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Train Spotting: Talking change with a pushcart vendor in Downtown Crossing

Downtown Crossing has undergone a lot of renovation recently. Craig Caplan, a longtime pushcart vendor in the neighborhood, weighs in.

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News dropped last spring that Downtown Crossing’s pushcart program, a fixture of the business and shopping sector since time immemorial, is slated for a major overhaul. Following backlash that included a Charge.org petition and a public shaming from Mayor Menino, the Boston Business Improvement District allowed the 28 beleaguered vendors to stick it out for the rest of the year, but no one promised that they’d retain their licenses after that. More recently, construction projects have forced the relocation of several mobile shops, which surely makes for a pain in the neck. We asked Craig Caplan, proprietor of Unique Boutique for 20-plus years and President of the Vendor Association, what he makes of all this.

Are you hopeful you’ll be included in whatever the new pushcart program turns out to be?

I mean, they keep talking about a new program. Nobody’s explained to me what it’s going to be or how it’s going to work. So I’m a little bit nervous. I don’t know for sure what’s going to happen at the end of the year.

If you were in charge, what would you do to improve Downtown?

I think the more activity, the more programming that’s out here...They’ve done concerts. They’ve done the Thursday night block parties. Certainly, the outdoor vending program helps make it a festive atmosphere. More of that year-round will always give people a reason to make this a destination. I think the property owners need to lower a lot of the rents for these empty store spaces to get filled up. The less empty space, the better it will look. But I think that they’re doing things right. They just need to keep doing more of that, and they need to be all inclusive.

As opposed to building more luxury condos.

You know, luxury condos are fine. I mean, there’s affordable housing here as well. Bringing some of the upper-middle class and upper class down here can’t hurt. But if it’s all empty and it’s not being bought, that’s not a good thing.

Most and least successful carts you’ve seen during your time here?

The most successful carts out here would be the food carts. I’ve seen lines around the block for food. I’ve never seen that for T-shirts. The least successful cart — and it’s very ironic — in the early ‘90s, somebody came from Seattle and opened a coffee cart selling lattes and things like that. Everyone in Boston just wanted a small regular. “Gimme a small regular.” “No, we only have lattes!” Y’know? He went out of business and the coffee craze hit, like, a month after he left. Now everybody drinks that stuff all the time. He was close, but failed miserably.

 
 
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