A decade ago, if you told people you were going to Burlington, they may have thought you were visiting the coat factory or that you worked in one of the city’s ubiquitous office parks. These days, there are still office parks galore, but Burlington has become a premier destination for dining and shopping on the North Shore.
Jim Murphy, president of the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce, has seen Burlington’s transformation coming for years. “There’s been smart planning by the municipality in terms of zoning and fiscal planning,” he says, which was designed to attract businesses that encourage their employees to live and work in the same area. “You see an increase in condominiums and living units,” he says. “So it draws people as a business community and for living.”
To get people to stay in the area, there needs to be reasons for them to stay, including dining options. “Restaurants won’t come in unless they can get a liquor license,” says Murphy. “One of the ways to get Burlington to attract more businesses was to get more liquor licenses.”
The number of liquor licenses available is set by the state, says Murphy, so the North Suburban Chamber of Commerce partnered with some developers to appeal to town meetings to approve a petition to the state to increase the number allotted. That resulted in more licenses and therefore more businesses putting down roots in town, he says.
Even with all the liquor licenses in the world, a restaurant can’t stay open unless it appeals to the locals. But with restaurants such as The Bancroft and Kings at 3rd Avenue, plus the recently opened Island Creek Oyster Bar nearly across the street, the options are good, plentiful, and growing.
“Burlington has big real estate behind it, and it’s motivating the town into becoming a restaurant destination,” says Garrett Harker, a partner at Island Creek Oyster Bar. “A lot of great corporate tenants are coming into the office parks around there, and other restaurant companies we hold in high regard put a stake in the ground, and we thought we could deliver good seafood.”
With the success of Island Creek’s Kenmore Square location and what Harker, partner Skip Bennett, and chef and partner Jeremy Sewall saw happening in Burlington, the decision to open there became easier.
“We love the idea of going somewhere in transition, establishing ourselves, and then helping a neighborhood or town grow around us,” says Harker.
“You find people don’t want to slog all the way into the city,” adds Bennett.
Avoiding the commute to Boston—and paying for parking or being limited by the commuter rail schedule—is one of many pluses The Bancroft’s general manager Richard Brackett sees with dining in Burlington. “It’s an hour into the city. It’s $30 to [valet], and then there’s the wait for the car and then the trip back,” he says. “The Bancroft has free valet parking Wednesday through Saturday.”
On top of that, The Bancroft is part of the ever-popular farm-to-table movement. “The consumer is well aware of where their food comes from,” says Brackett. “In season in July and August, the trucks come every day, or every other day [to the restaurant]. The salad on your plate was in the earth earlier that day.”
And with all the office parks in Burlington, there’s big corporate demand, too. While business on Fridays and the weekends is mostly social, Brackett estimates that 80 to 90 percent of business on Mondays through Thursdays at The Bancroft is corporate-based.
Doug Warner, the vice president of marketing and business development at Kings Bowl America, which has a location at 3rd Avenue, sees similar corporate interest. “We’re surrounded by corporate parks, so we get a lot of weekday business with teambuilding events and corporate events,” he says. “And [Burlington] itself is spectacular.”
The feeling that Burlington is spectacular resonates with retailers, too. “The feeling I get is that consumers are really happy they don’t have to go all the way to Boston,” says Sarah Bateman, general manager for Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams’s Burlington location.
Regarding 3rd Avenue, she says, “This [type of] suburban outdoor shopping center gives you the sense of being in the city. You don’t feel like you’re in a shopping plaza.”
She says Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams fits right in with Burlington’s changing shopping and dining markets. “We’re exposing the brand to a whole new demographic in Burlington. It’s been really great.”
Long’s Jewelers has been in Burlington for decades, first at the Burlington Mall, and then in its current location (next to 3rd Avenue) since 1997. President Craig Rottenberg has seen a pattern developing over the years that Burlington has tapped into.
“I think there’s a movement across Massachusetts for higher luxury shoppers, and Burlington has it magnified,” he says. “There’s a lot of factors that go into it, but we’ve seen more luxury shoppers in the area.”
Says Bateman, “Burlington’s becoming a well-known mecca for people who want luxury and the best.”
With all the changes happening in Burlington over the past few years, it’s good to know that some things stay the same. Lahey Hospital & Medical Center (LHMC) has served Burlington (and other communities) for years as a nonprofit community health provider. In addition to its ambulatory care center that serves more than 3,000 patients a day (and there’s a hospital, too) and its brand-new emergency department (a Level II trama center), LHMC makes it its mission to assess the health needs of the community.
“In 2013, what really stood out for us was kind of a shocking figure, that only one in four seniors was reporting getting five or more fresh fruits and vegetables a day,” says Michelle Snyder, LHMC’s community relations regional manager. “We took a step back and said, ‘Why is that?’”
The two most common answers LHMC found were cost and access, so LHMC partnered with World Peas, a community supported agriculture program from the New Entry Sustainable Farming Project. For 20 weeks during growing season, 50 seniors were able to go to Burlington’s Council on Aging to pick up a week’s worth of produce free, says Snyder. “We set it up like a market. There are five or six things a week, and [participants] come in, get a shopping bag, and get to choose what they like.”
The program has been running for three years. In addition to getting more fresh produce in seniors? diets, there was an unexpected benefit: Participants arrived early to visit with friends and discussed what they’d been cooking, even inviting friends to share food they’d prepared.
Beyond the produce market, LHMC is helping the community in several ways. Its trauma department has worked with Burlington High School on a “Don’t Text and Drive” program; Lahey’s physical therapy department conducts free exercise classes for seniors twice a week at the Council on Aging; and Lahey has partnered with the Adopt-a-Class Program for the class of 2018 to provide scholarships for graduating seniors that year.
“For us, one of the priorities has been to be an active and engaged member of this community,” says Snyder. “From a community health perspective, we try to bring programs to the communities to benefit people who live here.”