By Darlene DeVita
(The following is one in a series of sneak peeks at the upcoming People of Chelsea additions by Photographer Darlene DeVita. The new work will ultimately appear on the fence of the Chelsea Public Library (CPL) this fall in a collaboration between the People of Chelsea project and the CPL.)
Ron: I’ve been here for 35 years. It’s a 100-year-old family business, not in Chelsea but as a family business in the Boston area. We started as a Haberdashery, then to Army-Navy, to dress gear, dress shoes, dress suits, and then started my own store here 35 years ago. I started by bringing in fashion jeans and fashion sneakers, Hip-Hop lines. We just built it up, literally geared directly to the local consumer. It was a match made in heaven listening to what they liked and didn’t like. Carl’s been me for the majority of the time.
I live in Sharon, MA. It’s an hour commute every day, but, with the storms, it’s a three hour commute.
Carl: I was born and raised in Chelsea. A friend asked me to work here for a summer job. I didn’t know anything. I was a mess. I came here nervous, I didn’t know how to talk to people, and I had my own way of dressing. But, it was a match made in heaven. Now I live on Chelsea St. in Everett! Back in the day, it was much different than it is now. Back in our day, you had all the drug dealings. The area we grew up in, Essex St., was the prime spot. It was way different. Nowadays, there are stabbings and shootings. Back-in-the-day if there were ever a problem, everybody would just handle it with a fist. And that’s how it was. We used to have block parties in Quigley Park. In the summer, everybody used to park their cars with the music on; everybody was skateboarding, bikes, everyone got along. It was really fun.
Ron: Back in the day, it was 100% Puerto Rican. They were here with their neighbors and would talk about home and being here in a positive respect. This is their home, an extension of the island; everybody was comfortable. Then the rents went up. Puerto Rico being an island, also being Americanized, this culture didn’t want to pay higher rent if they could get something cheaper, so they moved out. The people who moved in were Central Americans who wouldn’t mind living with two families in one particular home to afford a higher rent. It’s been like that for a long time, and that’s the way it is today. When I first started, it was a lot rougher. I had a guy sitting outside here with a pit bull selling drugs. Fifteen years ago, it started getting better when (city manager) Jay Ash started to get more serious about the environment, clean it up for everybody, and it worked. But, there were multiple reasons I decided to retire. They’re gentrifying the area. A lot of the stores have been here for 30 years and we were used to a certain kind of customer. The stores are geared towards a certain level of income, type of personality. Half of Chelsea has left because rents have gotten so high you can only fit so many families into an apartment, so now they can’t afford it. More Yuppie kids are moving in. The majority of the new customer that is consuming half the population are not shopping here. That street used to be so packed on Saturday. You couldn’t even walk on the street there were so many people. Immigration policy is pushing them out, and the higher rents are pushing them out and slowing down the traffic flow. The internet has made smaller retail less viable. And with the pressure of fewer customers and the pressure of the manufacturers wanting to cut us out, gentrifying the area…it’s time for me to end. I’m 58. I’ve been here for 35 yrs.
The biggest change I’ve seen is Chelsea going from being an area that was a lot rougher to a cleaned-up city. They got control of the meth clinic, they have made Chelsea a better place to live for the people who could afford it, but they displaced a lot of people that couldn’t.
I had people come to me in the end to say “good-bye.” One kid told me that I helped support him and his mom when they didn’t have anything, and that check he would make got them through. ‘You gave me a work ethic that I always kept to heart. I always applied that work ethic’. Now he has 14 kids working under him. He works for a biotech company, and he’s killing it. I haven’t hired any employee from outside of Chelsea.
It was a great journey.