In one corner we have the ultimate symbol of gentrification: Starbucks. In the other we have the neighborhood that has fought gentrification more loudly than anyone: South Boston.
Now the two are meeting, and no one is making a peep, except perhaps to say, “I’d prefer it were a Dunkin’,” as Derek Flood said Wednesday as he stood near the proposed site, the old Quiet Man Pub just next to Broadway Station.
The old Southie was certainly not a Starbucks town, but even the Dunkin’ Donuts crowd will tell you it’s not the old Southie anymore. Starbucks wants to open? Makes sense.
The neighborhood has doubled its 20-something population since the change began in earnest, at the end of the 1990s. And the “yuppies,” as all newcomers are known, are decidedly more Starbucks than Dunkies.
“There’s a farm-to-table store up on East Broadway,” said David Lindsay-Abaire, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright from the neighborhood. “There could only be a Starbucks to follow. It was only a matter of time, but it makes me very sad. It’s not as if the Quiet Man Pub was the site of upstanding moral behavior. But it makes me so sad.”
The Quiet Man was down at one of the industrial ends of the neighborhood, where Gillette workers, Irish mobsters, and daytime drinkers went to act up. In the late ’80s, a writer for the Harvard Crimson noted with amazement that from the steps of the Red Line station, you could see five bars, and “if you move at all, you can see more.” One of those bars, just across the street from the proposed Starbucks, was Triple O’s, the notorious hangout of James “Whitey” Bulger and his crew.
The Quiet Man, named for John Ford’s 1952 film, was never quite as bad and was known, like many classic Southie bars, for its steak tips. It was owned for years by Paul Lynch, the brother of the celebrity chef Barbara Lynch.
The proposed Starbucks is the first in the old neighborhood; there have been outposts in the waterfront, but this would be the first in the 02127 ZIP code. And it would be just the latest in what has been a massive change for this section of what used to be called “the lower end.” The large Cardinal Cushing school complex is gone, and so is Triple O’s, and giant apartment developments have gone up.
The Starbucks is proposed for 11 West Broadway, a six-
story, 95,000-square-foot structure with 50 residential units. The city’s licensing board is expected to rule on the Starbucks license Thursday.
There are still some pockets of the old Southie around Broadway. Mul’s Diner and Amrheins, two neighborhood institutions, continue to thrive a block away. And Gillette, which has its “World Shaving Headquarters” there, is still a big employer. But many of the factories that once dominated the area have gone the way of the condo or become office space for start-ups.
“All cities evolve,” said Chris Schutte, co-owner of a new wine and craft beer store just up the block called Social Wines. “The neighborhood is different than it was 100 years ago, and it will be different in 100 years.”
Bill Gleason, the president of the West Broadway Neighborhood Association, said that the sight of steel in this economy speaks volumes about the economic health of the community.
“The area has become more dense and vibrant,” he said. “And what’s exciting [about Starbucks] is it’s a place where the community can gather and interact with each other. It brings people down to our end.”
And there’s a Dunkin’ Donuts right across the street.
Billy Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.