This series on Arlington’s businesses initially arose out of a recent reality check about commercial rental properties in Arlington Center. If you run errands in the area, you may have noticed a couple of empty storefronts. Arlington Public News sought explanations and met with several small business owners in Arlington Center and East Arlington to find answers.
Ara Gechijian, owner of New England Photo and other commercial spaces in his building, sells all kinds of professional camera equipment. The store – which he inherited from his parents, Armenian immigrants who purchased the building more than 70 years ago – could also be a museum. Among pictures of his family, who passed along a tradition and a passion for everything photographic, and vignettes of his sports car collection, Gechijian displays unique camera devices, heritage of a time when film was mainstream. New England Photo, one of the last stores in the area that still develop film, is now mainly a destination for collectors and camera aficionados. Gechijian knows a lot about Arlington Center’s history and has seen at least a hundred stores open and close their doors over the years. He attributed this to rentals prices that have gone so high they do not allow small mom-and-pop businesses to survive long, as well as the increasing mix of restaurants, that compete for the same audience.
Barbara Popolow, owner of Derby Farms Flowers and Garden and recipient of the “2014 Small Business of the Year” award given by the Arlington Chamber of Commerce revealed her own story. Her beautifully curated store was formerly located in Arlington Center. In February 2014, she took over a new commercial space in East Arlington. “Our former landlord increased our rent and it caused me to need to look for another space.” When she received the “2014 Small Business of the Year” award, she mentioned that she felt very strongly that landlords create the feel of a town. “They have a lot of power that way and they can really help create a very vibrant shopping district or they can also change it into a very homogeneous one and you see that in different towns.
Parking is another concern for businesses in Arlington. Leland Stein, co-owner of the Regent Theater talks about the current irony of the situation. His patrons, who mostly come from out of town, can only park for up to 3 hours in the municipal lot. This is a limited time to attend a show and shop or eat in neighboring stores. Carla Dorato, owner of the nearby Artful Gallery said that the Town as well as some local business organizations are working on improving the situation. Arlington will introduce new metered parking and, as part of the implementation of the Master Plan, will change the location of the bus stops currently located in Broadway plaza.
Our next segment will be an interview with Ted Fields, Arlington’s Economic Development Planner, who will address some of the concerns that business owners raised and talk about strategies to attract more businesses to Arlington. Stay tuned!