When married couple Maria Tacuri and Vlad Sinev opened Zaruma Gold Coffee in 2021, they envisioned the brightly lit café as a cozy and welcoming place for people to gather. But this quaint cafe’s location was a bit inconvenient: Nestled between Somerville’s bustling Highland Avenue and busy Medford Street, tree-lined Woodbine Street isn’t a main thoroughfare that gets a lot of foot traffic. A few customers came mainly on weekends when residents used the nearby cycle path for leisure activities. Business was “very slow,” says Sinev.
But the long-awaited Medford branch of the Green Line changed the game. “After the new station opened, we saw new customers dropping by every day,” says Patty Llerena, a Zaruma employee, pointing to the Magoun Square station across the street. Owner Sinev also notes that commuters who frequent the station make up the majority of the new clientele, including many Somerville neighbors who didn’t know the place existed because they never walked by.
“We see new faces every day.”
On December 12, 2022, the Green Line Extension—complete with six new stations (including Union Square, which began operating in early 2022)—finally opened to the public. The $2.3 billion project took nearly 5 years to build and faced several funding hurdles, including budget cuts that eliminated some proposed elevators, canopies and maintenance facilities. Now, after years of anxiously waiting for the new train to roll through their neighborhoods, restaurant owners have finally seen a noticeable increase in the number of new customers. For employees, however, it’s not a perfect solution: trains run infrequently, and some haven’t been able to use the new service because they’re priced outside of the range that the T serves.
The Oasis Brazilian Steakhouse first opened in 1989, at a time when Medford’s Brazilian population was growing rapidly. Homesick regulars flocked to the place for its delicious and affordable Brazilian fare, namely the fatty and rich picanha steak, feijoada (a bean stew with beef and pork), and the freshly baked pão de queijo, the iconic Brazilian cheese bread that sold well within minutes of removing from the oven.
Inside the Winter Hill brewery. Dina Rudick/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
Now owner Luiz Santos welcomes a change in the restaurant’s clientele. “We see new faces every day,” says Santos, a change he attributes to the fact that Oasis is now a 12-minute walk from the new Ball Square station. “January is always a slow month for us, but due to increased traffic, there was a 7 to 8 percent increase in sales.”
A similar change is happening at Somerville craft beer gem Winter Hill Brewing, which is eight minutes from the Gilman Square station. After seeing an increase in traffic during the typically slow winter months, General Manager Bert Holdredge looks forward to the completion of the Somerville Community Path Extension, a 1.7-mile project linking Davis Square to East Cambridge. “In addition to the T-riders, we’re hoping for a bike-friendly trail that will bring cyclists from other parts of the city for a beer and a bite this spring,” he says.
But more needs to be done as drivers are increasingly frustrated with how unreliable the service can be. The Medford/Tufts branch had to close once this year for maintenance within a few weeks of opening. Last August, the Union Square store closed for a month after operating for just a few months, disrupting people’s daily commutes and further delaying the Medford/Tufts store’s opening date.
Infrequent trains can also make the T tricky to ride, as drivers often wait for their trains to arrive at open-air stations on the extended Medford branch that offer no shelter from snow, rain and wind. “I wish the trains came more often so I didn’t have to wait 20 minutes in the cold,” says Celine Berger-Chun, who works at the Mushroom Shop, a grocery store now a six-minute walk from Gilman Square train station.
“I wish the trains came more often so I don’t have to wait 20 minutes in the cold.”
Despite the quality of service, most residents and business owners have largely welcomed the completion of the expansion, citing an increase in sales. But the city still has a long way to go in extending low-cost transit to many employees who don’t live on a T-Line, as Somerville’s core workforce is increasingly marginalized from the communities they helped build.
“I rarely used the T to get to work,” says Zaruma’s Llerena, looking out the window through which Magoun Square station signage can be seen. She lives in Waltham, a 30-minute drive west of Boston, where housing is cheaper. Using the S-Bahn not only doubles the time, it also doubles the cost, as it’s $7 one-way and the cafe has its own free parking lot. “So we just drive,” says Llerena.