By May, it will have (hopefully) stopped snowing. And among the many other sweet rewards that come with spring, this year Greater Boston will be blessed with Bow Market, a new complex in Somerville that is shooting to have “30+ food, art, and retail vendors around a public courtyard in the heart of Union Square.”
We have hinted at and mentioned Bow several times, including because our friends from the Comedy Studio are moving there. But with opening day less than a month away, we sat down with the developer-operators, Zach Baum and Matthew Boyes-Watson, to retrace the years-long process it took to arrive at this point.
How did you get to this idea? Was it the space? What came first?
ZB: A little bit of both. … Bow Market is a superhero. The origin story. It’s sort of a combination.
Matt and I first met four years ago when Matt was working on a project in Central Square, somewhat of a smaller scale of a similar concept—providing really low-cost easy opportunities for vendors to sell in the center of Central Square in Graffiti Alley—so he and I met when he was sort of in the swing of that and started working on what sort of vendors we might want to attract for something like that. Didn’t end up happening …
MBW: The city [Cambridge] was a little wary about it, just regulation.
ZB: We stayed in touch, sort of, and kicked around different ideas for working around Boston, Cambridge, Somerville in restaurant, retail, sort of public space capacity. That [Bow Street] building came up for sale, and we were approached by a group called SCC, Somerville Community Corporation. They had gotten under agreement that their offices were in the space, in the front of the building, along Somerville Ave. Their offices had been there, they were looking to buy their own office space to secure that for them, but didn’t know what to do with this big whole back portion of the space. They approached Matt’s father, Mark, who’s the architect whose offices have been here for a while, and said, “Hey, there’s this big building, do you think you’d want to do something with it?” It really just lent itself to the market concept, something that we had been interested in working on. The building came available, and the pieces fit together to make this happen.
Can you talk a little bit about the brewery and community roles the space would serve?
MBW: They [Remnant Brewing] are really excited about being a neighborhood brewery. That was kind of their vision for the space—really small, not a lot of production. They can make beer for the people who want to come and drink beer there.
How did you begin to seek out vendors? Did you have an influx of people wanting in?
ZB: A really good combination. When we first started talking to vendors about 20 months ago, we’re knocking on doors, trying to get in touch with people we just liked. M.F. Dulock [a Somerville meat vendor] is one of the first people we talked to. I went in there, dropped off my name, and said we were doing this marketplace in Somerville. Michael Dulock gave me a call back, and it sort of started from there.
We talked to [Dulock] and he gave our names to some people, and we started talking to other people. So in the start it was a good combination of walking the streets, pounding pavement, and then getting referrals from there. Once we had a vision and some imagery of what it would actually be like, we put that out, got some more inbound interest, so it’s been a good combination of reaching out to people telling them that we exist. Then a lot of word of mouth for a lot of people who are ready to take the step to brick and mortar.
MBW: The spirit of the market in Graffiti Alley was just to be really inexpensive for vendors to participate in. I kind of was introduced to Zach as someone who knows all the cool retailers and food people. That’s how we first met and then fast-forward to now, the spirit of this whole market is to lower the upfront costs of the storefront. Zach’s been very much heading up vendor outreach, and we never got to that stage with the first one in Central. I think [by early March] we had 30-32 spaces, depending on how you classify them, and we’ve had over 300 proposals. So there’s just a ton of folks out there who are interested in this size unit.
Do you have the option if somebody really wants to stay for, say, five years?
MBW: We have some weird configurations like seven one-year extensions. We’re pretty flexible. We always said it’s not our intention to trap someone into a lease. We’re also interested in people graduating out into bigger spaces because they are very small. We’re not interested in kicking people out. We kind of did what people wanted.
Are you thinking of expanding this idea into other neighborhoods, creating these hubs? Is that something you’re really hoping for?
MBW: So we own the building. The developers and [we] are going to operate the market, so from a bandwidth perspective I think [we’re not going to jump] ahead. What we are incredibly interested in is sharing our experience here and helping other people introduce similar concepts. The market scene, which is blowing up, the number of pop-up markets and farmer’s markets and flea markets, craft markets, it’s almost exponential growth. Really low cost for vending opportunity.
The next piece, if you don’t have a Bow Market, is a standard storefront unit, which is like $90,000 to get started. So we’d love to see other people introducing stuff like Bow Market where it’s $10,000 to get in and $1,000 a month. So, I don’t know how directly involved we’ll be where we just go and pump these out.
There are perfect buildings all over the place and tons of capital going around. We’d love to see municipalities implementing zoning or city-owned buildings for something like this. Which I think they’re very interested in. We’ve had a lot of folks from Somerville and Cambridge and at the state level come and check it out saying this might be interesting.
ZB: This is a big project and the complete revamp of a large space, so we’ve learned a lot about how cities can help and how landlords can participate to do this on an even much smaller scale. So what could the city introduce from a zoning perspective that would allow for small vendors to get into a space easily, cheaply, and not lock in a zoning use for a long time, which is a big hurdle a lot of landlords face in terms of introducing new or slightly off-base zoning uses? If you want to put in a gallery that sometimes sells art and maybe has a class, how is that zoned? The answer is it’s not. There is no good way of zoning that.
MBW: God forbid they want food or drink in there as well.
What’s the plan for opening?
MBW: We’re working on a couple different ideas for how to roll this out. Probably a couple nights of friends and family. Once you have 30 vendors and all the construction people—tallying up how many people have significantly worked on this project, actually before dealing with our vendors, architects, and their general contractors, it’s like over 250. If we just want to invite everyone, we need two to three nights or days and nights of invite-only, wrap party type stuff. We’d love to do a Saturday ribbon cutting and then go.