Columns

Corvese ’15: A tale of two Thayers

By
Opinions Editor

Our freshman eyes were gleeful and wide when we first set foot upon Thayer Street. Its collection of diverse eateries, gaudy trinket shops and secondhand clothing stores solidified our image of Brown as the hip and trendy Ivy. Though we lacked a picturesque rural campus spanning hills and valleys, we had a few city blocks that welcomed us not only to the Brown community but to Providence’s thriving food and business scene.

But four years later, seniors’ views of Thayer are not quite as rosy. Beloved shops of the past are shutting down, foot traffic moves at a glacial pace and cars zoom down cross streets as if the freshly painted crosswalks were invisible. Though new food trucks on Thayer’s lower half keep culinary offerings exciting, many of us concede defeat to Chipotle on a weekly basis. In a recent opinions column on the construction of 257 Thayer, Sam Hillestad ’15 longed for “the real Thayer Street” he experienced as a freshman.

Our unwritten history of the softly sloped street leaves us with Old Thayer and New Thayer, one a lost relic of youth and the other an apparently nightmarish future. Many have already retreated south to Wickenden Street, the land of hipper coffee shops and BYOB sushi joints, while others regularly venture downtown for authentic metropolitan flair. And while the loss of businesses like Shades Plus may cost Thayer some charm, our conversation about the street should expand beyond our bitterness at aesthetics to include the implications of these changes for the rest of Providence.

Thayer has always been a dynamic part of Providence, with restaurants moving in and out of buildings over the years and smaller business owners expressing concern about “the decline of Thayer as a shopping destination,” as The Herald reported last fall. The street’s relationship with Brown and the greater Providence community is constantly being cultivated to ensure harmony among all who traverse its sidewalks. In fact, this fall’s transformation was mobilized after collaboration between President Christina Paxson and Mayor Angel Taveras to give Thayer “a facelift,” according to a May article in the Providence Journal.

Some of the cosmetic changes are already visible, like the expanded sidewalk in front of City Sports and the “parklet” adorned with shrubbery and benches in front of the Brown Bookstore. For jaded upperclassmen like me, the only admissible struggle with these changes was retraining my feet to step onto the curb a few steps earlier than before. Though a sidewalk addition takes away from a potential parking space — a Thayer rarity as elusive as the mythical unicorn — the Bookstore parklet will apparently be removed once winter hits to ease snow plowing.

The age of New Thayer also gave us the splendid Thayer Street Art Festival organized by Festival Fete in late September. I challenge anyone who saw the countless talented vendors at this event to find anything amiss besides a few hours of rerouted traffic and the brief absence of your precious outdoor seating at Blue State.

Nevertheless, the construction behemoth that is 257 Thayer is a mood dampener — and if not that, then the surrounding fences consuming perfectly good sidewalks for the past few months. As Hillestad points out in his column, there is a strong chance that 257 Thayer’s high rents and excessive amenities will render it a bastion of class privilege. But while 257 Thayer will not be universally adored, it still meets a demand present somewhere in the Brown community — and a demand that can affect those outside of Brunonia.

Neighborhood change is not always for the better. Accounts of gentrification and displacement from locales that now act as magnets for young professionals are becoming prominent, and for good reasons. In May 2011, the New York Times reported about residents’ anger toward boisterous newcomers in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, an area whose name is now synonymous with gentrification. A year later, another Times article featured San Francisco locals struggling to pay rising rents amidst the tech boom.

It’s difficult to measure Providence and its businesses against these enormous hubs, but their tales of development and unintended consequences should always be heeded. My years at Brown have made me aware of even my smallest impacts on the surrounding city. I apologize eternally for blocking street traffic while leaving class at 50 minutes past every hour. As Thayer changes, we should not scorn changing aesthetics that don’t mesh with nostalgia. Rather, we must remain mindful of the pivotal role Thayer plays in the relationship between Providence and Brown. Thayer Street is an ecosystem in constant flux, radiating its cultural changes onto our campus and into the city we call home.

As Donna Personeus, executive director for Thayer Street District Management, told The Herald last week, “Business is a cycle — it comes and goes.” It’s time for seniors like me to ditch our “back in my day” attitude and adapt to New Thayer while being mindful of our presence in this wonderful place. The streets, they are a-changin’.

 

 Gabriella Corvese ’15 is still upset about Tedeschi being gone and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.

  • Anon

    You’re obviously not from around here.

    • Gabriella Corvese

      Born and raised in Cranston, actually!

  • memories

    For those of us Brown alums, even the stores you grew up with in freshman year weren’t always around. The older Thayer street for your year was the “new” Thayer street for alum. Chipotle was not always there, nor Blue state coffee. There used to be a Gap where City Sports was… but before that it was a grocery store. Across the street from Blue state coffee, you know that store that looks like a greenhouse? It used to be a flower shop. Near the Sci Li, there used to be a stationary store with overpriced notebooks… i think it’s a small convenience store now? Gourmet Heaven used to be a brick oven pizza joint with rumoured mafia connections. They refused to sell their property when the LiSci was under construction, and that’s why the LiSci was built around and towers over this small establishment. Pho’s used to be a chinese restaurant.

    But if you’re looking for other alternatives to Thayer street, there is Wickenden. If you go east on Angell or Waterman, you’ll find Wayland square with a super cool starbucks! Go north on Hope street, and there’s another area like Thayer with slightly higher end restaurants.

    • Alum

      Even the damn tagline at the end “Gabriella Corvese ’15 is still upset about Tedeschi being gone and can be reached at gabriella_corvese@brown.edu.” references a store that used to be owned by someone else and operated under a different name.

      As long as bagel gourmet, east side pockets, and antonio’s are still there – I don’t really care.

  • B’ staff

    I remember when you used to be able to buy RECORDS on Thayer St. Yeah, yeah, they had CDs too (above Karta Bar/East Side Pockets). But RECORDS. Rows and rows of them in wooden boxes and old milk crates that came from who knows where.

    Now? Now it’s a food court.

    • Student ’15

      Wickenden St still has a record store! I’ve never been in there but I’m glad it exists.

  • Brent R

    Compelling article on cultural association, nostalgia and sense of place.