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Longtime Faneuil Hall merchants worry about future

The future of pushcarts at the marketplace is unclear under the current plans.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Harry Haralabatos has seen the future. He’s just not sure he is in it.

The Haralabatos family has sold barbecued chicken and shish kebabs at Faneuil Hall Marketplace for nearly four decades. He welcomes plans for extensive renovations to jump-start the tired retail complex, which long ago degenerated into a seasonal tourist trap that’s mostly avoided by locals.

But will there be a place for Haralabatos and other local merchants after the makeover? It’s hard to find people and places that look like them in a developer’s renderings of the revamped buildings. Some merchants fear the omission is by design.

“I would love the renovations, but I want to be there so I can reap the spoils of the renovations,” said Haralabatos, owner of Aris BBQ in Quincy Market. “Me, my dad, my mom, my kids, and my wife — we’re all dependent on this place. To lose it would be heartbreaking.”

Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp., the operator of the property, intends to begin dramatically overhauling the 272-year-old marketplace, which has remained mostly unchanged for decades, by next summer. The plan would eliminate the food court in Quincy Market, now crowded with dozens of to-go counters, and replace it with a breezy open-concept space with movable bars and some sit-down restaurants. The future location of the pushcarts is unclear, and a boutique hotel will take over some of the retail space.


Many merchants worry about the future of the wooden carts, food counters, and retail shops they have operated for decades.

“We’re not John Adams or anything, but we’re part of the dynamics here,” said Judy Lilla, who started selling handmade pins in Quincy Market 24 years ago. “We’re what makes this place tick.”

Faneuil Hall has served as a local marketplace since 1742. Quincy Market, South Market, and North Market were added in the 1800s as the public market outgrew the original building. Today, the market hosts a mix of local vendors and national and international retailers. But the quality of the marketplace has declined over the years.


For every truly local or unique merchant, there’s a handful of others that sell tourist bait — “Boston” printed T-shirts and tote bags made in China — or cheap trinkets such as toy cars and overpriced sarongs.

The market is dead after sundown and during the tourist off-season, from November to April, merchants say.

Some of the blame for the marketplace’s decline should fall on the vendors, said Mike Tesler, president of the Norwell consulting firm Retail Concepts. Local retailers should challenge themselves to work with Ashkenazy to attract Bostonians and suburbanites back to the market with new and one-of-a-kind goods, he said.

“Retail is a battle. Retail is a fight. Retail is survival of the fittest,” Tesler said. “The winners find ways to do great marketing and great branding, to have fresh products and have the best customer service.”

The merchants agree that the marketplace needs a face lift. They say the succession of private companies that managed the property, including General Growth Properties, which went bankrupt, invested very little in the market over the years.

Jeff Allen, of Topsfield, owner of Boston Pewter Company, unpacked boxes of new merchandise inside his stall at Faneuil Hall Marketplace.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

“It’s tired, really tired,” said Mark Lundein, owner of Walrus & the Carpenter Oyster Bar since 1986. “The bathrooms are horrendous. We’re living 30 to 40 years in the past.”

Ashkenazy bought a ground lease to operate the city-owned market in 2011 and has been working on a renovation plan for nearly three years.


It intends to add an 180-room boutique hotel to South Market, which will help attract visitors throughout the year, and public spaces to draw locals.

Barry Lustig, an Ashkenazy vice president, said the company wants to retain “the indigenous block of merchants,” which he described as people from Boston who have remained in the market for decades. He cited Regina Pizzeria and Boston Chowda Co. as examples.

“The majority of them we expect to work with and be part of the future of Quincy Market,” he said. “It’s impossible for it to be 100 percent of the current tenants.”

The pushcart program will be “sustained” with most of the present vendors, although the carts will be redesigned and moved around, he said.

Lustig said the company will work with some carts and vendors to update their merchandise.

“I am anxious to be able to create something with them and have them understand that a significant majority are going to have a life with us for the next 20 and 30 years,” Lustig said.

But so far, Ashkenazy has not eased their fears.

The company is moving many of the local tenant-rental agreements to a month-to-month basis as long-term leases expire. That gives Ashkenazy flexibility to renovate on its own schedule, Lustig said.

Merchants worry they might be kicked out on short notice.

Some merchants say the rental situation is dragging down the quality of the businesses because vendors don’t want to invest money in spaces they might lose.


Even if they are invited to stay, some worry they won’t be able to afford rent in the renovated building. Currently, some food court vendors pay about $10,000 a month for 350 square feet. Pushcarts pay about $4,100 a month.

Ashkenazy’s plans also show intentions to move away from the grab-and-go food counters and toward a more sit-down style of dining. But some of the vendors say it will be tough to survive in the market if they can’t serve as many customers.

Lustig said he does not believe rent will be a problem for the merchants, but he declined to offer any additional comment.

Some tenants are in favor of the renovation plans but worry about their longtime employees.

Claudio Kraus has sold rare fossils and unique jewelry at Geoclassics in the marketplace since 1982. He has employed many of the same people for decades.

“That’s part of my anxiety here,” Kraus said.

“If anything happens, what do I tell these people who have worked for me for 25 years? Bye? We’re not in business anymore? At night when I sit down and the day’s work is over, it’s all I can think about.”

Taryn Luna can be reached at taryn.luna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @TarynLuna.