Bow Market Will Double the Businesses in Somerville’s Union Square

A brewery, several dining options, small-scale retail, and more could open by the end of the year.

Bow Market rendering provided

Bow Market rendering provided

Matthew Boyes-Watson didn’t have, on paper, the strongest opening pitch for potential vendors for his latest development, Bow Market. The upstart colonnade, which Boyes-Watson and his investors just closed on last Friday, has no street frontage, offers no dependable foot traffic, and has no parking. Some of the vendors will be on the second floor, too.

But Boyes-Watson and Zach Baum, the two twenty-somethings who are developing the venture, believe the community they’ll build will be enough of a draw.

“The whole premise behind this is if you have 32 rad vendors all promoting themselves and others, that will pull in enough people that it will succeed,” Boyes-Watson says.

Bow Market will grow out of the shell of a former storage building right in the heart of Union Square, Somerville, which has been gaining energy over the past decade-plus. Situated between Bow Street and Somerville Avenue, the structure will house more than 30, tiny storefronts (about 165 square feet), holding relatively short-term leases.

Boyes-Watson and Baum decline to confirm any of the vendors until leases are signed, but Bow Market has 16 letters of intent with local entrepreneurs, Boyes-Watson says.

“[We] are looking for owner-operated, small-scale, unique concepts. No Clover, no Starbucks,” he says. “The vendor we meditated on is the food person who’s doing pop-ups, or food trucks, [someone who’s] working the market scene if they’re a maker or retailer and looking at their first brick-and-mortar.”

Boyes-Watson adds he’s in talks with “one or two” business owners who would open a second brick-and-mortar at Bow Market, as well, to up the sophistication of the community.

Most vendors will operate out of one garage bay in the building, though some, including a brewery tenant and a theater, will have more space than that. The brewery—a new venture from two experienced, Boston-area brewers, Boyes-Watson will say—will occupy three bays on the ground floor and will also have a courtyard with outdoor seating. Some other food vendors will have two bays, to make room for seating inside their spaces. With glass storefronts on every unit and skylights in the second-floor spots, the shops will have a lot of light, Boyes-Watson says.

The theater is on the second floor, and will have space to host performances for more than 100 attendees, as well as ticketing and concessions. Bow Market doesn’t have a tenant for that spot just yet.

Some space on the ground floor is also reserved for a common seating area with shared restrooms. There is also 320 square feet earmarked for a quarterly rotating food pop-up, Boyes-Watson says. Outside, a larger, main courtyard will offer public gathering space and warm-weather seating.

The breakdown will be approximately 50 percent food service and 50 percent retail, Baum adds. The food vendors will be concentrated on the ground floor of the two-story structure, while retailers that don’t require floor drains and such amenities will be upstairs. The second floor will be accessed via a steel staircase and covered mezzanine, and the common area will have an elevator to get up there.

While 165 square feet is quite small, especially for food production, the spaces have been designed to be cost-effective and approachable in terms of lease agreements, Boyes-Watson says. The developers are currently negotiating most leases between two and five years, though they will even sign a one-year lease if that’s what a vendor wants, he says. Most food vendors will maintain a commissary.

“We hope they will crush it, and when they can get financing and all that jazz, hopefully they graduate out, and a new aspiring person comes in,” he says.

Boyes-Watson’s father owns an architecture firm on Bow Street, and it overlooks the back of the drab cinderblock building that will become the vibrant market. The family first tried to buy the structure five years ago, Boyes-Watson says. The sale that closed on Friday gives the Boyes-Watsons part of the garage, while Sally O’Brien’s bought the part that houses its pub so it can stay there. Two other buyers include the Somerville Community Corporation, and a landlord who plans to turn the former Community Health Alliance into a new restaurant, Boyes-Watson says.

The City of Somerville is supportive of the Bow Market vision. It got Planning and Zoning Board OK’s earlier this winter, Boyes-Watson says. “The proposal is a creative, adaptive reuse of the building, and it will allow for the types of modest commercial spaces that our small maker and arts enterprises are seeking,” Planning Director George Proakis told the Boston Globe when plans to the marketplace first surfaced last fall.

Bow Market is located in the arts overlay district, which Somerville established in 2009 to encourage arts and fabrication uses in and around Union Square.

“We fit squarely into what they wanted for that, and they were excited to work with us on that,” Baum says.

That zoning designation relaxed parking requirements, which is why Bow Market does not have to solve that problem. Current plans call for 10 bicycle spots, and the developers will continue to work with neighbors in hopes of finding a parking solution for vendors, Boyes-Watson says.

Since Bow Market is repurposing an old building, Boyes-Watson and Baum expect buildout to be relatively quick once it begins this spring. The duo is waiting on building permits, but expects to start construction by the end of April. At that point, leases should start to be signed, too. The duo is hopeful they can turn over at least the retail spaces by early November, so vendors can get in ahead of the holidays. Food service and the brewery will likely take a bit longer, Boyes-Watson says.

With more than 30 new stores potentially on the way, Bow Market will radically transform the already exciting retail landscape in Union Square. The Neighborhood Plan adopted in May 2016 counts 14 food and beverage markets, and 17 liquor licenses in the area.

Now—about the Green Line extension

Bow Market, opening fall 2017, 337-341 Somerville Ave., Union Square, Somerville, bowmarketsomerville.com.