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Rent drives 'rich girl' out of Davis

Posted by Marcia Dick  April 30, 2010 08:53 AM

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Danielle Dreilinger

It always happens: You promise you won't leave packing to the last minute but there you are, furiously throwing clothes into a suitcase with an eye on the clock.

Poor Little Rich Girl store owner Meredith Byam did that this week on a grand scale. Hoping she'd reach an agreement with Davis Square landlord Micah Gorin, Byam ended up with less than a week to move nearly 5,000 square feet worth of consigned clothes.

rich girl.jpg One might call Byam, (left) metaphorically, a poor little rich girl herself: Hailed as one to watch, she owns branches of the vintage/secondhand store on Newbury Street and in Cambridge. But the rent on her Somerville flagship became too high to hack. She announced the closing April 25, setting off wailing and gnashing of teeth.
On April 29, a man emerged from the papered-over windows of 255 Elm St. — hot-pink-papered, of course; even in struggle, a girl's got to have style — rolling an overflowing cart to a panel truck. A bag on top was labeled "Jen Trynin" — hip duds from the local former rock star.

Davis Square as a whole seems fairly healthy, with high-profile new tenants like the Boston Shaker cocktail supply shop and Neapolitan-certified Pizzeria Posto.

255 Elm, however, has a recent history of instability, and it's a prominent space to stand vacant. Byam took over the right-hand storefront, formerly West Coast Video, in 2006 after operating for four years around the corner. McIntyre & Moore Booksellers moved out of the left side in 2008, unable to carry the rent. Comedian Jimmy Tingle closed the basement theater in 2007 after a five-year run.

Byam declined an interview request through a spokeswoman and issued a statement. Earlier this week, though, she posted her story on LiveJournal: "The rent was a killer."

National thrift store Buffalo Exchange opened down the block last fall; it didn't affect business enough to make a difference, Byam wrote.

The space is listed on Loopnet at $30/square foot per year, the going rate for one of the best spots in Davis Square, said city economic development director Rob May. According to the ad, discounts will be available for the first three years. The storefront across the street at 240 Elm St., where the Social Security office is leaving, is listed at $50/square foot; storefronts between Central and Harvard squares are asking $35.

The space is expensive because of its size: 4,735 square feet, according to the rental listing, to the tune of almost $12,000/month. (The building used to be a department store.) Byam's small Newbury Street store is cheaper.

"I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to move into such a high-profile space in Davis, and in the end it was still a VERY busy store, just not one that could pay the rent more suited for a very large corporation," she posted.

Visited in his office upstairs, Micah Gorin said he wasn't giving interviews but confirmed that his family owns no other commercial buildings.

Somerville Chamber of Commerce president/CEO Stephen Mackey and Davis Square Alderwoman Rebekah Gewirtz warned against demonizing the family. In contrast to the Central Square-esque Family Dollar and McDonald's down the street, the Gorins "have always tried to do the right thing and have a history of leasing to small businesses rather than going the corporate route," Mackey said.

In fact, "the Gorins worked with [Byam] to make it possible for her to move to the Elm Street side" in the first place, Gewirtz said. She'd been talking to the players for a month and called herself "incredibly frustrated" with the outcome. "The rents have to be realistic."

Byam asked to subdivide the shop, she wrote, but the landlords refused. There's a model for that down the street at No. 212: the Citizens Bank building owners recently split the ground floor to create opportunities for smaller, locally owned shops. That said, May couldn't imagine how one could divide Poor Little Rich Girl's narrow, deep space.

Poor Little Rich Girl's website states that the team is "getting close" to finding a new Somerville location. Gewirtz hoped Byam might move into 212. In general, she and May were concerned that restaurants were taking over the square. Gewirtz recently launched an initiative to make new chain stores in the city pay into a fund supporting locally owned business.

One might speculate that the Gorins felt less pressure to retain Byam because the building's other vacant spaces are coming back to life. As the man rolled bags away, a saw whirred next door. 

Ken Kelly, owner of the Precinct and Independent restaurants in Union Square, is converting 255's other storefront and basement from sales to steak: an American brasserie, a speakeasy-style lounge, and a comedy-etc. theater.

"I think I got a good opportunity," Kelly said. "I always wanted to build a long, narrow bar." He plans to open in the fall and might release the entity's name next week.

The lease? 20 years.

Contact Danielle at somervillescene@gmail.com.

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