BOSTON-With retail rents moving toward the $160 per square foot mark along Newbury Street, boutique owners are shopping for storefronts in Boston’s rapidly gentrifying urban neighborhoods. The move is turning these once blue-collar boulevards into trendy upscale retail strips.

“There’s a big demand for space everywhere,” Annette Born, a specialist in boutique real estate with Urban/Born Associates in Boston, tells “People want to be in Boston and if they’re in Boston, they want to be in other parts of Boston.”

From the once gritty South End to East Boston, areas that were long overlooked as trendy retail markets are now sprouting storefronts touting luxury goods and upscale services.

The key to the changing face of neighborhood retail, says Born, has been a rapid change in demographics that has brought more upscale tenants and homebuyers to Boston’s once blue-collar communities. “Those people want boutiques in their area rather than having to go to Newbury Street or Downtown Boston,” she notes, adding the demand for retail space in some Boston neighborhoods such as the Back Bay and Beacon Hill is so strong, it is pushing rents up and vacancy rates down.

“The demographics demand the need,” Born says, adding that along Beacon Hill’s Charles Street, old mom-and-pop grocery stores are now making way for trendy boutiques like Pixies and Red Flag.

Even areas like Grove Hall in Roxbury, one of the city’s more crime-ridden neighborhoods, is seeing a renaissance of sorts with the redevelopment of the long vacant Silva building, a historic four-story Georgian Revival structure that will soon house a real-estate firm and a new bank. Across the street, the Mecca Mall, a small shopping center developed in 2000 in the heart of the community, is booming.

In the North End, long a haven for Italian immigrants, five to seven new boutiques have opened in the last six months alone, replacing the shoe repair stores and dry cleaners that once dotted the neighborhood, Born says.

National retailers like sneaker maker New Balance, frame maker Big Picture, and stationary and card retailer Papyrus, are searching for space in the city, she says.

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