Boston businesses competing for Ferdinand’s space

Sandra Larson | 4/2/2014, 10:55 a.m.
A recent city-sponsored open house at the Dudley branch library offered businesses a chance to talk informally with the public ...
Coffee shops, restaurants, an optometrist and an ice cream shop are among the business plans vying for one of the six storefront spaces in the new Ferdinand’s building. Banner Photo

A recent city-sponsored open house at the Dudley branch library offered businesses a chance to talk informally with the public about their proposals for ground-floor spaces in the new Dudley Square municipal center. The new six-story building, set to open in early 2015 on the old Ferdinand’s site, will house the Boston Public Schools administration, bringing some 500 employees as well as day and evening sidewalk-level business activity to the area.

Six storefront spaces have attracted proposals for eateries ranging from burger joints to Italian restaurants to a Vietnamese-style sandwiches deli, as well as coffee shops, a fashion boutique, a beauty school and an eye- care shop.

At the Thursday afternoon event, proposers stood behind tables with brochures and business cards, ready to make their pitch to anyone passing by.

Mo Farah and Lebeza Alemu, owners of the nearby Merkato Ethiopian market, are eager to open Etno Cafe, a coffee shop that would feature artisan coffees from beans grown on their ancestral family farm in Ethiopia, as well as pastries and possibly sandwiches. They envision the cafe opening as early as the first buses come through Dudley Station and closing at 11 p.m.

“There hasn’t been a place in Dudley where you can walk out of your apartment and have a place to think,” said Farah.

Optometrist Lesa Dennis-Mahamed has worked in other people’s businesses for 20 years, and now she wants to branch out on her own with Gallery Eye Care. She anticipates hiring optometrists, technicians, receptionists and an office manager, and offering “cutting edge” frames. Her working tagline is “a total visual experience,” reflecting her plan to also feature works by local artists in her shop. Hers would be the only free-standing optical shop in Roxbury, Dennis-Mahamed said.

Danny Hardaway aims to open a second location of his women’s fashion boutique, Final Touch With Class, which offers old-fashioned one-on-one customer service and handpicked designer styles, he said, with prices starting at about $50.

The store originally opened in Mattapan in 2005, and later moved to Brockton. His store would be open from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., six days a week with shorter hours on Sunday.

“Ladies don’t want to see three or four others with the same dress at an event,” Hardaway said. “People won’t have to go to Newbury Street to get something special.”

Most of the businesses in attendance promised to be open into the evening, one of the desires expressed by community members repeatedly in public meetings and in a retail survey conducted in 2012, and wanted to share how they would benefit the community — with healthy food options, community gathering space or support for local artists and youth.

Humayun Morshed, owner of several convenience stores in Roxbury and Dorchester, wants to open Frank’s Ice Cream & Express Mart to sell ice cream, convenience items and premade sandwiches in a shop with entrances facing Dudley Station and the building’s interior lobby. The shop’s name honors Frank Ferdinand, the original furniture merchant of the iconic 19th century building. The Ferdinand building’s facade has been preserved alongside the modern brick and glass expansion filling out the new municipal center.