‘Belmont’s’ Conley’s Pub & Grille Sold To A Familiar Face

Photo: Conley’s Pub: Belmont’s favorite bar not in Belmont

A familiar face returns as the new owner of Belmont’s favorite bar not in Belmont, Conley’s Pub & Grille.

Last week, owner Stephen Conley – who opened the bar/restaurant in 2001 – sold the location to JKT Watertown Partners LLC which leased the property to pub entrepreneur Jim O’Rourke. Renovations are reportedly taking place this week “with the possibility of it reopening the following wleek with the same name, concept, and staff,” according to Boston Restaurant Talk.

“That’s a wrap,” Conley wrote on his pub’s Facebook page.

“I simply do not have words for all this has meant to me and my family. It’s hard to put into words,” said Conley. “The community, the staff, the customers. I hope everyone knows I appreciate it all. Like, all of it. I had my name out front. And there’s a commitment to living up to that name. And honoring all that it entails.”

While located at 164 Belmont St. in Watertown, Conley’s has long been the hangout for Belmont residents which have considered the watering hole and eatery its own.

O’Rourke owns the First House Pub in Winchester and The Heights Pub in Arlington Heights and is co-owner of the recently opened Fresh Pond Beer Garden in the Fresh Pond Mall in Cambridge. His locations are described as “family-friendly neighborhood spot[s] that offer comfort food, pub grub, and classic American fare,”

The Arlington native’s connection with Conley’s began more than a decade ago when he started working there part time.

“When Conley’s expanded, the owner asked me to come on full time as a chef/manager. I worked there until First House Pub opened in 2015,” O’Rourke told Your Arlington in 2021. Conley and O’Rourke were co-owners of First House at its opening.

As he “moves on to his next chapter,” Conley had one final comment to convey.

“Thank you Belmont. Thank you Watertown. You’ve been left in incredibly capable hands. See you soon. On the other side of the bar.”

Belmont Announces Grant Program For Small Businesses Impacted By Covid-19

Photo: The program funding is coming from the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act

The Town of Belmont, through the use of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds, has established the COVID-19 Small Business Grant program which will provide up to $10,000 to assist in the stabilization of existing small businesses in Belmont which experienced significant business disruption and losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

This grant program will provide funds to assist eligible businesses cover wages, rent, loss of inventory, and other fixed costs not already compensated by other federal COVID-19 financial assistance or relief programs.

Eligible applicants must be a for-profit business with 2 to 35 employees that provides goods or services to multiple clients or customers and have a physical commercial establishment within the Town of Belmont. In order to be eligible businesses must have experienced a loss of revenue of 50 percent or more since March 10, 2020, due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Businesses must not have outstanding tax liens, legal judgements, outstanding utility bills, and are not otherwise subject to denial of a permit as detailed in Chapter O, Revocation or Suspension of Local Licenses, of the General Bylaws of he Town. The following business categories of businesses are considered ineligible: independent contractors, check cashing agencies, banks, gas stations and liquor stores. Ineligible applicants also include national or regional chain businesses (11 or more).

Highlights in the GRANT PROGRAM

Aug. 8: Grant applications released.

Sept. 15: Initial grant deadline. Applications received after this date may be considered depending on availability of funding.

Dec. 8: Complete Review of Applications.

Dec. 19: Initial grant award notifications

For more information, contract Gabriel S. Distler, Staff Planner, Planning Division, 617-993-2666.

Comella’s Leaving Belmont Center Location For New Home At Former Loading Dock Site

Photo: The current site at 43 Leonard St.

One of Belmont Center’s largest and most popular eateries will be leaving its Leonard Street storefront this fall for its new home on the Cambridge/Belmont line.

At its Monday, July 11 meeting, the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved a special permit for a fast food license to the owners of Comella’s Restaurant to allow them to move the eatery known for its Italian cuisine and pizza to the former site of the Loading Dock at 11 Brighton St.

Attorney Stephen B Rosales, who represented the Comella family, told the board that after 10 successful years leasing the 43 Leonard St. location, the had to opportunity to purchase the property at 11 Brighton St. … which will ”cement and control their future here in town.” Rosales said the owners ”have applied to basically operate the same way and in the same manner as they have” at their current site.

”Same menu, same pizza. At $6.99, it’s a great deal,” said Rosales.

The loss of Comella’s will be a blow to Belmont Center which has seen the number of empty storefronts grow since before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Located at the former home of The Loading Dock restaurant, the new site will have 60 seats with 48 at tables and 12 at the bar. Under Belmont zoning requirements, the site will have 30 parking spaces, with 12 out in front, 10 permitted spaces across Brighton at the F. A. Williams’ property and nine off street.

The Comellas’ will soon seek a transfer of the beer and wine license it has at the Leonard Street store. A minimum build out will be required and the new site will be open in the fall. As part of the permit, the board restricted outdoor seating at the site even though the restaurant’s patio is private property, as opposed to town-owned sidewalk on Leonard Street.

Emma Thurston of Baker Street said the proposed new site – which is a block from her house – has been empty for a really long time, and since Comella’s is a household favorite, ”we’d be very happy to add them to the community over here” as it will become “a strong [business] anchor” along with Hillside Gardens in the area.

Open/Closed In Belmont Center: CVS Opens In New Location; Bank America Closing In June [Update]

Photo: The new location of CVS/Pharmacy next to Trinktisch

Two established businesses in Belmont Center are on the move.

CVS/Pharmacy officially opens this week – although hastily placed signs continue to say it is not open – in its new location adjacent to Trinktisch across Leonard Street from its former site. The move which was anticipated since last year leaves the former location at 60 Leonard St. vacant, adding to the number of empty storefronts in Belmont’s main business center.

Still not open.

And that number will grow when the Bank of America Financial Center at 72 Leonard St. closes the branch and the ATM for good on June 19, according to Belmont Center Business Association President Gerry Dickhaut.

“I don’t know what’s going in there, but I know the landlords are looking at possible tenants,” said Dickhaut, saying he’d prefer to see a retail store that will increase foot traffic to the center, ”like a telephone store or a shoe store.”

Belmont Town Day Returns To May Date And It’s Bringing The Heat; Cooling Station Will Be In Town Hall [UPDATE]

Photo: Belmont Town Day will take place on May 21 in the Center

This year, you’ll WANT to be in the dunk tank. With temperatures expected to reach the mid-nineties, the 31st annual Belmont Town Day is taking place on Saturday, May 21, in Belmont Center from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., making a return to its traditional mid-May date.

As temperatures are expected to hit record highs during the event, a cooling station will be set up at the Town Hall, 455 Concord Ave. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Anyone seeking to use the cooling station should enter the basement of Town Hall through the entrance located off the parking lot. They will be directed to the appropriate room where water will be supplied. 

Please remember to stay hydrated throughout the day. 

Hosted by the Belmont Center Business Association along Leonard Street, the Town Day will be filled with events – musical groups will be performing in front of the soon-to-be-departed CVS/Pharmacy – tours of the Belmont Center fire station, carnival rides, a bouncy castle, trinkets for sale, booths sponsored by civic groups and businesses and and lots of food. Finally, the dunk tank – courtesy of Champions Sporting Goods – will be in front of il Casale.

Sushi, Japanese Eatery Planned For Cushing Square As Comella’s (Quietly) Seeks Similar Location

Photo: The location of the former Ben Franklin in Cushing Square which will likely transform into a sushi/Japanese restaurant

The owner of a popular Belmont take out place has signed a lease for the former Ben Franklin 5 and 10 store with plans to bring top-notch sushi and traditional Japanese dishes to Cushing Square.

“We chose Belmont because of its proximety, the people and as a resident of Belmont we need more places where we can gather and meet up for a nice meal,” said Jack Sy, a former financial analyst turned restauranteur who owns a number of eateries including the popular Number 1 Taste Chinese Food takeout also located on Trapelo Road.

Sy’s move to the long time home of five and dime stores – operated as a Ben Franklin franchise since the 1930s before changing its name to Hollingsworth 5 and 10 in 2014, and finally as Belmont 5 and 10 before closing for good in August 2021 – will be a long-needed shot in the arm for the business center with a steady number of empty store fronts.

The menu which the Johnson and Wales graduate is still developing will include high-quality sushi and traditional Japanese dishes like Katsudon (pork cutlet rice bowl), Ramen noodles and Teppanyaki (sizzling hot plates) to your table. (Think Netflix’s ”Midnight Diner” food in Belmont.) There will also be many creative tapas-sized dishes for an option to a light meal. Sy will also seek an all-alcohol license to compliment the food.

Just beginning the permitting process with the town, Sy said he tentatively wants to do a complete buildout of the space replacing the site’s large existing windows with bistro-style windows that fold open during good weather while also taking advantge of the high ceiling and openness of the space “to create a mature, and fun atmosphere to come enjoy. A place where people can enjoy long conversations over dinner or a glass of wine.” He will also hire locally for all positions.

Sy’s move to open a restaurant near the busy intersection of Trapelo and Common comes as a regional Italian restaurant company currently on Leonard Street has its eyes on its own move to Cushing. Talk around Belmont Center and town offices since the fall of 2021 has Comella’s seeking a location near the popular public transportation bus line – the 73 bus is one of the most heavily used in the MBTA system – and the new Bradford apartment complex. No word from Comella’s to confirm this decision.

Whether or not Comella’s makes the move, it will not deter Sy’s plans.

“I think its a good idea for any restaurant or business to come and make the Trapelo area more vibrant,” said Sy.

Sy said a opening date is still a while in the future; he still hasn’t come up with a name for the place.

“Any suggestions?” he asked.

Select Board Nix Pedestrian-Friendly Summer Plan In Belmont Center For More Parking, Traffic

Photo: The end of the pedestrian-friendly summer plan

The two-year experiment known for calming traffic and prompting walking and al fesco dining in Belmont’s business center has come to an end.

The Belmont Select Board voted, 2-1, Monday, March 21 to end pedestrian-friendly summers along Leonard Street in Belmont Center as the board’s majority approved a blueprint created by the Belmont Center Business Association that emphasizes auto traffic and long stretches of parking.

The approved plan essentially maintains the center’s current traffic pattern with it’s two-lanes of commuter traffic running through the town’s main hub.

“In terms of traffic flows … nothing would be any different than it is today because it would be retain two-way travel,” said Glen Clancy, Belmont’s director of Community Development.

The one exception to the current design will be jersey barrier-protected bump outs in front of selected restaurants and eateries to allow for a small outdoor dining area. The number of restaurants seeking seating will decrease from 14 to 9, much due to changing business environment. Owner of The Toy Shop of Belmont, Daren Muckjian, told the board that a reduction of Center eateries including Starbucks and Comella’s just didn’t warrant the amount of spaces taken out of circulation.

“I hate to have barriers and spaces in front of empty spaces. What’s the purpose and what’s the reason behind it?” he said.

There will also be “a significant number of parking spaces gained” said Clancy, including converting the former MBTA bus stop adjacent to the town “delta” adjacent to the People’s United Bank branch from a loading zone into additional spaces. Where once the near entirety of the parking spaces on the east-side of Leonard Street was converted to seating, this year most will revert back to the curb parking.

The metal railings that ran the length of Leonard Street which provided a safety barrier between autos and the walking public will not longer be part of the scheme as the business association referred to them as a “maintenance headache,” said Clancy. In addition, cyclists will be asked to share the traffic lanes with vehicle traffic as the jersey barriers will take up that space.

The summer traffic plan accepted by the Belmont Select Board that shows two-way traffic and several new parking spaces. The yellow spaces are seating areas.

Devised by the town and Select Board in the spring of 2020 to allow the center’s eateries room to create outdoor dining when the Covid-19 pandemic closed indoor service at restaurants, the opening of Leonard Street with a single traffic lane from Alexander Avenue to Channing Road created a pedestrian-friendly area that attracted strollers, shoppers and diners to the business district. In 2021, additional parking was created along the street as well as flower pots and new railing as the length of the closure was increased from early May to late October.

Despite being popular with residents and shoppers, a segment of the business association’s membership has opposed to the one-way, pedestrian version since its inception, claiming their operations suffered financially due to the lack of direct on-street parking and commerce generated by the mostly out-of-town commuter trade. While there is a large municipal parking lot in the rear of the center along Claflin Street, the merchants said it is too far for many shoppers.

Another reason for the businesses opposition this summer is cost as the local family which donated the funds to install the jersey barriers will not commit that money in 2022, according to Muckjian.

For the Select Board’s majority, the business association’s option appeared to meet the needs of those most impacted by the road changes.

“I think we’re feeling our way … to striking a balance between different businesses that may have different priorities,” said the Select Board’s Roy Epstein, as restaurants keep their outside dining areas – albeit diminished in square footage – while retailers have their on-street parking.

With the town-wide mask mandate lifted for businesses and indoor dining expected to “flourish, I think this is a fine compromise,” said the Select Board’s Mark Paolillo, who said businesses have “suffered” due to the lack of on-street parking in front of their establishments.

But Dash said that since last year, “I’m concerned that we keep eroding this plan” noting the original concept in 2020 advocated doing away with vehicles in the center as many European municipalities and some US resort areas have done.

“Now we are talking about two-way traffic. At some point [you have to ask]’what’s the point?’” said Dash. “I’ve heard from residents that either do what you did last year or get rid of the cars altogether. I’ve heard zero people in the public say ‘I want two-way traffic’,” he said.

“I’ve also talked to businesses in the Center who wanted the same that it was last year,” said Dash.

But Epstein countered Dash view by noting the plan has changed yearly due to new conditions.

“I don’t believe we are eroding the concept, I think we are evolving the concept because we’re trying to balance a number of different constituencies,” including a number of merchants who believe “keeping two-way traffic year-round is a matter of life or death” for their businesses.

He suggested creating a lower speed limit targeting Leonard Street as a way to make the area “a little more acceptable.”

“It would be better if we had the one-way travel lane and a dedicated bike lane,” said Dash, who was the lone dissenting vote. “At least the commuters will love it.”

The 2021 plan for Belmont Center.

Select Board No Fan Of Proposal For Two-Way Traffic On Leonard This Summer

Photo: One or two-way traffic will be coming to Leonard Street this summer

If there has been one town-led change to the Belmont landscape over the past two years that has received overwhelming approval, it’s been the nearly six months that Leonard Street becomes a one-way avenue through Belmont Center.

Devised by the town and Select Board in the spring of 2020 to allow the center’s eateries enough room to install outdoor dining when the Covid-19 pandemic closed down indoor service at restaurants, the opening of Leonard Street with a single traffic lane from Alexander Avenue to Channing Road created a pedestrian-friendly area that attracted strollers, shoppers and diners to the business district. In 2021, additional parking was created along the street as well as flower pots and new railing as the length of the closure was increased from early May to late October.

”People love it,” said Chair Adam Dash. “The only complaint I heard was why can’t you close both lanes. Get rid of the cars.”

So when the Select Board heard a proposal from the Belmont Center Business Association to temporarily close Leonard Street to one lane from May to October, the board was eager to move forward. That was until they heard from the town on what the business group was proposing. Rather than one lane, the association members was seeking two, narrow lanes with a more limited area along the curb given over to restaurants for al fresco dining.

Since no one from the BCBA attended the meeting, it was up to Town Administrator Patrice Garvin to tell the board that earlier in the day town officials had “some additional conversations” with the association and while it wanted the board to approve the dates for closing the street from May 2 through Oct. 25, the association’s “alternatives”was specifically having two-way traffic along Leonard. So far, said Garvin, the town had not even started any preliminary work such as creating a traffic pattern map or even knowing “how that will work.”

“Roy [Epstein, board member] and Glenn Clancy [town engineer] spent a lot of time on moving spaces around … and that worked pretty well,” said Dash, who said he had not heard about the association’s proposal when he met earlier in the day with the BCBA president Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods.

“I’ve never heard anyone say they want two-way traffic,” said Dash.

“One way layout worked fine, but a two way?” pondered Epstein.

Clancy said the alternative would squeeze two-way traffic lane which would include sharing the lanes with bikes, dining, adding more parking spaces, with less pedestrian areas all in the same program package.

”They see an opportunity with two lanes to be able to provide for more parking for some of the businesses that don’t fully support closing even one lane of traffic,” said Clancy, pointing to office owners and retailers who are demanding “better parking facilities.”

It became immediately apparent the three-member select board saw the BCBA proposal as going over like a lead zeppelin. The three members said they would not vote on anything until they saw some details of any likely alternative.

”We need a plan to vote on,” said Mark Paolillo, who even floated the idea of following other towns which shut off traffic to business centers for certain days of the week such as from Thursday to Sunday.

“I don’t know what I’m voting on so I’m not voting on [the dates],” said Dash.

“The one lane worked. It has robust attendance. Cars seem to be moving slow particularly at night,” said Paolillo.

The board deferred the vote until Monday, March 14.

Cityside Subaru To Supersize Pleasant Street Location With Big New Dealership

Photo: A preliminary design of the proposed new Cityside Subaru dealership on Pleasant Street.

Belmont-based Cityside Subaru is about to supersize itself as it will bring before the town a proposal to double the size of its location by building a nearly 40,000 square foot all-purpose dealership on Pleasant Street.

When completed, the new multi-level structure will occupy 39,900 square feet on 1.6 acres and rise to nearly 40 feet overlooking the roadway. So far no price tag has been placed on the project or when construction will commence and a proposed opening day.

While details are still sketchy, the dealership will pull the curtain back on its intentions on Thursday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at a virtual Zoom meeting of the Belmont Planning Board.

One important thing Cityside does have in its hands is a variance on the proposed building’s height and the number of stories as well as a special permit on lot coverage coming from a 2020 ruling by the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals. Those actions by the ZBA will allow the new building to reach 38 feet and three stories, an additional six feet and one floor above existing zoning requirements.

But the most significant allowance for the developer is in commercial lot coverage which doubles under the proposal from 38 percent to 73 percent.

In an effort “to create a more efficient customer experience,” Cityside’s proposes to demolish the existing building at 790 Pleasant St. – constructed in 2003 – in addition to the pair of adjacent structures on parcels Cityside purchased in the past few years. The new building will be completed in phases to allow the existing dealership to operate while the new structure – which occupies 774A and 778 Pleasant St. – is under construction.

The ground floor will have 24 service bays, pull-in spaces, parts, retail and storage. The rear of the building will be for customer and employee parking and new vehicle storage. The second or main level will be a new showroom, offices, conference rooms and customer “amenities.” The top third level will be structured parking where new vehicles will be stored.

Cityside – which is a member of the Colonial Automotive Group – is proposing hours of operation to be: Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, noon to 4 p.m.

In its application to the Planning Board, Cityside broached what will be one of the most contentious issues it will face: traffic, suggesting the redesign will “reduce unnecessary vehicle movements” along Pleasant Street.

News reports from across the country reveal the new Cityside building will be one of the larger structures constructed by a Subaru dealer.

One-Way Leonard Street Returns For Spring, Summer and The Fall

Photo: A return to one-way traffic through Belmont Center

The second “summer” of a pedestrian-friendly one-way Leonard Street – with several refinements included for this year – is being extended from mid-spring to Halloween as the Select Board OK’d the town’s blueprint at its meeting Monday, March 29.

The one-way season will begin Monday, May 3 and last to Sunday, Oct. 31.

Considered a huge success by the public – more than 300 emails were sent to the Select Board in favor of its return – many businesses, and town officials, it wasn’t a surprise the Select Board would enthusiastically approve the return to outdoor seating for restaurants while creating a haven for strollers and shoppers.

“This new proposal strikes a somewhat better balance recognizing the very different constituencies in terms of accommodates the non-restaurant businesses better,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein.

Glenn Clancy, head of the Office of Community Development, said the town had two guiding principals viewing the project; build on what was seen as a success of the previous year and be responsive to feedback from several sets of stakeholders.

“We should always strive to make it better than it was,” said Clancy.

As a result, there are five changes to the previous year’s plan:

  • Moore Street will be made a one way from Leonard to Pleasant streets;
  • The former MBTA bus stop at the former Belmont Savings Bank will become a loading zone for businesses in the center;
  • The four parking spaces on Leonard Street entering Belmont Center will be short-term parking with a 15-minute limit;
  • Parking will be allowed on the northside of Leonard from Alexander Avenue and CVS with accessible spaces at both ends of the roadway; and
  • The parking spaces on the southside of Leonard at Alexander will become a public space where community seating, park benches, and other amenities will create “a place where if you are wandering around Belmont Center and you feel like you just want to sit and relax for a minute, there’s a place for you,” said Clancy.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash questioned the need for parking on the north side from CVS to Alexander Avenue after residents and visitors did not want any parking along Leonard Street. Clancy said last year business owners and office spaces would continually open and close the temporary metal gates to allow customers to park in front of the businesses. The new arrangement would allow a less cumbersome parking arrangement.

Epstein said his one concern would be the “unintended consequences” when traffic returns to pre-COVID levels which resulted in long-lines of vehicles attempting to navigate the Center.

“We need to be prepared to react,” he said.

But Dash took a counter view saying it’s not all that bad “if we can put up a little roadblock” in the Center, forcing commuters who cut through the town to reconsider that route. He noted that popular travel apps used by commuters to cut their time traveling home will likely send users to other towns than Belmont.

Glenn Clancy, Director, Office of Community Development