Surrounded by pubs, pizza, and nail salons, Centre Street businesses long yearned for a stronger retail presence to bring outside business and increased foot traffic.
In the last 16 months, a new breed of shop has opened in answer to those hopes. What's more, those shops Wicked Sharp Ski and Snowboard, GC Skate, and Busted Knuckle Bicycle have worked together to help each other and the Centre Street economy at-large.
"They complement each other very well," said West Roxbury Main Streets Executive Director Kara O'Connor. "And they bring in a lot of business from outside [West Roxbury]."
"New business and new life," said Wicked Sharp's Aaron Thompson, "always helps the community."
Wicked Sharp opened its doors at the start of September, 2010, just in time for snow sport season. They were followed in December by GC and Busted Knuckle in April. As the oldest of the three, Thompson said Wicked Sharp was able to offer advice to Sherike Morris at GC and Jay Devitt at Busted Knuckle as they prepared to open.
"Sherike came to us first in August ," said Thompson. "We sat and talked about what we wanted to do. We talked about being a small retail business on [Centre Street] and that we wanted to get different traffic in there."
The advice wasn't just philosophic in nature, though. Thompson and business partner JP Bedard also gave the other shops technical details for starting a small business in West Roxbury.
"We told them about Main Streets," Thompson said. "We told them about permits for signs."
As the businesses have grown, they've worked together in other ways. For instance, all three have a presence in each other's stores: they give out each other's business cards, Wicked Sharp carries a GC pamphlet. There is some cross-over business: Devitt said a Wicked Sharp customer who had bought used skis later came his way and bought a used bike.
They also share ideas: Morris's shop has hosted art shows during the course of its first year to bring in new business, an idea the others have thought about using, Thompson said. Morris said the three have also discussed ways to advertise together.
The three have also been active in the community. Morris and Thompson had a table set up at the YMCA's Healthy Kids Day in September, promoting the outdoor activities their shops sell. And all three sold raffle tickets in the effort to keep the Irish Social Club open.
The three businesses have also formed a friendship that goes outside the shops.
"Those guys are my buddies," said Morris. Devitt and his wife Cheryl had the other two over for dinner while the Bruins played in the Stanley Cup last spring. Thompson plays cards with Morris and his friends. They occasionally hit neighboring bars together after closing their shops for the day.
When the Devitts signed the lease for the shop in January, they didn't know just how convenient the location next door to Morris would prove. "It was like hitting the lottery, getting him as a neighbor," Cheryl said.
The three all say they've been welcomed by established West Roxbury business owners. "Everybody seems to like the fact that we're here," Morris said. "We're all young business owners, but there seems to be a lot of support," added Devitt.
O'Connor said West Roxbury's business had long clamored for a stronger retail presence. "[Businesses] have always asked for increased retail on Centre Street," she said.
However, Jay Devitt hopes the shops set the trend and don't represent the entirety of the street's retail influx.
"People still do all their shopping in Dedham," said Jay Devitt. "I'd like to see Centre Street grow a little more."
Thompson said the more retail on Centre Street, the better.
"It's new businesses and new life," he said, "which always help the community."