Tenants lined up for old Borders site

Three high-profile merchants are planning to open or expand in the Back Bay building abandoned by Borders

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
John Piragis took down one of the last signs for Borders as the Back Bay site undergoes renovation.

Fast food that’s good for you, athletic gear, and cheap-chic fashion will take the place of shelves of books in the former Borders space on Boylston Street.

The vacated bookstore at the Newbry building in the Back Bay will be divided into three sections to make room for high-profile tenants, including the city’s first Pret a Manger cafe, an Athleta shop run by Gap Inc., and an expanded H&M store.

Athleta, which focuses on women’s athletic apparel, will debut this spring in a 4,200-square-foot space with an entrance on Newbury Street, according to Jeremy Grossman, an executive with CBRE/Grossman Retail Advisors, which exclusively represented the owners in the retail leasing of the property.

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff
The vacated bookstore at the Newbry building in the Back Bay will be divided into three sections to make room for high-profile tenants.

Pret a Manger, a British chain that specializes in natural foods to go, is finalizing a lease to open this summer in a 2,700-square-foot shop with an entrance on Boylston Street. And H&M is planning to invest about $7.5 million to take over roughly 17,000 square feet and nearly double the size of its existing shop next door.

Get Talking Points in your inbox:
An afternoon recap of the day’s most important business news, delivered weekdays.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

“Our objective was to maximize the mix of uses at the site and find unique retailers that would be attractive and desirable not only to the neighborhood but also to the office tenants above in this building,’’ Grossman said. “We believe this mix allows us to do that.’’

Grossman said the two-story space attracted dozens of inquiries from retailers and a number of deals were evaluated before selecting these three merchants.

Borders abandoned the site last year after the bookseller filed for bankruptcy protection and then liquidated the entire chain. Borders also vacated a marquee spot in Downtown Crossing, where Walgreens plans to open an upscale shop this fall that will feature fresh rolled sushi, a nail salon, and a juice bar.

The Newbry occupies nearly a full block bounded by Berkeley, Boylston, Clarendon, and Newbury streets, and the property served for much of its history as the headquarters for the New England Mutual Life Insurance Co.


Jennifer Nelson, a spokeswoman for Pret a Manger, said the company, which has about 265 locations worldwide, has been looking in Boston since early 2011. Pret a Manger makes all of its natural foods fresh daily, and everything is packaged in grab-and-go containers with sandwiches starting at $3.89.

“We’re really excited, and we hope that it goes well in Boston,’’ Nelson said.

Retail analysts said the new shops are an exciting addition for the Back Bay, but may not attract as diverse a crowd as Borders. The bookstore drew men and women of all ages throughout the day, while the new merchants cater to certain demographics, according to Mike Tesler, president of Retail Concepts, a consultancy in Norwell.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino said the interest from high-quality merchants, such as Pret a Manger and Athleta, reflects the Back Bay’s reputation as a premier shopping district. Retail vacancy rates dropped to 3.4 percent in the Back Bay, compared to 4.6 percent citywide, according to the most recent city estimates.

For Athleta, which was acquired by Gap in 2008 and has 11 stores in the United States, the Back Bay location will be its first Massachusetts shop. The brand focuses on performance apparel for women - similar to the popular Lululemon Athletica chain - but with lower prices.


“They are not Lululemon. But Athleta is something fresh. They are something new. They’ve been well received in places where they’ve opened and they have more mainstream price points,’’ said retail consultant Tesler.

H&M, the Swedish cheap-chic merchant which also has a store in Downtown Crossing, is negotiating to expand and add departments in the makeover, Menino said. The Back Bay location currently does not have children’s or maternity departments, and it does not feature the full selection of men’s clothes, according to a store employee.

“It’s going to become H&M’s signature location for the city,’’ Menino said.

Having a broader footprint in the Back Bay will make H&M a more compelling place to shop, according to Madison Riley, a retail strategist with consultancy Kurt Salmon.

“They are a terrific retailer doing a tremendous job in the US,’’ Riley said. “It’s going to continue to be a draw for that area.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.