Once a tract of farmland and marshes, the north Quincy area now has one of the city’s largest Asian populations – and residents say it’s still quiet
QUINCY – Howard MacKay was browsing the aisles at Mullaney’s Variety Store in Montclair the other day, the same as he’s done for 40 years, before Mullaney’s was Mullaney’s.
The retired chemical engineer and his wife brought up three sons in the North Quincy neighborhood. All three attended Montclair Elementary, just down the hill from Mullaney’s on West Squantum Street.
There wasn’t much foot traffic to be seen up and down the street, perhaps because it was a hot midday. But MacKay, 77, said the summer heat didn’t make much difference.
“It was a quiet neighborhood when we moved here,” he said. “It still is.”
“Quiet” is a word you hear a lot from Montclair residents. The area’s low-key, settled feel has drawn newcomers like Vietnam native Anna Thai for decades – and kept longtimers like McKay where they are.
Bounded by the State Street Corp. office park and Presidents Golf Course to the north, Milton to the west and the MBTA rail lines to the east, the neighborhood has dramatically changed since the late 1800s – from farmland to a convenient place for Boston commuters, and now home to one of Quincy’s largest Asian communities.
The first residential subdivision was developed in 1883 around the neighborhood’s namesake Montclair Avenue. Now a working-class street, it runs from West Squantum Street to Harriet Avenue – where a State Street office tower and parking lot loom behind rooftops. Not far away, the Sagamore Place and Montclair condominium high-rises flank West Squantum, like a gateway to the neighborhood.
The old and new Montclairs can be readily seen around the West Squantum-Belmont Street intersection, within sight of Mullaney’s.
Outside the stately, red-brick Montclair Elementary School, an Asian grandfather watched his preschool-aged granddaughter on a playground slide. Just around the corner at the city’s Bishop Playground, a diverse group of middle schoolers played dodge ball and shot basketball, while a group of girls gathered for a Recreation Department archery class.
he U.S. Census Bureau says Montclair has a total population of about 8,000, with half of that now Asian. But the neighborhood doesn’t have a cluster of Asian businesses, like the Newport Avenue-Beale Street area of Wollaston, or Hancock Street from Wollaston to North Quincy.
One of the few is Quincy Bait and Tackle, within sight of Mullaney’s. Formerly a convenience store and more recently a cupcake shop, the fishing-gear store is operated by Ryan and Carolyn Tran.
Carolyn Tran’s father has owned a fishing shop in Dorchester for decades. She said the couple chose Montclair as a second location because “it’s less hectic,” as well as convenient for customers in Quincy and surrounding towns.
Mullaney’s gets a share of commuters on their way to Boston, but sales clerk Stephanie Mullaney – the niece of owner James and Karen Mullaney – said the store attracts even more daily customers, including scores of students who flock in for after-school snacks.
“It’s still homey,” she said of the area. “It’s convenient and safe.”
That’s what attracted dry-cleaning shop owner Anna Thai from Dorchester to Montclair in 2009. She’s a three-minute drive to her Wollaston business. She can savor a Sunday walk along her street, and she can count on neighbors to help clear snow from her sidewalk and driveway in the winter, and mow her lawn from spring to fall.
“I love my neighborhood,” she said.
Longtime residents Sandy White and Ena Allen gave the same reasons for why they’ve stayed in Montclair so long.