Change is afoot at the Boston Design Center. Jamestown and Related Beal, the co-owners of the BDC, are planning to consolidate the 50-plus design showrooms currently scattered throughout the building into its first three floors. Tenants on the fourth floor and above—including Romo, Schumacher, Phillip Jeffries and Patterson Flynn Martin—have been told they must relocate in the months ahead.
“To create a more cohesive shopping experience for designers and clients, we are strategically concentrating showroom space … with the intention of maintaining the overall footprint of active showroom space,” a spokesperson for the Boston Design Center told Business of Home. “This shift will further promote a lively and connected BDC community and allow for the full activation and continued vitality of the property.”
The space on higher floors, already home to a few businesses in the life sciences industry, will be repurposed to attract more lab tenants. The first three floors will become more condensed, but not entirely full—a few showroom slots will remain unoccupied.
Among design tenants at the BDC, there seems to be fairly universal agreement that consolidation will create a better shopping experience for designers (and eliminate the unwelcome spectacle of empty windows). That positive is balanced against the stress of managing a mandatory move and jostling for a comparable showroom space during what has been a historically busy time for the design industry.
“It’s a hassle because all of our businesses are booming right now,” says Garry Martin, owner of multiline showroom The Martin Group. This will be Martin’s second move in the BDC within a relatively short timeframe—he first relocated his main showroom at the behest of Jamestown shortly after the real estate investment company acquired the BDC in 2013. However, Martin sees the new development as having plenty of upside. “I’m excited because I’ll have a brand-new, beautiful showroom. Overall, I view this as a positive. Any time it’s better for the designers, it’s better for us.”
Others are less inclined to be philosophical. Raj Dhanda, the owner of custom lampshade maker Blanche P. Field, says that rather than negotiate a move, Jamestown and Related Beal evoked a termination clause in his lease, giving him 45 days to vacate the property. “Trying to get a space that meets our requirements in 45 days is just not possible,” he tells BOH. “Change happens, but the way they’ve handled this is totally not appropriate.”
As part of the reshuffling, several brands are leaving the building. Martha Acworth, president of digitally enabled mosaic maker Artaic, says the company is taking advantage of a renter’s market in commercial real estate and relocating to a former candy factory in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston. Antiques dealer Charles Spada and multiline showroom Ailanthus will also be leaving.
When the reshuffling is complete, though it will house more or less the same brands, the BDC will be a very different place—but not unique among design centers. The creation of a concentrated area for trade showrooms, thereby freeing up the rest of the building to rent to commercial tenants, echoes similar developments at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago and DCOTA in Dania Beach, Florida.
Jamestown and Related Beal indicated they intend to preserve the overall square footage currently dedicated to showrooms in the BDC, and characterized this move as a boon to tenants. “We have consistently increased traffic at the BDC year after year and are reorganizing the showroom spaces with the aim of continuing this trend,” says a spokesperson for the center. “In addition to concentrating existing design showroom tenancy, we are actively leasing additional showroom space and hope to continue to grow the BDC community.”
However, the concentration means there will be less room for expansion. In other words, it’s hard to read this development as anything other than an acknowledgment that the design showroom business is finite.
“I think this makes a ton of sense. Right now, the building has tons of empty showrooms; the designers are walking for miles by empty spaces that are unexciting [and] don’t create any kind of buzz,” says Martin. “The truth is, there aren’t enough big lines to go around.”
Homepage photo: Caitlin Cunningham Photography | Courtesy of Jamestown