Boston’s newest neighborhood has become a bustling playground for both the young and the young at heart, thanks in no small part to Todd Norley.
If conversation has stalled at your next dinner party, spark it up by casually mentioning the Seaport. The highly developed, meticulously planned landscape of flashy glass and steel doesn’t resemble the city most Bostonians know, and everyone in this town has an opinion about it. The neighborhood is kind of like your cousin’s Los Angeles-based girlfriend who came to Weston for Thanksgiving—her clothes are too colorful, she’s on a raw diet, she’s talking about her gut health, and everyone is both uncomfortable and intrigued.
Whether you hate it or you just bought a multimillion-dollar penthouse in it, it’s hard to argue that the Seaport is doing something right. Try to get a bar stool at Ocean Prime after work on a Tuesday. Attempt to buy a piece of luggage at Away on your lunch break. Places are packed. And the best part about the crowds is that they span generations; the Hub’s new hub is a playground for both millennials and retirees who are moving to the condos in the sky.
One of the people responsible for the spots attracting the crowds is Todd Norley, the vice president of retail leasing for WS Development, who manages the neighborhood’s million-square-foot retail portfolio. So how does one take all that vacant space and turn it into a thriving place to live and play? And what does Norley say to the skeptics who claim that retail is dead?
He begins by pointing out that the Seaport was already a unique locale that attracted top restaurateurs, cultural institutions and the fashion mecca Louis, years before the development began. And it didn’t become a retail graveyard because Norley and his team pursued a healthy mix of digitally native and heritage brands, both who offer experiences and not just racks of clothes. “The days of coming into a four-walled space, throwing up paint and wheeling in merchandising racks are over. I think it’s less about the commodity aspect of getting goods and more about being able to go in and see Luke at Mr. Sid and have a bloody mary while you shop for a blazer,” Norley says.
A vibrant storefront with Frank Stella’s “Damascus Gate Stretch Variation I”
Mr. Sid, the family-owned business born in Newton in 1967, just recently opened its second location in the Seaport, where it offers a comparable well-edited assortment of luxury brands that skews slightly younger, with that added side of service (thanks, Luke). And within walking distance are Away, Filson, L.L.Bean, Everlane and Mejuri.
“There’s been a massive changing of the guard with brands going directly to consumer, most of which are digital, but we’re also seeing it with heritage brands,” says Norley. “Companies are finding the best way to tell their story is to connect physically. The digital space has gotten very, very noisy to the point where it’s really tough to gain market share.”
Norley believes the Seaport is especially well-positioned to support this new expression of shopping. “If you look across comparable cities, most of them have three or four neighborhoods that are retail destinations. For the first time in many generations, Bostonians have the opportunity to program a part of the city with their wallets and their dollars with a 21st century mindset in mind,” he says.
There will always be those of us who prefer cobblestone to concrete, but the fact that Boston can accommodate both the old and the new is compelling. And fodder for your next cocktail party.
Photography by: Lindsay Ahern