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A Care Package for Union Street

Construction spilled over from Union down Purchase Street this week downtown, in front of the Green Bean at the corner where both streets meet.

March has been labeled “Self Improvement” month at Groundwork!, according to its co-founder Sarah Athanas, who wrote this intense blog post on the subject.

I figured that gave me the month off, because, really, what’s to improve? But she had others ideas (and personal suggestions which she thankfully sent me via private message), so here’s my entry into the field…

Self Improvement can be a bummer. It takes effort, sometimes sacrifice and often, pain.

Just ask the merchants on Union Street, New Bedford!

Union Street is in the throes of self-improvement – in the form of a big streetscape project from Water Street to Sixth Street. I wrote about it last year – yes, last year. Actually, it feels like it’s been going on for several years at this point.

Especially if you own a business on the street.

Taking it on the chin

A few weeks back, Calico’s owner Elissa Paquette posted a heartfelt vid on Facebook describing the high cost of self-improvement. Her business on Union Street has suffered a 25% drop year over year due to the construction along Union Street. That construction has frequently closed the street to vehicular traffic and even made pedestrian travel difficult.

Elissa’s not alone in having business suffer. It’s been tough for a lot of the places on Union Street and even Purchase Street as the street has been torn up, then torn up again. And again. And what follows is the next phase of the streetscape project –  the sidewalks!

During all of this turmoil, however, a sort of silver lining has emerged.

Shelley Cardoos, director at E for All and also owner of the artisan gift boutique, Hippo – right at the epicenter of all this at the corner of Purchase and Union Streets – tells me that the merchants are communicating with each other as never before. (And also attempting to do the same with city officials – though that’s been a frustrating experience at best.)

While a pain, only small sections of Union Street are closed at a time. Use Spring Street, one block south, to avoid construction (and find parking).

Band of Businesses

It’s a bit of good news in what has been a challenging environment for quite some time. Shelley says that a genuine camaraderie has developed among downtown business owners trying to collectively cope with the construction carnage.

That includes older, established businesses – like Calico, Pour Farm Tavern, and The Green Bean – and newer ones like Hippo, Purchase Street Records and Finest Hour Athletics. Straddling the established and the new is Destination Soups, which began life down the street from its current location at 149 Union Street several years ago. Either location put it in the crosshairs of the construction.

So, we’d like to communicate with you, dear reader, that a lot of the places that now give downtown New Bedford its unique flavor are now taking it on the chin – and now is the time to walk on the wild side and show them love with your business.

The next phase of the Union Street streetscape projects promises – or threatens – to overhaul the sidewalks.

What doesn’t kill you…

Union Street is classic New Bedford, matched only by Purchase Street in its funky charm. It’s where the New Bedford renewal we’re enjoying began and where – despite the challenges of the last and perhaps next year – it promises to flourish.

In spite of all terror, the new Co-Creative Center held its grand opening about two weeks ago and People’s Pressed Juices in that building held a soft opening last Friday. Both were warmly welcomed by the community of businesses that already exist on and around Union Street – and now only await your welcome, too.

The trick to visiting Union Street businesses is to park elsewhere and walk a block or two over. Which let’s face it – most probably already do anyway because it’s a pain to park on a busy street. One short block from Union Street on Spring Street you’ll almost always find plenty of available parking, too.

The construction on Union Street is like open heart surgery. It is literally taking a knife – or backhoe – to downtown’s heart.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. That’s scant consolation when you’re bleeding on the operating room table.

There’s no need to call a nurse to apply the compress, though. Downtown is our heart and we can heed the motto, “Physician, heal thyself.”


Steven Froias