This past weekend, Capitol Square threw its 21st annual Feast of the East, an outdoor event to celebrate East Arlington’s community and local businesses. The event takes place along Mass Ave in East Arlington. Mass Ave, Arlington’s main street, stays open during the event; police block off parking lanes for businesses to set up booths in.
The Fox Library kicks off the event with its Fox Festival Parade, after which local brass bands play outside for the rest of the afternoon. Restaurants offer street food from cultures all around the world, and “Kid Zones” around the event have entertainment ranging from clowns to sand art for Arlington’s younger residents.
It’s a great way to spend an early summer day in Arlington.
11 years ago, Susan Dorson and Amy Weitzman opened a nonprofit resale shop in the Edith M. Fox branch of the Arlington Library. They collected donations of toys, kids’ and maternity clothes, and childcare items like high chairs and strollers, furnished the store with any cheap or free furniture and clothing racks they could get their hands on, and recruited volunteers to help run the store.
When The Little Fox Shop first opened, it was only open one day a week, but Dorson, Weitzman, and later Stephanie Murphy (a store manager who joined about 7 years ago) were able to gradually increase the store’s operating hours until it was open 5 days a week. The Little Fox Shop raises funding for the Fox Library. According to its website, the store’s revenue has enabled the library to host more events, decorate, buy new fixtures, books, and video games, and stay open two more days a week.
Last year, the store was more popular than ever, Dorson says. The community loved it. And it came as a surprise to the store’s patrons and managers when it closed unexpectedly that August. WickedLocal Arlington reports that the Friends of the Fox board, who were in charge of dispersing funds raised to the town and approving major funding expenditures for the shop, fired Dorson and Murphy after a series of disagreements about Dorson and Murphy’s request for a raise and for the board to consider them payroll employees instead of volunteers with a stipend. Dorson says she was hurt the board was unwilling to negotiate with them; the store is very important to her and she, the store’s employees and volunteers, and the community were all disappointed to see it shut down.
Arlington’s government opened a Request for Proposal for applicants to open a resale shop in the space the shop had been. Dorson and Murphy teamed up with Weitzman to apply to reopen The Little Fox Shop. They won.
“The community support has been tremendous,” Dorson said. “People seem really excited for us to open up again.” After two hectic weeks of collecting mountains of donated goods, cleaning, and organizing, Dorson, Murphy, and their staff reopened the store on May 1st.
The library threw a grand re-opening event on May 11. Dozens of parents and kids showed up to drop off even more donations, browse the newly set-up shelves, and eat donut holes. The store was noisy and crowded — at one point, a line stretched from the checkout counter to halfway through the store — but the managers and volunteers kept everything moving and organized with smiles on their faces.
“[Running the store has been] kinda like raising a child,” Dorson says. Her kids were three and five when the store first opened. This year, her older son is a junior in high school and starting to think about college. And now that the Little Fox Shop has re-opened, she and Murphy have one more child’s future to think about again.
Arlington Center is, as one might imagine, Arlington’s town center. Many of its governmental buildings and public resources are located here: the town hall and the main branch of the library, the housing authority, the farmers’ market. The main street, Massachusetts Avenue, runs through the Center, intersecting with Pleasant Street, which provides access to MA Route 2. The MBTA’s 77, 79, 87, and 350 buses serve the area. The Minuteman Bike Path crosses the main intersection. High traffic from both drivers and cyclists has caused some animosity between the two. In 2017, the town updated the lights at the main intersection and added a new crosswalk before the intersection as part of the Arlington Center Safe Travel Project and with the intention of making the Center safer and more navigable for pedestrians and cyclists.
Two of Arlington’s churches are here, the Highrock Covenant Church and the First Parish Universalist Unitarian church. Reminders of history, mostly colonial, are everywhere. Notable are multiple stone monuments commemorating moments in the American Revolutionary War, a nearly 300-year-old cemetery, two war memorials, a museum dedicated to sculptor Cyrus E. Dallin, a statue of Uncle Sam, and a 1911 statue by Dallin of a Native American hunter which acknowledges the indigenous people who lived here before colonists displaced them.
Arlington Center is also a retail hub. A number of restaurants and businesses, chains and locally owned, rent storefronts there. Some storefronts in the Center turn over frequently, likely in part because of rising rent prices. One ice cream store has gone through at least five iterations since the 1990s, housing the Ben and Jerry’s and JP Licks chains and some independent businesses. In 2018, it became Abilyn’s Frozen Bakery.
Many of the posts on this site are about places in Arlington Center. Check this link to see them all. If you’re visiting Arlington, the Center is a good place to start, especially if you’re on foot or on a bicycle. Come by some time.