retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

“Loss is the price we pay for progress,” Robert B. Parker once wrote. “Only as we leave things behind do we move forward.”

I thought of that line - penned by the great Boston-based mystery novelist back in 2010 - while perusing the Boston Globe this week and finding that the No Name Restaurant, an iconic seafood joint in the city's seaport district, has closed.

Unceremoniously. After 102 years in business serving broiled and fried seafood and cold beer to wash it down. Talk about an Eye-Opener.

The story touched my soul a bit, because when I was young (younger?), I'd travel up to Boston for the weekend, visiting my friend Nancy Kelley and often in the company of an old college friend, Herb Loughery, and then later, with Mrs. Content Guy (long before she got that title). The No Name was one of the places we'd go. And I can remember it vividly - no frills, relatively inexpensive (affordable for someone not making very much money), and somehow evocative of a different place and time, and even a little bit exotic for someone like me, inexperienced but hungry to see more of the world and taste its culinary pleasures. (In my family, fried shrimp would've been considered exotic and ethnic. Don't ask.)

According to the Globe, the No Name, while it had improved the ambience over the years, suffered the fate of so many institutions that were unable or unwilling to change with the times.

"Bankruptcy documents show it owed hundreds of thousands of dollars to creditors including the Massachusetts Port Authority, the City of Boston, and several seafood companies," the Globe writes. "What’s more, the No Name stopped paying property taxes in 2013, and Boston has put a lien on the property. No Name owes the city close to $700,000 in back taxes including interest, according to city records … The establishment filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which provides for the liquidation of property and the distribution of assets to creditors. Staffers learned of their looming unemployment only 24 hours prior, during a management meeting Sunday night."

While the Globe doesn't get into it, the closure strikes me as perhaps inevitable. The city's Seaport District has undergone enormous change and redevelopment since the dawning of the 21st century. Office buildings, hotels, restaurants and the city's new convention center have sprung from the earth; it is where companies such as GE and Reebok decided to relocate their corporate headquarters and where, if you can find it, it would cost you several million dollars to buy a two-bedroom apartment.

Boston.com also makes the point that, for better or worse, "the Seaport’s rapidly changing landscape in the past few years has seen the proliferation of chains (FuKu, Pink Taco, Shake Shack), as well as the recent arrival of Woods Hill Pier 4, which replaced the historic Anthony’s Pier 4; Trillium Fort Point, an expansion of the popular local brewery; and Flight Club, the second U.S. location of a whimsical, technology-driven darts bar."

In other words, a long way from the rougher, working waterfront that so many of us remember our youths, into which the No Name seemed to fit so organically.

The funny thing is, I get to Boston a couple of times a year, and it may speak volumes that I hadn't thought about the No Name in a long time. If I'm down by the waterfront, the more adventurous offerings at Legal Test Kitchen are more my taste. And there are plenty of other places in Boston and Cambridge that I'd think about for a drink or a meal.

To some degree, maybe that's what happened to the No Name. Out of sight, out of mind, out of options.

I was curious about something, and so I did a quick Google check; I wondered how close to Legal Test Kitchen the No Name happened to be.

Two-tenths of a mile. Go figure. So close, and yet…

I'll raise a glass to the No Name next time I'm in Boston. I may even stroll by to see what has taken its place. And I'll think back to when I was young, and a cold beer and some fried shrimp and some sea air with friends was exotic and pleasing and lovely.

And if the memories have been touched up by time and age, that's okay. Because as Robert B. Parker also wrote, in another place and at another time, "Illusion is nearly all we have."
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