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Dropping like flies: Stoddard's closes for good in a deserted downtown

Ace Gershfield, one of the people behind the Temple Place watering hole, announced and explained the permanent closing today:

We derived close to 40% of our revenues from the Downtown Crossing theaters and shows, those are non existent. We generated 40% of our revenue from the everyday workers in the office buildings near by, those were closed, then let to reopen at 25% capacity and now upwards of 50% but the area is still desolate! After work and special events drove the remaining traffic of which we have NONE! We have no out door space or parking lots to set up outdoor dining options as we are located on a street with the sliver line bus that runs daily. Our landlord would not negotiate with us for better terms. We tried to get creative but to no avail it did not work out. Now we have to buy ourselves out of our remaining 2 year lease, our largest asset which is our liquor license is worth less than half its value 6 months ago, any money we retain from that license sale will go directly to buy out our remaining lease terms. If and when we sell the remaining infrastructure such as our amazing bar from the UK we will have lost our entire investment! 8+ years of business gone! So many memories shared with the city of Boston simply disappear!

Via Boston Restaurant Talk, which only 90 minutes or so earlier reported the Kinsale closing.

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Comments

Swiss army knives and fly fishing gear, it seemed like they could outfit a man for a fine adventure back in the day.

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That other location in Chestnut Hill closed eventually, right?

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If you mean the one at the mall, yup. They moved to Nonantum for a while, then closed for good at some point in the last few years. They also had a spot at Copley Place, but I think that was gone well before the store at inside Chestnut Hill Mall closed.

I worked at the Chestnut Hill store many (many, many) years ago; it was a great place for Swiss Army knives and high-end cutlery and cool gadgety stuff.

I’m trying to parse this statement here...so are the owners of Stoddard’s saying that current “don’t just do something, stand there!” approach by our government in response to the mass-casualty event faced by independent restaurants not helpful to most businesses? Huh. (/sarcasm)

I wish the federal/state/city governments would be honest and say “tough shit, restaurants”. Many of these places closing now probably should have made the call to abandon ship months ago. Many more or still hanging on and in denial of the inevitable end, continuing to dig themselves deeper into financial disaster.

It’s just cruel. Help is not on the way.

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Do you want to be firing back a Moscow Mule outside in 45 degree weather, heaters or not, with Silver Line idling buses blowing fumes into your face?

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Even in the most ideal settings, outdoor dining in Boston Nov-April is like putting a used band aid on a gunshot wound. It’s insulting that the best we could do is so graciously allow business to purchase propane heaters that they then have to spend money to refill daily to piecemeal small amounts of ever-dwindling revenue from brave (crazy?) outdoor diners.

Now account for all the places that simply are not set up to accommodate jersey barrier patios. (I know you you already realize this, I’m just saying it out loud for the rest of the class.)

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I wonder if some of these businesses figure if they can be the one place that pulls through to the other end that when the dust settles they will be THE PLACE. I look around locally as the cool places dry up, one seems to be holding on and looks like it will survive by a sheer combination of factors. They went from being saturated with competition to literally being the only place in the area people will be able to go when we can socialize again.

I do wonder looking downtownish, if any of them will survive and if they do how crazy business will be in a few years.

Businesses, especially the smaller ones, are dropping like flies. We can thank the people who voted in our present Administration in Washington for that.

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Were not the majority in this city or in this state.

Now, it sounds to me like you think that it's asinine that somebody in Iowa or South Carolina picks the federal body which governs us in Massachusetts, in which case, at this point, with the gaping parity in mental fitness, I wholeheartedly agree.

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How do you know that the people who ran the businesses that were lost due to the pandemic were not the majority here in this city or this state?

Either to the answer to your question, or to the point you're trying to make.

The point that I'm making here, Will LaTulippe, is that it really does not matter whether or not the proprietors of these businesses, including Stoddards, that closed for good here in the city, were the majority here in the city.

The problem is that a huge percentage of the people in the offices are not coming back into work until January at the earliest, probably later.

If you can work from home, and do so effectively, you are working from home right now. That isn't going to change until this is seriously and completely over.

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To be precise, a majority of white collar companies are currently WFH. The minority bringing their workers back, often against their will, are the ones raising the numbers right now, which may eventually trigger another lockdown.

Would be nice if we could get someone in federal government who understood these basic logistics.

Regarding LOCAL issues. Sorry to break it to you, this is a local issue. No matter how much you hate Trump, you can't blame him for everything.

Our largest asset which is our liquor license is worth less than half its value 6 months ago

If you enjoy the bargoing experience, I don't understand how you vote for any incumbent in municipal and state office next time out. I really don't. This guy needing a license to sell me drinks wasn't a problem until government said it was one.

If and when we sell the remaining infrastructure such as our amazing bar from the UK

Now that's just a dopey investment. Here's an exhaustive list of reasons why I go to a bar and pay the markup at all at this point:

1) My friends own the place/work there

2) To try and get laid

Imported infrastructure doesn't move the needle. Just make it a place where women want to go. No need to make it a financial arms race.

If Will LaTullipe can’t score a phone number, is a bar even worth opening?

Christ. It’s almost like there is a diverse array of bars to appeal to a broad spectrum of tastes. And for the record Stoddard’s imported bar was beautiful.

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And I could buy a Rolls with cash tomorrow, but that would be insanely reckless, because I’m 36 and need the money for when I’m older.

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How does the cost of a business’s build out - which you don’t know the price tag of, which you don’t know what percentage of was spent on the imported bar, which you don’t know how much more (or less) that they spent on the imported bar versus a built-from-scratch bar - relate to which car you purchase for personal use?

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Admits that he’s looking at a net zero return over eight years while having a state-sponsored limit on competition. It’s like the cabs, or Trump’s casinos: How do you lose when you’re ordained as a winner?

It doesn’t seem like the place was hurting before COVID.

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So is fiscal discipline.

Fiscal discipline? Who plans for a multi-year economic shutdown in the heart of a thriving city?

What measure of fiscal discipline accounts for a business’s largest asset depreciating by half and then have to come up with 2.5 years of rent (I imagine rent is north of $10k) all while collecting zero revenue? What small business can loose $200k in depreciating assets and then come up with another $150k - $250k to buy out the lease of a space making no sales AND walk away with a net profit?

How much money do you think independent restaurants have on hand? How much cash do you have lying around?

Can you live on $0 income, hemorrhage money for 6 months, pay 2 years rent/mortgage on the spot, and walk away in healthy financial shape and substantial liquidity? If you can, congratulations.

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In that he learned the hard way not to trust that government would protect him in perpetuity. Stoddard's was a good spot. I went a couple of times. A woman there once asked me if the Guess Who was a Who cover band.*

The value of a liquor license should be nominally $0, because the only restriction, if any, that should exist on anybody having one should be a consumer fraud judgment. That such an instrument could possibly lose half of what it's worth, and lead to catastrophe in the process, is precisely what's broken.

I don't see the Democrats on Beacon Hill in a big hurry to fix that, nor do I see the Democrats in Boston City Hall pushing on them either. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=93FSStBD--4

If anyone ever tells me that I have to sign a contract guaranteeing that I pay them $250,000 (twice my net worth), that's the end of the potential transaction. You know, the same conceit that ended our Olympic "bid." I would have to be worth at least $5 million to even consider agreeing to that.

As to your inquiry about what I live on, I only spend $2,400 a month, and I could cut that even further by paying off my 15-year old car, subsequently reducing the insurance payment by acquiring the title, and eliminating alcohol and pay TV if I really had to. If everyone else wants to be Nelson Rockefeller before they turn 60, that's on them.

*Didn't have sex with her either, Pete Nice

They didn't ask you what you spend a month, you were asked if you could live for that specified amount of time. Care to try your answer again or just not reply like usual?

...plase get a room?

The sculpture that is Stoddard's bar is fabulous, likely the most attractive in New England. On the other hand, I won't miss the death-defying stumble down the long, narrow stairs to the johns.

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If you decide after a while that you miss that, try the Hub Pub, amazed no one has gotten killed on those stairs.

a liquor license, just as we pay fees for all sorts of licenses to do business and conduct other aspects of public life.

The reason Boston liquor licenses are so expensive is that the Commonwealth legislatively seized control of and deliberately capped them, creating artificial scarcity and inflated prices. I've recounted that history here before: Brahmins in the State House trying to retain some grasping control over a city they'd lost politically to Irish-American and Italian-American pols.

It's a travesty that it survives to this day, as it has created all kinds of problems for our restaurant scene even before the pandemic, namely, making it more difficult for neighborhood and independent chef/owners to start their own places, putting more licenses in the hands of deeper-pocketed, thuddingly mediocre national chain restaurants of the kind that dominate the Seaport.

RIP, Stoddard's: you were a really good beer bar with some cool atmosphere and one of the saltier barmen around.

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Now, the original Stoddards cutlery store, THAT was a loss. And the Windsor Button Shop across the street. And Bailey's and Mickey Finn's and Jack's Joke Shop and SS Pierce and on and on. I know all the modern blow-ins from elsewhere will slam me for missing the old places and living in the past, but the city had such character, and I find that missing now. Plus I could get whatever I wanted in all the unique little (or big in the case of Finn's) places. I can still do that online, but it was fun to go in and discover things. And the characters that used to work in these places! You'd swear they'd been there since the Civil War.

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also patronized the places that replaced them about fifty times more frequently. If you want a button shop to stay in business, you have to buy a lot of buttons. I stopped buying joke-shop merch when I was 13. Stoddard's the knife-seller was great, but it was maybe a once-a-year stopover.

I say the same thing about restaurants (or did pre-pandemic): if you love a place, frequent it, bring friends there, and boost it on social media. If you only visit once a year, you can't really complain if it goes out of business for lack of custom.

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...up until relatively recent times those places had been in business seemingly forever. That's why they were institutions. They seemed no have no lack of customers. A number of factors lead to their downfall. One was the rise of online shopping. Another was the decline of "Main Street" type downtown shopping areas which actually began in the 80s with the rise of malls. Now even malls themselves are toast.

Windsor Button had plenty of regular customers (I was one). They didn't close due to lack of business. They closed due to selfish a-holes for landlords who then got to benefit from a vacant storefront for years. That was a travesty, and yes, I'm still bitter.

Windsor Button had plenty of business; I was in there quite regularly, and there were always other people being helped by the staff. What I understood was that the landlord decided to jack the rent so high that they simply couldn't afford it any more (because selling sewing notions and knitting supplies isn't exactly a high-profit venture). I wish they'd been able to find another location to settle in, but I understand not wanting to haul all your stock from one end of town to the other; I'm just sorry that they, and all the smaller fabric stores in Boston proper, have closed over the past 20 years. New England Textiles, Clement's Textiles, North End Fabrics, Winmill Fabrics, etc. etc. etc. ...all gone. (The owners of Winmill decided to close up shop so they could spend time with their grandchildren while they were still reasonably healthy and active, which I totally understand, but I still miss the hell out of them. Pretty much the only place I can get to now is Sewfisticated Fabrics at the Twin City Plaza; they're a decent fabric store, but it was nice to have other options Back In The Day.)

I used to go to Windsor once a month or so. They had yarn and needlework supplies and all kinds of crafty things.

They were doing quite well but the landlord pushed out all the shops to do a renovation of the entire building.

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Stoddards is a big loss. One of the few places around that had a great beer selection AND could make very good cocktails. It was also a very nice looking place.

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People and businesses are hurting. Allowing Happy Hour again might allow people to spend money more economically and allow businesses to compete for customers that might not have previously visited their establishment.

Oh man this one hurts. I feel bad for all the downtown businesses. I haven't been in the office since March and I'm not likely to be back anytime soon. Nor will I be to a theater show anytime soon.

I do wish that businesses who are on the brink would let us know how they are doing so we can try to purchase take-out from them. Although even that is likely not enough.

The thing I really don't understand is why landlords don't try to cut deals with their tenants right now. It's not like there's going to be another business lining up to rent that spot. Isn't some income better than none?

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I have a fair amount of experience on the residential side. Have investigated the commercial side but not pulled the trigger.

What I suspect is happening is that the banks that hold the loans are not willing to work with the landlords. And commercial real estate financing is a completely different animal than residential real estate. Notes are typically refinanced every 5 years and a whole lot depends on your rent roll. Also, there are insane games that get played to minimize tax hits. And before you cry "tax dodger," some of these tax bills can be staggering. If you don't play the games, you can go from profitable to unprofitable based solely on taxes. So you pretty much have to play the game, or you go bankrupt.

I keep a money losing property in Texas because I'd rather bleed a few thousand a year now but at least pay down my mortgage than sell it at a loss compared to what I paid for it and then have to pay the IRS $70k for the privilege of losing money. Hopefully in 4 years I will be able to fluff it up to the point where I can justify a sale at a price that allows me to lose less money, or at least get a decent refinance package that keeps me going another 5 years.

Having that experience, I can see a variety of scenarios where it makes more financial sense for the landlord to have the space vacant. They can be going after the old business for the remainder of the lease, carry that as an "asset" on their books for the refinance, actively market for new corporate tenants (not even the pandemic seems to be able to quench our thirst for retail banks), and take big tax losses that may be able to offset gains on other properties.

I don't like the complexity of this system and I'm not defending it. But it is the system we have and it is probably a big part of why so many landlords are not working with their small business tenants. It may cost you significantly more money to do the right thing than it does to just give them the boot.

Maybe someone with more experience in the game can shed more light on it.