Wednesday, April 16, 2014
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Allston upholds culture of old, new elements

With an eclectic mix of ages and ethnicities, the neighborhood of Allston is rapidly getting younger and more crowded, pushing out some of the older relics of the neighborhood.

Allston has grown by 14 percent since the 2000 census, and 60.4 percent of the population is now aged 20 to 34.

“It went from more established families to students and, now that it’s got the largest population of students in the city, they’re being pushed out of the neighborhood because you’ve got 20-somethings who are deciding to stay,” said William Leonard, an associate professor of history at Emmanuel College.

Leonard said the growth of youth in Allston began when Boston University and Boston College began expanding in the 1980s.

“The neighborhood has changed a lot and will continue to change in part because it’s well situated,” he said. “It’s part of Boston, it’s near Cambridge and Brookline and it’s a great location. And so, particularly for kids out of college who can afford to live there, [they] will stay there after they graduate.”

But the growth of the young, college-aged population might herald the beginning of the end for many of the local businesses that make Allston so colorful.

“The mom-and-pop drugstores have moved on — that’s similar to lots of other neighborhoods in Boston as well,” Leonard said. “There’s not a lot of the old businesses left. They sort of moved out when their owners either moved out or died.”

Despite this, business owners said they feel secure in Allston.

“Bigger businesses come and go,” said Chris Silvera, the owner of Cheap Chic. “They might come here because market research or whatever tells them that Allston is a good place to open a store, but once they find that it’s not a good fit, they move on.”

Silvera said that while the demographics may have skewed toward a slightly younger population, local businesses simply alter their strategies to cater to these changes.

“Businesses here live for August to October, when most students are buying things they need for their apartments,” Silvera said. “It’s a short window, but it’s like Christmas for us. The rest of the year we’re just in the doldrums, and we’re selling much less volume to mostly immigrant families.”

Immigrant-owned businesses too have remained surprisingly viable, despite a drop in the number of immigrants in the community, said Brazilian Immigration Center representative Graselda Tomaino.

“Immigrants do pretty well,” he said. “Despite challenges, they find a way to make a living here.”

Some other ethnic business owners said the diversity of schools in the area help business.

“We get mostly Asian customers, but many of them are young customers who want to learn about Korean culture and come in to try the food and drinks of their culture,” said Jennifer Lee, owner of local Korean restaurant Myung Dong.

Local residents said they appreciate Allston’s low costs and do not mind its rowdy, youthful vibe.

“They’re [students are] kind of noisy, but it hasn’t been that long since I was that young too, so I kind of understand that,” said Wilbert Odestin, 43, a Haitian immigrant who has lived in Allston for one year.

Kyle Lankton, a third-semester Berklee College student, said he enjoys the insulated life in Allston.

“It’s cheap. We don’t have to go into the city for everything,” he said. “There’s also a night scene and show and stuff that you can go to, which is really good.”

Ed Heraty, 72, said he has lived in Allston his whole life and does not mind the young population.

“I go to bed early so I’m never really bothered by students,” he said. “I’ve never had to complain about them being loud.”

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