June 30, 2005

Salvation Army Downtown

Does the presence of the Salvation Army in a prime downtown Framingham retail location hurt efforts to revitalize the downtown business district? Selectmen would like to move the organization out of its highly visible Concord Street storefront, according to the MetroWest Daily News. Supporters of local social service agencies are outraged, blasting the desire as trying to hide the poor and the fact that they need help. I understand the concerns of both sides, and suggest everyone take a deep breath here and try to think about what makes a good downtown business environment while also providing needed services to all in the community.

For a good shopping district, you want a critical mass of appealing storefronts. I don't think a massive, ground-level insurance or accounting office belongs on a prime shopping boulevard, and nobody's attacking the desirability of demographics of those clientele. What about the Salvation Army? Selectmen aren't trying to move them out of town, just out of their key downtown retail location. However, it's a fair question to ask whether they're also trying to move other businesses off that main shopping street - ones that don't target clients in need, but also don't fit well into a vision of a retail streetscape. It's also a fair question to ask the Salvation Army supporters whether it would truly hurt their mission if they were on a different but still accessible and visible street downtown.

There are three options here. 1) Encourage the Salvation Army to move to a nearby location out of prime retail space, probably by offering to buy their existing location as well as sell them a nearby one they find adequate for their needs. 2) Live with the Salvation Army as it exists on Concord Street. 3) Work with the Salvation Army to improve its existing facility - find a way to spiff up the exterior, and be willing to focus on their retail operation in their Concord Street windows. A nice, appealing second-hand store could conceivably work in a revitalized downtown. If more upscale shoppers are added to the mix of people populating downtown, and they're also encouraged to patronize the Salvation Army store with an attractive storefront, that makes it more likely the organization will end up with more donations of used clothing and such.


  1. Hello. I would hope that simple economics would determine what happens, not the wishes of the city's government. Shouldn't the city mind their own business? If the Salvation Army rents its space, then, eventually, the owner will raise the rent so much, as the neighborhood improves, that they won't be able to afford to stay. If they own the space, then, at some point, they'll get an offer they can't refuse, and sell out.

    I'm all for a free and unencumbered market, in cases like this.

  2. I sure hope moving the Salvation Army off Concord Street is not the selectmen's main revitalization project, because if it is, they really have no idea what they're doing. There's a lot more that needs fixing downtown than hiding alcoholics in the Weeds or wherever the selectmen want to put them.

  3. Davis Square, a vital place by any standard, proudly boasts a Goodwill store at the end of the Elm Street retail strip. It's quite popular, even hip, and fits in well with the neighborhood. They have fun with their window displays, too. Someone from Framingham should check it out.

  4. It's possible selectmen talked about two dozen other things needed to revitalize downtown Framingham, yet only the Salvation Army part got picked up because it's the best attention-grabber (no offense intended to the MetroWest Daily News reporter who wrote the story). I wasn't at the meeting, so I can't say.

    I agree that plenty more is needed besides either moving or reconfiguring the Salvation Army, in order to revitalize downtown Framingham. Any talk about moving (or attracting) certain businesses should be in the context of an overall vision and plan. What do planners want downtown Framingham to be? Who do they want to attract? What's the mix of serving the immediate neighborhood vs. drawing people from elsewhere in Framingham and from surrounding communities? What's the mix of retail/commerce/entertainment? Waltham did a great job with that. I doubt the movie theater, Cronin's Landing and all those restaurants were a happy accident.

    Agreed, any one individual step is not going 'revitalize' downtown Framingham, but taking NO steps simply because one thing alone won't do it, isn't the answer either. That conclusion also gives us what we have on Rte. 9 and Rte. 30 today. Why try siting development along Rte. 30 to be more pedestrian-friendly, since nothing else there is either? Argh. Had a first step been taken 15 years ago, we could have had Stop & Shop, BJs, the Target shopping center and Kohls all creating an attractive boulevard by now, attracting shoppers on foot from the nearby office buildings and apartments, instead of just more suburban sprawl.

  5. The Salvation Army building is not simply a thrift store. What used to be an example of mid-century retail modernism, rivaling Jordan Marsh at Shopper World, has turned into a dirty looking hangout for those waiting for a free meal and some bread. The original building has been altered, bricked, and otherwise become a dirty shell of it's former glory. The Salvation Army should take a cue from the St Vincent DePaul Thrift Store, newly opened on Franklin St to see how smart used clothing can corner a market. In the meantime, Salvation Army, if you're interested in helping the homeless, check out what Smoc is doing in their shelter on Hollis Street.

  6. hiding alcoholics in the Weeds?
    We should better think about clinics for these people. This would be a real long term solution!

  7. There are programs operated by SMOC to help the alchoholics and drug users. They have to
    "dry out" first, then enter a sober housing program. These houses are located in many Framingham neighborhoods.
    Getting back to improving the downtown retail, takea look at Hollis St near Irving Square, which has improved recently. It would be nice to post some photos of these nice looking new businesses. They've taken a little paint and made a few storefronts quaint.

  8. I love you just the way you areJuly 30, 2005 at 4:55 AM

    I grew up in Framingham and the Salvation Army is a staple of downtown. In fact I am going there soon to buy a bicycle for ten dollars. People who want to get rid of the Salvation Army should move to a place where there is none. You are carpetbaggers who want to gentrify this town into a cookie-cutter yuppie diorama. Who was here first, you or them? Think about it. Please leave us alone. I like downtown just the way it is, except for the druggies and crime. By the way, I agree SMOC should not expand its druggie methadone clinics. However the Salvation Army and Advocates should stay.