Thursday, April 29, 2010

Health benefits for all except Shaw's?

If you've been to Shaw's in Twin Cities Plaza lately, you've seen the picketers handing out Stop & Shop circulars in the parking lot. That's because on March 7, workers at Shaw's warehouse in Methuen went on strike, protesting cuts in wages and health benefits. According to a report from WBZ news, "United Food and Commercial Workers Local 791 voted overwhelmingly, 288 to 8," to reject the contract offered by Shaw's, which would cut health care benefits and result in significant pay cuts. Now, as the strike nears the 2 month mark, Supervalu, who owns both Shaw's and Star Market, has "terminated the workers' health benefits, ignoring the fact that many of these workers have young children with serious medical conditions, and some workers have spouses with serious issues such as risky advanced pregnancy. Further, the company is advertising for and hiring permanent striker replacements," as reported by MarketWatch.

I can see the impact of the strike in the reduced number of cars in the parking lot of Shaw's in Porter Square, even though there are no picketers at that location. It heartens me that Somerville and Cambridge support the workers and are willing to deal with the inconvenience of shopping elsewhere in order to reinforce the message being sent by the strikers. In the same MarketWatch article quoted above, it's reported that workers at other Supervalu subsidiaries in four states and representing 61,000 members, are "mobilizing to support" the 300 striking Shaw's workers.

Refusing to shop at Shaw's and choosing Market Basket or Stop & Shop instead is one way to help force Supervalu to provide adequate health care benefits for its employees. When a strike like this is successful, it also sends a message to other employers that refusing to provide these benefits is not acceptable and will have consequences that affect the bottom line. There will be a rally tonight, Thursday April 29, at the Porter Square Shaw's from 5:00 to 6:30 if you want to come out and show support in person. Also, there are two Facebook group you can join to keep up with news of the dispute, We Support the Shaws Methuen Distribution Center and Justice at Shaw's.

As an unexpected result, I've discovered that the Stop & Shop up on Route 28 is really a better store in many ways than Shaw's. The prices are lower, it's never crowded, even on the weekend, and there's a Dunkin' Donuts inside the store so you can load up on caffeine for serious grocery shopping. At Stop & Shop, March 7 was the day a contract was ratified with five local unions after a strike over wages and benefits (WBZ News, March 7, 2010).

Monday, April 26, 2010

Further tales of the Giobbe House

This weekend I had the bittersweet pleasure of hearing from A.C. Frabetti, whose grandparents were the Giobbes. With his permission I'm sharing his e-mail in full here, because I think it really brings home the importance of saving these historical houses. More than wood and stained glass, they are spaces that have provided the settings for life.


Thank you for posting about the Giobbe house. My grandmother had the house until it was sold less than a decade ago, and it became the last remnant of my childhood memories. You would have loved how she had some of the rooms, full of old clocks, chinaware, etc. With her passing, her children decided to sell it (too many ghosts of sorrow there). The subsequent owner wanted to restore it but I think he ran into trouble. I guess it was then sold to a developer, who transformed it as it sits now.

There is a bigger loss here than you can imagine. My grandfather (Ciro Giobbe) was a general family doctor who had his office in that house. There is a large number of people in Somerville who knew him (he died before I was born, many years ago). Since it was an office, much of the public would have seen the interior, and recalled the windows etc. A shame! When Somerville loses all of its historical treasures, it will cease to be a beautiful place to live.

- A.C. Frabetti

Mr. Frabetti also sent these photos, showing the architectural details inside the house, now lost forever.

So, once again, I'll exhort you to sign the petition to stop the continued destruction of the property on which the Giobbe house formerly sat. Find it at, and be vigilant in your own neighborhood. Let's make the Giobbe house the last of these lost opportunities to preserve our city's history.

Friday, April 23, 2010

More tales of the Giobbe House

Remember this?
Now it looks like this. Nice, huh?
Just what we needed; another driveway. And a fence. That pink tree and green space looked like they were crying for a good paving-over. Note the four windows to the left of the fire escape. Remember these?
Much better, right? Oh, and remember this?
Maybe this will refresh your memory.
Mmm hm. Well, now we have this.

Admittedly, the Giobbe house needed work. But was it really necessary to strip it of all remnants of character and historical value in the interest of selling condos for a big fat profit? However, it's a fait accompli. At a 12/2/2009 meeting of the Somerville Board of Aldermen and the Historic Preservation Society, it was listed in a presentation as a "missed opportunity" and a "notable loss." (page 5)

In contrast, the same document refers to the Hood house, directly across the street, as a "realized opportunity," and as such, it won a 2008 SHPC Director's Award (see the before and after photos on page 9 of the presentation).

Unfortunately, the worst may be yet to come. A March 22, 2010 document from the office of Mayor Joe Curtatone has granted "conditional approval" for MLM Realty to subdivide the parcel of land on which One Benton Road sits (the Giobbe house, as was) into two parcels for further development construction of another building housing three condominiums, thus effectively removing all open space from the lot.

Apparently, I'm not the only one in the neighborhood who's good and pissed off about this. A petition appeared recently on the door to my apartment building stating that "new construction would damage the...watersheds for...two conservation districts;" that according to The Boston Globe (Monday April 5, 2010), "Somerville is already the most paved over and built upon city in the state, with 77% of its area paved over;" that "the treatment of the Giobbe house has been...the essential destruction of the historic character and design integrity of this house;" and that "the work already done on this site gives us no confidence that further building would be of good workmanship and design."

77% paved over! A friend of mine who regularly visits here from New Hampshire is constantly amazed that we all live together with so little space between us in this city, and he's got a point. Every spring I walk around the hills photographing the flowers, trying to preserve the burst of nature that temporarily obscures the almost ubiquitous presence of humans and our objects. Despite the over-development, I love living in Somerville, and I think our remaining 23% is worth fighting for. So do my neighbors. If you're interested in helping, you can sign a copy of the petition online at or stop by 2 Westwood Road or 5 Westwood Road to sign in person.

Additional info:

The Somerville News blog

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

You are here

Last March, U2 strafed through here, playing four songs at the Somerville Theater to a bunch of industry insiders, ticket winners, and local politicos, on which occasion Mayor Joe Curtatone presented the band a certificate declaring March 11 "U2 Day" in Somerville. At the time, he asserted in print somewhere (the Somerville Journal?) that the event had put the city "on the map." This year, March 11 passed quietly, and while it's possible the mayor received a celebratory bouquet or box of candy from the band, I certainly never heard anything about it. No parades, no half-holiday for city employees; just a quiet little March 11, like pretty much any other. U2 Day hasn't seemed to make Somerville particularly more important culturally than it was before, and the federal government didn't seem to take it into account when deciding to cut the arts budget for Massachusetts this year.

On the other hand, an event of decidedly lower profile and profoundly greater cultural and community significance took place last night when The Church brought its 30th anniversary tour to the Center for Arts at the Armory. There were no crowds outside the venue, straining for a glimpse of the band; there were no parking problems caused in the neighborhood; there was nary a sign of Mayor Joe, and there was no holiday declared. Instead, one of the longest-lived, hardest-working, and most talented bands playing rock and roll took the audience on a tour backwards through the songs on its (to date) 23 albums. Instead of being a mere PR stop accessible primarily to non-residents, tickets to this show were available to all at an affordable $30. The ticket price also included a copy of the band's latest EP.

Why is it culturally significant to Somerville that this sleeper of an event occurred here? It shows me that we have a space that can intimately embrace those bands that are beyond superstars, whose success isn't measured in record company profits, but rather in terms of raw artistic accomplishment. Not that The Church hasn't earned its labels more than a little cash over time, but this is a band that hasn't had a hit in 20 years. The show was a little gift, a gem glowing softly in a velvet cushion. Seeing a band I've loved for 30 years a few blocks from my home was an experience I'm unbelievably grateful to have had.

If Somerville needs an additional push to find a place on Mayor Joe's proverbial map, beyond its 200 years of history, its own dynamic community, its arts, and its local businesses, I think it will come from more events of this type, rather than the hype of last year's forgotten U2 visit. Mayor Joe would do well to take note, and rather than hand out gratuitous honors to those who bring nothing to his city, celebrate the substantial contributions of those who bring their music to share with its citizens.

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