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.