Thursday, November 29, 2007

Living Over the Store

One of the great pleasures of living in a city is that you can walk to shops and restaurants. I am a two-five minute walk from a grocery store, hardware store, drug store, cobbler, the Post Office, and a half-dozen restaurants. Not to mention a lot of other stuff: gift stores, florists, CVS, liquor store, 7/11, bakeries....

And I'm about a ten minute walk from Filene's Basement, Borders, Macy's, Lord and Taylor and a whole bunch other stores.

So I get why people want to live near stores.

And, of course, with city life you get a whole lot of extras: theaters, parks, urban street life, dynamism, and - if you're lucky enough to live in Boston - Fenway Park. (There are few urban experiences that compare to the walk home from Fenway after a Red Sox win.)

As I said, I get why people want to live near stores.

But I really don't get why someone wants to live near a suburban shopping mall.

Apparently, however, there are folks who are heeding the call, and are scooping up luxury condos that are tacked on to the Natick Mall. (This was reported in a recent Boston Globe article by Sarah Schweitzer.)

The condos, on the site of a defunct Wonder Bread factory [NO COMMENT], are part of a development called Nouvelle Natick. Living there, you're right on top of Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom's, and the Cheesecake Factory. Gives new meaning to living over the store, doesn't it?

The suburbs, according to Nouvelle at Natick's marketers, are places where traffic, parking woes, and other city hassles are practically nonexistent. And some buyers see in the mall development all the glitter that city living offers.

"I have lived in the Back Bay, and it was very collegiate, very busy and noisy. It just wasn't San Francisco," said Donna Niles, a director of creative services for a fragrance company in her 30s who once lived on the West Coast and is now is mulling the purchase of a Nouvelle at Natick unit. "I think living at the mall would have a little more of that feeling."

Earth to Donna: I really don't think living in a mall is going to feel like San Francisco. LA, maybe. But San Fran?

She also expects to find like-minded people.

"I am sick of Faneuil Hall and the bars there. I am buying Manolo Blahniks," she said, referring to a brand of shoes that costs hundreds of dollars. "I don't like beer being tossed on them. That's not my idea of fun anymore. And that's the part of Boston that's missing. It's nice for the college students and the twentysomethings. But for the thirtysomethings and fortysomethings it starts to get, like, where do you go? You want to hang out with a different caliber of people."

And Boston to Donna: There are adults in Boston. Thirty-somethings. Forty-somethings. Even - gasp - fifty- and sixty-somethings. Who are a different caliber of people than the folks tossing back brews and leering at waitresses at The Rack. Although, in truth, if you're looking for fellow Manolo wearers, you are probably best to forego the bricks on Beach Hill for the faux-whatever at Nouvelle of Natick.

One of the couples who've just bought into Nouvelle have businesses in Hudson, a former mill town in Central Massachusetts. I understand why they might not find Hudson quite, well, nouvelle for them. Especially if they view shopping as a way of life.

"It's a little scary living above a mall," Kellie DuGally said. "I told Michael that he'd have to get a second job."

"We both love shopping," Michael DuGally said. "So why not live someplace where there is so much stuff accessible?"

"So much stuff accessible." If ever there was a motto for the American Way of Life in the early 21st century.

Michael DuGally had more to say:

He added, "It's like getting the Newbury Street experience, without having to fight for parking."

Okay, Michael, I'll give you the "fight for parking."

But "it's like getting the Newbury Street experience."

No, it's not.


John said...

You know, I understood the idea of creating open air shopping districts with apartments or condos integrated into them; I didn't really want to live in one, because it felt like a mall with no roof, but it wasn't awful. (Although when one opened in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington, VA, where I once lived, I found it depressing that the Vietnamese restaurants and fabric shops run by little old Asian women and stores that sold weird club fashions were giving way to the Apple Store, Barnes and Noble, and - yes- the inevitable Cheesecake Factory. (Who decided that "Factory" sounds appetizing, anyway?)

During a trip to that Apple store, a friend and I wandered into an outdoor booth pushing the apartments. "Do you want to see the apartments?" an overly perky woman chirped at us. "We don't need to, we live in an actual city," my friend responded.

But I could see that at least if you lived there, you could walk out your door into the fresh air, have some useful amenities nearby (coffee, bakery, and a Metro stop to take you into DC for actual city life).

This sounds utterly horrifying, though.

One really disturbing aspect of this is that the "public" space is not public. Part of living in a world with other people is dealing with them, and it can be annoying, but it's part of life. From my window in DC I watched the churchgoers every Sunday at Vermont Baptist (often double parking us all in), people wandering over the clubs on 14th Street, customers for the crack house up the street which was also a storefront church... OK, it wasn't all pretty. They put a skatepark in on our corner and I'd see the kids coming and going. Once I even saw a raggedy peace march that apparently got lost heading up 11th Street. Whatever was good or bad about it, it was life.

But a mall? Where the improper people would just be ejected, the bland music never stops? Ugh. It sounds like a uniquely American take on hell to me.

Mary said...

I'm an adult - haven't thrown beer (or thrown up) on somebody's shoes in eons. And, I love Boston! Wonderful neighborhoods, great little shops, restaurants, museums, etc. etc.

Methinks the people that are moving to Noveau Natick have very limited world views. If shopping is the big thing...ouch!

My question would be Why? Why do they so love shopping? Could it be they can't/don't appreciate history, art and diversity? (Oops, my elitist snob side is showing there...)

In fact, I'm thinking of coming to Boston to celebrate my 50th b'day in April. Having lived in New England (and worked in Boston) - I'd love to spend a couple of days in Beantown then rent a car and travel around New England. Malls will not be on my list to do.

I live just down the street from two malls, but the really big news is the Abq. Uptown development - where they're at least trying to do an interesting mixed-use development...the shopping center isn't covered and there are at a couple of locally-owned shops (in addition to Apple, Borders, the usual suspects). What I really like though is I can walk to a Middle-Eastern market (and cafe); a Mexican restaurant, a French bistro, an Asian market, a Thai place, Vietnamese cafe, clothing stores...all locally owned and non-homogenized.

Rick said...

Maureen, I am surprised that you, of all people, missed the key phrase in this article. The husband isn't just any guy, and doesn't have just any business. The article says he is "a one-time Newt Gingrich aide who now owns a Hudson-based furniture company that produces office cubicles."

If that isn't proof conclusive that this article was made up as a parody, and some sleepy editor published it by mistake, then what would be?

Anonymous said...

To Rick (7:14 p.m.'s poster):

The husband that you referenced is NOT a fictional one. He EXISTS. He is well known -- to many.

AND, his (Michael's) interview (along with his wife Kellie's), appears in The Boston Globe (and elsewhere), with photos.