New residents, building bolster neighborhood life

Last Saturday's grand dedication of the sparkling new Carruth Building on Dorchester Avenue helped to bring into focus an emerging new reality: There has been a large infusion of new residents into our neighborhoods, and it largely can be credited to the progressive investment strategies of development firms like Trinity Financial, the company headed by longtime locals Jim Keefe and Patrick Lee.

It was the Trinity firm alone six years ago that responded to the MBTA's request for proposal to develop the land at the front door of Ashmont Station. Under the inspired and dogged leadership of Trinity's Vince Droser - himself a neighbor in the Ashmont area - and the St. Mark's Area Main Streets program, Trinity came through and essentially built a new community, constructing a residential building with 116 apartments and condos, with mixed retail use on the street level. Old timers in the neighborhood never could have imagined that such a positive new structure could sit on land that for many years was so moribund.

The Carruth, with its wonderful new restaurant Tavolo, an office of Wainwright Bank, a beautiful third shop for the Flat Black Coffee folks, plus the addition of Chris Douglass's Ashmont Grill across the street from Peabody Square - all have brought a new vision and a grand new vitality to the area. Ashmont station, long a pass-through point for thousands from Dorchester and Mattapan, has now become more of a crossroads, even a destination.

At Saturday's event, I spoke with a woman who moved to her new home on a side street near Ashmont just two years ago. Sonia Shapiro was there to take in the festivities at the Carruth, and she told her story of how she came to choose Dorchester as a place to live.

A Toronto native and former restaurant manager who lived for a time in Hartford, she resided in the Berkshires until 1991, when she moved to Boston.

"I used to live in Allston, for eight years," she said. "I had always promised myself I wanted to move to a neighborhood where people showed up for Thanksgiving instead of emptying out the neighborhood. And also, the students seemed to get younger year after year, and I didn't.

"One of my friends who knows this area drove me around, and I saw some of the grand buildings here. It just seemed like a really good thing to be right on the Red Line. The rents are cheaper than in the student neighborhoods, and I want to live where families live, where the same neighbors are going to be around year after year.

"Also, air quality - there are neighborhoods in Boston where you take a deep breath and feel poisoned by the air. I used to live right near the Pike. This is a neighborhood where you can breathe, and instead of having rats, we have raccoons."

This week, at Thanksgiving, she said she is staying right at home for the holiday.

"For the first time, everybody from my family is coming to my house for Thanksgiving, and we are having it a day late, to give everybody a chance to travel on Thursday, when it's much easier to travel," Shapiro said. And she has invited her letter carrier to plan to stop by when delivering the mail on Friday: "We're having three kinds of pie, I told him, and I will make up a plate of pie. And he was thrilled. It was great!"

That's Thanksgiving, Dorchester style, 2008.