Main Streets: Hyde Sq. still strong Latino district

David Taber

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“News of our death has been prematurely reported.”

That was Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets board member Andy Waxman’s overall assessment when he presented a report on the economic health of the local business district—titled “Still Boston’s Latin Quarter, Still Vibrant”—at Hyde Jackson Main Streets’ April 21 annual meeting.

Since the news came out in January that Whole Foods Market is planning to open a store in the square, some have suggested that it represents a sea change for a business district that has long been considered Boston’s Latin Quarter.

Others have pointed to prominent, long-term storefront vacancies, including 403-405 Centre St.—former home of the Bella Luna restaurant, bowling alley/bar Milky Way Lounge and Lanes and the June Bug Café coffee shop—in the heart of the square.

The effect of Whole Foods will have on the business district is still an unknown quantity, because the new store has not yet opened. Also, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) is in talks with a Latino Grocer about moving into a 7,500-square-foot commercial space the JPNDC owns at 363 Centre St.

Carlos Schillaci, executive director of Hyde/Jackson Square Main Streets, told the Gazette they are concerned that the JPNDC’s plan could hurt business for local bodegas. Business has been booming at those small Latino-oriented grocers since Latino grocer Hi-Lo Foods—the store Whole Foods is replacing at 415 Centre St.—closed its doors earlier this year.

Waxman and another Hyde/Jackson Main Streets board member, Juan Gonzales, are on the JPNDC staff.

Another long-term challenge the district may face is that Jamaica Plain’s Latino population is shrinking, according to recently released US Census figures. As the Gazette previously reported, the neighborhood lost close to 10 percent of its Hispanic population between 200 and 2010. The Hyde Square-area’s non-Hispanic white population grew while its Hispanic population shrank.

But, at least for now, and despite the prominent vacancies, the numbers indicate that Hyde/Jackson’s retail space is operating at close to capacity, with a 5 percent vacancy rate. That is the same as the citywide vacancy rate, the report says. Close to 60 percent of the Square’s 111 businesses cater to Latino clientele, and close to fifty percent are Latino owned.

About 68 percent of the district’s 293,000 square feet of storefront space is being used for retail and services, the report says.

The average rent has risen by about 4.5 percent since 2003, from around $21 per square foot to around $28 per square foot. That is faster than inflation, Waxman said.

About 13 percent of the businesses in the square are professional services, like lawyers or accountants; 10 percent are personal services, like hairdressers; 13 percent provide food service or are bars; 21 percent are “shoppers goods,” like clothes, appliances or furniture; 44 percent sell convenience goods, like food or toilet paper.

Schillaci told the Gazette that the main streets organization next plans to conduct a needs assessment for the district. That report will be released in a few months, he said.

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