Quincy Market has weathered a lot since it opened back in 1976. The Big Dig. 9/11. Deep recessions. The ebbs and flows of retail, and of downtown Boston itself. And, now, a pandemic.
The historic three-building marketplace reopened officially on Wednesday, its stores, food court stalls, and kiosk operators hoping to salvage a summer season already cut in half by the coronavirus crisis and devastated by the slumping economy.
With Quincy Market opening for the first time in more than three months, the event had a bit of a celebratory air. Market standby Violin Viiv was there, bowing out her instrumental electric pop tunes. A photographer snapped pictures as big glass garage doors swung up to open the market’s side sheds.
But any actual celebrations were limited. With the twin pillars of Quincy Market foot traffic — tourists and downtown office workers — both likely to be scarce in what is normally the busiest season, merchants and retailers acknowledged they could have a long road ahead.
“We’re all pretty anxious about it,” said Lisa McGinley, who owns a pair of pushcarts. “If we don’t have tourists, I’m not sure what it’s going to be like here in July and August. And July and August is what we survive on through the winter.”
Complicating matters, many of the merchants have been locked in a dispute with their landlord, Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., a New York-based real estate firm that operates Quincy Market under a long-term lease with the city. While Ashkenazy deferred rent for local merchants in April, May, and June, they plan to add that money to future payments. Merchants, and the Boston Planning & Development Agency, are pushing for reductions, or at least more time, to help ride out slow months likely to come.
“It’s time that we need, and we’re not getting the time,” said Linda DeMarco, president of the Faneuil Hall Merchants Association. “An immediate ask for rent as soon as we open, it’s not doable for a lot of folks.”
In a letter Friday to the BPDA, Ashkenazy said they would allow tenants to spread out the three months of back rent across 2021, and have invested in marketing efforts and $20 million in physical improvements to Quincy Market in recent years. A spokesman declined comment about July rents, or any potential lease renegotiations. In a statement, BPDA director Brian Golden said he was pleased with the deferment and urged Ashkenazy to keep working to support their tenants.
The merchants and their management are cooperating on other fronts. The Market helped several restaurants expand their exterior patios, and plan to install more outside seating for vendors located inside the Colonnade food court, said general manager Joe O’Malley.
The bigger concern is simply lost foot traffic. Some 18 million people came through Quincy Market last year, O’Malley said. This year is hard to predict, O’Malley said, but the number will surely be far smaller.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “We’ll do everything we can to help.”
That reduced foot traffic was evident on Wednesday, which after some late-morning showers turned into the sort of sunny summer afternoon when Quincy Market would usually be packed with tourists.
There were a smattering of people browsing at Newbury Comics and poking around the T-shirt shops, and a few lunched alfresco beneath umbrellas at Ned Devine’s. But the Colonnade food court, normally packed on a weekday, was all but empty, and Violin Viiv played to just a handful of people sitting, mostly in masks, on the Market’s main steps, not the usual smiling hordes.
Cheers owner Tom Kershaw — who was able to maintain all of his outdoor seating, despite distancing requirements, thanks to a new, expanded patio — said he’s optimistic that some business will return and many merchants can ride this out. But he acknowledged that the typical drivers of summer business aren’t going to help much this summer.
“We get a lot of people from cruise ships, but they’re not cruising. And bus tours, but they’re not touring,” he said. “We all hope we can survive this, but it really depends on whether people come out.”
And that was the other point of Monday’s reopening, DeMarco said -- to remind Bostonians that the historic market at the heart of their city is back open for business. She’s hopeful that locals, and tourists from relatively close by, will help sustain Quincy Market through the slow months to come.
Right now, that hope is enough that nearly all of the 150-plus tenants have decided to reopen. (A Victoria’s Secret store is permanently closed, O’Malley said, and a few restaurants are holding off on reopening for now.) But the next few weeks will be crucial, DeMarco said.
“Every single local merchant is coming back and trying to make it,” she said. “In two weeks if you come back and ask me, I don’t know. We’re hoping for the best.”