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In General on September 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Hey friends.  Please note that I’ve migrated the CityRetail blog over to http://www.cityretail.com/ , where all new posts will live.  There’s a new blog post up now, titled “Summer Lovers” – check it out at above cityretail link.  I’ll post updates on this site when new posts go up; therefore if you are subscribed you’ll still get the link.  Thanks for reading!  /Jesse

Field Trip

In General, Retail Thoughts on April 4, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Last Wednesday Patricia and I (more on Patricia in my next post) headed out of the city to two very fun meetings. The first was for a demonstration of a high-tech Rational induction oven at Trademark Equipment & Supplies HQ in Ashland, MA.  The second was a visit with the George Howell Coffee Co. at their HQ in Acton, MA.  Let’s start with the GHCC visit…

I. George Howell Coffee Co. is one of the country’s top roasters and distributors of coffees. George Howell, its founder, is the pioneer for the enlightened coffee scene  in the Boston area.  George previously owned the Coffee Connection, which he sold to Starbucks in 1994 when Starbucks was making its move into the Northeast. GHCC doesn’t have too much in common with Starbuck’s nowadays though.  George’s team has focused of late on sourcing some of the best coffee beans direct from farms across the globe, roasting them and making them available to us at high-end grocers, local cafes and restaurants.  I first learned about GHCC when my sis Liza and her partner Marley were doing their due diligence for opening Crema Cafe in Harvard Square.  Now, as CityRetail is talking with GHCC about a possible assignment, I figured it was about time to head to Acton, MA and see where it all goes down.

Patricia and I met our close friend Michael Staub at GHCC and as soon as we got there we jumped right in a with a cupping (“cupping” is coffee lingo for a tasting – see pic above) followed by some sourcing, roasting and brewing talk.  We then saw the roasting in action. The visit was fun and educational and I’m now confident asserting that the GHCC team is as good as it gets.

The coffee that comes from GHCC’s roasters is outstanding and the level of competence and attention to detail is amazing. Being somebody who actively seeks out the best cafes in every city I visit, I’ve experience barista culture at its best and worst. At its worst, it has an elitist edge that looks down upon those who aren’t informed about the best coffees and the best way to drink such coffees.  At it’s best though, it’s about enlightening people by introducing them to new coffees and new ways to drink it – it’s about education and inclusion.  George, Rebecca, Jenny, Janet, Doug and the rest of the GHCC team falls into this later category – they get it and want to share it. It’s now CityRetail’s goal to help them share it too.

II. Prior to GHCC, we started our day out in Ashland, MA with the Trademark Equipment team… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

The Other Side, II

In General on March 27, 2011 at 10:32 pm

One of my favorite posts from last year was “The Other Side,” wherein I wrote about the topic of (and challenges with) working for tenants versus landlords.  In keeping with CityRetail’s entrepreneurial and experimental nature, it’s time to act on the above contemplations — now feels as good a time as ever to roll out several new projects with a select group of tenants.  Here’s our nonnegotiable checklist when evaluating tenant clients: (i) top-notch experience? (ii) proper financing? (iii) passion/entrepreneurship? (iv) good people? and (v) non-competitive with other assignments (i.e. we don’t want two clients with substantially similar space/location requirements)?

Given the above and our comfort working with restaurants, you wont be surprised that our first cluster of clients are as follows:

  1. Toro Restaurant, chef/owners Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette.  What Ken and Jamie have done at Toro (and Coppa) is incredible and I don’t need to say anything more to promote these guys than what the rest of the culinary world has already said.
  2. Chef Steve “Nookie” Postal.  Executive Chef, Boston Red Sox.  Nookie brings to the table a really unique experience from his time with the Red Sox, where his team revamped Fenway’s premier food service dept. His restaurant will be quite different from Fenway Park though; it will be an intimate, chef driven, farm-to-table neighborhood establishment.
  3. Chef Daniel Bojorquez.  Executive Chef, Sel de la Terre. While Daniel has close to a decade’s worth of training at Boston’s flagship french restaurant, L’Espalier (most recently running sister restaurant Sel de la Terre in Natick), he’ll switch gears to a rustic neighborhood spot more in-line with the food he grew up cooking and eating in Northern Mexico.

I’m really excited about these three projects. They comprise a nice diversity of chefs with a range of experiences, accolades, concepts and requirements.

I strongly believe leveraging our last 3 years of work finding top-notch restauranteurs o/b/o some of the areas biggest LLs to now being engaged on “the other side” is a natural next step for CityRetail and an area wherein we can do some really fun and powerful work.

Stay tuned for more updates and shoot me a note at jesse@cityretail.com with any thoughts about the above or questions re: these three assignments and related requirements.

1154 Mass Ave

In General on January 26, 2011 at 8:09 am

1663 Massachusetts Ave (the Lesley University leasing assignment we took on in October) is a week or so away from completion and we are really excited about the operator.  Think great local bakery/cafe… I’ll get details out as soon as the lease is signed.  In the meantime, here’s some info on a similar space (size, desired use, etc.) on the other side of Harvard Square that CityRetail just started working on yesterday.

1154 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA is the former home of Arrow Street Crepes, which closed earlier this month.  Despite the rap that was given to the landlord by the former tenant in the Harvard Crimson article published last week, I can say first-hand that the building owners care about small business, the neighborhood and want a successful and responsible long-term tenant.  It’s CityRetail’s job to deliver such.

The space – approximately 750 square feet – sits at the corner of Arrow St and Mass Ave, has great street visibility and good foot traffic.  It’s about 100 yards from Harvard’s campus and across the street from The Inn at Harvard. Specific deal terms are as follows:

  • Desired use is quick serve restaurant/cafe that does not require full kitchen exhaust;
  • Base Rent is $5,000/mo increasing at 3% annually;
  • Tenant shall pay its proportionate share (15%) of increases in Building taxes over base year 2010 and certain limited common area maintenance charges estimated at $180/mo;
  • Space sits directly above BerryLine’s first location on Arrow Street (same building) and other neighboring retail includes Grafton Street Pub & Grill, Crate & Barrel, Zoe’s Kitchen and Au Bon Pain.

I’m excited about this project and my sense is that we’ll rent it quickly.  Shoot back thoughts and let us know what you’d like to see in this space.

Cambridge, MA Market Rents

In General on October 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Last Wednesday night I put on a workshop through the City of Cambridge Economic Development Division titled “Real Estate Leasing Basics for Small Businesses.” It was a lot of fun and I was honored to have been asked by the City to create the program and present. At the end of the workshop I spoke a bit to “market rents” in Cambridge and gave some dollar ranges. It seemed to be helpful for the group and I’m going to repeat the same herein.

First though, it’s crucial to note that rents in Cambridge can swing well in excess of $10 per square foot (“psf”) from one block to the next and pricing is dependent on various facts and circumstances — visibility/frontage, character of building, size of space, zoning regs, amount of money Tenant needs to invest in premises, operating expenses (taxes, insurance, CAM), etc. In the past I’ve shied away from making reps re: market rent because there are so many variables but the workshop last week seemed like as good a time as ever to throw caution to the wind and toss some thoughts into the public domain. Accordingly, here you go:

*Note that the rents below are exclusive of additional rent (common area charges, taxes and insurance) and are annual prices (psf figures in the commercial leasing context are almost always annual numbers).

Ok, so let’s start with the highest rents in Cambridge – Harvard Sq – and then I’ll jump around a bit… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

A Denver Lesson

In General, Retail Thoughts on August 25, 2010 at 9:04 pm

I was traveling in the Rocky Mountains last week and Denver served as my point of arrival and departure.  On the front-end, my experience in Denver was outstanding. The city’s restaurant scene has been boosted over the last decade by a new generation of entrepreneurs who have been redeveloping rundown commercial properties (garages, warehouses, etc.) and inserting exciting dining and entertainment venues.  One such exciting and impressive restaurant is Steuben’s, which I ended up at via a recommendation from John Lermayer (yes, same John Lermayer from Miami that put together the libation program at the Woodward here in the Ames Hotel Boston)…  If you are in Denver go to Steuben’s.

On the back-end of my trip, Denver was far less impressive.  Instead of venturing a few blocks out of the heart of Downtown we ended up checking out the 16th Street Mall for the afternoon.  Let me first state that the 16th Street Mall has been an extremely successful urban renewal project.  It opened in 1982 and was designed by I.M. Pei.  It’s impressive public space; it’s the retail that I was unimpressed with and there are some lessons I think we can learn…

At the core of the 16th Street Mall project is a Business Improvement District (“BID”).  We’ve been hearing a lot about BIDs here in Boston, as downtown crossing is about to get one (link to Boston BID info).  The hope is that the BID can help transform downtown crossing to a vibrant city place. (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Who’s Helping Who

In General, Retail Thoughts on August 6, 2010 at 11:47 am

In one of my first posts on this blog (link) I referenced a popular retail real estate magazine, Retail Traffic, and touched on my belief that its writers were missing the mark a bit in analyzing 2009 by ignoring the exciting growth of small, local, owner-operated business (restaurants especially) during the recession — The article was dramatically titled “2009: The Most Difficult Year in Retail Real Estate History.” Now, a half-year later, Retail Traffic is finally starting to pay proper attention to small locals, which I think is because institutional Landlords and mall developers are too. Here are two recent headlines, both from July 20th:

“Local Restaurants Can Be A Point of Distinction for Mall” & “Landlords Can Help Small Restaurants Find Success.”

Great stuff, right? Here’s the one thing that really bothers me about the second headline though…  is it really the Landlords that “can help” the small restaurants? Let’s be honest here, many of the mall LLs that are now looking to locals are doing so because they have to – Quiznos, Cold Stone Creamery, Circuit City, etc. have been shuttering and LLs need to fill dark spaces.  The examples of chain closing and LLs looking to replace with locals are abundant here in Boston Metro (Crema Cafe replaced Au Bon Pain on Brattle St. in Harvard Sq; BerryLine replaced Robecks at the Trilogy Blding near Fenway; Blue State Coffee is moving into a space that Cold Stone abandoned on BU’s West Campus; etc.).

Unlike Retail Traffic, I think it’s primarily the small restaurants that are helping Landlords find success, not the opposite.  Well, actually, it’s a mutually beneficial process.  Ah yes, mutual benefit… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »

Beyond Kendall!?

In General on June 24, 2010 at 4:30 pm

As discussed in my last post, Tenant Representation work is one potential direction we can take CityRetail as we develop the business.  Another equally obvious direction is to expand our Landlord Representation work into other areas of Boston/Cambridge.  Over the past year we’ve been approached by a handful of Landlords asking us to take on assignments to lease retail/restaurant space in buildings throughout the Boston area.  Some of these projects have been tempting but we have very deliberately stayed focused here in Kendall, an area we know very well, are heavily invested in and strongly believe in the virtues/need for ground floor development.  Now though, as we are approaching the six month mark from CityRetail’s official launch, I feel like it’s time for a test run outside of Kendall…

As of Tuesday, CityRetail has agreed to take over the retail leasing at 957 Commonwealth Ave, an approx. 15,000 sf building located on Boston University’s West Campus.  The primary and immediate goal is to find an appropriate Tenant for a 1,900 sf storefront spot that was previously occupied by Cold Stone Creamery (see pic above).  One of the reasons I feel comfortable taking on this assignment is that it is on behalf of a hands-on Landlord that is willing to think outside of the box and work collaboratively to bring in the best possible use to a space that was previously leased to a national chain… (read more)   Read the rest of this entry »

The Other Side

In General, Retail Thoughts on June 16, 2010 at 9:40 pm

I was in NYC earlier this week with Alex and Neil debriefing re: our first 5+ months of CityRetail.  It was a valuable exercise to step back a bit and take a look at the business.  One issue we briefly discussed is the following:

Does it make sense to add Tenant Representation work to the list of services CityRetail offers – i.e., we have been working on the landowner side to find retailers; what about working on the tenant side to find deals? This is a question that I’ve been thinking a lot about of late.  Here’s the threshold issue: we want to work with small, local owner-operated businesses but is it worth the brain damage of taking on a client, running around the city, providing advisory services, etc. for the potential of placing it in retail space that we (i) don’t have an ownership interest in and/or (ii) isn’t owned by a landlord that we have an ongoing relationship with. Being a broker on the retailer side is about finding the best possible space at the best possible price in the best possible location given the Tenant’s priorities and preferences. This takes patience and diligence and, if done properly, draws on multiple disciplines.  It’s work that I think we could do and do well but it’s work that takes time and, as with any small business, time is something that has to be allocated carefully and thoughtfully during the start-up phase. (read more)

Read the rest of this entry »

Soda, Chips & iPods

In General, Retail Thoughts on May 27, 2010 at 11:46 pm

Best Buy has rolled out some prototype electronic vending machines in select locations (mostly airports) over the past couple of years. I’ve only seen one, which is in the JetBlue terminal (C) at Logan Airport in Boston. I wrote a couple of months ago about eMenus and software/hardware innovation and use in restaurants and think these Best Buy kiosks are an equally interesting retail experiment.  The kiosks sell small-sized personal consumer electronics and accessories: iPods, cameras, headphones, etc. It’s cool, assuming it works…

I was traveling via JetBlue yesterday and was pretty excited to try the “Best Buy Express,” as I need new headphones/mic for my iPhone. The process was easy and quick (touch screen ordering, simple instructions) BUT the mechanism that retrieved my headphones from the shelf somehow snagged two boxes and a fail-safe must have been activated and the order (and machine) froze – i.e., I was about to get two candy bars for the price of one out of the vending machine… (read more) Read the rest of this entry »