Santa’s Coming For Belmont’s Tree Lighting, Thursday, Dec. 2

Photo: Yup, Santa and Mrs. Claus will make their return to Belmont

After being cancelled in 2020, Belmont’s traditional start of the holiday season returns to Belmont Center as Santa and Mrs. Claus will lead the annual tree lighting ceremony on Thursday, Dec. 2 starting at 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

The event, which will include closing Leonard Street to allow for caroling, food and merchants stalls, and the arrival of the Claus’ on top of a Belmont Fire engine, is sponsored by the Belmont Center Business Association.

Belmont Town Day Set For A Late Summer Return

Photo: The return of Town Day is coming in September.

After a postponement and an expected delay, Belmont’s long-running Town Day celebration is returning to Belmont Center although a bit later than its usual time.

The Select Board voted on Monday, June 21 to approve a request by the Belmont Center Business Association to hold the 30th annual Belmont Town Day on Saturday, Sept. 4, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Leonard Street in the hub of the its business center.

Residents and visitors can expect the usual attractions: a dog contest (Belmont’s version of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show), kiddy rides, carnival games and food, a dunk tank, business and groups tables, food for sale and the like.

Due to Belmont’s austerity budget, town services such as police and fire details and DPW crews, will now be paid by the sponsors. Select Board member Mark Paolillo did ask if the business association would be responsible for cleaning up at the conclusion of the pony ride, which Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said they would be.

“Maybe they have been fertilizing the grass and that’s why it’s been growing really well,” said Paolillo.

Leonard Street Again One-Way As Center Welcomes Return To A More Normal (Photos)

Photo: Placing jersey barriers along Leonard Street as Belmont Center’s main roadway becomes one-way ’til Halloween.

The Flett Company’s trucks and excavator were rolling down Leonard Street Monday morning, May 3, as workers under the management of Department of Public Works Director Jay Marcotte placed 35 jersey barriers and 100s of metal barricades along Belmont Center’s busiest road. From today to the end of October, the town’s main business thoroughfare will be a one-way avenue, running southward from Alexandra Avenue to Moore Street as the area becomes a pedestrian and dining friendly spot.

With residents returning to those pre-pandemic “normal” activities as vaccinations become the norm rather than an exception, “we want to welcome them back and enjoy the Center,” said Heidi Sawyer of the Belmont Garden Club.

The single lane road – 10 mph, please – is a return from 2020 when Leonard Street was narrowed to allow restaurants to expand their al fresco dining during the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While created to assist the struggling eateries, residents and visitors found the added space to be a new found pleasure which allowed for strolling and people watching during a time when most residents were stuck at home.

There are some improvements from last year as the barriers have a fresh coat of silver paint, bright yellow tables, chairs and umbrellas are scattered along the sidewalks and the inclusion of play spaces with table tennis and other fun activates.

But the most recognizable upgrade from last year are the dozens for planters filled with flowering scrubs and bushes placed on and in-between the jersey barriers, thanks to a collaboration of the Belmont Center Business Association and the Belmont Garden Club which was supported by a $25,000 gift from a local couple which will go to making the summer a return to a more normal.

Belmont Center Reopens For Two-Way Traffic: Will There Be A Repeat Next Summer?

Photo: Back to normal on Leonard Street

There are two ways to view the return of two-way traffic on Leonard Street through Belmont Center on Monday, Oct. 27: a return to normality for commuters after 137 days of detours and alternative routes or an end to a new way to view and use Belmont’s business and restaurant hub.

According to the head of the group that advocates for Belmont Center’s businesses, there is a good chance the merchants and restauranteurs will ask the town to return to the more pedestrian-friendly arrangement for next summer.

With the concrete New Jersey barriers and steel gates removed just after the morning rush hour, Leonard Street returned to the two way traffic after the town’s Select Board voted in early June to close down Belmont Center until Labor Day as a way of supporting the prominent restaurant trade during the COVID-19 pandemic which forced them to halt indoor dining.

With traffic restricted through the center, restaurants and retail stores were able to expand their operations onto the sidewalk for al fresco dining.

After first voting to halt all but emergency vehicles and MBTA buses, the Select Board moved to limit travel on Leonard Street from Alexander Avenue to Moore Street in the direction to the commuter rail tunnel after hearing from several merchants protest the elimination of all off-street parking.

The restrictions were extended from Labor Day to the end of October to assist eateries as state continued to limit the number of diners in establishments.

Gerry Dickhaut, owner of Champions Sporting Goods and president of the Belmont Center Business Association said the more than four months of the new traffic configuration resulted in “an excellent summer” as “a lot of people loved it, just to get outside during these tough times.”

“It was very successful for the majority of merchants,” said Dickhaut.

With the recent experience under its belt, Dickhaut said the business association is eager for a return to a more pedestrian-friendly center for 2021.

“Hopefully, we’ll be able to do it next year after [Belmont] Town Day (which takes place in mid-June), and make this an annual thing,” he said.

With permission from the select board and town officials, Dickhaut would like to see the one-way traffic configuration for the calendar summer from June to September.

“It was well worthwhile maybe we should add some music next year, make it a festival,” he envisions. “We heard that some of the merchants said, ‘it’s great to have it for the summer but a little longer is maybe hurtful for some of the business.’ There were a couple of businesses that didn’t like it, but the majority of the business did like it.”

A Window Into Halloween In Belmont Center

Photo: Third-grader Julia Zipkin with a four-eyed cat.

Kids and their parents brought brushes and watercolors to the fifth annual Belmont Center Halloween Window Painting Contest sponsored by the Belmont Center Business Association on Saturday, Oct. 28. 

Belmont Center businesses up and down Leonard Street saw their windows transformed into pumpkin patches, ghostly havens and other scenes of specters and ghouls by Kids from second to eighth grade – with parents in tow – paid for the privilege to express their scary vision of Halloween on the town’s main drag. 

Halloween-season window painting has a long tradition in other towns – several of Newton’s villages have participated for the past 20 years – and was brought to Belmont with the help of the owners of A Chocolate Dream.

Sponsored by the Business Association, the event’s proceeds were donated to the Foundation for Belmont Education.

Santa Is On His Way: ‘Turn On The Town’ Set for Thursday, Dec. 1

Photo: Santa and friend. 

The Belmont Center Business Association will be staging the 26th annual ‘Turn on the Town” holiday tree lighting on Thursday, Dec. 1 after the Belmont Board of Selectmen approved the yearly celebration of the beginning of the holiday season. 

The night’s events – including the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus on a Belmont Fire truck, food, singing and a petting zoo – will take place on Leonard Street between Channing Road and Alexander Avenue from 5:45 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 

The holiday tree located next to the Bellmont Cafe will be turned on by the Claus’  who will then head over to the Belmont Savings Bank – the event’s main sponsor – headquarters at 2 Leonard St. where children (and some adults and pets) can have free photos taken with Jolly Ol’ St. Nick. 

Santa and the Mrs Turns on the Lights in Belmont

Photo: Someone wants mom more than Santa.

Before taking part in the 25th Annual Turn on the Town on Thursday, Dec. 3, Mr. and Mrs. Claus were seen looking at hockey equipment in the basement of Champions Sporting Goods on Leonard Street.

“Doing a little holiday shopping,” said Santa.

I guess there are no elves with hockey making skills at the workshop.

And since the reindeer were not available – they are resting up for the 24th – Santa and Mrs. Claus arrived via Belmont Fire Department fire engine, with Santa strapped on top, to turn on the lights of the town’s Christmas tree adjacent to Bellmont Cafe. 

Then hoping on a horse-drawn carriage, the couple from the North Pole took a quick trip to Belmont Savings Bank (the event’s main sponsor) where they took pictures with children, some parents and a pet or two. 

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It’s Official: Town Day Set for Saturday, May 16 in Belmont Center

Photo: Town Day in Belmont.

Town Day will take place on Saturday, May 16 in Belmont Center after the Belmont Board of Selectmen gave the annual event its blessing at its meeting on Tuesday, April 21. 

Hosted by the Belmont Center Business Association and sponsored by Belmont Savings Bank, kiddy rides, a petting zone sponsored by the Belmont Lions Club, food, and tables manned by organizations and businesses will be located along Leonard Street.

Any group, business or individual seeking to rent a table at Town Day can do so until May 1 at the BCBA web site.

The morning and afternoon event takes place the day after Belmont High School celebrates its prom. 

‘Active’ Bidding for Belmont Center Reconstruction Project

It appears likely that Belmont Center will be quite busy beginning this spring.

Four construction firms have taken out the necessary paper work to bid on the $2.8 million Belmont Center Reconstruction Project since town opened the bidding on Jan. 30.

“This shows there’s interest in the project and that’s good because there will be competitive bidding,” said Andy Rojas, the chair of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke before the Warrant Committee on Wednesday, Feb. 4. 

The project, which is the calumniation of five years of planning and debate, is set to improve sidewalks, crosswalks, pavement repairs and add new lighting in the town’s main business hub.

The bidding period will close on Feb. 27 at 10 a.m. The work is expected to begin in March with expected completion on Oct. 31, 2015.

The reconstruction will also allow the town to install a new parking system that includes parking stations along Leonard Street.

The project was approved by a Special Town Meeting in November, using the town’s “free cash” account to fund the work.  

While businesses along Leonard Street have been supportive of the project, they are wary that the construction schedule will impact the Belmont Center Business Association’s annual Town Day celebration that takes place in mid-June.

“We will need to discuss this with the town so we can plan for it,” said Gerry Dickhaut of Champions Sporting Goods.

 

Hike in Parking Fees Spark Belmont Business Owners Ire

Photo: Bells & Whistles’ Meghan Aufiero at the community parking lot behind Belmont Center, Tuesday, Feb. 3. 

There was a surprise waiting for Meghan Aufiero as she arrived for work at Bells & Whistles, the home furnishings, gifts and accessories store on Leonard Street on a frigid Tuesday morning, Feb. 3.

As she was putting dollar bills into the parking machine, she discovered the daily rate to park in the Belmont Center commuter lot would cost her an extra $2 a day to $5.

“This is a bummer,” the Winchester resident said when she discovered the 75 percent increase in the price of parking in Belmont’s commercial hub.

Aufiero is just one of dozens of employees of small businesses and franchises feeling the impact of the near doubling of the daily parking charge, approved late last year by the Belmont Board of Selectmen at the recommendation of a citizens/town group that spent more than a year determining the parking operation was not paying its way.

The new parking scheme, which went into effect Sunday, Feb. 1, includes the new fee structure and an attempt to monetize the vast number of commuters who have parked on Belmont streets for nothing, or close to it, for decades.

In addition to the hourly and daily fees jumps, the town has created 10 new weekday parking spots along Royal Road adjacent to the MBTA’s commuter rail station at Belmont Center and spaces in the Belmont Center commuter parking lot reserved for commuter pass holders. Those monthly passes are going for $90 a pop, an increase of $30.
The jump in fees, delayed a month at the request of local businesses, has been as welcome as the two snow storms that have hampered businesses in the town’s main commercial area.

“I can’t, and won’t, tell you how angry I am about this,” said a Leonard Street business proprietor.

Owners say the result of the new commuter parking plan is their staffs are left holding the bag, which needs to be filled with quarters to feed the parking machine.

For Belmont Toys owner Deran Muckjian, the increase will be an additional burden on his employees.

“The are now being asked to pay $1,200 or more this year just to come to work,” he said.

For Shelley MacDonald, who travels from Clarendon Road to Belmont Center, the additional cost of parking is making it harder for her to justify coming to work at the town’s only toy store.

“These little businesses don’t make enough to offset the new price for their employees. How can they retain good workers?” MacDonald asked.

Muckjian is not just upset by the added costs to his employees, but whether the increases are justified. Muckjian said his parking costs in towns where he has other stores are considerably less; in Lexington, he pays $250 a year each for two employee passes while Winchester does not charge a nickel for employee parking permits.

“What are the costs to park here? Keep the blacktop repaired? Making sure the parking machine is working?” Muckjian said.

At the very least, said Muckjian, a discount should be provided to the employees with the subsequent decrease in revenue be made up by increasing the fees on commuters.

A monthly pass at the nearby Alewife Station in Cambridge is $7 a day while the parking lot at the Fitchburg/Acton commuter line stop at the Brandeis stop in Waltham is $4 daily.

So far, there has been little communications between owners and the town on resolving the matter.

Champions Sports Goods owner Gerry Dickhaut said he has yet to receive a reply to a Belmont Center Business Association letter on business owners’ concerns. The single-page note, dated Dec. 8, suggests cutting the increase in the daily rate in half, up a $1 to $4 a day, retain the $60 a month pass for employees while jacking up the cost to commuters to $15 a day, which would still be half the cost of parking in downtown Boston.

But the town official who presented the case for the fee hike at a pair of public meetings last month said the increases in daily and monthly rates are past due.

Belmont Town Treasurer Floyd Carman, said rates have been kept steady since January 2009 while the demand for parking spots is outstripping supply.

“Belmont parking is at a premium. We are not like other towns that either has the space for big lots or a lot of industry that can subsidize parking,” said Carman. “Belmont does not have that luxury; We have a limited number of parking spaces. That’s the facts.”

He said the town’s parking advisory group, made up of residents and town officials, made an extensive analysis of the parking rates in many communities, not just neighboring municipalities. The new price structure “is a function of what it takes to run the program and what’s fair.”

Carman said the need for the town to employ three parking enforcement personnel and keeping all the equipment running requires the town to raise about $35,000 a year on fees to make the program pay for itself.

“Believe me, the town is not getting rich on this increase,” said Carman.

As for alternatives and price breaks for employees, Carman said he has not seen any proposals “come across my desk.”

“If the business association comes to me with a proposal, I am ready to talk to them and then presented to the Board of Selectmen,” said Carman.