LETTER: Is There a Way for Watertown to Avoid Losing a Gem like Russo’s?

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To the Editor:

I just saw on line that Russo’s is closing. This store has been a cherished family-owned retailer for more than 70 years, and we are deeply grateful to Tony Russo and his family and to their wonderful employees for their dedication and hard work – and for all their contributions to our community. We wish Tony and his family a happy, healthy, and well-deserved retirement. And we wish the Russo’s employees all the best as they face an uncertain future when Russo’s closes.

Russo’s is a gem.  What will happen to Watertown when it is gone??!!!

I think that all the Russo’s customers — and this includes shoppers from all across metropolitan Boston, not only Watertown — view Russo’s as a unique resource for excellent reasonably-priced produce and fruit, a great bakery, and wonderful source of cheeses and prepared foods — plus plants and gardening supplies and Christmas trees. For many of us, Russo’s is a weekly destination for shopping and for seeing neighbors. Many say that Russo’s has a positive effect on Watertown property values.

And I and many others fear that the loss of Russo’s would be a blow to the character of our city.

It would be a shame if Russo’s closing would lead to the creation of yet another condo development or apartment complex or biotech startup. Yet what can keep this from happening?  The land and building are worth a lot of money. We will need to do more than just wring our hands in order to alter this outcome. Yet what can be done? For myself, I will contribute my time and support, yet I have no experience and no expertise in how we can most effectively respond.  Would a Kickstarter campaign generate the millions of dollars needed to buy Russo’s and find a way to sustain its mission? 

I hope that the Watertown community can come together to save the Russo’s site as a food retailer. The last thing that Watertown needs is another commercial development that gives nothing back to the community. Pleasant Street is becoming no more than a row of ugly condos and cookie-cutter commercial buildings.

The citizens of Watertown need to draw a line in the sand here! 

Surely among our good citizens are folks with skills in community organizing and fund-raising who feel passionately about losing Russo’s to yet another anonymous development that gives nothing back to our community but more traffic and more corporate commercialization. 

I hope that this letter stimulates the engagement of the Watertown community and our Town leaders who have the interest and expertise to find a path forward here. The character of our city is at stake.


Thomas Michel

Winter Street, Watertown

Email thomas_michel@hms.harvard.edu

35 thoughts on “LETTER: Is There a Way for Watertown to Avoid Losing a Gem like Russo’s?

  1. I wonder whether customers would be willing to invest in transforming Russos into a food co-op with all its same features. The co-op membership could require either direct service or payment of a higher membership fee. A co-op at Russos would have the distinct advantage of being ready-made, in that the physical plant and parking are already in place, the workers could remain on board and the supply lines for food and gardening could continue. It would take some dedicated organizers and lots of popular support to pull this off, but what a community builder/service it would be!

  2. First step: Fund out if it has already been sold. I would love to see it become a food coop, and would definitely join in that effort if someone would spearhead it.

    • The property sold for millions of dollars. This is a done deal. It’s not closing because business was suffering. It’s closing because its time and the land is worth more than the business. Depriving the Russo family of a well earned retirement is selfish, at best. A Kickstarter campaign (which is too late) would need to raise tens of millions of dollars.
      I wish Tony Russo and his family all the best. Enjoy your retirement and thank you for running a great business in Watertown for decades!

  3. Count me in. I was thinking the same thing. How can we recreate Russo’s? It has definitely been one of the pillars of watertown for as long as most of us have been alive.

  4. The loss of Russo’s will diminish Watertown greatly in many ways. Every reasonable means should be taken to see that the store remains and passes into competent hands. Losing valuable food sources is detrimental to a community. How people feel about Russo’s is a testament to the Russo family.

  5. Please keep us all posted as plans fall into place….
    There must be somewhere that has done this sort of thing that could mentor the process.
    It occurred to me that the the Russo’s complex could be a place where several stores could share the buildings, etc and make it sort of a food/gardening center.

  6. I totally agree with the first four comments particularly the suggestion for a coop. I can state with near certainty that everyone I know in the area would join and do all they can to save Russo’s. I would think a major draw of large housing developments is the proximity to Russo’s. What a horrible trick to play on them (and perhaps a new prospective developer for the site)? Of course those of us who have relied on Russo’s for the last 10, 20, or even 50 years will be emotionally destroyed. And starved for fairly priced highest quality fruit and vegetables.

    Jim Horwitz, West Newton

  7. I will happily pitch in to a co-op! I’ve run out of fingers for all the items I get from Russo’s that I would have no clue how to source otherwise. The contribution to the community and all the jobs provided by Russos’ are irreplaceable.

  8. Think about this, you have a well established, reputable business here. What we’ve been told is the store is closing in the fall & Tony Russo is retiring, good for him! We all know the quality of products & I’ve become to know some of the employees over the years, dedicated & hard working. If you noticed the construction of the store itself [brick work & wood work] etc. the inside is modeled after Faneuil Hall beautifully done I may say. So you have a many generation family business in Watertown, grew up with some of them, that took pride in everything that’s been done over time. Do you think they would sell to a developer, I hope not, just seeing the store go to the wrecking ball would surprise the heck out of me! Everything is in place, with long time employees, I would like to believe that it’s been sold to someone or thing to keep as what we all come to enjoy over the years, the same as they have! Just my thoughts, the heart, sweat & soul they put into this, anything else would truly be a surprise. Thanks

  9. I agree with all that has been said. I worked there for almost 10 years. Through the transformation from small to the larger sector that it is now. My feeling is that there needs to be a Captain at the wheel of this very well oiled machine!! One who has his hands in every nook and cranny of every other business and pull it all together to be what Russo’s is now! I’m sure someone is out there and do hope that it can be saved! I will keep watching for updates and keep my fingers crossed that the condos I fear will take over, do not.

  10. I am devastated! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought about moving out of this area…until I think about how much I’d miss Russo’s. It really is an unusual store. I would love to see it remain in some form. I don’t blame Tony Russo for wanting to retire, but nothing will be able to replace this gem.

  11. I would be great if a new Russo’s (under whatever name or management)
    could be unionized so that the workers can have some control over their terms and conditions of employment.

  12. Count me in any effort to keep it going but it will never continue without the likes of the Russo family. The knowledge, skills, attention to detail and dedication cannot just be brought in off the street. God help us if something like WholeFoods takes it over. … Trader Joes maybe, their produce could stand improvement.

  13. Who would benefit the most from the closing of Russo’s ?

    The nearby Stop & Shop is owned by the massive Dutch conglomerate Ahold Delhaize, who recently purchased FreshDirect, an online grocer specializing in food from local farmers. Getting rid of Russo’s would allow Ahold Delhaize to attain greater market share when they expand FreshDirect in the Boston area AND it would eliminate a nearby competitor of their Stop & Shop on Pleasant Street.

    Little guy loses again.

  14. I’m wondering if this could be a use for some of the $7 million or so that the Community Preservation Commission has to spend on preserving Watertown historical properties and open space? A long shot, but…

  15. When are people going to wake up?

    Watertown is becoming urbanized. In 20 it will be unrecognizable. The town I becoming nothing but an extension of Cambridge and have only ourselves to blame. We vote in people who hate us and hate the town…..Why act surprised when it begins to transform.

    We begged for this.

    • You’re so right. I came here fleeing Cambridge, now it is Cambridge. The same combination of arrogant knowledge businesses, their equally arrogant workers, and loaded old boomer busybodies who want to forcibly transform the town into a woketopia.

  16. It’s already sold for a reported $25M to a condo developers. The Russo family rightfully realized the land was worth more than the business and can now retire very comfortably. I would have done the same…

  17. So unfortuante. Russo’s is one of the only places left to get Italian meat, cheeses and specialities. It had a niche. I hate to think they sold out, but I guess who can blame them. How can the town get together with the family and save them. I am more then a willing town member to pitch in. I’ve lived her for 40 years and Russo’s is where we grew up shopping. More then ever we need you Russo’s. You were one of the last special things Watertown had to offer. I understanding retiring, but please how can we save Russo’s and or relocate if you need to sell the land? This is an open plea. Tell us what we can do Russo Family??

  18. If they really did sell it for $25 million then good for them. Not much any of us can do to change that. I wonder how our zoning played into this also?

    Hopefully some other farm/produce markets will see this as an opportunity to expand into Watertown now that there is no competition.

  19. Unless a Wilson’s Farm or Lamberts has purchased it, then it’s likely going to become land for another Life Sciences development. I believe that side of the street is zoned only for commercial purposes so let’s hope it’s not going to be another condo complex.

      • The lot right behind russo’s is being developed as condos. I heard a while ago that it had sold for much higher than people are saying. The kids didn’t want to take over the business. I think this is why we need a Mayor! It should go to vote, instead of the council being allowed to decide…it’s a joke! Our council and town manager are turning our suburb into an industrial dump! First they tried to be Newtown and now they are trying to turn it in to Cambridge, filled with ugly condos and biotech firms. I think it’s too late for this but we should look at a company like market basket buying it and keeping it the same as it is. Or another family owned farming business like wagon wheel.

        • 580 Pleasant, which is between Russo’s and the Charles River, is being made into biotech labs. Residential is not allowed in the zoning on that side of the street for that stretch of Pleasant St.

  20. My last day shopping at Russo’s, about 10 days ago, I met and spoke to Tony Russo, who was chatting with customers near the fresh basil — I thanked him for running such a great store, told him how much it would be missed, and he replied that he and his peeps were exploring opening a smaller store nearby. “We are trying to do something, smaller, around here,” he said. “I think we’re going to do something.”
    I didn’t press for details. Has anyone heard of these plans — have they gotten any further along? I sure hope so. Hate to think of the 200+ jobs lost, great workers most of them, at by far the best market I’ve ever shopped in greater Boston. Watertown News staffers — you got anything on this?

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