing,” Settles’ close friend and bookkeeper Liz Falzone said, describing how Settles was pushed and eventually bought out. “It was very hard on him, he tried really hard to take it in stride, you know In some ways it made him a little more cynical of people, and then in other ways it made him stronger as a person. Sometimes you go through things like that and you come out stronger. But it was very unfair.”

Settles had sold Bob the Chef’s when he opened Beehive, but still owned the building, and when two other restaurants faltered and vacated the building, Settles decided to try again. He opened Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen, a restaurant that would make Settles the institution he is today in the South End.

“It’s more upscale now, it’s more of a bar scene, and this place is open for dinner only where bobs was lunch and dinner,” Settles said. “We’re aiming towards more money, more revenue, more profits.”

Darryl’s turned Settles into the true entrepreneur and socialite he has become. Described by his friends as a caring generous guy who loves to entertain, Settles makes an impression.

“He is a very loyal friend. He’s somebody who would do anything for you. He would have your back, he would come to your rescue, and he loves to get  people together,” Falzone said. “He would invite ten couples to go for dinner, he just calls you up and says we’re doing this, can you come and he loves to get people together, he loves to be around his friends.”

“I like to have fun,” Settles said.

With a successful restaurant and a other successful business opportunities in real estate under his belt under his self-owned managing company, D’Ventures Limited, Settles decided to give back to the community. He began the Beantown Jazz Festival, an annual all day event for all ages along Columbus that highlights jazz and local music scenes.

“I used to travel a lot to the New Orleans jazz festival, and then I got hipped into the Montreal jazz festival about 15 years ago. The first year, coming from there I said wow, why  can’t we do that in the city of Boston? I went to the mayor had a conversation and he said sure why not? But it wasn’t that simple.” He said with a laugh. “It literally took about a year of planning, and then in a year and a half to raise the money to do it, because it’s not an inexpensive proposition to operate. In the first year, it was successful, but it just continued to grow.”

The festival was taken over by the Berklee College of Music at the end of 2007, and Settles is pleased with the work they’ve done.

“It was a concept Darryl had had, and he wanted to bring that as a give back and a thank you to the entire South End neighborhood,” Berklee director Rob Ross said. “He’s a very interesting guy. He’s a very creative guy and even though music is a very creative business, there are parts of the business that aren’t so creative, but I think Darryl does his best to put creativity and be creative in those aspects.”

“One of the good things about Boston is we have so many music schools around here. And there are so many musicians…you know it’s hard to make money in music. So a lot of people go to music school, and a large percent don’t graduate, and those who do graduate actually can’t make money so they stay in the city because they love Boston and they develop groups here,” Settles said. “We’re fortunate enough to have a lot of musicians that live here.”

 

In addition to the festival, Settles has found other ways to give back. In coalition with the Winn Real Estate Company, Settles created WiSe Urban Development in 2010, devising ways to make more affordable housing in urban areas, particularly low-income.

“He cares deeply about his community,” Falzone said. He does a lot, feeds homeless with food from the restaurant, and is always trying to figure out how to make things better for people. He’s very well liked and very well known.”

Falzone and Ross, both who have known Settles for at least 15 years, agree with his self-label as an old soul, but say he is also an great family man, and a great friend. Settles married in 2003, and has a daughter who is seven and a son who is five.

“He’s somebody that’s maybe a little more old fashioned, in his morals and values, and I see that in his children, he’s very loving, he’s very caring and he’s very hands on, but he also expects certain things of them,” Falzone said. “They’re just these cute little kids but they need to say excuse me when they leave the table, things like that. He’s very traditional.”

“Darryl’s a very outgoing personality. He cares a lot about what he does and the people he works with and the people he affects. I have a great respect for how he approaches business and a lot of things in life,” Ross said. “Darryl likes the best. He likes to offer the best to people. It’s very important to what Darryl does and who he is. It’s part of him being an entertainer.”

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Talking Boston Burlesque with Ol’ Scratch

From the stages of Cambridge to the big screen in Hollywood, burlesque, a combined theatre, dance and strip tease performance, has made it’s sweeping comeback. Performed as early as the 1860’s, burlesque shows are a fun and raucous treat, and are picking up steam as a popular modern, pastime. The Great Burlesque Exposition, held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Cambridge on April 6 to 8, offers a full weekend of shows, contests and classes, all spearheaded by Alex Newman, known as Ol’ Scratch. Newman is the founding chair of the Exposition and founder of the Boston Babydolls, a nationally renowned burlesque troupe. I spoke with Ol’ Scratch to discuss burlesque, Babydolls, and the outlook on this resurfacing and revamped art form.

How did you get involved in Burlesque?

“I been in theatre all of my life. I’m one of the founders of the Boston Baby Dolls. Oh let’s see, well, some friends and I saw a Burlesque show in London and decided to start one in Boston.”

So, tell me more about the Exposition. What types of shows are being put on?

“The exposition is a whole weekend festival. There are three shows in the evening and each one is different. On Friday night there’s something called the Rhinestone Review which is past years review, invited guests and burlesque legends. Saturday is the main event, it’s a burlesque competition. We name about a half dozen winners in all different categories…Sunday we have the newcomers showcase for performers  that have been performing for two years or less…They mostly do it to be on a national stage and get exposure.”

Who originated the idea of the exposition?

“I did.”

How long has this exposition been going on for?

“Since 2006.”

Do people who come to learn in the classes you offer ever perform?

“Sometimes. A lot of the people who come to the exposition are people who are professional Burlesque Dancers or want to be professional Burlesque Dancers… We always have more people applying than we have time to perform. This year we had over  100 applicants from the United States and Canada, and we can only let about 40 perform.”

So how does the training begin to become a Burlesque Dancer?

“It’s really different things for different people. Burlesque is a mix of dance and theatre. I would recommend people get a mix of stage and theater training…it’s really whatever fits with the person’s own personal style. A lot of dancers are self taught. There is a burlesque school in Boston though, the Boston Academy of Burlesque Education.”

What is the typical costume a Burlesque Dancer would wear?

“Oh, my. It really varies. Well, I’ll tell you about my group…the Boston Baby Dolls wear classic burlesque, American burlesque inspired by the American 1930s 40s and 50s. Very theatrical. A lot of ornaments, a lot of rhinestones and appliqué. The core element of Burlesque is strip tease, so the costumes are designed to come off and come apart easily, but there’s also the word tease, so there are multiple layers and pieces.”

Do people ever find it strange that you’re a man and such a main part of a Burlesque Exposition?

“I get some flak for it every once in awhile. There are a lot of men in burlesque and there always have been. American burlesque is a very theatrical form. The more modern Burlesque is more focused on the strip tease, but there were actors and acrobats and magicians and such. And all of the managers and producers were men. It is and was a fairly evenly divided business, gender wise.”

What do you think of the recent movie, Burlesque, with Cher and Christina Aguilera? Is it an accurate portrayal of the business?

“Heck no.  It was a fun movie, though.”

How has Burlesque and the Exposition affected your life?

“This is what I do. Professionally. This was the bottom line. Now between the Baby Dolls performances and classes that I teach and the exposition it’s a full time job. It’s changed my life a lot.”

What would you say to critics who think that Burlesque is too risqué of a profession?

“I would say they’ve never been to a burlesque show. They’re not under any obligation to like anything that we do. If they don’t like it, don’t come to a show. It’s like if you don’t like spicy food, don’t eat it. If you don’t want to see a show, don’t come.”


Stand-Up Desks, a Healthier Alternative

No one enjoys the mindless desk job, but new studies show that sitting at a desk all day can actually be detrimental to your health. Not just, extra weight on your calves detrimental, but seriously harmful, to the areas of increased risk of heart attack, diabetes, obesity, even cancer and early death. The more one sits, the higher the risk. So what ‘s there to do?

One remedy is the stand-up desk. This alternative office décor piece is exactly what it sounds like: a desk that’s built to comfortably work at while standing. It’s supposed to build leg muscle and increases blood flow and heart and organ function. These healthier model desks are easily purchased as well; a website called www.standupdesks.com offers 21 different models in in more than eight woods and a variety of different storage and finish options, boasting that every desk is “hand crafted to order.”

“When I first started this business I sincerely thought my customer as would be people like me with a bad back but 70 to 80 percent of my customers are people without a bad back, just people that sit all day,” said Jim Gattuso, owner of www.standupdesks.com and CEO of Amish Country Furniture Sales in Akron, OH.

Gattuso came across this niche market when he was working on an eight-part documentary series on Amish furniture making. Spending days sitting and editing video proved to be a problem for Gattuso’s bad back, so he asked one of his subjects to make him a stand-up desk. The man told him he couldn’t make just one, so Gattuso asked for three, deciding to keep two and try and sell the other. The third desk sold within days, and by the end of the week Gattuso had orders from branches of the government and military. His competitive pricing and exceptional handiwork gave him the business edge he needed.

“One unique product that we have that I don’t think anyone else has out there is out architectural drafting table,” Gattuso said, describing one of the 36 different models in thousands of different customizable options available.  “If you go to New York or where some of the top architects are working this is the desk they buy. It’s considered the most beautiful architect drafting table you can buy.”

Standing all day may not sound appealing, but Gattuso assures that in the long run, it is worth it. It builds leg muscle, burns calories, and has shown that people really do think better on their feet.

“[For] 75 percent it’s a supplemental desk; they don’t stand all day long,” Gattuso said. “About 30 percent do stand all day long; they feel less fatigued standing all day than sitting. Blood flow is better so you think better, and you burn more calories.”

Customer testimonials on the website provide evidence of the benefits for non-believers.

“I noticed an immediate increase in my ability to focus on a problem for longer, and with greater clarity,” one such customer said. “When I was blocked by some problem, I was able to just walk away from the desk, whereas before the effort of getting up from my chair often made me prefer to just sit and stew in my frustration.”

“There’s two different people who buy stand-up desks. People who love to stand working and think better on their feet,” Gattuso said. “A lot of my customers are very creative people.”

Using a stand-up desk would put one in the company of greats such as Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill, Thomas Jefferson, even Leonardo Da Vinci, who all chose to forgo sitting. Look at what it did for them.


Fenway’s Restaurant Row Returns

The day anxiously awaited by Fenway residents and food lovers alike is finally close at hand, as clean white patios have replaced the once-charred remains of Peterborough Street’s Restaurant Row. The Row, which burned down in January of 2009, is nearing its return to the neighborhood, with newcomers mixed in with familiar faces.

“This little strip here was a big part of the neighborhood,” said Marty Thornton, owner of Thornton’s Grille. “It’s been sorely missed.”

The first restaurant to open its doors, El Pelon Taqueria, is an authentic Mexican-serving veteran of the Row, with other old neighborhood institutions like Thornton’s Fenway Grille and Rod Dee Thai Cuisine soon to follow. A new Japanese hot pot restaurant, Swish Shabu, is also due to open.

The new Japanese hot pot restaurant, due to open on Restaurant Row, called Swish Shabu

The return of these establishments have been the talk of the town ever since disaster struck, particularly if they would remain the local hangouts they had been, and what  changes, or lack thereof, would mean for the dynamic of the neighborhood.

Seth Gitell, a former writer for the Boston Phoenix, was a Restaurant Row regular. The Phoenix, whose headquarters are only a few blocks from the Row, was a typical hangout for the staff.  Gitell ate there “I would say, a couple of times a week,” he said. “It was a good place to go eat.”

Gitell, who currently works as press secretary for Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo, noted that the destruction caused by the fire was a set-back for both fans of the restaurants and neighborhood business.

“My feeling was they finally had some critical mass. This was a huge setback. Even no longer working in that neighborhood I would come home at night and order takeout.” Gitell said. “I was disappointed for the neighborhood and for the business owners.”

Boylston Street, home to restaurants such as Spike’s Junkyard Dogs and Little Steve’s Pizzeria, grew in the Row’s absence, and poses significant competition to its Fenway counterpart.

“I’m wondering if they’re going to have the interest they had before because that neighborhood has changed, and so has the one next to it,” Gitell said, referring to Boylston.

“I’m glad to hear these restaurants are going to be re-opening, for my own eating purposes and for the neighborhood,” he added. “It’s a great story of rebirth.”

THE “NEW” RESTAURANT ROW

The first thing Steve Chase saw was the smoke.

“I know when I ran over there, there was probably 100 people there at two, three o’clock in the morning, and we were all horrified,” said Chase, a member of the Fenway Civic Association. “It was heartbreaking.”

The four-alarm fire in the early morning hours of January 6, 2009 wiped out the six restaurants that had become an institution and local hangout for the Fenway neighborhood, shocking owners and residents and causing $5 million in damages.

 

            Since then, progress on the Row has been slow. In September of 2010, it still sat structurally untouched, its scorched walls painted over with murals done by schoolchildren. Finally, in November of 2010, building owner Monty Gold announced plans to rebuild at a community meeting, and the slow process began. Signs of true life came through in October of 2011, and now, almost two years later, the restaurants’ return has finally come.

 

The new Restaurant Row comprises eight units, from 84 to 100 Peterborough St. There is room for seven restaurants: Swish Shabu, in a single unit on the left end, El Pelon in the middle with Rod Dee Thai, and Thornton’s, on the right end, which occupies two units combined. There are still three vacant units for restaurants to fill.

“We’re really excited about the new places to open up,” El Pelon employee Carissa Daniels said. “It’s strength in numbers. It’s more of a draw.”

Restaurant owner hopefuls for filling the vacant spaces may be experiencing the same difficulties current tenants ran into from the city, on getting permits and paperwork together in order to reopen. Owners and employees described a nightmare of running from office to office in City Hall, trying to get everything settled and moving forward.
“We’ve been itching to get back there ever since it opened,” Daniels said. “It’s a lot of running around and it’s difficult. Even if it’s just the way things are set up by the city, it was pretty hard for us.”

She described it as a “difficulty in communication,” saying, “it took a lot of man-hours.”

The Boston Inspectional Services Department was unable to be reached.

Boston's City Hall at Government Center

“The city just wants to make sure it’s safe for everyone overall,” William Lee, co-owner of Swish Shabu said.

As long as the process may have taken, residents can barely contain their excitement about the Row’s re-opening and their support for the restaurants. Thornton Daniels and Lee all said that residents and passersby alike ask about the restaurants frequently and about the time frame of their return.

“Everybody’s been really supportive,” Lee said. “Everyday we have neighbors walk by and ask about the progress.”

Though the Row may be “new”, old patrons need not fear that their favorite places have been drastically altered. Marty Thornton assures that his place, Thornton’s, will still be the good old neighborhood place it once was.

“We’re the Cheers. The neighborhood place. Everyone’s welcome, all the time. The college kids are just as welcome as the families,” Thornton said. “If it’s not on the menu, just ask and we’ll make it. We’re going to be the same place, same food, same atmosphere, just newer; better.”

The major changes to Thornton’s have been structural. The bar and grill, which used to be two rooms, have been combined into one, larger, more open room.

“It’s something I always wanted to do,” Thornton said. “I love being back here.”

Customers also report that El Pelon is the same as it used to be: the same affordability, décor and same great food.

“It’s probably in the top Boston burritos. There isn’t much competition,” another El Pelon patron, Avi Gunda, said.

“Good ingredients. The prices haven’t changed much,” El Pelon patron and Boston University grad Luis Sano said. “It’s exactly what I remember it being.” Both Gunda and Sano said El Pelon and Restaurant Row were places they frequented in their time at school.

“We tried as much as possible to keep everything the same. The food’s the same, the menus the same, the vendors, where we get the food, are the same,” Daniels of El Pelon said. “We had a good thing going and we want to keep it.”

The “good ingredients” Sano described are due to what Daniels calls having everything made “in-house.” From guacamole to limed onions to chicken and tortilla, everything El Pelon serves is homemade in their restaurants; nothing out of a jar.

The décor at the taqueria has also remained the same. The soccer jersey that hangs in the corner next to the restrooms? It’s the very same jersey that hung in the restaurant before the fire. El Pelon owner Jim Hoben managed to rescue it from the remains of his building and hung it up again; the shirt is still ash-stained.

“I think the people that come to El Pelon appreciate that we have the same character and feel we had before,” Pelon’s Daniels said.  “You come back and it feels very neighborhood again. I think people appreciate that.”

Restaurant Row's El Pelon Taqueria

“The neighborhood missed us a lot,” she added.  “A lot of love went out. People were always walking by, peering in the windows. A lot of our regular customers were really bummed. We were a part of the neighborhood. They were a part of our lives, but we were also a part of theirs.”

LOOKING FORWARD

 

El Pelon is back to serving its neighborhood favorites, and Thornton’s is well on its way. Rod Dee has a new menu posted and tables set, while Swish Shabu is aiming for after the holiday season. Anxious residents will have to wait patiently for now, but the Row is well on its way to being restored to its former glory.

Steve Chase, of the Fenway Civic Association, is “personally thrilled” at their return. “It was the nucleus of the neighborhood. A lot of us referred to it as ‘the Neighborhood Dining Room,’” he said.

He was present the night of the fire, and because he was employed in the area, passed by on a regular basis.

“When it was sitting there like a burned out shell, it reminded me of a car wreck,” he said. “It became a topic of conversation, always keeping that as a topic every month we would meet. We were saying, ‘What’s going on with Restaurant Row?’”

There were rumors that the former one-story building would be transformed into a high-rise commercial building or a hotel by building owner Monty Gold. Residents had “no big opposition” to a hotel built above, Chase said, but felt that if that’s what had to be done economically to bring back the restaurants, so be it. The feeling was, as Chase described, “just please bring back the rest as soon as possible.”

Gold was unable to be reached for comment. Boston.com reported him as assuring residents in a community meeting in 2010 that he would restore the space to what it had once been, favoring “mom and pop” restaurants over more commercialized chains.

The Row has remained its good old modest self, despite the flourishing neighborhood around it and its gentrified competitor, Boylston Street. With the opening of the entire Row close at hand, the outlook of the neighborhood is positive.

“I think it will bring a sense of closure and hopefully a sense of optimism,” Chase said. “We really missed it, that’s for sure.”


Consignment Stores Offer a Fashionable Way to Save

In an economy like ours, people have to find creative ways to save money. Clipping coupons and cutting back expenses may work for everyday items but, in the end, kids still grow, proms still must be attended and casual Friday wear just doesn’t cut it for work the other four days of the week. So where do you turn?

Particularly in a down economy, consignment shops are becoming a forerunner in retail and savvy shopping. Stores that sell lightly used items for a discounted price are a thriftier, more resourceful way for people to get what they need and still save money, and the idea is catching on.

“Our company has just kind of grown naturally over the past few years,” said Ashley Bell, a marketing coordinator for Second Time Around, an upscale resale store with 26 boutiques nationwide, including two on Boston’s Newbury Street.  “The demographic is changing and becoming more diverse, like young professionals with some sort of income, moms in their 30s and early 40s. It runs the gamut, from college kids to working moms to socialites, because you get more for your money then at your regular retail store.”

Second Time Around, a consignment shop on Newbury Street, offers upscale items for less

“Some of the things are good,” Second Time Around shopper Elena Bilbao said. “It’s definitely better prices.”

And more bang for your buck seems to be a popular idea. The National Association of Resale and Thrift Stores (NARTS) reported that there was a 12.7 percent growth in net sales for their member from 2008 to 2009. Compared to the 7.3 percent drop in retail sales overall in those same years, according the U.S. Department of Commerce, these types of stores are a huge success.

“It’s how you market,” said Adele Meyer, executive director for NARTS. “You name it; it’s everything that goes into making a successful store. It’s not any one thing; it’s everything.”

Goodwill Industries International, one of the more well known secondhand stores in the country, has seen major revenue increases. According to their we

bsite, the sales for its online internet auction site, shopgoodwill.com, has jumped from around $18 billion to almost $23 billion. In addition, its retail store sales increased 10.4 percent during the first eight months of 2011, compared to the same time period in 2010.

Overall, the resale stores seem to be a hit with prices, but regardless, shopping is still money spent. So are our thrifty shoppers buying more, or still choosing to abstain from over-shopping?

“Generally speaking, you see a break in the demographic when it comes to quality over quantity,” Bell said. “People who are a little older and shop in higher retail stores for years come in and buy one amazing item, but college kids who come in looking for a fall wardrobe come in and get things that are not quite as high end but are more wearable. They want more items for the money.”

“I’m the youngest, so I’m used to hand-me-downs,” new thrift store shopper and Second Time Around patron Patricia Gagno said. “I don’t mind them being secondhand as long as they’re good quality. I see really quality clothes with great prices.”

An employee at Second Time Around organizes clothes. Consignment shops like this one are a great way to stay stylish for less.

Secondhand stores offer more than just sweetly priced retail. Not only are people looking to buy items at a better price, but selling previously purchased and lightly used items back and getting cold hard cash for them is appealing to frugal patrons out there as well.

“This is a two sided industry because you’re dealing with your consumers and your suppliers,” Meyer said.

“People want a return on their investment,” Bell said. “They’ll think, I could be making money off of this, and they’ll bring it in.”

When people are trying to make a little cash this way, big ticket items are often a way to score big. Often, however, stores see people come in claiming they have the real designer deal, when, in fact, they do not.

“Counterfeiters are constantly finding new ways,” Bell said.  “That’s a big thing for us, one of our big battles. We make sure every item we take is authentic and has been authenticated by our managers.”

For anyone who’s ever walked down a street in New York City, you’ll know that there are plenty of fakes out there. Plenty of people buy them, give them, and of course, try to sell them to their local consignment store.

Meyer and Bell agree that fake designer items are an often appearance. Whether this imitation scheme is increasing in the lower economy, Meyer is doubtful.

“I don’t think there is any correlation. Some people are just absolutely unaware,” Meyer commented. “They buy something off the street in New York and they just don’t know.”
With consignment stores like Second Time Around working hard to weed out the phony unwanted, these low economy up-and-comers are just the place to stay in style and in your budget.

Bell, who’s had her own personal experiences with great finds in consignment, like a patent black pair of the coveted Christian Louboutin pumps for $100, recommends thrift shopping for all.

“If I were to give advice to people, when going into consignment shopping; if you’re looking for a great staple piece, you’ll never find a place better than a consignment shop,” she said. “Now it’s like everyone’s in on the secret.”


The Student Invasion of Mission Hill

Strolling through Mission Hill on a Saturday afternoon, the historic Boston neighborhood is friendly and relaxed. Local shops like the famous Mike’s Donuts and Butterfly Coffee add to its charm, and though a little rundown in areas, it seems a perfectly nice place for the average family.

Return about five hours later, and you wouldn’t recognize it, as Mission Hill transforms from a quiet neighborhood to the epitome of college nightlife, thumping bass and inebriated students included.

This Boston neighborhood, close to many college campus’ like Northeastern University, Wentworth Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, has emerged as the place for students, particularly from Northeastern, to rent a house and make the big move off-campus, free from RA’s and the burden of having to hide what really happens over the weekend.  According to city-data.com, 35 percent of Mission Hill residents have been in undergraduate colleges for three years or more, and only 6.6 percent are married-couple families with children.

“A lot of those kids are around my age. Makes it feel more like a college neighborhood,” second-year business major at Northeastern and Mission Hill resident Michael McDonough said. “I like how everything you need is within a five-minute walk, and it’s only a little far off campus.”

Rifts between local and student residents have long been present in the neighborhood. Students complain that the police are called often and for no reason, and local residents comment on the trash, noise, and public intoxication they don’t think their children should see.

“The non-student residents probably have a semi-hard time living around all of these college students. The college students might be loud sometimes and may do things out in the open that kids shouldn’t see before they go to college,” second-year Northeastern psychology student and resident Steve Musco said.

In 2010, Chris Faraone of the Boston Phoenix quoted a “South End activist” as saying, “Northeastern has no credibility left around here. What they’re doing is the equivalent of death by incrementalism, and we’re not going to take it anymore.”

Despite growing hostilities from neighbors and activists alike, students enjoy living there, citing freedom and cheap rent.

“Having my own place is awesome and I actually am saving money by having my own place rather than living on campus,” Musco said.  “I haven’t had a problem with any non-student neighbors and to be honest I haven’t really met any except for the people who live next-door.”

Northeastern has made efforts to control student behavior and placate angry residents. The NU Pledge, a movement started by Northeastern’s Student Life Services, asks students to be respectful and considerate of those who live around them. Part of it reads:

“As a Northeastern student, I know that what I do and how I act directly affects other members of the community, especially our neighbors. I pledge to represent the values of Northeastern in my actions, whether in interactions with fellow students, neighbors in our local community, or wherever my studies and co-op take me.”

The entire NU Pledge is posted on Northeastern’s website, but seems to be otherwise minimally promoted. Neither McDonough nor Musco knew anything about it.

A representative from SLS declined to comment.

Other Northeastern efforts to clean up their act have been mainly student efforts, like a club started last year called the Mission Hill Breakfast Club that cleaned up trash around the area. Northeastern Police have also issued flyers warning students to be careful, respectful, and that policies on underage drinking will be enforced.

When asked if Mission Hill would ever be all Northeastern, McDonough was skeptical. “I wouldn’t say entirely Northeastern, because other schools like Wentworth are so close,” he said. “But I think eventually Mission Hill will be almost all students, predominantly by NU.”


A Little Piece of ‘Heaven’: South Boston Convent to Be Demolished

The Boston Landmarks Commission, on Oct. 11, waived the waiting period for the Gate of Heaven Church in South Boston to demolish its convent.

“It will be a great benefit to the parish [and] become a space for the parish’s parking needs and for the neighborhood children to play,” said the Rev. Robert E. Casey, pastor at Gate of Heaven.

Some are questioning the loss of the historical value of the convent once it is destroyed. Judy Neiswander, the advocacy coordinator for the Boston Preservation Alliance, asked that it remained standing for this reason.
“We do believe the convent is a strong historical contribution to Boston,” Neiswander said to the commission. “We maintain that waiving the waiting period for demolition is premature at this time.”

Gate of Heaven Church, was originally built in the early 1860s. The adjacent buildings were slowly added on overtime. The convent was built in the early 1870s under the direction of Reverend Michael Higgins. The building was blessed and officially became part of the church in 1879. A year later, a fire badly damaged the buildings, in 1896, the church that currently stands was rebuilt.
The church buildings underwent major renovation in the late 1950s. They remained as were until 2004, when concerns were raised about their structural stability and continued use as a church. The church, parish members and local businesses came together to raise $3 million dollars for renovation and repair to work towards restoring the church to its former glory.

“Our primary concern is the church building,” Father Casey said, which was “supposed to be closed eight years ago. We had to sacrifice some buildings for that…we raised over $3 million to do that.”

Tom Ryan, the head architect and landscape artist on the Gate of Heaven project, also spoke to the commission, partly about the benefits of removing the convent to reveal the main church behind it and make it more visually appealing and functional.

“The top of the church has some interesting architecture and it’s really a lot of detail,” Ryan said.

Plans for the use of the property the convent now stands on include additional parking for the church with an exit onto I street so that church goers “can run out without tying things up for Boston,” Ryan said. Also planned is a paved area for playground uses, and a six-foot marble statue of the Holy Family.
The project managers also intend to incorporate pieces of the demolished convent in its design. Dispersed along a wrought-iron fence that will encase the property, Ryan hopes to install 42inch pillars of stone salvaged from the building.

“We want something simple,” Ryan said. “This is a church and convent.”

Some of the main points brought up by the Landmark Commission were how the landscaping and removal of the convent will affect the look of the church from an outsider’s point of view. Though cherry blossoms, perennials and other plants will be added along the black wrought iron fence, the view of a parking lot will be far different from that of a 19th century building.

“I’m concerned about the street view and overall look,” Chairwoman Susan D. Pranger said.

Gate of Heaven was also asked to place a history and photos of the convent on its website as a tribute after its demolition.
“We’re not happy. We would prefer to see the convent stay there,” Neiswander said in an interview after the meeting. “The congestion of the buildings in South Boston is part of its character.”

The Boston Preservation Alliance had awarded the Gate of Heaven Church its Preservation Achievement Award in 2007 for their renovations and attempts to maintain the church’s original look. This decision came as a blow, but the redesign plan was accepted.

“I think they’ve done a great deal to make the area revealed as sort of user-friendly the best they could,” Neiswander said after the Commission had come to a decision.

          Though the loss of the convent will be mourned, Gate of Heaven project managers are pleased to be moving forward with their renovation plans. The church building, in their opinion, will maintain the historical integrity of the parish while new plans will renew vitality.

“The church is still standing and the parish is vibrant,” Father Casey said.