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Business continues to lag in Somerville's Magoun Square

Posted by Marcia Dick  June 22, 2011 09:48 AM

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A photo from the report shows ground floor businesses in Magoun Square.

When you improve it, will they come?

A recent report from the Somerville Office of City Planning and Community Development explores the reasons for the persistent economic doldrums in Magoun Square.

Even with recently rehabbed sidewalks, traffic management and street furniture - a $3 million project paid for by federal stimulus funds - the square still lacks customers.

The biggest culprits are "an unbalanced business mix," high turnover of businesses, low daytime population, and the increasingly shabby state of the buildings themselves, according to the May 25 report.

The planning department's research revealed one-third of the establishments in the square are food service or retail. In 2009, there were only about 50 office and service jobs in the square.

The storefronts often aren't appealing to window-shoppers. Either they're covered up with too many posters or inhabited by businesses that don't, by their nature, draw many casual walk-in customers, including a catering company and a sci-fi fan club.

Commercial rents are relatively cheap, averaging $16.80 per square foot. While that can help stores get started, the report cautions that "they can also encourage entrepreneurs to launch a venture prematurely.

"I think that report missed the mark," said Joe Lynch, founder of the Magoun Square Neighborhood Association. "The mark is, how do we differentiate ourselves?" The real comparisons to Magoun are Teele and Ball squares, he thought.

The CVS and Dunkin' Donuts are thriving, but not necessarily unique.

"The discussion about what to do about Magoun Square's future should not be limited to a few businesses or outside folks," Lynch said. He'd like to see a business/merchant association - the square doesn't have one - involving the full range of businesses plus property owners. 

The report recommends a business network as well. In addition, the city has brought on a Portuguese-speaking summer intern to improve outreach to business owners, many of whom could take advantage of public funding options for improvements.

With 200 units of housing being built down the street and future Green Line stops a short distance away, "the square is well-positioned for a period of renewed growth," the report states.

"Any help that the commercial districts can get ... is beneficial," Lynch said.

Download the report at somervilleresistat.blogspot.com.

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A chart in the study compares Magoun Square residents with Winter Hill and Ball Square.

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