The Beacon Civic Association (BHCA) has presented the 17th annual Beacon Award to Mark Duffield and Jennifer Hill, proprietors of Blackstone’s on Beacon Hill, in recognition of their many philanthropic contributions to the neighborhood.
After meeting as co-workers at the New England Conservatory, Duffield and Hill took ownership of Blackstone’s on April 1, 2006, and soon began a campaign of community service through the Charles Street gift store, donating more than $20,000 in cash and goods to schools and charitable organizations to date.
With Duffield and Hill at the helm, Blackstone’s has supported the BHCA, Beacon Hill Business Association, Friends of the Public Garden, the Boston chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, Boston Children’s Hospital, Hill House, the Park Street School and WGBH, among other local organizations and non-profits.
“For us to be in business at all depends on neighbors and this community supporting the store, and they should be able to depend on us to support the community,” Duffield said. “We’re here for the good times and the difficult times in people’s lives. We think of it as the right thing to do”
Hill added, “Over the past seven years, the people here have become part of the fabric of our lives.”
One cause particularly close to their hearts is children’s cancer research, and over the years, Duffield and Hill have been there to offer a small gift and encouraging word to the many patients from nearby hospitals and their family members who visit the store.
Duffield collaborated with his sister, Sharon Duffield, and illustrator Don Sherwood two years ago to author a children’s book entitled “The Last Shepard and Tales of the 10th Ornament,” proceeds from which have raised around $8,000 to benefit pediatric cancer research and care at Mass. General Hospital for Children (MGHfC) Cancer Center so far.
This month sees the publication of “As I recall: Fireflies in the Night,” a new children’s book by Duffield and his sister, Sharon, with illustrations by local architect Monika Pauli, in which the siblings recall the joys of catching and releasing fireflies as youngsters.
Donna Petro, treasurer of the Business Association and a board member of Friends of the Public Garden and Beacon Hill Village, recalls how Blackstone’s began selling hand-painted Christmas ornaments from Poland and launched a five-year program to “decode” hidden messages in the decorations, which eventually brought 150 people together from across the U.S. to celebrate the holidays on the Hill.
“They have unique way of combining fun and doing good for other people as part of their business, which I think is pretty unusual,” Petro said of the Blackstone’s owners. “Their focus has always been on helping the community and charities, as well as doing business.”
Duffield and Hill are also committed to building camaraderie among the neighborhood’s businesses as exemplified by the BHBA Window Decorating Contest – an effort spearheaded by Blackstone’s several years ago that brought 36 participating stores together for a juried contest while raising money for cancer research through the Jimmy Fund.
“We don’t think of anybody as competition,” Duffield said of fellow merchants in the neighborhood. “We think of them as part of the community.”
In keeping with this inclusive spirit, the Blackstone’s owners typically welcome new businesses to the Hill with a gift basket and a personal greeting.
Frank Mead, chairman of the nominating committee for the Beacon Award, said the Blackstone’s owners were “resoundingly the top choice” to receive the accolade this year.
“We felt they as individuals and a retail operation on Charles Street have done a great job of representing Beacon Hill in terms of generosity and interest in community,” Mead said. “That’s the kind of thing we believe the Beacon Award is supposed to acknowledge, and we’re delighted they’ve been selected.”
The Beacon Award nominating committee hasn’t been alone in acknowledging Duffield and Hill’s civic-mindedness, either: The Retailers Association of Massachusetts honored Blackstone’s with RAMAES Award of Excellence for community service in 2009, and Massachusetts General Hospital recently recognized the store as one of 15 organizations and individuals who have significantly contributed to cancer research during a reception at the hospital’s Paul S. Russell, MD Museum of Medical History and Innovation, among other accolades.
For Duffield and Hill, though, the store’s welcoming and festive atmosphere is the true measure of its success.
“We try to make shopping not just a place to get things, but an experience,” Duffield said.
“Life’s too short not to have a little fun,” Hill added.