This story ran on page D3 of the Boston Globe on 11/21/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

Firms being forced out say city offering little aid, despite Back Streets program
By Michael Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 11/21/2001

For Geoffrey Rosenberg, it seems like only yesterday that he was a 10-year-old boy helping his father at work, either looking for parts or answering the phone or sweeping up at Alretta Truck Parts Inc. in South Boston.

These days, Rosenberg runs the business himself, with four employees - one who has been on the payroll more than 50 years - at the same address with the same phone number. That will change soon. Rosenberg's business, along with several others, must move from a series of warehouses at Midway and A streets where Beacon Capital is developing high-end offices, retail operations, and residences.

Rosenberg says city officials, despite launching a recent program called Back Streets to help commercial and industrial companies operate and stay in Boston, is doing little to help them relocate in the city.

''In my eyes, the city has not done anything proactive for the businesses on this block,'' Rosenberg said. ''They have never called me. They have never written. It shows me an utter lack of concern for our business climate. There's been absolutely no effort to contact me by mail or phone to offer any assistance of any kind.''

Another business owner, Robert Berman, of Berman Leathercraft, says the city has not contacted him yet. ''No one is knocking on my door,'' said Berman, whose family business has operated in Boston for all of its 97 years.

Both owners are eyeing possible new locations outside of Boston. Rosenberg has his sights on Framingham. Berman isn't sure yet.

For their part, city officials say they have responded to Rosenberg's phone calls by showing him space in Hyde Park, which he declined to rent, saying it wouldn't work for his business.

Another company, Sporto, is being helped by the city and Spaulding & Slye Colliers, a brokerage firm that contacted the footwear maker on its own, a Beacon Capital spokesman said. Spaulding & Slye declined to comment. Two other companies in the area either could not be reached or declined comment.

In Berman's case, Kathy Kottaridis, the city's director of economic development, acknowledges that his business wasn't called, but said with the Back Streets program now in place ''we can help and we look forward to helping.'' She defended the city's actions in Rosenberg's case.

''I would not characterize any of our response to Mr. Rosenberg to be anything less than responseful and helpful,'' Kottaridis also said. ''We've really done the hand-holding we intended to do when we established Back Streets. We gave him some options.''

Back Streets focuses on what Mayor Thomas M. Menino calls ''the jobs where you get your hands dirty'' - manufacturing, wholesale trade, commercial services, logistics, building and contracting, and food processing. Those jobs employ more than 100,000 people, or one in five Boston workers. In theory, the new program increases city loans, protects industrial land, and offers companies new outreach services.

Alex McCallum, Beacon Capital's spokesman, said ''keeping jobs in Boston is vital, as the mayor says, and Beacon is playing its own part'' in that effort by creating some 175,000 square feet for artists' live/work space, compared to 80,000 square feet now, and 116,500 square feet of retail space. He acknowledges that there will be no commercial outlets.

Berman and Rosenberg are miffed that city officials have encouraged the developers to help the artists. ''Apparently the artists fought for and got some manner of consideration,'' Rosenberg said. ''None of the commercial tenants as far as I know are getting any consideration.''

Said Berman: ''That's politics.''

The advantages to staying in Boston, say Berman and Rosenberg, are that their customer and employee base is heavily local in nature. Berman has one employee who has worked at the company for 30 years.

''I've always stayed around here because I didn't want to lose those kind of people,'' he said, adding that moving outside of the city might help lower his rent ''but then you lose all of your employees. There's a big trade-off.''

Rosenberg, besides doing business nationally and internationally, also relies heavily on demand for auto and brake parts from a strong stable of local customers.

''I want to stay here,'' he said. ''I want to stay where my customers are, otherwise they can't do business with me. The whole nature of our industry is being proximate to the place and time of the repair. We deliver upon demand, and usually that demand is `We wanted the parts, like, yesterday.'''

Kottaridis says the city has every intention of helping in such situations.

''We recognize that these kind of development pressures are happening and our goal is to allow the market do what it's going to do, but we want to make sure we are respectful to the long history of these businesses and we understand the importance of having them nearby.''

What's happening in this situation, Kottaridis said, is ''a dramatic change in the marketplace, but that will always be the case in a dynamic city and dynamic business environment.''

Michael Rosenwald can be reached by e-mail at mrosenwald@globe.com.

This story ran on page E1 of the Boston Globe on 11/21/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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