Boston, MA - It is hardly a revolutionary notion that gentrification is an ongoing concern in most urban cities from New York to San Francisco; and Boston has never been exempt. In fact, you could say we’ve historically been early adopters of urban development models that may ultimately transform a neighborhood—but at the cost of its very identity.
Jamaica Plain is a pertinent example. According to data provided by the American Community Survey of the U.S. Census Bureau, In 1999, the median value of a home was priced at $186,222 while the average household income was reported at $40,627. By 2013, those numbers had skyrocketed to $646,800 and $149,167 respectively. And with the rise in residential costs of living, commercial retailers either adapt—or, more often than not, fail to meet changing climates. Sobering statistics, as any employee of Meatland Butchers or Harvest Co-op would be happy to tell you.
There are of course, a few exceptions to the rule. Deep Thoughts JP, for example. For a physical retailer specializing in experimental, obscure and lo-fi music to survive for over five years despite the much proclaimed death of the music industry may seem nothing short of miraculous; but it’s the restaurants which help provide both nourishment, backbone and blood of a neighborhood.
It seems as fast as you’re issued a permit in Boston, leases triple; and tastes evolve into the latest artisan craze imported from the Northwest. And that’s as applicable to Jamaica Plain as anywhere else. The past two years have seen the death of Kamado. Mooyah. Eugene O’Neill’s. Aurum. Pink Samurai. The Gate. And that’s just to name a fraction. I haven’t even mentioned Zon’s, Cafe D or Bon Savor. In fact… I haven’t even mentioned restaurants that haven’t been around for over five years.
“Because of all of the TV shows like Anthony Bourdain and others like that, it’s easy to romanticize the business, but I think anyone who has been in it for awhile would agree and say it’s one of the tougher ones,” says David Doyle, co-owner of Little Dipper and Casa Grande Cafe. “I think it’s easy to believe as a new restaurant owner that you can come up with an idea that’s going to work in your neighborhood and people are going to love,” said Doyle. “But it’s actually a really hard thing to keep everyone happy.”
The issue isn’t wholly isolated to Jamaica Plain. Or Boston, for that matter. A recent analysis from independent hospitality research firm group indicates that over the past ten years, almost 70% of new restaurant ventures fail within five years.
Still, that statistic doesn’t necessarily sit well with some area residents and restaurant workers who see the trend as being indicative not of the natural life cycle of the culinary industry in 2018 and beyond, but a growing rift in economic inequity; and subsequently survival. On both a personal level as well as commercial.
“I lived there all my life and [have] been working in restaurants since I was 15,” says Darryl Beale, a Jamaica Plain resident until earlier this year. “Doesn’t matter where you go in Boston... Everything changes. But you don’t see anything like JP.”