The annual Mayor on Main trolley tours are in full swing, hoping to elevate the voices of neighborhood entrepreneurs and their businesses.
While insulated from the street by a curb of eager reporters and an entourage of city officials, Boston’s Mayor Walsh, dressed casually and, with a cup of “Dunk’s” joe in hand, mingled with constituents and sampled local restaurant foods. The brevity of each visit did not detract from the mayor’s message, though: Boston is a city with “revitalize[ed] neighborhood commercial districts.”
The 22-year-old tradition recognizes the growth of small businesses and their contribution to economic development on main streets. The mayor and city officials will be visiting a total of 12 main streets districts over four days, presenting Volunteer of the Year and Business of the Year awards to 40 recipients.
The mayor’s central office has designated 20 districts since the Boston Main Streets’ conception in 1983, which have created 1,394 new businesses, 8,176 new jobs and expanded the program’s reach with the establishment of the Office of Economic Development, one of Walsh’s first actions as mayor.
“Economic development is thinking about growing the city, not just the big companies that come to our city, but the small businesses,” Walsh said on day one of his tour at the Bowdoin Geneva Main Street District.
Cape Verdean Taste, the Bowdoin Geneva Main Streets Business of the Year award winner, represents small businesses that were not only brought to Boston but, as immigrant-owned establishments, were brought to the United States.
The restaurant’s owner, an Ethiopian entrepreneur, relied briefly on the Office’s assistance and expressed her gratitude to the mayor Tuesday by donning traditional Ethiopian attire and the symbol of her tribe, two black lines painted onto each cheekbone.
The creation of the Office of Economic Development, presented an opportunity to unify local businesses under “one roof, one mission,” and one leader, who is John Barros, Chief of Economic Development.
Barros noted that aid provided to Cape Verdean Taste exemplifies his office’s responsibility to “gently push [businesses] to do the right thing while trying to not adversely affect the business.”
“The troubleshooting that we do at the mayor’s office now is much more sensitive to small businesses and their demands,” he said.
Barros, a former small business owner, used his first-hand knowledge of the struggles of local business owners to help rehabilitate Boston businesses. One measure of relief is the Neighborhood Access Loan Fund, which grants micro-loans of $5,000 up to $100,000 with five percent interest to financially insecure businesses.
“Business might be slow, or they’ve just started up and nobody is there and they’ve got to get the word out, whatever it is,” Barros said. “Those are the kinds of things we do to really meet small businesses’ needs.”
The goal is to enable businesses to contribute positively to their communities, a process that can be deterred by financial difficulties. Setrena Curry, who facilitated Boston’s Vietnamese New Year celebration, and 4 Corners Yoga and Wellness, which offers free yoga classes, received the Volunteer and Business of the Year awards respectively for affecting change in their district.
“Shop local,” Walsh urged bystanders, reminding the crowd that, not only does the community rely on the “vibrancy” of local businesses, but “Main Street success really depends upon the community.”