The scope of businesses coming and going in Hyde Square in the last two years has reflected the ever-changing identity of Centre Street's diverse residents. I don't live in Hyde Square anymore, but I keep an eye on it.
"It's a big mix of people that walk through this area," said Evonne Hyla Wetzner, owner of The Video Underground. As I casually browsed the rental section at Video Underground, Wetzner and one of her employees mentioned in converstation that they could not define a typical customer. I don't think I could either.
In business for about seven years, the Video Underground is a place where people can find an extremely wide variety of movies, which allows it to serve Hyde Square's wide variety of people.
The mix of people walking through Hyde Square is eclectic, agreed clerks at Fat Rams tattoos, who work in front of two bay windows diagonally across the rotary from the MSPCA. They told me that daily passerbys include students, yuppies, families, people of foriegn backgrounds, as well as residents who have just "happened to have lived in Jamaica Plain for a long time."
Knowing the broad range of tastes of Hyde Square residents, I can appreciate how the former location of the June Bug cafe now successfully houses the political volunteer headquarters for the November campaigns of Sherrif Andrea Cabral and City Council-hopeful Matt O'Malley.
"We get all types of people walking through our door," said Freda Brasfield, a campaign worker at the headquarters. "This spot has been a good choice because people walk by and sometimes stop in and ask about volunteering."
The old coffee counter where I used to order drinks at the June Bug, as well as the off-beat orange and purple walls, lend themselves to being the short-term home for a volunteer office.
However, the former site of my old stomping grounds at the Milky Way has been harder to rent.
About 18 months after the Milky Way lounge and Bella Luna restaurant moved out of Hyde Square, the spot's owners are still looking for a tenant to fill the vacated 9,800-square-feet of space. The downward stairs to the lounge are locked behind a metal gate blocking the old Milky Way door with its recognizable bowling-pin handle.
When the Milky Way left, with it disappeared the sounds of high heels clicking against the Hyde Square pavement late at night, the karaoke fever that swept the neighborhood, and the common meeting ground for people of all shapes, sizes, orientations, and ethnicities.
"When the Milky Way left it really killed the area," said Joe Pendarvis of JP Rentals & Sales on Centre Street. "Things have really changed a lot since then."
Many people who know JP, myself included, have fond memories of the Milky Way, and wonder how much longer the building will stay vacant.
Also still vacant are the locations that once housed Digna's salon, La Papusa Guanaca, and Cafe Velouria.
Years ago, I bought my first horchata in Hyde Square La Papusa Gaunaca. The restaurant is now closed after the Boston Municipal Court penalized owners for 11 health violations, mostly for lack of cleanliness and improper storage of food.
Digna's closed this past summer because of a dispute over rent with property owners, according Pendarvis.
The departure of Cafe Velouria surprised some Hyde Square residents, who told me they thought of the cafe as a mainstay of Cenre Street, and a tell-tale "sign of gentrification."
When Velouria first opened several years ago, I remember hearing stories of baristas bringing free lattes across the Street to Brendan Beehan's pub, as an effort to establish themselves in the community and gain new customers.
Just a few months ago, the cafe closed.
A fresh sign of gentrification may have surfaced however, as I noticed that the neghborhood is giving healthy support to a new specialty restaurant called The Haven. The Haven has found a home in the space Zon's occupied until last August.
Head Haven chef Ben Waxler told me he sees a diverse crowd on any given night, and that a weekend night can draw a bustling amount of diners. After checking the place out, I found the inside of The Haven closely resembled the layout Zon's used to have, and maintained the intimate feel of Perkins Street.
In general, barbers fare well in Hyde Square. Seven of the eight salons that I knew about in 2008 have survived. Beauty Masters, Julie's Nails, Davis Beauty Salon, Vecina Beauty Supply, Alexandra Beauty Salon, D'Freinds Barber Shop and Ultra Beauty all continue to welcome patrons.
Residents can likely expect another barber shop in the future, because Pendvaris told me that the site of Digna's at 390 Centre Street lends itself well to being rented as another salon.
"We had a few businesses look at it, but it will not be a coffee shop and it will not be a restaurant," said Pendvaris. "We're hoping for another barber."
With the changes that take place in Hyde Square so frequently, it would seem that the facades of the neighborhood will continue to change in the coming months. All told, the true identity of Hyde Square may not take shape until a new tenant rents the old Milky Way.
Until then, the full story of Hyde Square has yet to be written.
Gabriel Leiner lived a stone's throw from the rotary in Hyde Square for most of 2008 and 2009. In that time he was a regular at JP businesses, until moving to New York late last year. Two months ago he moved back to Massachusetts and has since revisited Hyde Square to see how much it has changed.