Ahead of Boston's mayoral election, we're visiting the city's neighborhoods to find out what challenges they face and what voters there want in a new mayor.
WBUR's All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer toured Cleary and Logan squares in Hyde Park with resident Thien Simpson, who came to the U.S. from Vietnam as a child and works for Hyde Park Main Streets, which helps promote and develop the local business district.
Simpson points out that although some Boston neighborhoods have vibrant business communities, others — including Hyde Park — struggle with vacant storefronts and frequent turnover. So she hopes the next mayoral administration will recruit brand-name retailers.
Thien Simpson: We are lacking a chain store or at least a nice store that would anchor our neighborhood. We would love to have a nice big chain store. The only chain store that we have right now is a dollar store.
Sacha Pfeiffer: Some people think chain stores take away all the personality of a place, but you think it would help this area?
Yes, I think we would like to draw on the neighborhoods next to us, which are Milton and Dedham. They tend to drive through our neighborhood instead of stopping, and I think a chain store would actually help bring people into our neighborhood.
What would be the ideal chain store you'd want here?
Oh, gosh. I would love to have a Target. Everybody loves a Target! Or even something like a Home Depot, or a clothing store like a Gap or an Old Navy.
Are you hoping the next mayor thinks about that and does something to try to spur that kind of business to come to Hyde Park?
I would like to hope that the mayor would feel that that is actually a plus instead of a negative. I don't think that it takes away from the small business owners. I actually think that it brings in more foot traffic, which is a benefit to everybody.
What kind of smaller businesses do you have here?
Around the corner we have some printing shops. We have pizza shops. We do have a couple of ethnic restaurants — Haitian restaurants, Caribbean restaurants.
In fact, when we stepped out of our car to meet you today we immediately heard a person loudly speaking Creole, and we've seen some nail salons where it looked like they were Vietnamese owners, as they often are.
You have a lot of immigrant-owned businesses in Hyde Park?
Yes. Actually, Hyde Park is a very changing neighborhood and the immigrant population has gotten much bigger. Haiti is, I believe, our biggest growing population of immigrants here.
Do you think the immigrants in this community are getting all the services they could use?
I don't believe so, only because they are pretty isolated. At Hyde Park Main Streets, we do try to reach out to the immigrant community, but we find that they don't participate. I don't think that they're aware of what is available. And if we have a new mayor, I hope that he would help with that effort — and I actually have a couple good ideas for that.
What ideas would you like to pass on to the mayor?
It would be nice to have, maybe, a cultural person or a diversity person — someone that's dedicated to neighborhoods that have a large population of immigrants. So, for example, that would be a person with a Haitian background that knows the culture, that knows the language, and then they can be the coordinator for Hyde Park and also maybe some of the other neighborhoods that have a high density of Haitian population, like Dorchester.
That kind of outreach person could help immigrants personally. Are you also hoping it has a business benefit?
Yes. Right now what we see a lot of is immigrants [who are] very passionate and driven about opening up their own business. And what we're seeing is they do not have the business background, there's no business plan. And so they sign a lease, and they realize that the licensing takes time. And so you're paying rent and you're not getting any benefit out of it. So it will be nice to have a point person to kind of guide them through the process without them having to jump the gun first.
We're now in Logan Square in Hyde Park. Could we walk over to Cleary Square to take a look at that area?
Yes, we can.
We just passed a little old-fashioned barber shop.
And we are between two restaurants that look pretty hip — Rincon, and also The Hyde.
Yes. Unfortunately, The Hyde closed during the summertime. He was struggling. And that's another thing that we also find as an issue. We do try to keep a lot of sit-down restaurants here. But, unfortunately, The Hyde lacked a liquor license, so I think that was maybe part of the reason why he wasn't able to succeed. He did have a beer and wine license.
There's a store up ahead on the right that says, "grand opening," so you have a new arrival?
Yes, actually this is one person who is expanding. The store is called Jira. And she has a beauty salon, and now she's opening a beauty supply right next door.
So that's a good sign?
That is a good sign. We love the fact that people can expand. That means they're doing OK. And now we're coming up to a few of our dollar stores. We actually have three on this strip.
Oh, right — J&M Discount, Super Discount...
And the famous Dollar Store.
It sounds like you feel like you have enough of those.
Yes, and actually we have one around the corner, which you can't see from here. So I think that we just need more higher-quality stores that will reflect the rest of the people who live here in the neighborhood.
Do you feel like Cleary Square and Hyde Park have a clear identity?
In terms of retail, we don't have a clear identity. But in terms of a neighborhood, we definitely do. We are a very, very family-oriented neighborhood. We have the largest green space in all of Boston. We have beautiful Victorian houses, beautiful walking trails. We have the hidden Neponset River behind us [where] people can go kayaking. And we also have a very lively arts community here, too. So I would love the new administration to help promote Hyde Park as a very livable neighborhood. Our motto for Hyde Park Main Streets is "Small Town in the City," and that's really true. And, you know, you have all the amenities of living in Boston but with a suburban feel. And it would be nice for people to know that.
We're approaching a big granite marker that says, "Cleary Square."
Yes. This is the heart of Hyde Park. This is the intersection where everybody comes through.
What would you say is the No. 1 thing the next mayor could do to help Hyde Park?
Restaurants, I believe, are the backbones of any neighborhood. People like to shop and they like to eat. And, if anything, I feel that the whole liquor license issue is important enough for the mayor to focus on. I think that would be a challenge, because you're dealing with the state Legislature.
This is the issue of caps on liquor licenses, which make it hard for some restaurants to get them when they want them.
Yes, exactly. And this is not just for Hyde Park. This is for all of Boston, for all of the other main streets that might be struggling in keeping their small restaurants open. So if the mayor can help in any way, then I think that would be a big step forward to making all main streets successful.
You had mentioned earlier that there's a concentration of artists in Hyde Park, which I hadn't known. Are you hoping Hyde Park becomes what Fort Point Channel used to be before the artists got priced out of there?
Yes. We have here in Hyde Park The Lofts at Westinghouse.
This is a residential complex? I've seen ads for this.
Yes, it is lofts that artists actually live and work in, and during the fall they have [an] open studio in which they open up their loft to the public, and it brings people from surrounding neighborhoods to get to see what Hyde Park's all about.
You'd like to see more of that here?
Yes. There was a time when we wanted to brand ourselves as "Destination Hyde Park for the Arts," and we would love to build that up.
With the help of the city?
Yes, yes, definitely.
What could the city do on that front?
I think the city can make it more affordable for artists to live here. I think maybe one of the issues of having a hard time drawing people is affordability. So if the city can make it more affordable for artists or even people in general to move to Hyde Park, I think that would be great.
This program aired on October 23, 2013.