Somerville Studies New Shopping Concept

‘Micro-Retail’ Would Cater To Mom-and-Pops

Banker & Tradesman | Jay Fitzgerald
October 30, 2016

somerville-studies-new-shopping-conceptTo cut down on construction costs and to make housing units more affordable, urban planners and some developers are increasingly eyeing so-called “micro-apartments,” or tiny living quarters of around 400 square feet aimed at young professionals and others.

Now take the same economic principles and apply them to retail space and retailers. What do you get? Somerville’s Bow Market project, a planned “micro-retail” redevelopment of an old storage building and lot tucked in back of Somerville Avenue in the heart of booming Union Square.

In anticipation of the MBTA Green Line Extension into Somerville, there’s already $1 billion in proposed development projects for Union Square, from offices to housing to ground-floor retail. But many are worried that the current quirky charm of Union Square – with its numerous low-rise buildings, some of them industrial leftovers from the city’s once thriving manufacturing age – could be lost amidst all the new projects, forcing out small mom-and-pop shops that help give Union Square its current intimate feel.

Enter Matthew Boyes-Watson, a partner at BwB LLC, whose firm has ties to Boyes-Watson Architects, located at 30 Bow St. in Union Square. Like its name suggests, Bow Street literally bows around Somerville Avenue, creating a small urban island in the heart of the square – and it’s within that area that BwB wants to build, well, Bow Market, complete with 40 “micro-retail” shops of 150 to 175 square feet apiece and possibly a small microbrewery and restaurant.

The retail spaces would be aimed at entrepreneurs ranging from sellers of specialty foods to jewelry makers to artists’ galleries. The site’s current 15,740-square-foot, concrete-block building – now used mostly for storage – would be converted into tiny shops with their own separate windows and entrances, just enough room to hang out a sign and display wares to customers.

The two-floor complex – with a second-floor exterior balcony acting as a pedestrian walkway around the heptagonal-shaped structure – would be anchored by an outdoor courtyard with seating, flowers and trees.

With the strong backing of Somerville Mayor Joseph Curatone, the Bow Market proposal is sailing through necessary planning and zoning reviews in Somerville.

“From our offices, we’ve been staring at the back wall of this property for a while now and wondering what could be done with it,” said Boyes-Watson, whose father, Mark Boyes-Watson, is the principal at Boyes-Watson Architects and now the principal at BwB LLC. “We think we’ve come up with a good plan.”

BwB currently has the property under agreement with the current owner, GNJ Real Estate Holdings LLC of Saugus, subject to final city approvals.

To George Proakis, director of planning for the city of Somerville, BwB LLC hasn’t just come up with a good plan. It’s almost “exactly what we envisioned” for the site when the city recently hammered out a new master plan for Union Square, with goal of transforming the tucked-away storage site into “flexible and diverse” retail uses, not merely for future housing or offices.

“They came into our offices and listened, as we tried to explain what we wanted, and they immediately got it,” Proakis said of his first meetings with the BwB partners. “They understood.”

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