25 September 2009

A Hands-on Saturday in Boston

This Saturday, Urban Mechanic has no less than four events going on from Allston to Dorchester and in between.

Starting the day is a public meeting to review the master plan proposal for Columbia Point, which includes redeveloping the Boston Globe complex and the Bayside Exposition Center. Anyone interested can find out more about the event on the BRA's website.

After a brief introduction to that Urban Mechanic hopes to skip over to Allston Village for their street clean-up for a couple hours. Specific event details can be found here.

By noon-time it's back across Boston to do a Ribbon Cutting Crawl with Uphams Corner Main Streets featuring BBQ, a wine-tasting and an appearance by the Mayor. (NOTE - Urban Mechanic is not to be confused with the Thomas Menino who also uses the moniker.)

Finally, in the late afternoon its over to Jamaica Plain for the 16th Annual Open Studios.

It may sound daunting at first, but the Urban Mechanic can assure folks that it sure beats just cruising the shopping malls. Of course, one doesn't have to do a marathon of events to get a real feel for Boston. Just pick one of teh cool events above or find another of your liking by visiting Boston Main Streets website. There's a great calendar of events and links to every Main Street district in the city!

23 September 2009

Experience by Design

Ask a successful retailer, or any successful business owner, and they will tell you that experience matters. But don't just assume that only means the experience of the sort you or your employees bring to the job or running of your business. Another type of experience matters just as much and it is part science, part art and all by design.

The experience of which I am speaking is what your customers, or even the casual passerby, encounter as they walk past your store or establishment. What's in the windows? Does it capture their attention? Does it beckon them to peak inside, or does it send them scurrying a little quicker down the walk?

Once someone walks in, what greats their senses? How are they treated? Are they drawn to act, maybe to sample a fine chocolate and inquire "what makes you unique?" Hotel Chocolat (pictured right) provided me such an inspiration this evening. Somewhat new to the area (Newbury Street), a bicycle and basket brimming their product is perched in the window with a bright interior adding a pop to the display, which is actually still under construction. As I walked in I was instantly greeted by a staffer who warmly welcomed me to try a sample of their chocolates. As I sampled and asked "what makes you different, better?" she smiled and offered an informed and genuinely enthusiastic pitch that truly became a conversation as we spoke of the best ways to use certain chocolates for baking.

After perusing the store further I decided to try one of the recommended chocolates to bake with and another treat, Kirsch (Brandy) soaked cherries covered in dark chocolate. As I was ringing out I complemented the staffers on their new store and the displays. They were most gracious, and noting my interest they shared their idea for putting the bicycle outside as a prop to offer samples to the passerby. They inquired if I was local to the area, and upon discovering that I was, encouraged me to drop back by to share with them my opinion on the Kirsch Cherries and to perhaps enjoy a tasting of other treats they have. (UPDATE - After getting home, the significant other and I are both agreed...the Kirsch Cherries are fantastic!)
You don't have to be a boutique chocolate retailer on a trendy shopping street to provide an amazing retail experience by design...
That is what I would call experience by design. Of course, you don't have to be a boutique on a trendy shopping street such as Newbury to get this right. Oop! in downtown Providence and nearby Craftland, are also great examples by design, both physically and in their business model. Take a look at the photos below. Any guesses why?


20 September 2009

Fives Years Running...

With a turnout of 181 students, faculty, staff, alumni, runners, volunteers, a leopard (mascot) and Otis (an adorable, real dog), Wentworth for the fifth straight years has claimed the much coveted Pudding Pot at the Annual Mission Hill Road Race. (Disclosure - Urban Mechanic is Director of the CLP@WIT)

More pictures and a write-up on the event as a whole will be posted soon.

18 September 2009

Simple Things

Breakfast, brunch or lunch. Sit down, or take out. Family, friends, or solo. Reasonable prices, fun and friendly service, plain and simple. That's McKenna's Cafe in a nutshell. This Savin Hill establishment, just steps off the T and at the heart of the Savin Hill community, wouldn't call itself an institution. Residents and loyal customers aren't stuffy enough to care about such acclaim either. For everyone else, foreign to this unassuming, but fabulously authentic part of Boston, you'll either fall in love or lament the lack of any attempt to be chic or designer.

For Urban Mechanic, McKenna's is just one more reason to love calling Savin Hill home. Oh, and hipsters take note, there's already lines-out the door just about any weekend. AND, the locals have plenty of flair already. That's not to say visitors won't be welcomed.

16 September 2009

Who will win the Pudding Pot?

Runners, walkers, and volunteers of Wentworth Institute of Technology have captured the Pudding Pot for four straight years. The much coveted trophy is awarded at the Annual Mission Hill Road Race to the organization that turns out the most people; plain and simple. BUT, who will win this year!? (Disclosure - Urban Mechanic is Director of the CLP@WIT, a Wentworth department)

Though WIT has so far had a lock on the prize for the entirety of its short history; competition has only mounted each and every year making for a fierce (but courteous) battle generating what feels like a century's-long rivalry among colleagues and neighbors. Will Wentworth clinch it's fifth straight victory, or will the Pudding Pot be relocating from 550 Huntington after Saturday's race? 
More importantly, all of this turnout goes to a fantastic cause, the road race event itself is a fundraiser and celebration of Kevin Fitzgerald Park. Tucked behind (and above) Brigham Circle, the northern anchor of Mission Hill's business district, the park offers stunning views from Longwood (up close) down toward Back Bay and downtown Boston. Learn more about the fascinating story behind this very special place here.

For decades the park area was actually an abandoned quarry that once produced Roxbury Puddingstone. Now, as a park the former "ledge site" also features shopping, dining, and offices developed by Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services (a community development corporation) and the New Boston Fund.


The Road Race features Boston most scenic and toughest 5k run, walk, and a bit of celebration. Imagine a course half dozen or so "Heart Break Hills." Walkers are fired off at 930 am and runners at 10 am...this Saturday, September 19th. The race does issues officiated/metered results and awards various categories of runners/walkers by age and gender, and time ranking. Registration (walkers and runners) is available the day of the event for $20. For that Jackson, you'll get food, water (of course), your official number (and results) and a fantastic t-shirt (usually in a vintage swoosh style). Just be warned, be there early if you haven't already registered as the Pudding Pot crowd and the residents at-large make this an immensely popular event.

See more photos of Kevin Fitzgerald (Pudidngstone) Park on the Mission Hill Flickr Group page.

15 September 2009

The Pear in the Square

Public art in Boston sometimes can feel a bit understated or just plain lacking...

...especially when you consider places like Chicago, with its Millennium Park filled to the brim with sculptural, architectural, landscape, and even digital installations.

The bronze sculpture of Clapp Pear at Edward Everett Square offers up a classy exception to this rule. Though some may feel it too is understated, I find it a perfect punctuation mark for what is an interesting, if yet unrefined part of town. If anything, it offers a glimmer of the potential for the square as a more urban (and therefore less auto-centered) place.

Those who are interested in such notions might take an interest in the local Main Street organization based in nearby Uphams Corner. If you enjoy public art and haven't visited the Pear, it is highly recommended (especially while the weather is mild). It's a short walk up Columbia Road from the JFK Red Line stop (See it on the Map). You can also take in some local dinning with the always enjoyable Restaurant Laura and hip 224 Boston both close by.

14 September 2009

Props to the CLP@WIT Crew!

Many props go the crew of students and staff who joined scores of equally dedicated Mission Hill residents and business owners for last weekend's 'Neighbor Hill' Celebration organized by the Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH).

The CLP@WIT crew (let it be known, 'Urban Mechanic' is the Director for this organization) put in an 8 plus hour day and lent a hand to everything from planning (before the event), hauling equipment to the event, set-up at the event, cooking, cleaning, photography, playing with kids, chatting and mingling with neighbors, and breaking down the event. Again, much, much more work remained and a big shout out goes to those who came out from across all of Mission Hill to make the event happen and successfully so. Great Work!

I personally look forward to next year (yes my CAMH friends you're on the hook to keep doing it now). If you want more of Mission Hill before then, come out to annual Mission Hill Road Race to benefit Kevin Fitzgerald (formerly Puddingstone) Park.

See more photos of the event (and Mission Hill in general) on the Mission Hill Flickr Group page.

10 September 2009

Neighbor Hill Event

Whether you've just moved-in, you've been the neighborhood for decades, or you simply haven't made it to this part of town recently...
...come to Mission Hill on Saturday to take in the sites, sounds, food and music of the Neighbor Hill community block party. Organized by a diverse group of residents, institutions, businesses and spear-headed by the Community Alliance of Mission Hill...the event follows weeks of move-ins, and other end of summer excitement.
Oh, and be sure to check out the Mission Hill Road Race next weekend. You can walk, run, or just hang out  and watch the action. You can register with this form, or the day of the race.

05 September 2009

Food in the City: The Best Iced Cappuccino

If you find yourself strolling the Rose Kennedy Greenway on a sunny afternoon (or elbowing your way through Haymarket...or just in the vicinity) make a point to meander up to the North End to the Caffe dello Sport to quench your thirst, enjoy light eats and take in a football match.

If you are a fan of iced coffee but want something more smooth than Dunkin, try the iced cappuccino. Unlike the sad iced cappuccinos you get most anywhere else in the city, dello Sport uses a classic milkshake blender to create a divinely smooth beverage topped with a subtle cocoa powder.

Dello Sport also offers delightful freshmade foods such as sandwiches and a wide-array of deserts. Best of all, while there is always brisk businesses, it's rarely jammed-packed like many other North end establishments. NOTE for first-time customers, dell Sport is cash only, they "trust in God, all others pay cash."

Food in the City is a series of notes on food and drink found in the urban condition.