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Nonantum will get a facelift with help from federal funds

The Italian flag’s tricolor adorns the base of a utility pole at Watertown and Adams streets, in the heart of the village of Nonantum.

Photos by Rose Lincoln for the Boston Globe

The Italian flag’s tricolor adorns the base of a utility pole at Watertown and Adams streets, in the heart of the village of Nonantum.

The smell of meat and spices delivers a knockout punch to customers who walk into DePasquale’s Sausage Co.

That is the way it has been for decades at the tiny Nonantum storefront, where women push meat through grinders in a back room and owner Steve DePasquale, a giant of a man, greets customers from behind a display of sausages and steak cuts.

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His family has been in business in Nonantum since 1919, and he explained last week what makes this Newton village unique.

“You can find everything you need on this street,” DePasquale said, and rattled off the list of businesses on Watertown Street, from the barber shop and bakery to the fishmonger and tailor. Many of the businesses have deep roots in the community, he said.

But the village, a historically Italian-American neighborhood, is also starting to show its age with buckled sidewalks, faded brick façades, and playground equipment worn with use. So, Newton officials are planning to spend $460,400 in federal grant money to buff up Nonantum in the coming months.

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The city is planting new trees, installing wheelchair ramps along the sidewalks, and fixing the gutters.

Newton officials will seek bids this summer to renovate Pellegrini Park, and are launching a façade improvement program for the village.

“We have these unique villages; we want to ensure they’re vibrant and they’re walkable and they are attractive for businesses to remain,” said Mayor Setti Warren. “We’re using all resources available.”

Newton is funding many of these improvements through the federal Community Development Block Grant program.

Nonantum is among four of Newton’s 13 villages that qualify for the federal money, based on their percentage of low- and moderate-income households. Newtonville, Newton Corner, and West Newton also qualify for the grant money, because enough of their households are at or below 80 percent of the area’s median income.

In Nonantum, 37 percent of the households are considered low and moderate income, according to Eve Tapper, a city planner.

The city rotates which of the four villages it spends the grant money on each year, with much of the funds supporting neighborhood improvements, such as street work and park upgrades.

The façade program is an experiment that will be tried elsewhere in the city if it succeeds in Nonantum, officials said.

Newton is setting aside $125,000 for businesses that are interested in making exterior improvements to their buildings. The city will give a forgivable loan of up to $35,000, as long as the business makes a matching investment. The repayment of the loan decreases every year, and if the business stays in the village for at least five years after the improvements are made, the city would forgive the balance, Tapper said.

Newton will also provide grant money to pay for some of the architectural and design work involved in making the façade improvements, she said.

In addition to the federal funds, Nonantum is scheduled in the next fiscal year to receive $184,800 of the $1 million in increased taxes that voters approved for roads and sidewalks in the March override of Proposition 2½. The city has targeted Hawthorn Street and a portion of Crafts Street for paving.

Between the federal grant, the override funds, and some city beautification money, Nonantum residents should notice the village getting a fresher look, said Alderman Scott Lennon, who represents the area.

In recent leaner budgets, the city could not spend money on both employee salaries and beautification projects, Lennon said.

“It’s been a lot of patchwork,” he said of past efforts. “There’s a lot of stuff going on in the neighborhood. And a lot of it will be things that people will see.”

Antoine Khachadourian, the owner of Antoine’s Pastry Shop, said the villages have sometimes felt neglected, and he is pleased to see the city investing in these commercial centers.

“It will show the residents of this area that the city is doing something,” Khachadourian said. “It’s a beginning of a long-term improvement.”

Antoine’s Pastry Shop has been selling fresh bread, cannolis, and other confections in Nonantum for 57 years, and has built up a customer base that extends well beyond the city limits, but the path is much more difficult for newcomers, Khachadourian said.

A gelato store on Watertown Street closed recently after only a few years in business, he said.

Smoother sidewalks and more-polished storefronts could help draw customers to Nonantum’s commercial hub, Khachadourian said.

After these projects are completed, perhaps Newton officials will start tackling the village’s more stubborn problems, such as providing better short-term parking options for customers trying to patronize its businesses, Khachadourian said.

Warren said the city does not want to remake Nonantum, but if the existing businesses and village want to thrive, they need to modernize by becoming more handicapped accessible and pedestrian friendly.

Newton officials also gathered input from village businesses and residents about the changes they wanted to see, Warren said.

“The idea for us is to maximize the dollars and make sure it’s comprehensive,” Warren said.

Jim Schpeiser, a village resident who sits on the Nonantum Advisory Committee, said the improvements are happening at an opportune time.

Newton is updating the nearby Carr School to use as temporary space for students while Angier and Cabot elementary schools are rebuilt. That will probably mean more teachers and parents from other villages will have to drive through Nonantum, and perhaps get to know and stop in the local shops, Schpeiser said.

“That could cause an uptick in business,” he said.

Deirdre Fernandes can be reached at deirdre.fernandes@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @fernandesglobe.
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