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Know your neighbor: history behind some Thayer faces

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

With a new year of the Metro section comes the opportunity to get to know our neighbors a little better. Here are some of the everyday people on Thayer Street – long-time residents and out-of-towners, regulars and first-time visitors – that color the East Side’s main drag.

Mike and Dawn Ottone

Thayer and Euclid streets

The Ottones and a group of friends and fellow motorcycle enthusiasts have been coming to Thayer Street for years, to “eat, drink coffee and look at motorcycles,” said Mike in front of his neon-lighted bike parked next to Urban Outfitters.Though the Ottones visit Thayer two to four times a week, a law mandating bikers park in specifically marked spots has hampered the once-prevalent motorcycle culture on the street, Dawn said.”It’s discriminating,” Mike said about the law, implemented in the summer of 2007, which imposes fines on motorcycles parked outside of specially marked zones on Thayer. “Imagine if they just banned Toyotas.”Despite the bikers’ complaints, the law has drawn mostly positive reviews from neighborhood residents, who lobbied for the law to limit motorcycle-related noise.”The motorcycle situation had gotten increasingly out of hand because there are so many motorcycles – we counted as many as 80 on a summer evening – which is too much for such a small area,” said Susan Hardy told The Herald last fall. Hardy is a member of the College Hill Neighborhood Association, a group dedicated to preserving the history of the neighborhood, according to their Web site.

Fav Guerrero, Leticia Mendiez and Ana Gutierrez

Sitting at Roba Dolce

Guerrero, Mendiez and Gutierrez are first-time visitors from Mexico (by way of San Diego), in Providence on business, enjoying an authentic Caprese salad at the recently updated Roba Dolce on Thayer.The three women mostly complimented Providence and the East Side, saying the city is “pretty nice, (with) lots of places to go out and have dinner,” Guerrero said. “The harbor is beautiful, too.”Their only complaint? The construction that makes getting in and out of town difficult. Not to worry – some of the city’s biggest road-related construction projects have recently finished or are slated to be completed this fall.The Rhode Island Department of Transportation has dubbed the recent slate of projects to relocate Interstate I-195 further south the “Iway” project, with the goal of relieving traffic congestion caused by I-195’s current path through downtown Providence, according to the DOT Web site. The Iway project is slated to be finished this fall.The replacement of the Washington Bridge over the Seekonk river was completed this summer in a separate DOT project. With the end of construction and reduced congestion, the city can be “nice all over,” Gutierrez said.

Eric Johnson

Standing in front of Store 24

Eric Johnson, a line cook from South Kingstown, travels to Providence every couple of weeks to go shopping and “hang out with old friends” from his days living and working on the East Side.”I used to work at all of these Thayer Street places,” Johnson said, listing the now-closed Geoff’s Superlative Sandwiches, Roba Dolce and the Creperie among the restaurants where he used to be employed.”It’s my day off, and I thought I would come … and pick up a few tees from American Apparel,” Johnson said. Why Thayer Street?”I like the Thayer aesthetic,” Johnson said.Improvements like new trash cans, street signs and the decorative waffle-style crosswalks were completed last spring under the Thayer Street District Management Authority – a coalition of Thayer Street merchants, along with representatives from Brown and the city. At the time many of the improvements were being made in 2007, Ed Bishop ’54, who was on the DMA board of directors as a member of the public and insures several businesses on Thayer, questioned the usefulness and completeness of the renovations.”As far as I’m concerned, what should have been done was bury the utilities, widen the sidewalks and address parking for the Thayer Street business community,” Bishop said. “I think they have – oh, let’s say, lots of challenges.”Still, the renovated street earns high marks from Johnson, who is itching to return to the East Side.”As soon as I get enough money, I am moving back,” he said.