Sunday, December 4, 2011

Framingham's Role in the Bay Circuit Trail Greenbelt

Did you know that the Bay Circuit Trail, a 180 mile long recreational trail that spans 57 Boston area communities from Ipswich to Duxbury, passes through Framingham for several miles?

The Framingham section passes through the Nobscot Mountain area within the Nobscot Boy Scout Reservation, then traverses Wittenborg Woods and Callahan State Park. The high point within Nobscot offers views east to the Blue Hills and Boston. If you've ever hiked up Nobscot Mountain, you may have seen a Bay Circuit Trail marker, with its distinctive logo, on trees near the summit, where the trail crosses several reservation trails.

A nice day hike of 4-5 miles that features the Framingham section, if you can place a car at each end, is to hike from Route 20 in Sudbury down to Parmenter Street in Southborough, near the Sudbury Reservoir. Visit the Bay Circuit Trail web site for maps and trail descriptions.

With a trail like this in our town, who needs to travel afar for outdoor recreation?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Indie Rock From a Multi-Talented Guy

Multi-instrumentalists, musicians who play most or all of the instruments on a recording, are nothing new to the rock world. Todd Rundgren was doing it in the 1970s, as was Stevie Wonder. In the 1990s, Trent Reznor exploded into the alternative rock genre with the first album for his one-man band Nine Inch Nails.

But did you know Framingham had such an artist? Recording under the band name Loam, Chris Rousseau has been writing the songs, playing all of the instruments, and independently releasing albums as Loam since 2003. Originally drawing on such indie rock influences as Nirvana, REM, and the Breeders, Rosseaus's more recent work has moved more toward radio-friendly pop in the vein of The Cars and Tom Petty. Intelligently written songs, played with great musicianship and professionally recorded, Loam's work goes far beyond the hobbyist stage, with a quality that's easily competitive with major label releases.

Loam's CDs can be purchased on Amazon, iTunes, and CDBaby, and numerous samples for your listening pleasures are also available on the band's web site.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Latest Nobscot Eatery Breathes New Life Into the Village

After sitting vacant and dark for months, Nobscot's venerable old diner building on Edgell Road, just north of the Water Street/Edmands Road intersection, was reborn in June as CJ's Northside Grill. Owners Chris Gagen and Jamie Anderson completely renovated the interior with a sports theme, including a replica of Fenway Park's famed Green Monster wall.

CJ's food is getting rave reviews and has been packing them in for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as attracting passerby seeking sweet relief from the summer heat to their ice cream takeout window. And Saturdays in Nobscot have become much more lively with the return of the legendary classic car cruise-in, with the CJ's lot filled with the gleaming motor vehicles of yesteryear.

Gagen, a gregarious and very hands-on operator, is a visible and gracious presence at the restaurant. He and co-owner Anderson are savvy marketers as well, taking full advantage of social media tools like Facebook to stay close to their customers and build their clientele. So if you've got a suggestion, request, or question, let them know.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Goodbye to a Beloved Nobscot Gathering Place

Community planners and social scientists often refer to the concept of a "third place" - the home being first and the work place second - where people gather.

For many people in Nobscot, that third place has been Annie's Book Stop/Espresso Paulo in the Nobscot Shopping Center on Water Street. But now, after over ten years, this beloved neighborhood institution is closing on August 31.

To say that owner Paul Ashton merely ran a bookstore cafe` is like saying New York City's Russian Tea Room is just a restaurant. Ashton essentially presided over Nobscot's de facto community and cultural center. Artists, writers, politicians, community groups, and lecturers on numerous subjects, were only part of the perpetual salon that enlivened the shop not only during its normal operating hours but often late into the evening as well. Exhibits by local artists hung on the walls and book signings by local authors were common events.

Routinely working seven days a week, often for twelve hours or more, Ashton's lively spirit and puckish British humor endeared him to his loyal patrons, many of whom became his good friends over the years.

Anyone who wanted to know what was going on in Nobscot merely needed to walk in the door. If Ashton, a tireless promoter of the village, didn't have an answer, he always had an opinion, and could probably steer you to someone who did have an answer. When the Nobscot Neighbors community group was formed in late 2008, Ashton was one of the founding members, and immediately offered his shop as a meeting space. Here, on many an evening, residents fervently talked about Nobscot's problems and potential solutions, and friendships and alliances formed.

Whether he was serving up a perfect cappuccino or one of his famous scones, recommending a book, bringing in a masseuse to provide chair massages to patrons, presiding over an artistic or literary event, or hosting one of his legendary after-hours pot luck dinners, Ashton brought an energy and community spirit to Nobscot that will not be easily replaced. When those doors close at the end of this month and the ubiquitous neon "Coffee" sign is turned off forever, a part of the village's soul will go with it.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Development in Nobscot Signals a New Era

After years of decline, this spring signals the beginning of a new era in Framingham's village of Nobscot. This represents a ray of hope for the residents, business owners, and elected officials who formed the advocacy group Nobscot Neighbors, which now has nearly 300 members, over two years ago.

A lot of the criticism, and rightly so, has focused on the long-term vacancies and condition of the Nobscot Shopping Center on Water Street, the largest commercial property in the village. While it's easy to get overfocused on such a visible problem, it's instructional to look beyond it at the other positive developments in the immediate area.

Anyone driving through the intersection of Edgell Road and Water Street/Edmands Road sees that ground has been broken at the former Mobil gas station at 900 Edgell Road, where a new TD Bank branch will be completed by the fall. This new development will provide a strong anchor presence to one of the four key corners of the village crossroads.

Across Edgell Road at the former Redline Diner/Riley's Roast Beef site, the parking lot has just been repaved and interior building renovations are underway. A new restaurant operator will be re-opening this long-standing Nobscot dining spot soon.

At the Nobscot Village Plaza on Edgell Road, a new building facade has been constructed, from Datti's liquor store around to the side where Nobscot's Cafe` and other businesses are located, with new, improved signage on the way. There is also a new business, The All Natural Face, a vegan makeup store, located in this plaza.

Across Edgell Road at the former Jiffy Lube location, a new sign indicates the owner is now open to not just leasing the property, but also offering a lease to buy option and financing. This makes the property much more attractive to prospective businesses.

Meanwhile, at 49 Edmands Road, just a few hundred feet back from the crossroads at Edgell Road, Shillman House, a 150-unit senior independent living community, is scheduled to open in June. While it has been a controversial project to many Nobscot residents, the infusion of several hundred new residents within walking distance of the local shops represents an opportunity for village businesses to gain many new customers.

At the corner of Edgell Road and Water Street, the Nobscot Chapel building is now in the process of being taken by the town for non-payment of water and sewer bills. While unfortunate, once this matter works it way through the courts, the town would then be able to sell the property and have the site put back into active use.

And while anyone living or working in the area knows that the Water Street Roadway Reconstruction Project has been inconvenient at times, it will bring significant benefit to Nobscot. Its primary purpose, to replace and upgrade the existing water and sewer lines, means that Nobscot will have the infrastructure capacity to properly support not just present use, but future development.

It also relocated the pipes from beneath the parking lot of the shopping center, which is private property, onto the public roadway, which opens the shopping center to possible redevelopment opportunities as well. In addition, the shopping center benefits from a partially resurfaced parking lot, and the village has a brand-new roadway and sidewalks.

And finally, the proposed construction of a new branch of the Framingham Public Library in Nobscot has the potential to be transformational for the village. While there are many more hurdles to be overcome before this project would become a reality, many important steps have already been completed. This includes selection of a site on Water Street adjacent to the shopping center, and applying for a state grant that would provide half of the construction funding.

Nobscot definitely has far to go to reach the level of its heyday decades ago. And its future may not closely resemble its past in some ways. Yet with more development and renovation underway than we've seen in many years, however, it's clear that better days for this Framingham village are on the way.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Local Author's First Novel Features Framingham Scenes

Southborough resident Steve Ulfelder needed some grit in his first novel, a detective story set in Massachusetts, and one of the places he found it is downtown Framingham.

Purgatory Chasm is being released this week and has several key scenes that take place downtown, including Salvation Army AA meetings and the nearby railroad tracks. His main character is named Conway Sax, perhaps in reference to our village of Saxonville?

The title refers to Purgatory Chasm State Reservation in Sutton, where a murder takes place that Sax sets out to solve. In the process Sax makes his way through some places that locals will easily recognize.

Ulfelder will be signing copies of his book on May 14 at Tatnuck Bookseller & Sons in Westborough. Maybe an appearance in Framingham could be next?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Framingham Brewery Scheduled to Open in July

Grab your pint glasses folks, Framingham will soon have its own brewery!

As reported in today's MetroWest Daily News by their intrepid beer reporter Norman Miller, a very knowledgeable guy I've had the pleasure of draining a pint with, Jack's Abby Brewing is targeting July to begin producing their own beers in a former warehouse on the south side of town.

Technically the Ham has a brewery in John Harvard's Brewhouse at Shopper's World, but that's a brewpub where the house beers are produced and consumed on-premise. Jack's Abby will be a production brewery where the beer will be kegged and bottled in 64 ounce "growler" bottles for off-premise consumption. There will be tours and a tasting room where the beers can be sampled and purchased.

The starting lineup including four very interesting sounding brews - click on their link above to go to their Facebook page for full descriptions and background information on the brewery. If you're a Facebook member click on the "Like" button to help spread the word about this new local venture. It's nice to see another small business invest in Framingham and help build our brand.

Hopefully a lot of the pub and restaurant owners in town will support Jack's as well, and offer a brew or two of theirs on tap. After all, for Framingham eating and drinking establishments, can there be any better marketing pitch than a Framingham-brewed beer?


Sunday, March 6, 2011

New Gallery Puts the Spotlight on Local Artists

Last fall I wrote a post about the great Friday night open studios at Fountain Street Studios on the south side of town.

Now, the landmark Bancroft building that houses our largest artist community is also home to the Fountain Street Fine Art gallery. The first floor space will feature monthly exhibitions by local artists, many of whom have their studios in the building.

Run as a cooperative, artists must apply for membership, however, exhibitions will not be limited to member artists. Co-directors Cheryl Clinton and Marie Craig, who have their own working studios in the building, are focusing on contemporary art with a strong regional focus.

In addition to exhibitions, they plan on offering gallery talks, workshops, and film screenings as well. The founders also write a blog chronicling their efforts to convert the raw industrial space into the attractive gallery space that it is today. A fascinating story and perhaps an inpiration and possible blueprint for other budding artistic entrepreneurs in town.

The gallery is located at 59 Fountain Street and is open Friday - Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Where Like, Everyone Knows Your Name

Ever since the TV show "Cheers" became a big television show hit in the 1980s, nearly every pub has aspired to be a place where everyone knows your name.

But how often is it really true? Despite the amount of money spent by national chain restaurants trying to appear homey and local, most of the generic places that line Route 9 will never really be true local joints.

If you really want to experience a local pub, where as their web site cheekily states, "Like, everyone knows your name" head up Edgell Road to Nobscot's Cafe`at number 847 in the heart of Nobscot village.

From the Nobscot and Framingham memorabilia on the walls to the long-familiar faces behind the bar, Nobscot's Cafe` is truly a local place. It's locally-owned, and for the most part patronized by local people, some of whom can even walk there from their homes.

Divided up between a restaurant dining room and a bar area, this beloved spot has many loyal patrons who show up weekly for both the food specials like burger night on Mondays, or weekend entertainment that includes live bands, DJs, and trivia contests.

They also pack 'em in on game nights when free appetizers are often part of the deal, and at special events like Halloween parties. And of course one of the highlights of the year is Saint Patrick's Day, when the pub is packed wall to wall and the local Irish band the Belfast Cowboys is usually playing in the evening. For me I know spring is around the corner when I'm hoisting a pint of Guinness at Nobscot's while the band plays all of those classic Irish songs.

So the next time you're up for a casual meal, a drink, or a night of low-key entertainment, keep your dollars local at Nobscot's Cafe`. Come often enough and they really will know your name.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Framingham's Award-Winning Poet

Given the size and diversity of our community, it's not surprising that it is home to people talented in a wide variety of endeavors. For a long-time poet and lover of poetry like me, however, it's particularly thrilling that Framingham is home to an award-winning poet.

Alan Feldman, a retired English professor who taught at Framingham State University for thirty-six years, has published award-winning books of poetry and numerous poems in many of the nation's leading literary magazines, as well as The Atlantic and The New Yorker. He has even been called "one of the best poets in America" by one reviewer.

I have known of Feldman's work and reputation for years, but after attending a recent reading by him I came away with a newfound appreciation of the great talent in our midst. And even more exciting for both novice and experienced local poets, Feldman leads a free poetry workshop on Wednesday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m. at the Framingham Public Library. What a great opportunity to learn from a master of his craft!

To learn more about Alan Feldman and read some samples of his work, go to