LOWELL — Customers have until the end of the year to drop in for a bite to eat at JJ Boomers in the city’s Pawtucketville neighborhood.
James C. Watson, the restaurant’s founder and general manager, recently confirmed the spot for traditional American grub and drinks will close its doors Dec. 31 as part of the Market Basket development project at 677 and 705 Pawtucket Blvd.
The restaurant and sports bar, which has been operating for roughly 22 years on the site of a former movie drive-in, will be torn down.
The 14-acre site that currently holds the restaurant will be the foundation of a 72,500-square-foot supermarket with a 12,000-square-foot general retail space, according to John Matthews, Market Basket’s real estate manager.
The supermarket plans to open its doors at some point next year, Matthews said. He added it is unknown at this point what will occupy the location’s general retail space.
Change began roughly four years ago when JJ Boomers entered into a purchase-and-sale agreement with Market Basket, according to Watson. Ownership sold the roughly 10,000-square-foot restaurant space to Market Basket, then signed a three-year lease to continue operating at the locale.
The lease expired last October, but supermarket officials allowed JJ Boomers to stay while construction takes place. Watson, 75, described Market Basket representatives as “gracious” and “very good to work with.”
“It’s their property,” Watson said. “I have no dispute. They’ve decided that (restaurant) just won’t work. It’s a 40-year-old building. It’s not actually in the best of shape. They just made a decision that it’s better to remove the building.
“We thought, based on a year ago, that our preliminary discussions with their management team indicated they were going to let us stay at that property,” he added. “We hadn’t signed a new lease, but we believed we were gonna. What developed over the winter, spring — as they got closer to the development — they realized what the reality was, and they made the decision that that building just doesn’t fit in.”
JJ Boomers opened in Dracut during the early 90s before moving to Lowell in 1997. Watson paid around $450,000 for the building, the assets and the license, and invested more than $500,000 renovating the structure.
Watson and his wife of 56 years, Claire Watson, serve as the business’ majority stockholders. Watson is the principal owner along with his 53-year-old son James “Jimmy” E. Watson, who he describes as “the energy behind the whole business.”
Watson also has two daughters who control the restaurant’s dining area and lounge.
According to Watson, they are looking for a new location to move JJ Boomers and would need a space of approximately 5,000 to 6,000 square feet to meet demands.
“It’s going to be very difficult to find the right spot, but we have an open mind and we’re optimistic,” Watson said. “If things work out, we will have another site — I would like to think — in the Greater Lowell area. But I can’t guarantee that at this point.”
The day of the “independent, small restaurant community is limited,” Watson continued.
“Over the last couple years there isn’t a month that goes by that some local, state or federal government isn’t notifying me I owe them more money,” Watson chuckled.
JJ Boomers employs around 25 people, several of whom are Watson family members. Most of the staff has agreed to “stick it out until the end,” Watson said.
As for the customers, many are devastated by the news.
“Some of them go back almost 30 years,” Watson said. “A couple days ago I was in there at lunchtime and I had a customer come up to me and say, ‘Good God Jim, what am I going to do? I’ve been in here for 30 years with you guys.’”
Aside from offering typical American menu, JJ Boomers provides a sports bar with 18 beers on tap. The restaurant earns around $2 million a year in food and liquor sales, according to Watson. They also pull in about $1.5 million in lottery and Keno sales a year.
“We were that friendly, local, home-cooked meal,” said Watson, who calls himself “a little boy from Centralville who lived the American dream.”
“You came in and you’d get fresh potatoes and you never knew what the special of the day was,” he said. “We treated all our customers — or we tried — as family and friends.”