Beantown or Bust

The 19th annual International Retail Design Conference heads east, setting up its three-day confab in one of the oldest cities in the U.S.
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Posted September 10, 2019

Boston is a city rich in history. Founded in 1630 by English Puritans, the Massachusetts capital situated near the Atlantic Ocean played a key role in the American Revolutionary War. As such, historic sites abound, including the Old South Meeting House, the sprawling 50-acre Boston Common park, the historic marketplace turned modern day shopping center Faneuil Hall, as well as the home of Paul Revere. During VMSD’s 2019 International Retail Design Conference (IRDC), Sept. 30 – Oct. 2, be sure to take in all of that history along with the city’s more contemporary side, where luxury retail, lively restaurants and pop-up shops (including pop-up beer gardens!) prevail. 

REVOLUTIONARY SPIRIT

One way to get your history fix is via The Freedom Trail, a 2.5-mile path that winds its way through downtown Boston to 16 historically significant landmarks, ranging from the site of the 1770 Boston Massacre to a monument dedicated to the Battle of Bunker Hill (the first major battle of the Revolutionary War). For an old-meets-new pit stop, pay a visit to Faneuil Hall Marketplace, a cobblestone-lined space built in 1743 as a meeting hall and market – it’s where the colonists rallied around talks of independence from Great Britain – that’s now home to more than 70 retailers such as Coach, Uniqlo and Sephora, as well as a mix of eats from local food merchants in the Quincy Market Food Colonnade.

A short cab ride from IRDC home base at The Westin Copley Place is the tony Beacon Hill neighborhood, “one of the oldest and most quintessential,” in Boston, notes Eric Kuhn, Design Practice Leader and Associate at Boston-based design firm Bergmeyer. He suggests exploring the local boutiques and cafés along Charles Street, marveling at the storied homes surrounding Louisburg Square and stopping to Instagram the very narrow, one-block-long Acorn Street, rumored to be the most photographed street in the city. If you’re in a nostalgic mood, the pub that inspired the 1980s sitcom “Cheers” is located in this district.

Alene Bouranova, Associate Managing Editor, Boston Magazine, describes Boston as “a brownstone jungle marked by history, a passionate populace; and [it has] really good craft beer.” Its manageable size, she says, is one of the city's best qualities, “Boston has a surprising amount of ‘chill’ for a city that ostensibly has ‘zero chill’ at all. (Again, green spaces and beaches!) Because it’s small, it’s accessible, which means it’s easy to tap into its energy even if you’re here for a short while.” 

SEE THE SEA

“The Seaport district is the city’s fastest growing and most vibrant neighborhood that was a sea of parking lots just five years ago,” Kuhn says. The redeveloped waterfront locale, one of the stops on our self-guided Inspiration Tours, now brims with mixed-use office buildings (pet e-retailer Chewy.com and Boston-based athletic apparel retailer Reebok have headquarters here), luxury condos, shops such as Warby Parker and Bonobos and art spaces galore, including the glass-clad Institute of Contemporary Art. The Back Bay area, also a self-guided Inspiration Tour destination, includes Copley Square, the Boston Public Library and the Victorian brownstone-lined retail haven, Newbury Street, where you can find everything from Valentino and Cartier to Zara and women’s apparel showroom MM.LaFleur.

Boston’s walkable nature, its commitment to the arts, science and technology, and especially its historic charm, are all elements that Kuhn feels make it such a great city. “[There are] many remaining neighborhoods and buildings that tell the story of the American Revolution.”