By Richard Rouse/Special to the Gazette
On Sept. 1, like emperor penguins returning to their nesting grounds in the documentary film “March of the Penguins,” students flocked upon the neighborhood lugging storage boxes, microwave ovens and mattresses up the three-decker stoops of Mission Hill. Move-In Day fell on Labor Day weekend this year, so there was much less overall disruption to the regular weekday traffic. The community survived the annual hurly burly and autumn activities begin anew.
As the economy improves, I am heartened to announce two new businesses opening this month, and their relationship to a genuine gem of Mission Hill, Sofia’s Alterations and Cleaners. Next year will mark 25 years that Sofia Marmanidis has operated her little shop at 824 Huntington Ave. Neighbors visit Sofia the seamstress when the job needs the personal touch to be done just right. This Grecian grandmother of six came to Boston in 1965 with husband Nicholas from their tiny village near Macedonia. They opened Sofia’s, with Nicholas working part-time alongside, cobbling shoes. He soon began operating the Sunoco service station on the corner of Huntington Avenue and St. Alphonsus Street with their three sons. The entire Marmanidis family resides in Dedham, but all consider Mission Hill their true home because of the deep personal friendships established over the years. Sofia states that her store, and the next door Gennaro’s Huntington Market, have both enjoyed thriving businesses because of loyal neighbors and old fashioned word of mouth advertising.
“My customers are extended family, especially my many dear friends who look out for me from RTH [Roxbury Tenants of Harvard]”, she exclaims. Sadly, following 50 years of marital bliss with Sofia, Nicholas passed away two years ago.
This month, Sofia finally sublet Nicholas’ cobbler side of the shop, which has reopened as a small clothing boutique called Javez. The proprietor Alpheus offers an array of stylish women’s and men’s apparel, shoes, luggage and CDs at great prices. Alpheus finished the lease at his previous store in Dorchester’s Fields Corner and always felt Mission Hill needed a small local clothing store. Alpheus believes that this location alongside Sofia’s at the foot of Parker Hill Avenue is great and reports that dresses and shoes are already popular-selling items.
Back in 2002, Sofia’s sons, Charlie, Larry and Jimmy, were forced to vacate the Sunoco station they ran since 1979 because Wentworth Institute needed to construct dormitories at the site. Local customers were bereft at losing their neighborhood mechanics, who they depended on and trusted. Sofia’s boys began working at a Brockton garage and tried their hands at construction and other ventures, but always yearned to return to their “home” of Mission Hill where they were happy working together among longtime friends and customers. In August, the three brothers unveiled their New England Brake Center at 22 Terrace St. right next to Crossing Auto Body. Each day has been a homecoming, with old friends dropping by for oil changes and repairs. Charlie, the eldest, waxed philosophically about what the brothers learned working elsewhere.
“We each did well, but we all lacked the simple joy of being with each other, and the contentment that comes in doing something that truly makes you happy. The experience apart truly made us appreciate what we had before, and now, we couldn’t be happier being back.”
The Brake Center has all the latest high-tech gizmos like on-board diagnostics and can handle all aspects of automobile maintenance. As someone who has owned his share of cars over the years, I can attest that a great mechanic is more artist than craftsman. Mission Hill can now boast about how lucky it is to have some seasoned pros at a fantastic location right behind the Roxbury Crossing T Station. You can drop off your auto in the morning and know it will be well cared for, then pick it up at the end of the day. I learned that the New England Brake boys do something positive for the environment as well. Because they all live in Dedham, they carpool together and drop off mother Sofia at her shop at 6:30 a.m., six days a week. They ride back to their homes together each evening as well.
As predicted, the turnout for our mayoral candidate forum Aug. 19 was tremendous. One of the aspirants stated in his closing that My Main Streets was the best run and most substantive event of the entire campaign. The importance of small business for Boston’s economic vitality and livability appears to be a priority for the entire field of candidates. Moderator Callie Crossley from WGBH rose to the occasion, and I want to thank everyone who assisted or attended the event. The ward committees and the Community Alliance have been hosting forums for mayoral and City Council candidates, so the campaign buzz hums ubiquitously on the Hill. Be sure you make your voice heard on Sept. 24.
Lastly, the annual Lawn Street Block Party presents itself again on Sat., September 7 from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. with the street blocked off, refreshments, food, fellowship and great yard sale bargains.
The writer is the executive director of Mission Hill Main Streets.