A few short years ago, Sal's was synonymous with pizza. Just pizza.
In fact, the small pizza parlors that cropped up seemingly everywhere were originally called Sal's Just Pizza, and that's what you could get. No subs. No calzones. No burgers. No hot dogs. Just pizza, like the name said. And when you ordered a slice, you inexplicably got two slices.
Eventually, as Sal's expanded, so did the menu. You could get a sub or a calzone. But nobody went to Sal's for a steak-and-cheese. It was all about the pizza.
Fast-forward 20 years or so.
Sal's founder, Chelmsford's Sal Lupoli, doesn't twirl pizza dough much anymore. He's too busy making multimillion-dollar moves to resurrect run-down and underutilized properties.
What's that? Did someone say run-down and underutilized properties? Hmm, isn't there one of those on Thorndike Street, right smack-dab next to the LRTA station, a couple hundred yards from the Lowell Connector and the Lord Overpass, right at one of the gateways to the downtown?
Why, yes, there is. It's the Comfort Bedding and Furniture building that now houses only the Thorndike Factory Outlet on the first floor. While the outlet still provides boots, shoes, clothes and other everyday items for many in the area, the unsightly building itself is a colossal waste of space and of a prime location.
Lupoli Companies has bought the building for an undisclosed amount (the property is valued at $1.4 million).
Ten years ago, he bought Riverwalk Mills in Lawrence and transformed it into 1.4 million square feet of space that brought about 2,500 jobs and more than 200 tenants, including Salvatore's, an upscale restaurant that serves much more than Just Pizza. Phase II in Lawrence is under way, and it will double the space available for lease.
Can he do the same in Lowell, though on a smaller scale?
Certainly, there are issues with the Comfort Bedding site, and first among them is what kind of traffic a new development would bring.
Yes, whatever Lupoli puts in the space will likely bring traffic, thank you very much. That is, after all, the idea. But it could likely bring improved traffic patterns, as well. (For instance, and just throwing this out there, if cars can't take a left from Highland Street onto Thorndike, then why do folks heading outbound on Thorndike toward the Connector ever have to stop for a red light, other than to allow pedestrians to cross? Any traffic engineers want to address that one?)
And then there are those who will choose to remember that Sal's Just Pizza -- despite opening pizzerias in such faraway locales as Arizona, California and ... India? -- couldn't make it in downtown Lowell when it had a small storefront on upper Central Street back in the '90s. As if making it in downtown Lowell is a rule of thumb.
But folks, one must look beyond the small pizza parlors. Like it said earlier, Sal's isn't Just Pizza anymore. Today, Sal's is a vision for the future, first of Lawrence, and now, hopefully, of Lowell.
The city is on the brink of once again redefining itself, and that gateway from the Connector -- with the Jackson-Appleton-Middlesex area taking shape and plans to rebuild the Lord Overpass -- will only become more important to the city's future.
Lupoli's project could be another step, another slab of pepperoni in the pizza pie that is Lowell.
Lupoli has done wonders in Lawrence. Now, it's time to put the Mill City in his own backyard on the menu. Reservations, anyone?
Dan Phelps' email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter @PhelpsSun.