Light likes to think he had a hand in the area’s makeover, starting with a letter to the editor he submitted in March 1997 to the local newspaper, the Parkway Transcript, railing at local businesses for not serving the new residents. “We are purchasing homes for $150,000+,” he wrote. “We are the middle class. If we wanted to purchase junk, we would scour the streets on garage-sale day. We want quality merchandise, needed services, and a clean, inviting atmosphere. I’m very sorry, but a misspelled sign scribbled on a piece of tattered cardboard with Magic Marker that states ‘No one under 18 without parent, no shoes, no shirt, no service, no checks, no credit cards, check your bags’ is not what I call a ‘welcome mat.’” The letter, which repeatedly called Roslindale Village “a joke,” sparked a lively back-and-forth in the area papers. When the debate appeared to be petering out, Light reinflamed it by sending the letter to the Globe, which two months later ran a story about it and how it had prompted new businesses to open up in the area.
But though Light would like to think he catalyzed the current yuppie influx, the real beginning of change came in 1985, when Tom Menino, then the district’s city councilor, brought the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Main Streets program to Roslindale Village (a decade later, as mayor, he established the Boston Main Streets program with 10 districts). “There were a lot of empty businesses ... there was some arson,” explains Janice Williams, the program’s acting director. Main Streets, she says, “was able to really motivate the community to start working together to make improvements.”
If transportation and mail access gave Roslindale its start in the late 19th century, a grocery store seems to have whipped up its second wind just over a hundred years later. Three years ago, a sparkling new co-op food mart called the Village Grocery opened its doors. The grocery store is clean, well-lit, and stocked with items catering to all segments of the area’s population — from gourmet soy milk to Greek olives and feta cheese. It took seven years to get the co-op up and running, but since opening it’s had a huge impact on the community, paving the way for other shops encouraged by the rise in foot traffic. “In the last three years, 19 businesses have opened, with only two closing,” says Williams. “That’s a phenomenal record.”
One person who’s taken a particularly active role in revitalizing Roslindale is commercial developer Stavros Frantzis, a resident of Jamaica Plain who purchased two buildings in the middle of the village in 1998. After making significant renovations to the now-beautiful two-story brick buildings, he rented out several storefronts to boutiques. Zia, a women’s-clothing store run by Lesia Stanchak, was one of the first, opening up two and half years ago. The same building also houses Joanne Rossman Design, a shop that sells pricey note cards with cutesy inscriptions like “Mom’s recipes,” lovingly crafted lamps, and frivolous little knickknacks.
In the next six months, three restaurants are expected to open, bringing much-needed nighttime activity. But Roslindale still lacks a real nightspot, a gap that may reflect the community’s greater appeal to young homemakers than to young hipsters. Frantzis wants to convert a courtyard behind one of his buildings into usable outdoor space for concerts, patio dining, and basic chilling. Plans have been stalled for several years because owners of the buildings bordering the courtyard have been reluctant to cooperate. But Stavros (“S-T-A-V-as-in-Victory-R-O-S,” he says helpfully) Frantzis isn’t having it. “If nothing happens by the end of the summer,” he says, “I will spend my own money and I will convert the part that belongs to me. I am hoping that I can call the attention and solicit the attention to change this area to a jewel in Roslindale Square.”
In fact, he hopes it’s a gorgeously cut diamond. The developer is angling to turn Roslindale into something exotic and edgy — a spillover for JP’s cool folks. Whether the neighborhood fulfills his ambitions for it remains to be seen. With houses rather than apartment buildings, with more driveways and yards than traffic congestion, with commuter rail rather than the T, will Roslindale ever be anything other than Out of Town?
“The next five years will really tell the tale,” says Joe Heisler, who does the “Roslindale Report” for Neighborhood Network News. “The question is, does the economy go south before the metamorphosis is complete — or does Roslindale become The New Spot?”
Nina Willdorf can be reached at email@example.com.
Issue Date: July 12 - 19, 2001