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Downtown Crossing's continued slide down: Now even the Wendy's is leaving

John Keith reports.

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I love Wendy's...it's the only fast food that doesn't make me feel gross. I guess there's always the one on Summer Street--for now.

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May I suggest Chacarero? Or Milk Street Cafe? Or Boloco or Finagle-a-Bagel? I think there are a couple of Au Bon Pains and Paneras around there too.

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...but sometimes only a burger and fries will do.

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Sip took over in the garden - healthy stuff fast.

I would also recomend the coffee shop on the north side of High Street between Summer and Federal. Their sandwiches are big enough to share!

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Of course there's better "fast food"; but Wendy's is also my go to bad fast food place when needed.

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Okay, it is. But Wendy's is a cut above. If you need to satisfy a burger craving, it's a real burger that you can get with a decent side salad so as not to feel like a complete grease pit.

But as to the broader concern: DTX can't even support a popular fast food restaurant? Whoa, that whole strip is looking like hell. I was just out there to see some Euro tourists lining up to take a snapshot with the Filene's Hole in the background. With their own country all fixed up now, maybe they were looking for something that reminded them of a WWII bomb crater.

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But as to the broader concern: DTX can't even support a popular fast food restaurant?

To be fair, DTX currently has two Wendy's restaurants within like 250 yards of each other. It seems like a viable financial decision to close one down and send all the Wendy's traffic to the other instead of spreading that revenue across two stores, each with their own rent, staff, and other expenses.

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They have one every two blocks and are opening another one where Staples now is on Winter Street! How many do we really need?

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Also ask Ms. Starbucks why she feels the need to hang out on as many street corners as possible. ;)

I guess Wendy's is feeling the financial crunch a bit harder than others. A comment a few down from here mentions the Washington St. location is taking a hit from not having a Filene's across the street anymore. Looks like they've lost their lunchtime crowd.

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There used to be two CVS stores, one on either side of the Borders, no more than 100 yards from each other. Both closed and a new, larger one opened across the street from one of them.

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I'm surprised it's that one that's closing though, as it's much larger and always has huge lines whenever I look in the window (or actually go in to satisfy by bad-food craving). The Summer St. location is a closet by comparison.

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... the $.99 salad.

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even though it's $1.49 downtown.

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You are right, tape. Still $1.49 for a decent mini salad is sweet.

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Why doesn't the city just rename Downtown Crossing Ho Shoe and Bootleg Cell Phone Bazaar and call it a day.

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... but unfortunately the city couldn't afford the new signage.

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Here you go:

IMAGE(http://cache.boston.com/resize/bonzai-fba/Reuters_Photo/2008/04/04/1207293890_6754/539w.jpg)

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hahahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahha
hahahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahhaha
hahahahaahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaah

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An obvious forgery by a local merchant - it doesn't say Thomas M. Menino, Mayor, City of Boston :-)

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It's an HSBC sign... Is there some story I missed, or did the cache get screwed up?

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see the post this is in response to

Noticed that the white part of the logo resembles a D and a C (very stylized in straight lines) with an X in the middle for crossing. Many creativity kudos to the sock on this one!

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I started thinking that was it but I split up the phrase differently... nice. Need more coffee.

BTW, speaking of: the new coffee shop below the Suffolk dorms (nee 10 West) is nice.

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I can't figure out why DTC is a boatload of fail. If location were everything, it would be thriving. The city seems to keep doing or encouraging the wrong sorts of things, there. When I got here, I saw the closed mall and wondered out loud to my friend, "Why'd they try to put suburbia here?"

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You answered your own question: DTX is failing because the city keeps doing or encouraging the wrong things, the biggest and most obvious being the huge hole in the ground.

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residents and their 24 hour activity bring life to an area generally - think Newbury, Boylston, Tremont, Washington etc. That leads to restaurants, clubs, shops, markets etc. DTX has little/none of that. They keep trying the "Field of Dreams" build it and they will come strategy with retail - and we end up with a big nightmare on our hands. Look at the financial district - huge office buildings - the natural development has been lunch places - a few restaurants and virtually no retail. Build more residential for 24 hour activity (God knows we need more decent downtown housing for young professionals in this town - no bias there - I'm old!) and the success will come - but not in the form of the big box retail they keep trying to stuff in there.

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There's a niche there, Stevil. I could see some sort of Yuppie Towers being successful. Not Luxury Condo Development; the city is pretty much awash in that. More like starter condos. Where do you get started with real estate in this city? Building a large number of relatively inexpensive condos and apartments in DTX would turn around its greatest advantage. The departments stores were there because it was easy to get to. Starter apartments would work because it's easy to get from. It would be a good place to live for the young professional who is likely to switch jobs a few times in the next few years. They wouldn't end up stuck on the wrong spoke. You could even reverse commute from there to 128landia fairly easily. And you could access a good deal of the nightlife in the city pretty easily. Eventually those folks would bring the other nice things with the power of the purse.

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are you talking microlofts?

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Totally anecdotal from what I read in the papers - but it seems one of our big problems is affordable housing for young professionals who just got out of one of our higher learning establishments which makes them look for greener and cheaper and sunnier pastures (a young resident doctor pays about $1250 a month in my building to rent a 500 sf studio overlooking a parking lot overlooking the rat infested alley that is in shade 90% of the time - needless to say he spends his 20 waking hours a day mostly at the hospital). Older residents downsizing due to rising property taxes, condo fees, assessments etc. might also find these appropriate.

I'm thinking studios and one bedrooms you could rent for $750-$1500 or buy in the $150-300k range targeted at recent college grads making 30-100k (it's doable - but it all depends on land acquisition costs - our "pay to play" system drives cost through the roof making luxury condos and Class A office in giant towers the only financially viable alternative).

Lower cost - but similarly targeted properties - could be developed along transit lines (eg - Roslindale Square, Centre, A/B Street in JP/West Rox etc.). Given that this is mostly one story storefronts - conversion to 3 or 4 story apartments should be desirable.

Just a thought - and you can name it Yuppie Towers - price it right and people will live there no matter what you call it!

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A man from a state housing agency was on Greater Boston last month talking about plans to erect an 80-unit housing development on Essex Street, in Chinatown. The cost of the project is $32 million. He said it costs $400,000 to build a one-bedroom, 610-square foot home in the city.

This is for housing that will be used by the very old and very poor, people will be paying $300 per month, utilities included.

The agency needs state and federal money to make the numbers work.

I found the estimated cost to be astounding, but believable.

So, you can't build "starter homes" in downtown Boston.

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I think people would still pay 500,000 to live in Downtown thereby making other areas a little more affordable. Some areas have high prices due to construction (downtown) where as others have high prices well because they can. For the second group I am thinking parts of Cambridge and the like.

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OK so this place has no residents, and now no stores, maybe we should just let it be what it is. There are plenty of places where people want to live, places to build young professional condos, and places where shops actually make it.

Why are we pouring money and favors into a place that will never become what we want it to become, especially when there is no residential constituency demanding it. We can use our energy elsewhere.

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First, it does have residents. I wish I could remember where I read it, but I was amazed to read that downtown now has 6,000 residents. That's almost as many as Beacon Hill or Back Bay. They just have yet to develop loud resident groups. But a bunch of downtowners did show up at the recent Boston Licensing Board hearing on the South Street Diner (if you include the Leather District in your definition of downtown, and why not?).

Second, if Downtown Crossing truly does crumble (well, even more than it already has), you do start to see a domino effect with the surrounding office districts. Who wants to work in a RoboCop-like mini-Detroit? So businesses start looking to move eleswhere - there's plenty of really good, vacant office space all over the suburbs now. The blight starts to spread and the city's tax base begins to crumble - and that starts to hurt people who live nowhere near downtown, such as all of us middle-class types way out beyond Boston Proper who suddenly start wondering why the school department is laying off teachers and the streets go unrepaired.

Sure, nightmare scenario, but let's not just abandon the city core to tumbleweeds just yet.

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how much of that is land acquisition and profit - we're talking a box with plumbing and wiring - the average new single family home in the country costs roughly $125 per sf to build ($225k / 1800 sf) - and that's a standalone home with foundation, sewer electric hookup, driveway, landscaping etc. 750 sf times even $125k per sf is $94k for construction - the rest is land acquisition and profit (and shakedown). The problem is we drive land costs through the roof because every developer knows s/he can bid the cost of the land to double what it should be worth and then tell the BRA s/he can't profitably build anything under 30 stories that is not Class A space or lux condos. If you had proper firm zoning for these types of buildings and no "negotiation" - the land would sell for what it could support.

Sure it costs him $400k for a 610 sf apt - that's $2500 for his five favorite pols to push the approvals, $150k to buy the land from the BRA (whose employees also donate to the same pols) $50k for the attorneys who also donate to the pols, $25k for the architect who also donates to the pols, $97,500 for the developer (what the heck the state's paying for this) and $75k to actually build the units (with union labor who also contribute to the pols).

(if you think I'm kidding - go to the state donations site and search under Menino individually for Beal, Quilty and Elkus - as just one example-sometimes you'll find whole families making donations - while you're at it try some of the unions - as you know - I think they can give $5000)

In the real world it usually works like this - if you can sell the unit for $150k - allocate about 1/3 each to land, construction and overhead (these days land may be a little more - maybe 40-50%. Unfortunately we don't live in the real world - we live in Boston where if you pay enough you can usually get whatever zoning you want (can you say Columbus Center - and that was true even without Wilkerson's influence and graft).

And it's all "legal".

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you got it

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ALLEGED graft - as Adam would say - innocent etc.

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I tend to believe the man from a state agency who builds subsidized housing as a profession and for as cheaply as possible rather than some random person on the internet who does back of the napkin calculations using "best guesses".

Although we all wish it were otherwise, it's not cheap to build new housing, of any sort.

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I'm not debating his number - I'm just saying that the construction costs of a 610 sf unit are under $100k no matter where you build it-even with our inflated union labor rates in Mass. The other $300k is profit, land and overhead - all driven higher because of politics.

And you'd have to be a moron - even if you are the state - to build a $400k home that you are going to rent out for $3600 a year - INCLUDING UTILITIES! No wonder the state is broke - I don't even need the napkin to figure that one out.

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They jack up the cost as a way to beg for a height variance. So "I can't make a profit off a 5 storey building, I need 15 floors to make it up in volume." It's an old tactic.

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You'd have to build a supermarket while you're at it... there aren't any within walking distance, and non-luxury residents couldn't afford to keep a car in that neighborhood. Though I guess they could build a mini-garage/loading area, and have a small fleet of private ZipCars but no other parking. That'd be kinda cool, actually.

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It's 1/2 way between work and home. I'd grocery shop there every day.

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It may be just a rumour, but someone told me Trader Joe's might be interested in either the old HMV building on Winter Street, or the Barnes and Noble on Washington.

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Finn, don't toy with me. I hope it's true, I hope it's true, I hope it's true...

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From state agencies on one end to the financial district on the other, there is no escaping the economic downturn.

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How many of you really felt you were going to get mugged or knifed going into that Wendy's any time other than the lunch rush? I prefer not to have some thug and ho try to shiv me when I'm getting a frosty, thanks!

For those of us who have worked down there for yours, civilization ends between the Wendy's and the Tello's.

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"Oh, noes! NEGROS!"

Thanks for keeping Boston's proud tradition of casual racism alive, Needledick.

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That was always a weird Wendy's with the giant basement seating area. When I used to go as an early twenty something with nothing else to do at noon I remember it being packed at lunch time. I wonder if that just stopped happening because of the void left from the Filenes hole.

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It's still always jammed at lunchtime.

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So whats the problem? lol

I guess they could just be suffering from loss of random daytime traffic outside of lunchtime?

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I can't remember the last time that place changed, other than to get just plain worn out. They may have had their lease come up and the landlords around here don't seem to get the concept of lowering rents in a downturn to keep tenants.

I would love to see a tax on empty property - a big enough tax to disincentivize leaving spaces empty for a year or two in anticipation of much more lucrative leases in the future. I swear some of the landlords are intentionally driving out tenants because it is cheaper for them to not pay utilities until rents go up.

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I would love to see a tax on empty property - a big enough tax to disincentivize leaving spaces empty for a year or two in anticipation of much more lucrative leases in the future

I have these feeling that so many of the property owners in Boston have so much money that they can take a loss on empty rents for years without it effecting them. Its almost like a monopoly in some of these cases. I know some people that own millions of dollars in real estate that they inhereted from their family and they don't even blink when apts or store fronts go empty.

Maybe a tax incentive for commercial ventures that want to move into those places? Or less tax breaks for real estate decuctions?

You can't get too fancy though, as I think the market is usually better off being left alone, but I think something can be done.

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I agree, every so often you come across an empty storefront and say WHY!!! If you know the right people they will tell you. Many times a great piece of real estate stays empty because it is in some trust and the people who own the trust have enough money that they do not care. Why go through the trouble of making it work for a tenant now when you can wait a few years and someone will come along that will require zero work from you. As someone who makes less then a few million dollars a year I find it inconceivable that because you do not feel like dealing with the hassle that you will leave a place that can generate thousands of dollars a month in rent vacant.

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Because commercial properties are taxed at the city level according to "the income approach", vacancy means lower property taxes. Add that to the benefits of deducting operating expenses, depreciation, mortgage interest, and so forth for income tax purposes, and maybe right now it's actually a good thing to own a few vacant buildings, especially if you have a steady income from somewhere else. Current tax policy might incentivize vacancy and blight.

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It's not your specific building and revenue stream that determines your income approach - if you own a store and rent for $10k per month and the guy with an identical property next door gives a 10% discount (for a long term lease etc.) you still both pay basically the same taxes. The assessing department does this on average rents, average expenses, average vacancies etc. - but just because your building is vacant and the guy next door is fully leased doesn't mean you get to pay no taxes. This is a complex policy issue but the primary point is if you hammer people with empty lots or vacancies you could well end up with cheaply built store fronts and crappy stores just for the purpose of filling the space - the cure could be worse than the disease.

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So much for that theory. :-/

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I would love to see a tax on empty property - a big enough tax to disincentivize leaving spaces empty for a year or two in anticipation of much more lucrative leases in the future.

A vacancy tax?

OK, we all agree that these are the worst economic times we have ever seen. Workers are getting laid off, companies are failing, and times aren't looking good for the near future.

Commenters also agree that DTX is a hurtin' area - the word "blight" is often used. Besides the Filene's hole, there's a fair amount of ugliness with vacant buildings, and a worn out look. Things look pretty beat right now.

Regardless, you want to institute a vacancy tax, thereby penalizing a landlord because he can't rent out some space in an area of blight during an economic meltdown. Really, think about it. You want to impose a fee on someone merely because the economy sucks. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense does it?

You seem to have the impression that there are thousands of prospective tenants out there dying to lease space in the DTX area, or anywhere else for that matter. I don't have any statistics in front of me, but I seriously doubt that's true. There's a lot of space available everywhere. Just take a drive thru some office parks and tally up the "For Lease" signs and add up the sq. footage.

But OK, just for grins, let's suppose Mayor X institutes a vacancy tax. So, Joe Landlord puts a chair, table, and a file cabinet in his 20,000 sq. ft. space and rents it out for $1/year to one of his business associates. No need to pay the vacancy tax.

DTX isn't something that's going to be fixed in a year or two. Someone, and I have no idea who (city planner???), needs to
a.) come up with a 10-year-plan for the area,
and b.) needs a way to to implement the plan, either through tax incentives, or whatever.

The hardest part will be finding someone to lead the movement and make things happen, maybe someone with a vested interest in the area. The area is definitely worth the effort. It's accessible (T), it's a great location (near the Garden/Common, financial district, waterfront), and it has great potential. It needs a person, like a Chuck Turner-type, to constantly drive the effort.

Just my 2 cents.

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Many storefronts are going empty because CURRENT tenants are being squeezed out by ever-growing rent. When a landlord holds 2 places and the first place empties because the renter folds up shop and disappears, then the landlord just lost half of his income in this down time. The other place may be doing extremely well and so the landlord is plotting to improve his own subsistence by raising the rent on the one place he has left that still has a tenant. In the meantime, he's not lowering the rent on the other place...oh no...he's holding it steady waiting to see if the area/economy will pick back up and allow him to keep it at the same level. THEN, the other tenant sees the rent increase and decides he doesn't need to spend that kind of money on that rent and leaves too. Now, the landlord is out 2 tenants but may STILL not rent out his properties for less because he is still making money off of other holdings or other investments. And here we are at today's situation. All because of greedy landlords.

Look at the Wendy's. Killer business doing just fine...bumped out by stupid rent increase. Look at Marty's in Brighton. Killer business doing just fine...bumped out by stupid rent increase. It's happening all over the city where landlords are dealing with the economic downturn by trying to lean on the few successful tenants that they still do have.

You can probably go back in and add in some sort of "blight" sweetheart deals with BRA, etc. too for some flavor in some places. The city is in need of a serious reset on its rent/real estate costs. Until that happens (and a vacancy tax of some sort implemented fairly and smartly would be one way to help force it to happen), I think you're going to see a lot of these places stay empty for a long time. The bubble is dead and I don't see it coming back any time soon.

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how many of these commercial owners are forclosing on these properties where there are empty storefronts. That would give an indication on whether or not these owners really need the money.

Lets use this situation:

Lets say that you buy a million dollar+ piece of property where your mortgage is 10K a month and you rent it out for 12K a month. Now because of the economy, the lesee breaks the lease or doesn't renew it. Now the owner should start to see if anyone else can afford the 12K a month. If worse comes to worse, you lower it 1-3K a month just to pay off the mortgage. If you don't have anyone in there, you aren't bringing even the 10K for your mortgage.

Lets say the person paying 12K doesn't renew his lease. You keep the price at 12K but leave the store empty for 3 months until you finally get someone to pay the 12K a month. But if you lowered the rent to 11K, and found someone to rent that first month instead of leaving it empty, you actually would make more money for the first 23 months at the 11K rented rate.

But this is where the problem is that I see. Are the owners not offering the lesser rent? Are people not willing to pay the lower rent? Do these owners have so much money that they dont care?

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Would you try to find 11K in the first month instead of 12K in 3 months....if the leases were 60 months in duration?

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but I used a 9% rent decrease and three months as an example.

If you changed those numbers to a 5% decrease and five months, you would lose 24K over a 60 month period if you waited five months to keep the rent at 12K.

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No big secret, this is a big game. It's a negotiation between a landlord and a prospective tenant, trying to determine what's "fair", not unlike Varitek vs. Red Sox. The landlord has every right to ask as much as he wants and the tenant has every right to accept or deny the rent. If he denies it, he can try elsewhere, creating a market. Contrary to popular belief, the landlord does not have bottomless pockets, he will see that the market doesn't support his price, and adjust. If he doesn't adjust, he's toast.

Why is this negotiation different than any other?

Regarding Wendy's, the landlord reportedly raised the rent (though I haven't found anything yet that substantiates this), Wendy's called their bluff, and took a hike. The landlord loses, for now anyway. We have no idea what the rent was before, we have no idea what the landlord was asking, we have no idea what market rent is, but somehow Kaz calls him a greedy landlord. That's a big leap.

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I agree for the most part that the owner has the right to charge whatever he wants. Its his property and this is America.

But empty storefronts effect everything around it. And although many landlords don't have bottomless pockets, I think a lot of these guys do. And that's my whole problem.

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And just how long does it take for him to be toast? Then who takes his land and what rent do they start trying for? That whole time that's going on, what's the condition of the neighborhood deteriorating to? How does that effect the business and rent of all of the neighboring stores?

One landlord making a money grab at one of its tenants can have serious effects on the entire neighborhood when you're dealing with a situation like DTX where Filene's has already left a stunningly huge hole in the area (physically and figuratively).

Hell, if these guys have enough holdings or other profits, they may be willing to gamble their losses that another big spender will come along soon enough OR that someone from the city will buckle under and start dropping free money in the form of tax reliefs and everything else to "try to rejuvenate" the area...again, all the while, the area is a hole in the ground (and growing).

The choice is either to incentivize or penalize the owners until business comes along again. Since much of the problems in DTX would appear to be caused by the owners and not because the tenants and customers are leaving, don't expect me to want to run to the owners' aid in renting out their space at more than they were getting when times were actually good.

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Let's say a vacancy tax is a good idea for downtown crossing. You can't target one area with that tax. You have to do it citywide - so now you start hitting every landlord in the city - no matter how well the neighborhood is doing, how hard they are trying to rent or how strapped the owner is.

I'm in a club that owns a building in a fairly vibrant part of Boston and we rent the downstairs out to commercial tenants. We rent deliberately at below market so we get good long term tenants who pay on time-we're not trying to make top dollar - and we hate vacancies - but they happen. Let's say one of our tenants leaves and we can't find a good tenant for months or even a year or two - because retail has crashed - should we be penalized?

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I do rent first-floor retail space in DTX, and the only hard part (even in 2006-7 when commercial space was still booming) was figuring out which lease I wanted to sign. The space I rented hadn't been used for a decade or so. They even put in new electrical service for me.

Some of the landlords are greedy, yes; their operating costs are low enough that they are perfectly happy sitting on vacant space until a Really Lucrative Tenant shows up. The retail spaces in Lafayette Place are a great example; their rents were something like 50% higher than other spaces, and they had no interest in even renting it month-to-month until they found a Good Tenant.

On the other hand, I can see the logic of holding out for a "good" retail mix in your property; it did wonders for Samuels at Trilogy. Sort of an anti-tragedy of the commons, tho.

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All I know about DTX is I avoid it now when I'm showing people around Boston or am passing through myself. It's a sad place and nothing brings me there. I'll take Tremont St. thank you.

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Ditto.

It's a bunch of crappy stores that offer nothing, and MBTA riding punks just hanging out loitering after cutting school. DSW and Macys are the only store that I visit there, and even then it's not frequently (Only need shoes once or twice a year).

How about a super market, or small farmers market? Some nicer restaurants and pubs that will stay open later then the late afternoon rush?

Mumbles seems to have grand plans to only focus on developers who want to make this Newbury East, but unless he decided he wants to shut down 1/2 the red line, and all of the orange line; why not consider mid level stores and eateries that will server all the people who come in and out of DTX? After all, it appears high end developers want no part and the high end plans are driving business away as they snarl up space, rents, and holes in the ground.

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In the last year, in DTX, I've shopped at DSW, H&M, City Sports, and Army-Navy. I might have ducked into Macy's, looking in vain for a gift, too.

Occasionally I'll hit that food court in the afternoon. Some of the food is good, but most of the ambiance (lighting, tables, noise, crowds, spatial) is terrible. Also, I'm usually aware that I'm the only non-Hispanic white person in there. That doesn't bother me, but people do sometimes think along skin color lines when they assess whether they're welcome/comfortable in a place or not.

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Another empty storefront for a Menino sign.

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A lot of cities allow you to jump on and off the transit system for a couple of hours for one fare. This would encourage T riders to get off at Downtown Crossing on the way home from work, buy something, and continue their commute. It wouldn't cost the T a dime, because the same riders are taking up the same space now. The way it is now, with thousands of people passing underneath Downtown Crossing, they can't take advantage of the location without paying twice (unless, of course, they have a pass).

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Mark, Stevil, Swirlygrrl: Three of the best ideas I have ever heard for fixing the Downtown Crossing problem.

Whit

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These are innovative suggestions, way above the usual cars/no cars debate. You three should start a "Fix DTX" blog.

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Considering the evidence says the store is always packed...perhaps this isnt a sign of the decline of DTX, or anything like that.

Maybe the franchise owner died and nobody stepped up to take his place?

There could be hundreds of reasons for closing.

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Wow - I'm surprised the Washington st one is closing. They're mobbed all day, and have some of the fastest servers in town. The Summer st one is dingy and wicked slow...

I wonder if Wendys is leaving, or if this is another B&N - the LL jsut doubles the rent and we'll see an empty storefront as a monument to their greed..

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As usual concerning Downtown Crossing the usual suspects want to blame the black people, the hole in the ground (which is a huge issue), the lack of residents (bull) and a boatload of crap but the reality is that the lease was up and just like with Barnes and Noble before it the landlord, the property owner tried to take them to the cleaners in the middle of the worst economic time ever. Wendy's took the high road and said, "SEE YA". When will the media, the Mayor and all of you start asking the easy questions. Why won't these greedy bastards lower the rents? Why are they happy to leave over 50 stores vacant for years? Why is it ok to leave a hole in the ground and a blown up building as an eyesore? Enquiring minds want to know. I WANT TO KNOW!

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