Heavy construction equipment on Beacon Street near the St. Mary's T stop last September caused traffic backups and obstructed the view of the shops along the street for much of 2011. The owner of clothing store Zia (left behind the equipment) said the work has now forced her business to close. Photo by Brock Parker.
Months after saying a massive sewer project in Brookline was crushing her Beacon Street business, Zia clothing store owner Lesia Stanchak said the construction has finally done in her shop.
Stanchak, who for four years owned the clothing store at 1054 Beacon St. near the St. Mary’s T stop, closed her shop at the end of March and is now hoping to reopen in a much smaller space on Boston's Newbury Street with the help of a new partner.
“I’m excited to be out of Brookline and away from that construction,” Stanchak said Thursday. "It was devastating to business."
Stanchak is one of a number of businesses along Beacon Street near the Boston line that have been complaining since last year that a massive $25 million sewer project in the area has been driving people away from their stores.
The two-year project began last spring and is separating sewer lines from storm drains and prevent sewage from spilling into the Charles River. The work is part of the federal court-ordered cleanup of the Boston Harbor and is being funded by the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority. The town of Brookline is managing the construction around the Beacon Street area.
For months last year, massive construction equipment was parked in front of Stanchak’s business and almost entirely blocked the view of the store from the street while simultaneously causing traffic backups along the outbound side of Beacon Street. Some of the most obstructive work has been completed, but work continues in the area.
At its height, Stanchak said the construction caused a 90 percent drop in her business, and other merchants in the area, including Kolgian Oriental Rug Galleries, The Eye Store and the Beacon Street Tavern have all said the construction has hurt their businesses.
In an effort to help the struggling businesses, town officials in January invited merchants and property owners in the area to file abatement applications seeking lower property taxes this year.
Brookline Assessor Gary McCabe said Thursday that abatement applications have been filed for 17 commercial properties in the area, including some properties that house multiple businesses. He said the decisions on the applications have not been made, but will be around the end of this month.
Kara Brewton, Brookline’s economic development director, said the town has also tried to assist businesses in other ways, including offering zero-percent loans for façade improvements. Brewton said Brookline’s Chamber of Commerce also sponsored a “Cash Mob” encouraging people to shop in the area in recent weeks.
But Brewton said the economic development efforts, and even the potential for property tax relief, are “all minor things” when compared to the rent businesses in the area are paying.
Brewton said construction equipment had almost entirely blocked the frontage of other businesses, too, and she knows that at least one other business has had to layoff a couple of employees.
Stanchak said her old customers were telling her that they would do anything to avoid the Beacon Street area where the construction was. She said Brookline’s economic development office had tried to help her, and she did file an abatement application. But she couldn’t wait on the final decision on the application.
“Too little, too late,” she said. “They should have done something ahead of time.”
Stanchak said the money she lost forced her to close her 900 square foot store and she has had to take on a business partner, Mara Ellsworth, so she could move into a much smaller 260 foot location at 246 Newbury St. The store is now awaiting a certificate of occupancy to open in the new location.
“Nobody wants to have to move,” Stanchak said.
--Brock Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org