New Bedford's Young Dreamers

By Lauren Daley
Standard-Times Staff Writer

Elissa Paquette was arranging a display of hand-printed shoes and listening to Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” play from her laptop when the doors of her boutique burst open.
“Yay!” exclaimed customer Genevive Hunt, raising her arms above her head.
“I’m so glad you’re finally open! The perfect stuff in the perfect spot.”
The perfect stuff: the hand-made and vintage clothing, jewelry, belts and shoes in Ms. Paquette’s shop, Calico.
The perfect spot: near the corner of Union and Purchase streets in downtown New Bedford.
“You know, there is such a great community of artists right here in New Bedford,” Ms. Hunt said, browsing the racks. “Boosting the cultural economy. Keeping the money in the zip code.”
Ms. Paquette, 27, is part of a growing community of Gen Yers who up and started their own businesses in downtown New Bedford.
They’re the 30-and-under crowd. The MySpace generation.
They advertise largely on the Web and they all list each other’s businesses as their MySpace “friends.”
In fact, Ms. Paquette created a MySpace page for “Downtown NB” itself (
Under “About Me:”
“An up-and-coming downtown community … Independently owned restaurants and unique shops, located within a few quaint cobblestone blocks. Fabulous galleries and museums! Cheap rent for artists and young entrepreneurs. Good seafood.”
Status: “Swinger.”
Zodiac sign: “Capricorn.”
We Love: “Cobblestones, over-use of the whale image as logo, saving mills from home depots, refurbishing buildings …”
So, welcome to Downtown NB, dude.
Where the rent is cheap, the dreams are big and the streets are made of cobblestone.
“I think this city is almost there,” Ms. Paquette said, on a recent day at Calico’s newly opened location.
“We’re almost at the point where, just like Providence, people will come to New Bedford to spend the day and shop around. And it’s because of all these amazing young people around me.
“I’m surrounded by people my age who have started their own businesses. That’s my favorite part of downtown — the community of creative young people.”
On the Downtown NB MySpace she created, there are a dozen shops, galleries and restaurants listed, all with Gen X or Y owners.
We may be in a, oh, let’s call it recession-ish economy right now, but the young have always dared to dream.
“It’s a struggle at times to be in business for yourself” in a shaky economy, Ms. Paquette said, “but New Bedford is a really supportive and inspiring place to do it.”
The Fall River native moved to the Whaling City in 2002 while on break from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. She started subletting a downtown studio with friends and “fell in love with the city.”
In October 2004 at age 23, Ms. Paquette opened Calico at its first location, on the second floor of a building up the street.
“I started Calico with basically a couple of credit cards,” she said.
“The great thing about New Bedford is that the rents are still pretty low. My entire original investment in the store was probably less than $3,000.”
One day in 2005, Sasha Putney walked into Calico and decided she had to open a salon downtown.
“I told Elissa from Calico, ‘Youre store is awesome; your location is awesome — this is where I want to be,’ ” said Ms. Putney, 27.
“She encouraged me; she said this city has a community of young people all starting out, they all know and support each other.”
So Ms. Putney, her boyfriend, Dave Benway, and his mom, bought the building at 165 Union St. and Ms. Putney opened Salon Lola, an upscale hair and nail salon, in September 2006.
“New Bedford has this young art scene going on. The vibe is really, really cool and it feels like it’s up-and-coming,” said the Carver native.
“(In the salon) where I worked on the South Shore, it was all suburban housewives. In New Bedford, it’s all creative people — art students, local musicians — that come in here.
“I have clients that drive here from Boston and the Cape. I’m like, ‘Wow, it’s working.’ ”
“Just being in the heart of downtown, everything fell to place,” Ms. Putney said.
“My dream came true. Sometimes I feel like I should pinch myself.”
Of the Gen Y entrepreneurs downtown, she said:
“As a whole, we’re trying to take New Bedford up a level.
“We’re taking the risk because we have to. A lot of young business owners around here, we’re like, ‘We’re gonna do it, and that’s it. Do or die.’ ”
New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang has noticed the burst of young energy downtown.
“I think it’s fantastic — a whole new generation values New Bedford and wants to make it great,” the mayor told The Standard-Times.
He said the Gen Y businesses “are invigorating the city with new energy and new blood and I think that’s fantastic.
“It has a high energy to it, but it’s not contrived in any way. It’s still based on the historic nature of New Bedford,” he said.
“Moving creative, imaginative businesses into New Bedford highlights what we’ve always been about — artists, musicians, inventive people.
“What we have right now is this tremendous energy, this creative, imaginative, young community; it adds to the quality of life.”
At the ripe age of 30, Jeff Goggin is a grizzled downtown vet.
He opened The Green Bean, a hip coffee/sandwich joint, with his sister Andrea, 28, on Dec. 31, 2003.
“Opening on New Year’s Eve was the worst idea,” he chuckled. “I was up to my eyeballs in coffee grinds.
“But I was confident and naive, which is good, because people who are scared don’t try stuff … After a certain age, people get scared to try stuff.”
In his early 20s, Mr. Goggin had worked at three different restaurants washing dishes, cooking and emptying buckets of fat.
“We called them the pig buckets,” he said. “Ew.”
Then when he was 27, he realized: “I don’t want to work for anyone else anymore.”
So he and kid sis Andrea pooled their life savings, found a small spot downtown with relatively low rent and started The Green Bean with little more than java beans and a dream.
Four years later, they’ve hired nine employees, including their 23-year-old brother Eric as a cook.
Their menu has vastly expanded from a simple cup of Joe:
Latte flavors include mint chocolate and Milky Way; their specialty sandwich is pesto grilled chicken and mozzarella on toasted garlic bread; then there’s the smoothies, milk shakes, bagels, cookies, scones and a juice bar.
On a typical day, they serve 300 people, many of them UMass Dartmouth and Bristol Community College students from the Star Store on Purchase Street.
Not long ago, the Green Bean moved to a bigger spot, closer to campus, on Union Street — hardwood floors, celery green walls, beige couches and WiFi Internet connection.
Even now, Mr. Goggin has a humble, when-I-grow-up-I’ll-be-a-real-coffee-shop mentality:
“I still look around and think, ‘We’re almost there. Someday we’ll be a real place.’ ”
Still, it was the success of The Green Bean and Calico that inspired Ms. Putney to open Salon Lola.
And Ms. Paquette and Mr. Goggin said they were inspired by the slightly older businesses downtown: No Problemo, a Mexican restaurant, and Solstice skate shop.
Now that Mr. Goggin has been around four years, what’s the senior’s advice to incoming frosh?
Just do it.
“I wish more young people opened their own places … You can totally do it,” he said.
“One of my employees is always talking about opening up a cupcake place. I tell him, ‘Even in a bad economy, cupcakes are good. People will say, I’m depressed. I can’t pay my bills! I need a cupcake!’ ”
Contact Lauren Daley at
April 13, 2008
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