WOBURN – A new juice and nutrition bar will be taking over a vacant storefront within the shopping plaza that’s anchored by a PETCO and Target Department store off Commerce Way.
During the City Council’s latest meeting in City Hall, the elected officials voted unanimously to issue a special permit to Medford-based Liv’s Juice and Acai Bar.
According to local attorney Joseph Tarby, representing Wilmington’s Neil Paris and Medford resident Chris Butts, the two business partners have leased out a small 1,200 square foot store situated within the PETCO building strip mall next to the old Firehouse Subs franchise. The site, situated within close proximity to hundreds of new apartments being constructed along Commerce Way by Atlantic Avenue, is also easily assessable from I-93.
With the original store thriving in Medford’s mixed-use Station Landing site by Wellington Circle, the Commerce Way location will be duo’s second juice bar and will be open Monday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“The concept is a fast-casual restaurant with a cold kitchen serving foods such as smoothies, acai bowls, gourmet toast, and juices. Most items will be made to order,” said Tarby, who explained a special permit is required because the use technically qualifies as a fast-food establishment.
Though the council at the recent meeting spent a considerable amount of time reviewing the petition, the business itself is not expected to generate any considerable traffic numbers or other offsite impacts.
According to Paris, he expects the Woburn location to function much like the Liv’s Juice and Acai Bar in Medford, where the majority of sales are takeout orders. Because the seating area of the original store is hardly ever fully occupied – there are tables for around 25 customers – the petitioners are limiting the size of the Woburn dining room to just a handful of stools.
“About 80 percent of our traffic is take out. People are usually in and out pretty quickly,” the Wilmington resident explained in response to a question by Ward 3 Councilor Jeffrey Dillon.
Hired by the petitioners to review traffic and parking considerations, VHB engineer Vinod Kalikiri told the council that the new business – even if thriving as hoped for – shouldn’t have any noticeable effect upon the flow of traffic along Commerce Way.
According to Kalikiri, the signalized intersection of Commerce Way in front of the shopping plaza should have no problem handling the extra traffic, while there are roughly 140 parking spaces that are immediately available to customers who are frequenting the larger PETCO strip mall.
The VHB representative later pointed out that the larger Target store parking area, as well as another adjoining parking field around the Starbucks building, contain hundreds of additional spaces customers could utilize if necessary.
“The change in operations, it’s de minimus compared to a retail use. Obviously, they’ll be new traffic coming to this location, but there’s enough capacity at that intersection to handle the flows,” the traffic expert concluded.
With the old Firehouse Subs and an adjacent GameStop store now vacant within the PETCO strip mall, Ward 5 Councilor Darlene Mercer-Bruen took no issue with the traffic and parking report findings.
However, she did ask what would happen once those retail spaces were reoccupied. The East Woburn representative’s concerns largely centered upon the future use of more distant parking fields on the site and the potential for pedestrian/vehicle conflicts.
“When you take a right into the Target lot or a left into the other existing building, people came around that corner pretty fast. Sometimes, [those cars are traveling so fast] its difficult to get out of the Target lot,” said Mercer-Bruen, referring to the main egress/exit on the property and the roadway forks that lead to the separate PETCO, Target, and Starbucks strip malls.
“If it’s difficult for a vehicle to come out of Target, my concerrn is with any pedestrians coming back and forth,” she continued.
Though there are supposed to be dedicated crosswalks that connect the parking fields, Tarby and the VHB consultant later conceded that those walkways were either very difficult to see or had never been painted onto the pavement. Given those conditions, the applicant later agreed to repaint the crosswalk.
There was also some back-and-forth between the elected officials over a proposal by Ward 7 Councilor Charles Viola to dedicate to on-site parking spaces by the juice bar for drivers who are picking up orders on behalf of third-party delivery services like Uber Eats and Grubhub.
According to Viola, he has personally encountered situations where delivery app drivers create traffic chaos by double-parking right in front of area restaurants while picking up food orders. However, Mercer-Bruen, believing the problem will not become an issue by the juice bar, advised against the assigned parking solution.
Ward 4 Councilor Joseph Demers, later dissuaded his colleagues against the entire concept by characterizing those who double-park as scofflaws who should be either ticketed or towed.
“Why would we mandate two spaces be set aside for Grubhub or Doordash, when they’re violating the traffic layout? We’re accommodating people because they don’t have the patience to drive around the building. We should just say to those drivers, ‘Don’t double park or you’ll be towed,’” Demers said.