January 27, 2008

Downtown Framingham’s potential

Slowly, downtown Framingham appears to be gathering a critical mass of destinations that will entice some people to do more than one thing and leave. It's similar to the mantra of any commercial Web site: Get your visitors to "do one more thing." Click on one more story. Buy one more item. Patronize one more business.

For the first time in awhile, I had a multi-destination downtown evening. After viewing the photography exhibit at the library, we headed over to Brazzille for dinner.

Unfortunately, the area streetscape is so off-putting for pedestrians that we ended up driving the short distance from library to restaurant and re-parking (although the good news is that parking was readily available). If downtown is to truly revitalize, it's got to become a park-once, walk-to-many-destinations environment, tying together spots like the library, train station, Dennison condominiums, Fabric Place, new Amazing Things Art Center and more in a walker-appealing district.

That aside, though, it was nice to be able to see some stunning photos from Gateway Camera Club members (disclaimer: I'm a member, although don't have anything in the exhibit), and then continue the late afternoon/early evening with dinner.

Although some long-time American-born town residents complain that they don't feel welcome at certain Brazilian businesses, that's absolutely not the case at Brazzille. The restaurant manages to hit the ethnic sweet spot of staying true to its roots while offering its authentic cuisine to a broader audience. Very good food, excellent value, and warm, friendly service. Although the clientele is largely Brazilian, there are English-language menus and wait staff. It was clear we were welcome as soon as we walked in the door, when our hostess/waitress asked if we'd been there before. When we said no, that it was our first time, she smiled and said, "Nice!" and proceeded to explain to us how things work.

Brazzille has done a nice job of redecorating its space, with colorful lights and a nice tile mosaic. You can see some photos of the interior and food at ThisIsFramingham.com's review last year.

Genuine ethnic cuisine and unique, locally owned businesses offer a sense of place that you can't find at the typical local mall. And sense of place -- boasting something that you can't find anywhere, U.S.A. -- is the key weapon for local business districts in trying to compete with nearby malls for consumer mindshares. In my daydreams, I envision pedestrian-enticing blocks that include outdoor seating in nice weather for the area's restaurants, bakeries and cafes.

For now, I'm hoping Brazzille gets spin-off business when the arts center relocates downtown, and other businesses spring up to appeal to a diverse, arts-appreciating crowd. Add in an attractive, appealing streetscape for foot traffic, and we might finally have real progress on the oft-promised revitalization.


  1. It is just so true that local business have a sense of place whereas the stores and restaurants at your typical are so generic they have become placeless.

  2. I couldn't agree more Sharon. I for one think Amazing Things is going to be the best addition to downtown in years, and hopefully attract more restaurants.

    Brazzille is definitely worthy of receiving some of the pre/post-show dinner crowd from Amazing Things events. Both times I've been there I have been treated warmly and chatted up by the owner. When's the last time that happened to you at the typical Route 9 Megachain restaurant?

    Brazzille has proven that a vibrant, interesting menu and ambience can succeed in downtown Framingham, regardless of in the opinion of some, there are already enough Brazilian restaurants. Even if you just want to stop in for a drink or dessert later in the evening, maybe listen to some music as well, it's one of the best bets downtown.

    A few more places like this, and the Moody Street, Waltham model could start to take hold in The Ham.