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C’est La Beef
Fairway Beef’s closing is part of a terrible pattern
For 75 years Fairway Beef has been an iconic and unique small business that added to the city’s character and served many a family and small business. On Saturday, the owner shut its doors with no advance warning to the public or even to employees.
This sucks because losing a business like this diminishes Worcester’s unique character. This was a very cool place with an old school ‘fuck you this is how we do it’ that seems to exist more in Worcester than anywhere else in the world. Whatever will inevitably replace it will certainly be pablum and cookie-cutter and dull. It’ll probably be another hedge fund parking capital in another wood frame “luxury” apartment complex.
But it double sucks because these employees, many of whom worked there for over a decade, are now out of a job with no advance warning. Closing a business is one thing, closing it with no plan to help your employees transition—no warning they would have to transition—is another entirely. A friend of mine suggested they closed so suddenly because if they told their employees they were closing, the employees would just steal everything. That may be the case, but that’s the mentality of a tyrant.
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I interviewed an employee who understandably requested to remain anonymous. I think the transcript better articulates their perspective than any sort of framing I could give it.
Bill: So when did you find out it was closing?
B: Jesus Christ. So just like that? Bam, no more shifts?
E: Yep. Just that today was our last day. Store is closing.
B: And it closed early, right?
E: No. Saturdays we are open 9–3. We closed at like 2:55.
B: Oh, ok. How often did you work there, were you full-time?
B: Did full-time employees get any benefits through the company?
B: So it was hourly for you, right? What did you do?
E: Yeah. Meat counter.
B: So like, how are you feeling about it? Like that seems pretty messed up to just... poof, no job, sorry!
E: We’re all pretty bummed. We cried. We laughed. Us employees are like a little misfit family. We will keep in touch.
B: Ah jeez, yeah, that must have been an emotional last couple hours. How long have you worked there?
E: 10-ish years.
B: Wow, that’s a long time. Were there any like, rumors or inkling that this was going to happen?
E: Nope. None.
B: Wow. Are there any rumors going around about why they closed it?
E: They sold it to a developer who’s going to make apartments.
Heartbreaking. To invest a decade in a place and then have them pull the rug out from under you randomly on a holiday weekend. MassLive reported that the owners didn’t even tell the employees, the manager had to. There’s a level of cruelty here that just doesn’t sit right with me.
And while it’s far from a confirmed fact, what the employee said about it turning into apartments does seem likely, and it tracks with what’s been going on in the Canal District in the past couple years. The parcel of land is zoned for just about anything shy of a strip club, shooting range or cemetery. And the kind of projects that Worcester likes to take on these days are certainly the cookie-cutter rent-raisers you see in Boston.
The building’s assessed value is $269,900 and the plot of land it’s on is assessed at $171,400, according to the city’s property database. In total, Fairway Beef is worth $441,300. Anyone who’s bought or sold a home in Worcester lately will tell you that property is going for well, well over the assessed or even the listed value. Though the details of this particular sale are still private, it’s safe to assume the owners, George and Jack Sigel, got a good bit more than half a million for the property.
The Sigel brothers are old and it is not a good time to be in the meat business right now. Real estate speculation in that area, as I’ve hammered on and on about lately, is insane. It was probably a case of getting out when the going’s good, and that’s their prerogative. I just wish they showed any respect at all to the people that made them their money.
Employees and owners aside, the story of Fairway Beef and what will become of it is a tragic one for the city. We’re losing yet another business that lent a character to a neighborhood that was thriving with character. Though they’re much different businesses, it’s analogous to the closing of the Dive Bar, a neighborhood bar that punched way, way above its weight and made Green Street a special place. It’s analogous to the loss of Sir Morgan’s Cove, a historic music venue that surely would have been revived if Green Street was allowed to blossom the way it had been in the decade leading up to Polar Park. It’s analogous to the death of Worcide, a DIY skate park right down the street that was demolished without explanation in the months leading up to the announcement of Polar Park.
Do you see what I’m getting at here?
Worcester is a city in desperate need of urban neighborhoods that feel like urban neighborhoods. The Canal District, Main South and lower Chandler Street are the only neighborhoods that stand a chance. Downtown will never recover from the series of disastrous urban renewal ideas that City Hall has enacted throughout the decades. You see pictures like this…
... and you think, aw heck, why can’t downtown still be like this? Well the answer is that since the ‘60s, City Hall has ripped apart whole neighborhoods to stuff downtown with large, single-use developments that eradicate the urban fabric around them. Saint Vincent Hospital, the Galleria Mall, the DCU Center, the Unum building, 145 Front Street. Let’s not forget that monstrous AT&T building that looks like it’s out of the Blade Runner universe and serves no clear purpose except to make sure a whole city block in the middle of downtown is as vacant and useless as possible.
Northampton is a much, much smaller city that has a much more vibrant downtown, and you know why? It’s because they didn’t do any dumb shit like that to tear it apart. They let it stay dense and tight and businesses that thrive off density, like cool restaurants and bars and venues and retail stores—you know, the kind of things we all want to see in Worcester—continue to do well there.
Polar Park is a continuation of the same economic development strategy that gutted a downtown that was once thriving, but this time they’re bringing it to the Canal District, which was on its way to thriving. The leaders of our city not only fail to recognize this, they celebrate it. It’s a political win in the state Democratic Party to land a big development deal like Polar Park and all the newspapermen go gaga and Ed Augustus gets to walk around like a god amongst mortals. They talk about “infusion of dollars” without consideration toward what it means for the city’s urban fabric. They don’t care about that. They care about how much big stuff they can convince people to build and convincing them to build it is in and of itself the political win. The ramifications are for the next administration to deal with.
So let’s bring it on back to Fairway Beef and try and put ourselves in the heads of the owners for a second. That business was opened in 1946, a full 24 years before I-290 was constructed. That business remarkably survived the construction of I-290, which it is now directly next to. People who talk about small businesses always talk about how the first couple years are the hardest and if you make it past that you’re doing good. Most will close. Still, keeping a small business open for even 10 years is a remarkable achievement. When Fairway Beef opened, it was in the middle of a dense neighborhood back when people walked everywhere as a rule. It understandably thrived in that set of circumstances. That it had enduring, decades-long success is a testament to a well-positioned and necessary business. The Canal District was poised to become more dense and more walkable without the intrusion of City Hall and a business like Fairway Beef would benefit from that. It may have been a different calculation for the owners. Instead, an insane property value bubble brought on by media hype and real estate speculation made it so the owners could walk away from the business with a sweet nest egg, and the neighborhood is at once down a food source and left with a housing development that is unattainably expensive for the majority of people who live in there.
Maybe they’ll keep the bull tho haha that would be cute right?
As always I ask that if you enjoyed this piece, or even if you didn’t, to consider throwing me a few bucks a month to help me put beef on the table. Signing up for free is also a cool and good thing to do!!
Hey speaking of the bull, remember when that guy was caught riding it and trying to rip its balls off?
That guy rocks.
It’d be uhhhh a real shame if that bull were to suddenly and mysteriously go missing, wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t it be awful if someone stole it and kept it from these new developers? That would be terrible. I would hate to see that.
I’ve been following the uproar about swimming at Walden Pond with interest as we have a real problem with drowning deaths here in Worcester. People are mad that they are no longer allowed to swim in areas that aren’t roped off and monitored. I understand the resentment. I like to hike and swim as much as the next person and I would really resent someone telling me I couldn’t take a quick dip in a perfectly fine lake. It’s a reactionary decision to restrict swimming to curb swimming deaths. Instead you could spend some more public money to make sure people know how to swim. But this is Massachusetts, baby, we’re freakin’ weirdos!
Did you know Worcester used to have eight community pools and we decided to demolish all but one of them because they were too expensive to maintain? Did you know Worcester’s getting rid of Hillside Beach because it’s a little bit more dangerous than your average beach and they can’t find the money to make it safe or even staff a lifeguard there?
At least the cops have novelty horses, though, right?
On a lighter note…friendly reminder that BodegaFest is this weekend at The Bridge and if you want to see an all-encompassing showcase of what’s going on in Worcester musically this is the event to check out. For sure.
If you ordered a shirt and haven’t gotten it yet, be patient with me!! I had to put in a large second order and my man at Negative Press is a one-man band. They are on the way. You can’t rush perfection!!
Ok bye bye