Friday, August 31, 2007

I Just Said Goodbye To A Bargain....

Although technically not a "South End" issue, Filene's Basement, the original downtown crossing branch, closes its doors today, leaving many loyal shoppers including myself heartbroken.

I once worked right across the street from the Basement and found myself there almost on a daily basis. I have been known to hide a pair of men's shoes in ladies' bras overnight so I could grab them at 7:30 the next morning when they hit 75% off. I have also wound up with fabulous $600 fur-lined Prada men's bedroom slippers that were almost my size. Somehow, in a bargain-induced frenzy, I once also wound up with Armani ski pants because they were 75% off - and I don't ski.

According to spokespersons for the company, the store will re-open in two years or so in another location, but many think that it'll never happen. What will replace this mecca of bargains? "Luxury" condominiums, of course, this being Luxurious Boston. "Luxury" is apparently the new "black."

The problem(s) I have with this closure are myriad. First, the new Filene's Basement on Boylston Street, like the suburban locations of "FB", cannot hold a candle to the original. Too many New England Patriots leather logo jackets and "Harvard" t-shirts for my taste, not enough Gucci.

Second, I am becoming (and this is where I can bring in the good ol' South of End) increasingly wary of any condominium building labelled as "Luxury." Apparently, the "L-Word" attracts the wrong kind of people - people who don't need people, if you get my drift. People for whom Luxury is disproportionately related to manners and good social behavior. I have lived in a "Luxury" condo building in the South End and found that a majority of the other inhabitants could use a few lessons in etiquette - such as not running up and down the halls in a drunken stupor screaming at 3 am, or partying on the terrace at 3am right beneath the windows of sleeping residents (see previous postings). Plus, they have a predisposition for wearing Uggs and buying overpriced heirloom tomatoes. In short, they need to have the word "Luxury" added to their residences for show, and to remind themselves that they are technically (only technically, though) no longer living in a frat house.

And, as long as its luxury condo's going in, why hasn't MassHousing upped the ante by lending/diverting $20 million to the developer, earmarked for low-cost rental units, despite the fact that they are luxury condominiums? When will that happen, this being Boston.

Third, the disappearance of the original FB is the loss of one more thing that makes Boston unique. In two years, this city will look like a generic copy of any other US city. Might as well be in Fargo, Trenton or Springfield. There was something about the original FB - the lack of organization, the decor that hadn't changed for decades - that made it special. The new FB's look like they could be any Marshall's, TJ Maxx, or Macy's - the same light fixtures, the same stone floors, etc. Plus, the "running of the brides" bridal gown event just won't be the same in Framingham. And now if I hide a pair of men's shoes in the ladies bra department, I'm just simply a pervert as there is no automatic markdown system in the remaining stores.

Once these new condos are built, perhaps we could re-name the area starting at downtown crossing and continuing up through the proposed Columbus Center "Generia," the soul-less spine of new Boston.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Greed, Part I....

After winning a "Best of Boston" prize as the best neighborhood dry cleaner, South End Cleaners and Tailors on Tremont Street got something else - a rent increase of almost double.

According to the Boston Globe, the landlord, after serving an eviction notice, informed the award-winning owners that he would be taking over the space and opening his own dry cleaning business. This, even though the landlord has no dry-cleaning experience. This yutz/landlord has seemingly forgotten about what makes a neighborhood business, and particularly a business that has won a "best of" award, successful - something called "goodwill."

"Goodwill" is the likelihood that the business owner will let someone pick up his shirts even after that someone has forgotten his wallet, allowing for payment next time. Goodwill is making sure that someone gets her dress back a day earlier than it would usually be ready because someone really needs it for a special occasion. Goodwill is not knocking a hard-working business owner out of the ring so that you can take over - you can't really buy goodwill. It has to be earned. Greedy landlords don't deserve it.

And in the bigger scheme, the loss of a well-liked neighborhood dry cleaner is just another loss that suffocates a neighborhood of its soul. The dry cleaning plastic bags on my shirts that warn against the "danger of suffocation" were more appropriate than I thought. Anyone notice a theme happening in the South End?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Where Is The Outrage????

MassHousing, a state agency created to help provide affordable housing, has violated its own guidelines by awarding more than $20 million in development loans to the Columbus Center project.
The purpose of the MassHousing loans is to encourage affordable RENTAL housing. Somehow, the funds (i.e., our taxpayer dollars) have been allocated to this project to subsidize multi-million dollar condominiums. That's alot of granite, maple and stainless steel!! Kudos to House Speaker Sal DiMasi for being the only one with the cojones to speak out against this travesty.
Its funny to see the other politicians try to make excuses for this outrageous scheme, such as Dianne Wilkerson's attempt to justify it with some explanation about how we all will benefit from the green parks that will result and the thousands of construction jobs. While those are certainly positive things, they still do not address the fact that loans from the state which were specifically designated for affordable rental housing, have somehow (payola maybe?) wound up being diverted to yuppie condo's.
As for the project itself, I have no problem with multimillion dollar condos. If some developer wants to add another several hundred units of blonde, bland, Burberried and boring yup's to the mix that is the South End/Back Bay, then so be it. The South End has already turned into a soul-less shadow of its formerly interesting self. Maybe we could get a few more overpriced Emperor's New Clothes-type restaurants for the expense account or Chestnut Hill set ("Health codes be damned - there's a line of Mercedes Sedans parked in front!!") -- see Boston Globe article, August 26, 2007,
Of course, I wouldn't want to live in Bay Village during the construction of the project. Last I heard, 24-hour overnight construction was in the works - enjoy your sleeping now if you live in Bay Village - it might be your last chance. Stock up on rat killer, as well, as all that construction will only serve to stir up an already huge rat population.
My big, overall question is why no one, other than one Boston Globe writer, see, and House Speaker DiMasi, has addressed this issue. Are the people of Boston too apathetic, stupid or drunk to care about such an issue? If this had happened in, say, New York, the Times would have been filled with letters to the editor, editorials, op-ed pieces, etc. calling for the resignation of the head of the state agency. But not here in transient Boston. Why care about this issue when after his next bonus, Biff and Jennifer will pack up Casey and Madison and move out to one of the "W" suburbs?...