Monday, May 23, 2011

Small Business, Big Developers Shape Brockton Downtown's Future

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Surrounded by family and friends, Guilherme “Will” Barbosa celebrated the grand opening of new cultural clothing shop, Criolo, and full-service promotion, event planning and design business Downtown by Design in what was once an empty space on Main Street in the heart of downtown Brockton.
“This is a culmination of a lot of hard work and no sleep,” Barbosa told the crowd that included Mayor Linda Balzotti, representatives of MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce, and fellow business owners who were on hand to celebrate the new store’s opening.
“This is just the beginning,” Barbosa said, noting it is not only a new beginning for him, but also downtown Brockton which is poised for what could be a much-hoped for revitalization of Brockton’s center.
Barbosa, 30, a Cape Verdean native (Pictured above, second from right) who has lived in Brockton since 6th grade said he and his partner Hostelino Ribeiro believe downtown Brockton is the right place at the right time for Criolo’s unique cultural clothing line and more likely money-maker Downtown by Design.
“If you’re going to be successful you should be able to do it in your hometown,” Barbosa said. “I feel something. I sense something’s happening here,” he said.
Barbosa joins a handful of other small enterprises like Hogie’s Hobbies, Your Local Office, Marvelous Cuts, KingsWear and Natural Health Supplements, which over the last three years have popped up in some of the countless empty offices and shops that line Brockton’s Main Street.
Many are looking forward to the day when some larger projects on the table bring about what is hoped to be a downtown revitalization.
Last month Trinity Financial submitted plans for a $100 million project that would include more than 220 rental apartments, nearly 40,000-square-feet of office space and another 6,000 to 8,000-square-feet for retail operations that would replace the ramshackle and dilapidated building that once housed local newspaper The Enterprise.
Just a block away behind the Enterprise building and city hall at the corner of Montello and Lincoln streets, Capstone Communities has finalized permits for a 25-unit apartment complex called Station Lofts, that would replace the so-called George Knight building that is adjacent to the MBTA’s downtown commuter rail stop.
Later the Knight building was bought by Stall & Dean, a more than 100-year-old company that makes baseball and hockey uniforms, including shirts for hockey teams like the Boston Bruins and Boston Red Sox until operations were moved to Perkins Street about 10 years ago.
The building has been vacant since.
The Trinity and Capstone projects would be added to other large projects like Brockton Neighborhood Health Center that celebrated the completion of a $2.5 million expansion in June 2010 and is set for another $11 million upgrade.
The Trinity and Capstone projects hinge on state and federal financing and incentives and many hurdles have to be overcome, but cautious excitement has built around the two large projects that officials say will not bear fruit for at least two or three years, however, other improvements are on the way.
Marc Resnick, Brockton’s newly hired eexecutive director of the reformed redevelopment authority, said the city has received a $2 million streetscape grant to improve lighting, sidewalks and other aesthetics along the Main Street corridor that will help make it a brighter and, many hope safer place for customers to visit.
Resnick said while there are a lot of plans in the works for the downtown, many factors will shape the city’s center in the future.
“When the economy collapsed a few years ago, no one’s been interested in building in downtowns anywhere,” Resnick said. “Now, market conditions are improving—even for Brockton,” he said.
Resnick said an important piece of urban redevelopment is creating vibrant pockets with businesses and foot traffic, similar to the two ends of Main Street from Irving Ace Hardware and Marvelous Cuts on the Court Street end (pictured at right) to the courthouse, long-established businesses like Gourmet Café, and Joe Angelo’s Café and Deli who have been joined by newcomers like KingsWear, Natural Health Supplements and Tamboo at the Belmont Street end.
Those pockets have increased traffic in the city’s downtown, but problems persist.
Justin Hayward, co-owner of Natural Health Supplements and People’s Best Care at 263 Main St., steps away from the corner of Belmont and Main, said one fact about the downtown has to change.
“People don’t want to come to the downtown because it’s dirty and dangerous,” said Hayward, who opened the natural health supplies and chiropractic office about a year ago.
Homeless people and other assorted characters like 58-year-old Fernando “Freddie” Graca walk the streets of the city center. Some ask for money. Some ask for cigarettes.
Most are harmless like Graca--a well-known denizen of Brockton’s downtown who changes costumes and can be spotted dressed in bright red tartan patterns as a Scottish leader like last Friday, or he could appear as Abraham Lincoln, or even an angel.
Media reports of murder, violence, drug and gang activity create a real snapshot of Brockton that some believe is a skewed perception of the downtown and the city overall.
“That happens everywhere,” said Lynnel Cox, co-owner of Your Local Office, a virtual secretarial and data processing business for lawyers that opened about three years ago at 214 Main St.
“Homeless people beg for money at all the T-stations—Boston, Abington, Braintree, Wareham, Middleboro…I’ve been to them all and it happens everywhere,” she said.
She also noted that much of the violence Brockton is known for does not usually happen in the downtown, except for noted exceptions at the city’s pubs and nightclubs, including two incidents over the last year at Joe Angelo’s.
Even so, Cox said during the three years she has been on Main Street, she has had less problems at her business than at her home in East Bridgewater.
“Brockton is the hub of Plymouth County. It’s time for the downtown. It’s time for people to step out of their comfort zone and come down here and see what’s happening,” Cox said.
“I’ve been here for three years and I’ve had two planters outside my office and no one has bothered them. I’ve put out pumpkins too, and no problem. I can’t even put pumpkins out on my doorstep at home--they’re gone or smashed within a few hours,” she said.
Brockton native Bill Hogan, (Pictured at right) who opened Hogie’s Hobbies at 138 Main St., a few doors down from Criolo about eight months ago, said he is struggling, but hopeful the many initiatives on the table will help bring a renaissance to Brockton’s once proud downtown.
“We’re not going anywhere. We’re a work in progress,” Hogan said. “We need people to come down here and do some shopping,” he said.

Elie Baking, McGuiggan's Take MetroSouth Annual Honors

BROCKTON--Brockton’s Elie Baking Corp. has been named Small Business of the Year and McGuiggan’s Pub in Whitman Entrepreneur of the Year by MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce during its 20th annual Small Business Expo and Luncheon.
The awards were announced Wednesday, May 18 at the Chamber’s annual expo and conference held at the Shaw’s Center.
Other nominees included Apothecare South Shore, Inc. of Brockton, Beaver Woodworking Supplies of Brockton, Belle Epoque of Brockton, Cake in a Box of Bridgewater, Hungry Coyote of Brockton, Mia Regazza of Abington and The Mockingbird Restaurant of East Bridgewater.
Nominees were evaluated on their ability to demonstrate creativity in the development of their business, growth and staying power, internal and external social responsibility, and the economic opportunities they have created in the Metro South region.
Elie’s Baking, which includes Near East Bakery in Boston, several years ago opened a manufacturing plant for bagels and pita bread at 204 N. Montello St. in Brockton that expands its already successful bagel, pita bread, gyro and tortilla business.
A minority-owned business operated by Lebanon natives Elie and Al Ata, (Pictured above, left to right, with Brockton 21st Century Corporation's Mary Waldron) the company has made a $1.7 million investment in the Brockton location and employs 40 to 45 people.
The company plans to expand it’s 48,000 square-foot building to add to its New England, Florida and Virginia client base.
The company has supported numerous food pantries and stop hunger causes.
McGuiggan’s Pub was opened in downtown Whitman in Dec. 2009 by well-known developer Richard Rosen. (Pictured at right with wife Kathy)
The pub, which features an upscale Irish sports pub atmosphere and elegant mahogany bar, has grown from 10 employees to 35 and has invested about $1 million for growth and expansion.
McGuiggan’s has sponsored road races for the Whitman Food Pantry, and Whitman Athletic Department. It has also hosted events to raise money for Brockton Family & Community Resources, ALS and MDA.
McGuiggan’s was named Best Bartenders on the South Shore and Best Hangout on the South Shore in 2010 by South Shore Living Magazine.

Nothing Like Brockton's Burrito Wraps

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—The first place Hanson residents Bill Hogan and his son Dan thought of to spend a recent Tuesday afternoon for lunch is Brockton’s Burrito Wraps Mexican Grill.
“We come as often as we can. There’s nothing like it in the area,” Hogan said, dipping a crisp homemade nacho chip into the house specialty jabernero salsa sauce served as a complimentary appetizer and one of Hogan’s favorites.
“The food’s great, the service is great and the atmosphere is great,” Hogan said. (Pictured above with owner Alex Perez)
Brockton’s Burrito Wrap and Mexican Grill’s first location was opened in May, 2008 by owner Alex Perez at 688 Crescent St., in the Brockton East shopping plaza--a strip mall best known for Christo’s Restaurant and other businesses like Radio Shack and Family Dollar.
“This is one of those places where you can’t judge the book by its cover,” owner Alex Perez said.
Anyone looking at the strip mall entrance from the outside would never believe the warmth and savory aromas found inside.
Perez’s second restaurant was opened in February, 2009 at 707 Warren Ave. and has more of an atmosphere similar to Perez’s adolescence in Los Angeles, where his family moved when he was 11-years-old.
Once stepping over the threshold of his restaurants, a visitor is transported to a slice of Mexico, similar to the traditional Mexican bistros Perez said he remembers from his childhood in his native Mexico and has tried hard to emulate—right down to dishes that are freshly prepared every day and originate from the spices, meats and sauces in the kitchens of his mother and grandmother.
“I won’t give up until I get that flavor, that taste from my childhood,” Perez said.
It seems to have worked.
“I’ve heard things from customers like, “I feel like I just traveled to Mexico,” Perez said.
Perez, 49 until his birthday next month, was the proud winner of the first THRIVE Award, given by the Brockton 21st Century Corp. to the best minority or women owned business of the year.
Perez was one of 12 nominees for the award whose criteria includes giving back to the community in different ways and a business that has received assistance from the Brockton 21st Century Corp., MetroSouth Chamber of Commerce, or numerous programs such as SEED Corp. or U.S. Small Business Administration.
In choosing Perez for the inaugural award, the Brockton 21st Century Corp. states, “Alex and Burrito Wrap, Mexican Grill is a role model for our women and minority owned businesses. He has also invested in a neighborhood that others lost interest and has made a successful destination for those looking for quality Mexican food. Alex and Burrito Wraps has put Brockton on the map for the best Mexican food.”
Perez has donated money or time to several local organizations, including, YMCA, Brockton Day Nursery, Trinity Catholic, and has sponsored blood drives, little league teams and, Project Guardian Angel.
Anyone who has been at many of the events in the city will recognize Perez, a tall, dark and handsome man wearing a blue-denim oxford shirt with his Burrito Wrap logo, neatly creased dress pants handing out coupons for specials at Burrito Wraps.
Perez jokes that it is a good thing his shops remind him of home, because he pretty much lives at the restaurants.
Like many start-up business owners, Perez works around the clock.
When he is not serving customers, he is running the register, ordering groceries or helping general manager Francisco Harnadis (Pictured above with Perez) ready deliveries for callers ordering take-out and delivery.
When he’s not juggling in-shop needs, he’s checking the books, weighing money coming in and money going out, and sometimes wonders if he can make it, but pushes doubts aside and thanks his wife Cheryl, and three children, Chelsea, 20, Gabriella, 17, and Adam, 15—who often helps out at the restaurant—for their support and patience.
“It’s hard to balance everything—the business and time for family,” Perez said.
Perez said he is doing well enough to “keep the doors open,” but hopes word spreads about the restaurants and more customers are introduced to his home-style blend of authentic Mexican food and drink, including Jarritos soda, homemade sangria and margaritas.
Mexican food devotees could not name a restaurant in the area that compares to Burrito Wraps.
“I come all the time. I love it,” said Brockton resident Jesus Arocho, who brought his 16-month old granddaughter Isabella in for a couple of burritos and tacos.
Arocho (Pictured above with Isabella and Harnadis) said he is Puerto Rican, but when he eats food from Burrito Wraps it's like being home.
"There's nowhere around here like this," he said.
Perez said he left the mutual fund industry to open Burrito Wraps. As his own boss, he follows in the footsteps of his father Lorenzo who was a successful businessman selling coal and fire wood to the bakeries and industries near his native San Luis Potosi, a central Mexico city with a population of more than 2 million.
Perez said while he is new to the restaurant business, he is not new to excellent ingredients, creative recipes and outstanding service and is enthusiastic about the restaurant’s future.
“The experience is passion,” Perez said.
Visit Burrito Wraps Mexican Grill website for a complete menu and hours.
(Story originally posted March 14, 2011)