1717 Middlesex Street
1717 Middlesex Street
This building is perpendicular to Middlesex Street, to the left.
Middlesex Village in Lowell sits adjacent to the Merrimack River near the Rourke Bridge. For a good deal of the nineteenth century the area functioned quite independently from the city’s mill economy. What happened to buildings on Middlesex Street reflects Lowell’s changing demographics over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In particular, the multiple businesses that were housed in 1717 Middlesex Street give us a glimpse of neighborhood change over time.
Long before the current incarnation of 1717 Middlesex Street, Lowell’s earliest preserved maps indicate that Massachusetts-born Mrs. Harriet N. Edwards (née Howard) owned the site in 1879. She had probably lived there since 1847 with her husband Isaiah, in the area of neighboring Chelmsford known as Middlesex Village, annexed in 1874 to Lowell. Widowed in 1859 with two young children at the time, Edwards is listed in the Lowell City Directory and the Federal Census of 1880 at 981 Middlesex Street, the house in the middle of her lot. The lot was subdivided many times in the years to come and was renumbered in 1894. The current 1717 Middlesex Street address was part of the old 981 property and probably would have been 955 if it had been subdivided before the renumbering. The Edwards name is remembered in the current Edwards Street, which runs along the west side of the original lot.
Structures—both houses and commercial properties—were on parts of the parcel before the establishment of the specific 1717 parcel in 1962. In the 1950s a building on the site had a protected steel frame, hollow concrete/cement block construction and 11 inch thick firewalls.
In 1963 Bruce Glassman opened the “Kelley’s” roadside restaurant at 1717 Middlesex Street. Glassman, who lived on Montview Road in Chelmsford, also managed the Rialto Drive-in theatre in Lowell. Kelley’s operated continuously at that location until 1973.
In 1973 Fred Souliotis of Lowell’s Acre neighborhood opened “Fred’s Country Store” at 1717 Middlesex Street. Souliotis lived at 635 Broadway Street and operated the Acre Variety Shop at the same location. In 1975 he moved to 411 Broadway and started the Acre News and the next year closed Acre Variety Shop. In 1981, Souliotis still lived in the Acre and continued to operate Fred’s Country Store at 1717 Middlesex Street.
There are at least two Massachusetts families with name “Souliotis” in the 1930 US Census, neither of which has a Fred. Thus when Souliotis and his wife Shirley came to Lowell is difficult to determine. The families of that name in 1930 were from Greece and it is reasonable to assume Fred is of that heritage. In 1985 Fred’s Country Store closed and 1717 Middlesex Street became a Jiffy Lube.
1717 Middlesex Street underwent a major renovation in 1986 that added several small commercial/retail spaces to the site. In 1990 three vacant businesses and Kiran Shah’s East-West Foods inhabited the space. Shah, lived in Nashua, and also helped to operate a second Indian grocery store at 738 Merrimack Street. This reflected an increase in the Indian population in the Middlesex Village neighborhood. By early 2000, the building housed four businesses: Aladdin Deli, a grocer; East-West Foods grocery store; Sharon & Buckley Associates, specialized in durable goods sales; and University Music, which sold instruments. Brian and Marlene Buckley of South Lowell owned and operated University Music in one of the new ‘commercial condos’ added in the 1986 construction.
By 2004 Aladdin Deli had closed and there were five new stores on the site: La Pradera Bar and Grill; Middlesex Varity, which included a Subway franchise; K&K Nursing Uniforms; and the Omkar Pure Vegetarian Indian restaurant. Kiran Shah and his wife Leela operated Omkar and East-West Foods. Shah owns four units in the building that are zoned for “office, retail or other commercial purposes.”
In November 2007, seven businesses occupied the building: Sharon & Buckley; University Music; East-West Foods; Udupi Bhavan, pure vegetarian Indian food; La Pradera; Straight Ahead Skateboards; and Subway/Middlesex Variety store. The change in businesses from the 1990s to 2008 demonstrates the increasing influence of the Indian community in the neighborhood. From one grocer in 1990, four Indian businesses used space at 1717 Middlesex Street during the last 20 years.
Middlesex Village is a neighborhood in transition. When surnames on the streets adjacent to 1717 Middlesex Street were reviewed it appears that houses and apartments on Hadley, Cornell, and Baldwin Streets are occupied by a mix of Irish, French-Canadian, and Yankee families. Furthermore, the occupants are fairly consistent across the period from 1985 to 2000.
On the other hand, nearby Pratt Street’s large condominium complex demonstrates the changed demographics in Middlesex Village. In 1985, the surnames of the residents were mainly Irish (McGrade, Tracy, Mahoney, Dennison, Grady, Donnelly), French-Canadian (Fortien, Poitrais, Gagnon, Comeau) and Yankee (Greenwood, Perkins, Harrington, Johnson, Evans, Jones, Lowe). By 1990, the list included the first South Asian families (Bhatt, Prithvi, Reddy, Mehta, Deshpande, Durve, Modak). A 2000 survey demonstrated an even more dramatic shift toward South Asian families (Mungekar, Nair, Narayanan, Shetty, Tamilsclvan, Prabhu, Bhanuprakash, Bhatnagar, Shah, Sharplvasu, Raghavan, Roy, Veerabhadran).
The rise of South Asian businesses and the increased number of South Asian families in the neighborhoods is also reflected in the opening of a Hindu Temple at 1705 Middlesex Street. Some business operators believed the temple was built because the land was available and the South Asian businesses were already in the neighborhood. But one person noted that the temple used its own catering service and that there were no relationships between the businesses at 1717 Middlesex Street and the temple.
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