When husband-and-wife duo Maria Tacuri and Vlad Sinev opened Zaruma Gold Coffee in 2021, they envisioned the brightly lit coffee shop to be a homey and inviting space for people to gather. But the location of this quaint cafe was a bit awkward: Sandwiched between Somerville’s hectic Highland Avenue and bustling Medford Street, the tree-lined Woodbine Street isn’t a major artery that receives much foot traffic. A few customers came mostly on weekends when residents used the nearby bike path for leisure activities. Business was “very slow,” Sinev says.
But the long-awaited Medford branch of the Green Line changed the game. “Once the new station opened, we saw new customers come by every day,” says Zaruma staffer Patty Llerena, gesturing to the Magoun Square station right 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.
On December 12, 2022, the Green Line Extension — complete with six new stations (including Union Square, which started running in early 2022) — finally opened to the public. The $2.3 billion project took nearly 5 years to build and went through multiple funding hurdles, including budget cuts that did away with some proposed elevators, canopies, and maintenance facilities. Now restaurant owners, after anxiously waiting years for the new train to roll through their neighborhood, have finally seen noticeable upticks in the number of new customers. For staffers, however, it’s not a perfect solution: Trains are infrequent, and some haven’t been able to take advantage of the new service because they have been priced out of the area that the T serves.
Oasis Brazilian Steakhouse first opened in 1989, at a time when the Brazilian population of Medford was growing tremendously. Homesick regulars flooded the establishment for its delicious and affordable Brazilian fare, namely the fatty and rich picanha cut of steak, feijoada (a bean stew with beef and pork), and the freshly baked pão de queijo, the iconic Brazilian cheese bread that would sell out within minutes after being taken out of the oven.
Now, owner Luiz Santos is embracing a change in the restaurant’s clientele. “We’re seeing new faces every day,” Santos says, a change that he attributes to the fact that Oasis is now a 12-minute walk from the new Ball Square stop. “January is always a slow month for us but there has been a 7 to 8 percent increase in terms of sales because of the increased traffic.”
A similar change is happening at Somerville craft beer gem Winter Hill Brewing, which is located eight minutes off the Gilman Square stop. Having seen an uptick of traffic during the typically slow winter months, general manager Bert Holdredge is looking forward to the completion of the Somerville Community Path extension, a 1.7-mile project that connects Davis Square to East Cambridge. “In addition to the T riders, we’re hoping for a bike-friendly pathway that will bring bikers from other parts of the town to grab a beer and a bite this spring,” he says.
But more needs to be done, as riders are increasingly frustrated with how unreliable the service can be. The Medford/Tufts branch had to be shut down once earlier this year, within weeks of opening, because of maintenance work. Last August, the Union Square branch closed for a month after only a few months into its service, interrupting people’s daily commute and further delaying the Medford/Tufts branch opening date.
Infrequent trains can also make taking the T a drag, as riders often wait for their trains to arrive in open-air stations on the extended Medford branch, which lack shelter from snow, rain, and wind. “I wish trains would come more often so I don’t have to wait 20 minutes in the cold,” says Celine Berger-Chun, who works at the Mushroom Shop, a specialty food store that’s now a six-minute walk from Gilman Square station.
Despite the quality of service, most residents and business owners have largely welcomed the completion of the extension, citing a boost in sales. But the city still has a long way to go towards extending low-cost transit to many employees who don’t live along a T line, as Somerville’s core labor force is increasingly priced out of the communities they’ve helped build.
“I haven’t made much use of the T to come to work, ” Zaruma’s Llerena says as she looks out the window, through which the Magoun Square station signage is visible. She lives in Waltham, a 30-minute drive west of Boston where housing is more affordable. Using the commuter rail will not only double the time but also the cost, as a one-way ticket is $7, and the coffee shop has its own free parking lot. “So we just drive,” Llerena says.
Valerie Li Stack is a Somerville-based writer and editor covering restaurants and bars.