Thayer Street has continued to see high turnover, with several closings and some new openings since 2020. Four separate storefronts have shuttered in the past few months alone, with the street still feeling effects of economic difficulty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It seems like the people are the same, but a lot of the businesses are coming and going,” said Berks Shoes & Clothing sales associate Alia Del Borgo.
Del Borgo, a Rhode Island native, has been working at Berks for six months and said that business has been going “quite well.” When she first started, she felt a sense of nervousness that customers were shopping more online, “but people come in and they want to try on shoes because it all varies from brand to brand,” she said.
Although another Berks location in Boston did not end up working out, the shop has been “going strong on Thayer since 1980,” Del Borgo said.
“It’s just crazy how quickly places come and go around here,” she added.
Storefronts like Ayame Hibachi Express, which opened just over a year ago, Tropical Smoothie Cafe, Rev’d Indoor Cycling and Dojo on Thayer have permanently closed. Tropical Smoothie Cafe still has an open location in North Providence, according to its website, along with many other locations nationwide. Rev’d has six locations throughout Massachusetts.
Starbucks is temporarily closed for renovations and is scheduled to reopen in October based on signs posted at the storefront. There is also an ongoing project in the 279 Thayer St. lot, the former location of Dojo and the Army Navy Surplus Store, which was purchased December 2020 by Mike Boutros, owner of popular Thayer mainstays Chinatown and Mike’s Calzones as well as the new Mighty Mike’s Pizza.
The project is currently in the demolition process, but there is a wait on some permits, Boutros wrote in a message to The Herald. He hopes to have the building and demo permits shortly and estimates the project will take about 12-16 months to complete.
Boutros said that the buildings had asbestos, and warning signs regarding asbestos remain on the lot’s storefronts. A special license was obtained for asbestos removal, which was “a long process, but nobody was put in danger due to it,” he wrote. Asbestos removal was completed in July.
Boutros’s Mighty Mike’s Pizza opened May 10. Though the opening went well, “business has been kind of slow,” he wrote.
He attributed this to most Brown and other local students being away from campus for the summer. Boutros was especially excited for first years coming to campus.
“The community on Thayer, as always, was and is very welcoming,” he said.
Business has been good for Boutros’ other restaurants, Mike’s Calzones and Chinatown, which have been Thayer favorites for 20 years, wrote Boutros. “The customer service, food quality and overall restaurant is doing very well,” he wrote.
But as a result of the pandemic, “there are higher prices and we occasionally have a supply shortage,” Boutros wrote.
JLife Mart, a Japanese convenience store, opened in April, The Herald previously reported. Since opening, the business has been doing well, said owner Annie Hu, and with students coming back to campus, she hopes it will continue to get better.
Tiger Sugar, a new boba shop, opened in June, The Herald previously reported, and saw long lines for its grand opening.
Despite the success of newly opened establishments, there are still several challenges that businesses on Thayer face, owners and workers said.
“The housing market has inflated so much … rent is so high, especially in areas like Thayer,” Del Borgo said. “I’m sure these businesses haven’t been able to accommodate and raise their prices without dealing with less business.”
Maintaining a business on Thayer St. is “very, very hard,” said Wooma Cho, owner of bb.q Chicken + Soban Korean Eatery.
Business has been “so-so,” she said, with only four people covering everything from the register to serving to cooking. Work takes up a large amount of her time and makes it difficult to do much else, she said.
Another area of concern for Cho was with the large amount of online ordering. She explained that online platforms take a portion of the profit that many restaurants need. “(We) prefer people call or dine in,” she said.
Amid continuous changes to Thayer, Cho also expressed pride in her restaurant. “Places close, close, close,” she said, “but we’re still here.”