No chains need apply

November 3, 2006
By

LOU MANCINELLI

Residents gear up to fight a sub shop


Gazette Photo by John Swan
The sign tells the story as Videosmith on Centre Street holds a going-out-of-business sale.

JP CENTER—After 10 years of successful fights to install and maintain local, independent businesses and halt chains, Jamaica Plain residents may be forced to play the role of an old tough boxer, climbing in the ring to face a new belt challenger and a few more rounds this year.

Business owners along Centre Street, local neighborhood organizations and the Mayor’s Office say they have heard that Videosmith at 672 Centre St. is not renewing its lease this January.

What’s more, word is that a D’Angelo Grilled Sandwiches is going to move in.

Bright pink signs with large bold, black lettering hang in the store’s
windows. “Video store going out of business sale,” they read.

Fred Ciampa, owner of Same Old Place, on the same block as Videosmith, said he went into Videosmith two weeks ago and talked to a worker there who told him the video store was not renewing its lease. The worker did not know any details about why the video store is leaving, according to Ciampa.


Ciampa said he then talked to Jim DeVillis, owner of the building at 672 Centre St., who confirmed what Ciampa had heard, that a D’Angelo’s may be coming to town.

DeVillis was out of town until Nov. 2, after the Gazette went to press. He did not return phone calls to his cell phone, which has been turned off all week.

Dan DeVillis, nephew and co-worker who was accepting Jim DeVillis’s calls this week, would not comment. “Jim is the guy to talk to,” he said.

D’Angelo’s corporate headquarters did not return Gazette phone calls.

D’Angelo’s chain was acquired by the Papa Gino’s Holdings Corporation in August, 1997. It has franchised more than 200 shops and seeks to expand into new markets. Its philosophy is to “put the best quality meats, cheeses and toppings in the freshest breads and to serve it “friendly and fast,” according to its web site.

Local neighborhood groups and individuals say they are determined and prepared to oppose and defeat any chain store.

“I am totally protesting this,” said Rhea Becker, a JP resident. “Chains are available anywhere you go. But what makes JP special is they are not here.”

This week, Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (JPBAPA) President Shane O’Brien came into the Gazette office to hand-deliver the group’s statement:

“While BAPA supports all businesses on Centre Street and South streets, including a landlord’s right to rent space to whomever he/she chooses, we also want to protect the essence of what makes JP unique—the local resident and/or community involved business owner. We feel that Papa Gino’s or D’Angelo’s chain neither helps to further this goal, nor… does it fill a need in the district.”

Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) President John Iappini made similar remarks. “The JPA has not discussed this yet,” he said. “But I think I can speak for everyone when I say the last thing that Centre Street in JP needs is another sandwich shop… or a chain.”

“We understand the dynamics of the Centre Street business district and we know why it’s successful,” said Iappini. “We want it to continue. D’Angelo’s would be a formula for disaster.”

Iappini also referred to a burned-out Papa Gino’s in Hyde Park. “They ought to concentrate on rebuilding the Papa Gino’s that burned two years ago and is the biggest eyesore in Hyde Park,” he said.

D’Angelo’s is on the JPA’s agenda for its Nov. 6 meeting. [See JP Agenda] “The JPA’s buttons will be pushed with Papa Gino’s [D’Angelo’s],” Iappini predicted.

If a restaurant were to come into the storefront now occupied by the departing Videosmith, it would need zoning relief for its food service functions. The new owners would be required to go through a community process, which involves meeting with neighborhood groups and a vote by the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA).

Local groups and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council have the ability to hold permits over the head of prospective businesses until their questions and demands are satisfied and could stand as a barrier between D’Angelo’s and the building at 672 Centre St.

D’Angelo’s could ignore the community, but those tactics would just about drown the chances of receiving a yes vote from ZBA.

“The mayor is behind local businesses,” said Jennifer Mehigan, spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office. “We deal with things on a case-by-case basis.”

In recent interviews, most local people said they recognize D’Angelo’s right to conduct a profitable business in a competitive, free market setting, but said they do not want that style of business in JP.

A restaurant chain in Jamaica Plain could equal disaster for smaller, local restaurants. The overpowering size of chains often allow for lower prices. Lower prices could force people like Ciampa out of business.

“I can’t compete with that,” said Ciampa, referring to D’Angelo’s.

“They have a right to compete,” said Jodi Lief Wolk, program manager of Jamaica Plain Centre/South Main Streets (JP CSMS). “But our prime interest is supporting smaller, independent, locally-based business.”

“I know it’s a free market. I’m not going to be able to stop chains,” said Becker, “but I’d like to stop them in my neighborhood.”

Wolk said JP CSMS has conducted research in JP concerning what types of businesses people in the community want to see brought in.

“There are a variety of things in JP that people want to see,” she said. “Another sub shop is not one of them. They want more retail and clothing. We want to bring something in to JP that people are interested in.”

Breaking chains
Jamaica Plain has a history of opposing chains. The community has also halted a federal highway project.

In 1993 Papa Gino’s threatened to displace Callahan’s Men’s Store at 730 Centre St. which had called JP home for 73 years. But neighborhood opposition and a planned picket killed the deal. It is now the home of locally owned JP Seafood.

Between 1998 and 2000 a Kmart was denied a home in Jackson Square and a Dunkin’ Donuts was turned away from Hyde Square where Petal and Leaf Florist now operates.

In 2004 a Domino’s was halted from taking over at 3700 Washington St.

It remains unclear whether D’Angelo’s will attempt to challenge a community history proves is a fighter that can win. But it is clear that many in JP are ready to defend the “unchained” title and do not want them in the business district.

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