Downtown Crossing Ditches the Rolling Carts for Special Kiosks

The Downtown Boston Business Improvement District is introducing new 'RMUs.'

Photo by Steve Annear

Photo by Steve Annear

Beginning Friday, officials from the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District will introduce yet another new addition to the neighborhood.

Saying goodbye to the traditional vendor pushcart program that has operated in the Downtown Crossing area since the 1970s, five new retail merchandising units, or RMUs, will be unveiled and open for business for the first time, offering new and updated shopping options to the throngs of residents and visitors who pack the streets every day.

“They will be carts with themes that are professionally merchandised,” said Kristen Flanagan, project manager for the BID, the private, non-profit corporation that’s overseeing the kiosk operations program. “We came up with a list of things through brainstorming that we thought would be interesting on the street. When setting up yesterday, they were getting a lot of interest.”

Part of a pilot program that was first announced in 2013 by the Downtown Boston BID, the new spaces—they cost around $33,000 a piece and are four-feet by four-feet in size when locked up, and expand into a four-foot by eight-foot retail space when fully opened—will allow retailers to worry less about packing and unpacking their goods, and focus more on tending to passing customers.

The BID worked with Los Angeles-based Pro Resources Inc., to both design and install the RMUs, keeping in tune with the old and new architectural designs around the area, while maximizing the selling space along the streets to accommodate merchants and customers.

Via Downtown Boston BID

Via Downtown Boston BID

“We think they look beautiful, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Flanagan.

Already, from the sounds of it, longtime vendors who have been bound by their pushcarts, forced to find appropriate storage space for them at the end of a daily shift, are excited about the change, BostInno reported.

“The beauty of this is they don’t have to wheel their merchandise in and out or find a storage location, and don’t have to worry about breakage—this opens a lot of doors for them,” said Flanagan. “This is the first big change and shift from the traditional [pushcart] concept.”

There will still be vendors flanking portions of Downtown Crossing with the old-school carts, selling things like lemonade, sausages, and even pretzels, assured Flanagan. But as part of the new pilot program, which could lead to the introduction of additional kiosks, prior vendors with a longstanding relationship with the city were enveloped by the BID when they decided to try out the RMUs, helping them transition from food sales to higher-quality retail products. For example, a former sausage vendor is now going to be slinging specialty soaps.

“What we did when we decided to do the pilot, is we opened it exclusively to existing vendors, and said, ‘we welcome you to apply, and this is what we are looking for,’” said Flanagan. “We wanted to see New England-themed and appropriate goods.”

And that’s exactly what they got.

“[The RMUs] are like small entrepreneurships at heart,” she said.