Seasons, storefronts cycle on Centre

April 4, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

JP CENTER—Spring is coming, and major changes are afoot in the Centre Street business district.

A flock of new sandwich shops, including expanded versions of JP’s City Feed and Supply and Blue Frog Bakery as well as newcomer Real Deal deli, are migrating to the district as the ground thaws and the days get longer.

And Boing! JP’s Toy Shop, is contemplating a hop down the street, to a new location at 677 Centre St.

But according to some—like the recent tenant at 677 Centre, Gordon “Chuck” King, proprietor of Jamaica Cycle & Sports—the climate is no longer hospitable to service-oriented retail businesses in the Centre Street district.

King has closed up shop after 22 years—one of the longest runs of any business in the district.

He said he was forced to close because his landlord raised the rent “a lot,” and he is not pleased about the way the neighborhood is going.

“You can eat from any nation in the world on this street, or get $1 million apartment…Service-oriented businesses are soon going to be a thing of the past in JP,” he said.

In January, 2007, police raided Jamaica Cycle, and King was charged with improper storage of a firearm and multiple counts of drug possession with intent to distribute.

King declined to comment for the record about his charges, except to say that the matters were settled without going to trial. He also declined to comment on how publicity about the raid may have affected his business.

Jake Wark of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office confirmed that the case against King never went to trial. On the drug charges, the case was continued without a finding for two years. If King does not “get in trouble” during that time, they will be dismissed, Wark said.

King pled guilty to charges of improper storage of a firearm, and is concurrently serving two years probation on that count, Wark said.

King had four customers during the half-hour the Gazette spent interviewing him on a weekday afternoon in late March. One of them, a JP resident who identified herself only as Beth, echoed King’s sentiments about the direction Centre Street is taking.

“I think it’s sad to see stores going out of business because of rent. It’s affecting the whole downtown. I don’t want this to be just a whole block of high-end shops I can’t afford to buy things in,” she said.

King said he is “keeping the name” Jamaica Cycle & Sports.

“I’m planning to reopen. I’m too ornery to let this city go,” he said.

He said he is looking for a new location somewhere other than Centre Street. In the meantime he will continue to operate what he described as a “mobile repair unit.”

“I have a place I am working out of. People can drop off their bike or I can pick it up and I will get it back to them,” he said.

He is handing out new business cards with a phone number where his clients can reach him.

Despite the fact that their relationship has at times been acrimonious, one of King’s competitors, Jeffrey Ferris, proprietor of Ferris Wheels Bike Shop on South Street, expressed what he described as “mild sympathy” for King.

“It’s a challenge running a small business today, whether it’s in JP or most any place. There are probably a lot of small businesses on [Centre] Street that are not that far from going away,” Ferris said.

Ferris said he and King have engaged in “friendly competition” over the years. They have also extended “professional courtesy” to one another, including selling each other bike parts when one of them was in a pinch, he said.

Nicholas Darris, owner of the building that houses Jamaica Cycle, said he is in negotiations with Elaine Hackney, the owner of Boing!, to take over the space.

Darris said a lease has not been signed yet, and Hackney declined to comment for this article, but there is a “for lease” sign in the window at Boing!’s current 729 Centre St. location.

Ferris said he wishes Hackney the best of luck. “I hope we find another community person to take her place [at 729 Centre] although the rents are through the roof,” he said.

Ferris and Hackney are both members of the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association (BAPA).

Plenty of sandwiches

Ferris also pointed out that, in addition to Jamaica Cycle and his store, there are two other bike shops in JP: Bikes Not Bombs on Amory Street and Revolution Bicycle Repair II at 383a Centre St. in Hyde Square.

“All the competition has made [Ferris Wheels] stronger,” he said.

If competition does the same thing for sandwich shops it has done for bike shops, Centre Street diners are in for a treat.

Blue Frog Bakery, after four years in a tiny 450-square-foot space at 3 Green St., is considering a leap around the corner to 654 Centre St., said bakery proprietor Bradley Brown.

The bakery has not signed a lease yet, but the Christopher Kokoras Insurance Agency plans to be out of that 1,200-square-foot storefront by June 1, Brown said.

The space also has a 1,200-square-foot basement, and, if it possible under zoning, Blue Frog will turn that space in to a “production area,” he said.

The extra space would allow Blue Frog to expand its bread baking operation as well as offer soups, salads and sandwiches and add customer seating.

“It will allow us to address the number one customer complaint about us, that we have no seating. We will by no means be a restaurant, but we’ll be a nice place for people to hang out and have a sandwich,” Brown said.

As the Gazette previously reported, two other sandwich peddlers are planning to open in coming months—JP-based grocery/deli City Feed and Supply at 672 Centre St. and West Roxbury-based Real Deal deli at 763 Centre St.

City Feed plans to keep its much smaller Boylston Street store open, but, like the Blue Frog, it plans to use the larger space at its new location to expand its inventory and offer customer seating.

City Feed proprietor David Warner said he is not worried about competition, though. For one thing, he said, groceries are where most of his store’s revenue comes from.

And, beyond that, “I think we are all different enough that it will provide a lot of good options for folks…Options are good, competition is good, we’ll see how it plays out,” he said.

Due to a delay acquiring building permits, City Feed has had to move back its projected opening date to late May or early June, Warner said.

A representative from Real Deal’s West Roxbury shop said that store’s JP location should be open by the end of April.

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