Ball Square business community navigates Broadway Bridge closure

Taco Party in Ball Square puts up a 'SUPER CONSTRUCTION ZONE' sign in the window on Sept. 30. Fina Short / The Tufts Daily

When the MBTA Green Line extends through Somerville to Medford in 2021, six new stations will bring over 57,000 Medford residents closer to Boston. For now, the $2.3 billion Green Line Extension project has meant road closures and detours for local business hubs.

A weekday visit to Somerville’s Ball Square reveals a neighborhood transformed by the yearlong closure of the Broadway Bridge, which typically connects traffic to Magoun Square by way of Broadway.

Detours caused by the closure are estimated by some to have reduced circulation through Ball Square by 20%, a change felt perhaps most deeply by local business owners.

“There’s not much traffic anymore. If you look in this square, it’s dead,” Sound Bites owner Yasser Mirza said, gesturing to the street outside. “Everybody’s afraid to come here.”

While Mirza said that Sound Bites has experienced financial difficulties as a result of the closure, he also described witnessing other businesses shuttering completely.

“We are losing some money right now because we cannot let employees go,” Mirza said. “Unfortunately there’s a couple of businesses in the square that closed already, they could not make it — the gift shop across the street, she didn’t make it.”

Olivia Holmes, a Tufts senior who works as a barista at True Grounds Bakery and Coffee House, said that she has observed the construction project heavily impacting the cafe’s workweek customer base.

“It’s just really inconvenient because a lot of True Grounds‘ business, especially on the weekdays, is commuters, so they don’t go through there anymore,” Holmes said. “The weekends are still fairly busy but business overall has definitely decreased.”

She said that the café’s business has been sustained in part by loyal customers who do not rely on vehicular transportation to get there.

True Grounds relies a lot on regulars, and there are a lot of regulars who walk there and go in and sit … but you don’t see a lot of the same busy people who are there in the mornings there on weekdays,” Holmes said.

Ball Square Fine Wines Wine Director Dan Lech said that his workplace has adapted some aspects of its business model to deal with the construction.

“We always have delivery service but we’ve changed the rules a little bit on delivery,” Lech said. “We’ve made it easier for people to get smaller deliveries, so that if people live close by and find it tough to get here we can deliver to them.”

Lech said that Fine Wines has also partnered with the city of Somerville to take part in local initiatives that help bolster business amidst the bridge closure, including last weekend’s Ball Square Festival.

“We’re running a few more special events,” Lech said. “The city of Somerville has helped out with some — the thing we did last Sunday, the Ball Square Festival … we had tasting inside with wine, beer and spirits, and we had a table outside with a raffle.”

Taco Party night manager Stephanie Clifford mentioned an initiative taken by the city of Somerville that provides a shuttle allowing pedestrians in the region to bypass the detour.

“Our summer was less busy than it was last year,” Clifford said. “But the good thing is we do have that Bridge Hopper tram that the city of Somerville provided … it’s a bus that takes pedestrians over to the other side of the bridge.”

Clifford expressed that her business has not been hit as hard as she might have expected, as the taco restaurant already has a food truck and delivery service partnership through Doordash that have allowed its model to expand beyond reliance on foot traffic.

“We had a ton of information about it beforehand, so we were kind of ready, expecting the worst,” Clifford said. “But it hasn’t been as terrible as we thought it might have been. Hopefully we’ll be done before March.”

Lech acknowledged that he sees the construction as a necessary step to an expansion that may result in revenue increases for all establishments in the area.

“When that’s done and the T station is completed, which should be another year or two after that, then we hope to have the opposite where we have new energy and more business as a result,” Lech said, referencing the new Green Line T station. “So this is the pain before the benefit.”

Mirza echoed Lech’s sentiments, expressing hope that the expansion would be completed on time so that business can recover.

“We are happy about getting the Green Line to this community,” he said. “It helps everybody … I hope everything will be OK, we don’t get a lot of snow, emergencies. I hope everything will go back to normal. And in a couple years — 2021, 2022 — the Green Line will be ready too.”

Mirza said that he hoped Tufts students would remain loyal to Sound Bites throughout the closure, as the path from Tufts to his restaurant has not been impacted by the Green Line construction.

“Same business, we do specials weekly — tell your friends, just come in, we’re open,” Mirza said. “There is parking. Just make sure you feed the meter!”