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Menino and others object to Downtown Crossing pushcart removal plan

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  March 11, 2013 11:04 AM

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June 30 2011 Downtown Crossing.jpg

Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com

Street vendors have become a distinctive part of the Downtown Crossing landscape.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino and others have raised objections to a Downtown Crossing business group’s plan to remove pushcart vendors who have operated in the district for more than three decades.

Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District, told the Globe on Friday that the property owners’ group was developing plans for an improved, smaller pushcart program

Sansone said the existing program would cease when vendors’ permits expire at the end of March, but that she expected the vendors would be able to apply to participate in an interim program for the spring that would experiment with a new mix of products and sites.

That offer didn’t sound good enough to many pushcart supporters, including the city’s powerful five-term mayor.

“Why are we displacing these vendors, some who have been there for 30 years?” Menino said in an interview with the Boston Business Journal on Sunday.

“These guys have been struggling, and now the good days are coming and the association wants to bring in other vendors from elsewhere?” Menino said. “I want to take care of the vendors who kept Downtown Crossing alive in the difficult times.”

Menino told the Business Journal he wanted small, locally owned businesses operating in Downtown Crossing and not large, national vendors.

Opposition also sprang up quickly on social media, with a new @SaveDTPushcarts page on Twitter and a “Save the Downtown Pushcarts” Facebook page, as well as posts on another Facebook page called “The REAL Downtown Crossing Page.”

Craig Caplan, a pushcart vendor since 1991, said he created “The REAL Downtown Crossing Page” in 2010 to promote pushcarts and other small businesses. Caplan, 45, said he is a member of the Downtown Crossing Vendors Association and was notified by the BID during the first week in March that it planned to remove existing vendors.

He said the Downtown Crossing Partnership, the predecessor to the BID, had expressed interest in removing the pushcart vendors in 2007 and failed, and that since then the BID had announced no plans to change the program.

For years, he said, the BID had told vendors they would work together and pushcarts would have a role in the business district’s future. He said vendors feel the BID has failed to appreciate their value.

“It’s upsetting to think that the BID doesn’t realize how important we are,” Caplan said. “They should be thanking us for staying around.”

Vendors have persevered, he said, despite the recession, the abandoned development at the Filene’s site, and the many storefronts in the neighborhood that still stand empty. Caplan said vendors know what their customers want and change their merchandise regularly to suit the demand.

“There’s a need, obviously. A lot of other businesses have failed and are not there anymore,” he said.

He hopes that with the support of the mayor and hundreds of downtown shoppers and workers, the BID will see the vendors’ value and work with them.

“We are out there day to day, visibly making them look good,” he said.

The creators of the pro-pushcart Facebook and Twitter accounts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A pushcart supporter who identified himself as Robert Grover of Weymouth created a Change.org petition that had more than 500 signatures by Monday morning, with a goal of 1,000 signers.

Supporters’ comments on the petition have echoed Menino’s statement that those who endured the hard times should reap benefits as Downtown Crossing undergoes a revitalization, with several major development projects underway and the long-stalled redevelopment of the Filene’s Department Store site likely to begin soon.

“It’s disingenuous to ask Mom and Pop shop owners to endure the hard times, and then shamefully eviscerate their livelihoods in the interest of ‘improvement.’ Disgraceful,” wrote signer Patrick Maguire of Boston.

“Downtown Crossing used to be vibrant, fun, a great place to shop, wander around. Now it is dismal, depressing yet through it all the street vendors endured. Don’t you dare move them out. They have as much right, if not more, to be there,” wrote Cyn Stoltz of Andover.

Sansone, of the Downtown BID, was not immediately available for comment Monday morning.

Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com.
Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox.
Follow Downtown on Twitter: @YTDowntown.

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