Forefront Communications

Boston Globe: Retail Getting a Foothold in Seaport

Sam Belden

Sam Belden

A year ago last week, I had my first meeting with the team at WS Development, the real estate firm that has been orchestrating the buildout of the bulk of the Seaport’s retail corridor. At the time, there wasn’t much retail to speak of — just 4 percent of the potential storefronts were built and occupied at the time, according to the company — but there was a vision. And it mostly hinged on the success of One Seaport.

As Boston’s largest mixed-use development in three decades, One Seaport’s two-building complex on Seaport Boulevard acts as an entry point to the emerging waterfront district, with more than 250,000 square feet of retail space over two city blocks.

“We’re filling a huge void,” Todd Norley, WS’s head of retail leasing, told me during that meeting last year. Historically, he said, many retailers have struggled to grow in the city.

“Even if you did really well in the Back Bay and Newbury you had nowhere to go,” Norley said. “We’re building some nodes complimentary to that.”

One Seaport’s ribbon cutting was back in November, and in the months since, retailers large and small have been slotted into its storefronts. WS has been doing its part to amp up the excitement — and foot traffic — in the form of free fitness classes, a pop-up outpost of the Boston Public Market every Wednesday, and landscaping along the median that slices through the neighborhood.

ThasosLast weekend marked the opening of two disparate businesses that epitomize what the Seaport hopes to become from a commercial standpoint, says WS senior vice president Yanni Tsipis. Outdoor Voices, the buzzy, venture-backed company that sells exercise gear, celebrated its first store in the Northeast with a “dog jog” — a made-for-Instagram canine-friendly jaunt along the waterfront. At the same time, Cardullo’s Gourmet Shoppe, a 68-year-old Harvard Square institution, opened its first outpost outside Cambridge at 95 Seaport Boulevard.

Coming on the heels of those openings, the developers have announced that WeWork will set up its 10th co-working space in the city on the second floor of 77 Sleeper St., within the One Seaport complex. Outdoors outfitter Filson, David Chang’s Fuku fried chicken joint, and a Fjallraven gear store are scheduled to open in the coming weeks.

A year after my sit-down with WS, I wondered if the Seaport is finally starting to reach critical mass as a retail destination. Or to tweak an oft-cited “Field of Dreams” reference: If you build it, will the shoppers come?

So I reached out to Thasos, a real-time location tracking firm with MIT ties that uses GPS data from smartphones to map foot traffic patterns of people going into and out of a given region. In this case, it could be workers, shoppers, or people living or visiting the Seaport. Thasos’s data on the Seaport found that foot traffic increased 26 percent in December over the same month in 2017, and was up about 18 percent this spring compared with the same period last year. Things have been slowing down this summer, however — as of last month, foot traffic hovered at about 2 to 3 percent higher than in 2017.

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