Dan Larner, steady hand in St. Mark’s Area, to move on

St. Mark's Area Main Street's mainstay to step down: Dan Larner, left, is shown with Mayor Tom Menino at the Dorchester Board of Trade luncheon on Tuesday. 	Photo courtesy Don Harney/Mayor’s OfficeSt. Mark's Area Main Street's mainstay to step down: Dan Larner, left, is shown with Mayor Tom Menino at the Dorchester Board of Trade luncheon on Tuesday. Photo courtesy Don Harney/Mayor’s Office

One of the city’s longest-serving Main Streets directors will leave his post this summer after a high-successful run in the St. Mark’s Area. Dan Larner, who has served as the district’s director since 2000, will leave to seek a new career opportunity in government/public affairs sector. He has set June 30 as his last day in the St. Mark’s Area Main Street (SMAMS) office.

“With a strong community behind him, Dan led us through the redevelopment of the Ashmont T Station and Peabody Square,” said Bill Richard, a longtime activist and former president of the Main Street’s board of directors.

“Not only did Dan host countless community meetings that led to the development of The Carruth [building[, but SMAMS also partnered with Trinity Financial to help with a critical piece of the financing.   Since then and in between, it has been all the little things that can often go unnoticed like design assistance and store front improvements, business recruitment, neighborhood clean-ups, weekly Farmers Market in the Square.  All this, and hundreds of hours of community-building — resulting in a better place to live and work for the residents of Dorchester," said Richard.

Larner, 59, was born in Dorchester and raised in Randolph, but returned to his native neighborhood as a young professional in the 1980s, living on St. Mark’s Road.

“Dan was very involved in the parish and he was a good choice to be the first director of the Main Streets, because he knew it from the ground up,” said Fr. Dan Finn, pastor of St. Mark’s Church. “I think its done a lot along the avenue and it’s also lifted the spirit of the community. It’s been one of the parish initiatives that’s born much fruit because of his leadership.”

Larner passes most of the credit for the Main Streets’ success along to the board of volunteers that has been a steady foundation for the group since 2000.

“I can’t take credit for the big successes here myself,” said Larner. “There’s been so much work put in by so many for the big things: the station, the Carruth and the renovations to Peabody Square. They all fit together very well and they laid the groundwork for most of the other development because they showed people that its turning around for the better and there are people behind all these changes who are continuing to push things forward.”

But Larner has been the constant throughout the dramatic changes to the streetscape and infrastructure in and around Ashmont and all along the Dot Ave. corridor down the Centre Street. Larner helped to recruit several of the businesses that are now lynchpins in the neighborhood and assisted many more— perhaps more than two dozen— access city grants to improve storefront and signage.

Many folks even beyond Dorchester are familiar with the noted success of restaurants like Tavolo and Ashmont Grill, landmark eateries that found footholds in the district during Larner’s watch. But, it may be the lesser-known success stories that serve as Larner’s legacy. He himself points to the “thriving” business being done inside the Super 99 Cent Plus Discount store, run by the Quach family, as one of his proudest leave-behinds. The store sits on what was once a dilapidated block at the corner of Dot Ave. and Welles Ave.

“The owners live in the neighborhood and it’s like an old fashioned general store,” said Larner. “It’s great for shopping but its also a little neighborhood center. People are in there talking with the owners and they have their finger on the pulse of what’s going on. It’s one of the only places I know of that still lets people run a tab for items if they’re a little bit short of cash.”

“They took over a space that used to be a dry cleaners and a labor pool and it was really in awful shape,” Larner added. “They took a big hole in the streetscape and now it’s a thriving business.”

Another triumph of the Larner years is Ashmont Cycle, a Talbot Avenue business that grew out of conversations at the SMAMS board meetings.

“The bike shop that is a great example of someone taking a leap of faith. People were saying it would be great to have a bike shop. And Jack Pelletier was a lwayer who’d worked as a bicycle mechanic in college. Jack took plunge with a lot of preparation and now it’s doing great.”

Larner is bullish on the future in the St. Mark’s district and about the viability of the Main Streets organization moving forward.

“I think they have great things in store for them,” Larner said of SMAMS. “They have a talented and dedicated board of directors and volunteers who pull together events like the Farmers Market. That’s what’s really necessary to make this work because no person can do it by themselves.”