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Analysts seek Nubian Sq. revival

Kenneal Patterson
Analysts seek Nubian Sq. revival
Business boosters are seeking a better mix of retailers in Nubian Square. BANNER FILE PHOTO

The Nubian Square Market Analysis, which takes a comprehensive look on issues facing Roxbury’s largest commercial district and offers recommendations to revitalize the community, was released on Feb. 26. The study was conducted with help from The American City Coalition (TACC), the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City (ICIC) and FXM Associates. 

The analysis is meant to provide a blueprint for bringing new life into the area, long known as Dudley Square. It presents seven recommendations, which include increasing office space, preserving affordable housing, stimulating development, introducing new activities throughout the square, improving the MBTA stop and investing in local businesses. The first recommendation focuses on community perception of the square.

“There’s a perception that Nubian Square is not a safe area,” Howard Wial, a member of ICIC, told the Banner. “And that doesn’t say anything about the reality. That’s just the perception. But in some ways, the perception shapes the reality. If people don’t think it’s a safe area, then they’re going to act like it’s not a safe area.”

Wial noted that many Roxbury residents travel to Jamaica Plain or South Bay Center to shop. They spend money in these neighborhoods, rather than fueling the economy of their own community.

“Local businesses are the backbone of the neighborhood, particularly in this area, retail businesses,” Wial said. “There’s a crying need that’s been expressed, not only by other business owners, but by people who live in the neighborhood and people who work in the neighborhood, for retail and restaurants and entertainment options in this area.”

One recommendation encourages investment in “specific strategies to assist existing retailers to expand while also recruiting retailers to respond to these opportunities.” It notes that this recruitment will bring in an “eclectic mix of small, independent, entrepreneurial businesses designed to bring new energy to Nubian Square.”

Christopher Grant, co-owner of Roxbury’s Black Market, said that he also goes out of the neighborhood in order to access other shops. He shops at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and often sees other people from Roxbury that have traveled outside of the community to get to these places.

“We don’t have these services in our neighborhood,” he said. “But there’s a reason why we don’t have these services in our neighborhood. And I think that’s the most important part. Why don’t we have these services? Why don’t we have the capacity to have these things in our neighborhood? That’s really, to me, what needs to be tackled.”

Solmon Chowdhury, owner of Dudley Cafe, agreed. “My family’s future is on the line because we are so invested in Dudley Square,” he said, tearing up as he addressed the leaders of the analysis. Years ago, the Dudley Cafe was open at night and on the weekends. Now, it closes much earlier. “The neighborhood didn’t support the hours we were operating,” he said.

He later added, “The way we need to look at it is, ‘How can we support the people who are invested in the community now, so we don’t end up losing them?’ I think that should be one of our priorities.”

Council President Kim Janey told the Banner that there are more black-owned businesses in Nubian Square now than ever before. She said that the square has come a long way.

Nevertheless, she noted the importance of tapping into community power. She said that the improvements must be driven by the residents actually living there.

“We need to make sure that residents of our community and our business owners are driving this conversation,” she told the Banner. “We can’t have a top-down approach. We can’t have this approach that suggests there is an outside savior. We need to save ourselves, and we have the talents, we have the smarts.”

Janey also noted that there have been previous studies on Nubian Square, all of which have issued similar recommendations. She said the best approach was a solution-oriented approach.

“I think it’s important that we don’t get into the practice of study after study after study without truly building upon the work that is being done or actualizing the recommendations in various studies,” she said. “I would say that since the last study of this type, we have made significant progress. [But] is it enough? No.”

Christine Araujo, head of TACC, noted that the organization used these past studies to inform the current one. She said that this new study had taken a deeper dive to produce updated information. She also said that many different businesses and community members were surveyed to ensure good representation.

Araujo also said that she didn’t want another generation to grow up looking at the same square we see today. “We will move the needle, so these recommendations don’t just sit on the shelf. Our goal is never to work on anything that sits on a shelf,” she said.

Araujo said that this project calls upon the whole community to make improvements.  “We know, absolutely know, that it’s going to take a very concerted, coordinated effort,” she said. “It’s not going to rely on one or two entities to do this. It’s going to rely on local businesses, it’s going to rely on Main Streets.”

Janey agreed. “We need to have a collective vision and then move toward actualizing that vision.”

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