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Newbury Street closes to cars for a day

Diners ate at a street cafe set up by Papa Razzi in the middle of Newbury Street on Sunday.Keith Bedford/Globe Staff

Ben Schepers and Maggie Farrand tossed a Frisbee in the middle of Newbury Street on Sunday with no cars, trucks, or duck boats to interrupt their game.

Their only disruption was a stranger — Brandon Steele — who intercepted the disc mid-flight.

“Good catch!” a member of the group yelled.

Newbury Street, an area normally congested with vehicles squeezing through the narrow blocks and dodging pedestrians, gave free rein to foot traffic and merriment on Sunday, as the city closed the busy commercial strip to cars.

Baby strollers, Adirondack chairs, and games of cornhole replaced the usual rush of traffic across seven blocks — Berkeley Street to Massachusetts Avenue — from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.


“It’s nice to not have cars here,” said Schepers, 32, who lives off Newbury Street. “It’s a nice change of pace.”

Mayor Martin J. Walsh was upbeat as he walked through the throngs of shoppers Sunday morning, telling a reporter that he had not heard any opposition to the closure.

“It’s been all positive,” he said. “I’ve lost count of how many people saying this is a great idea.”

Wearing a blue polo shirt, khaki shorts, and a Red Sox hat, Walsh bought oil at Boston Olive Oil Company, browsed Newbury Comics, and stopped to greet people and take photos.

“If any business can’t capitalize on this many people walking down the street, they should check their business model,” he said.

In a statement late Sunday afternoon, Walsh called the closure a success and said he would continue discussions with Back Bay merchants and residents to determine whether to plan another.

The event also drew praise from Meg Mainzer-Cohen, president of the Back Bay Association, which represents hundreds of businesses and supported the closure plan.

Mainzer-Cohen said she noticed no one who seemed inconvenienced and saw enthusiasm among shoppers and merchants.


“This is really an overarching success,” she said.

“It wasn’t just the retail and the commerce that was going on,” she said. “Newbury Street was the place to be today.”

A few businesses, though, suffered financially. No cars were able to enter the garage on Exeter Street or the Standard Parking lot at Newbury and Dartmouth.

Such losses, officials said, were not the intent when Walsh’s staff suggested closing the street as they brainstormed “fun, new ideas” last winter for making Boston’s public spaces more inviting.

Jerome Smith, the city’s director of civic engagement, said the only cost to taxpayers came from wages for police details, which he did not disclose.

Officer Stephen McNulty, a Boston police spokesman, said he could not provide the number of detail officers for safety reasons but there were “sufficient resources in place to ensure the safety of the shopping public.”

The shutdown also temporarily eliminated 220 parking spaces, a spokeswoman for Walsh said. Nine parked cars had to be towed, she added.

Many pedestrians welcomed the shift, as police blocked the street at 10 a.m., even if it took them by surprise. Several people on the sidewalk looked both ways and gingerly stepped onto the asphalt. A woman knelt in the middle of the road, stretched out her arms, and waited for a small boy to run into her embrace.

Shop owners set up tables and racks of clothes outside their stores, while restaurants placed additional seating on the blacktop.


Lisa Shah, owner of LIT Boutique, said that by noon, her shop had seen double or triple its usual Sunday morning foot traffic.

“I don’t know why you wouldn’t be happy about this,” Shah said, as customers browsed clothing racks on the street. “We’re usually not this busy until 2 p.m.”

Amid the gentle buzz of activity, 64-year-old Dorothy Duval and her husband, John, 73, enjoyed people-watching from green Adirondack chairs relocated from City Hall Plaza for the day.

“We don’t know who put these here, but we’re glad they did,” Dorothy said

Outside Goorin Bros. Hat Shop, more than 50 listeners gathered around Brandon Shah’s band, SHAH.

Shah’s voice reverberated through the air as he harmonized with Kates Eyvazzadeh and strummed an acoustic guitar, as a cellist, drummer, and two electric guitarists performed behind him.

“I’ve busked on Newbury Street before, and it’s nice to have something to actually plug into,” Shah said, after a set that persuaded several people to drop cash into a bucket.

Inside nearby Stilisti Boston, a hair salon, business went on as usual. Stylist Ali Reynhart, 24, said the salon hadn’t seen any additional business, but it took advantage of the extra foot traffic.

“We went outside and gave out little gift bags and free blow drys,” she said. “The atmosphere is really nice. . . . People haven’t had this much fun in the city in a while.”

Trisha Thadani can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @TrishaThadani. Jeremy C. Fox can be reached Follow him on Twitter @JeremyCFox.