Businesses, Residents Work to Support a Vibrant Local Business Community

December 10, 2013
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Charles Street Supply goes out of its way to meet residents’ needs.

Charles Street Supply goes out of its way to meet residents’ needs.

Beacon Hill businesses would like to see the neighborhood flourish and residents would like to see its businesses flourish. By working together, they are making this happen.

Individually or jointly, both have launched new initiatives to support a vibrant and diverse business community of non-franchised, locally owned businesses that meet residents’ needs, as envisioned in the 2011 Plan for the Neighborhood.

But the businesses not only meet residents’ needs. “It is, in part, the wide range of types of businesses – from antiques and clothing shops on one end to cobblers and hardware stores on the other – that give the street the diverse feel that helps to create vibrancy,” said Beacon Hill Civic Association (BHCA) Chair Steve Young. “We certainly want to promote and support businesses that primarily cater to Beacon Hill residents’ needs, but we should also try to promote and support businesses that appeal to a broader visitor customer base as well.”

Rebecca Penner, co-owner of Crush Boutique that offers contemporary women’s fashions, agrees. “The majority of our business does come from the neighborhood,” said Penner, but adds that Crush also relies on customers coming from other neighborhoods.

Many national studies have identified shopping as the number one activity done by tourists visiting a destination. To attract such shoppers, the Beacon Hill Business Association (BHBA) is putting its marketing dollars behind the whole neighborhood. “We’re pitching it like a tourist attraction to help boost sales and keep its businesses thriving,” said Penner, who serves as BHBA president. It is also revamping its website, which includes a directory of businesses, and renaming it historic BeaconHill.com.

Special events, such as the BHBA’s Beacon Hill Stroll, typically attract an influx of suburban shoppers. “That is the model for the new Third Thursdays program,” said Penner. Each third Thursday up to 30 participating shops and eateries hang paper lanterns outside their door, extend their hours to 8 p.m., and serve complimentary refreshments to attract shoppers.

Groups of residents also work with businesses to attract shoppers. Some bring in new patrons by holding events in restaurants and retail spaces. Others invite business owners to speak at their meetings, such as at the Beacon Hill Village and Beacon Hill Women’s Forum. The BHCA encourages residents to shop local with a merchant loyalty card.

In early 2012, the community gave one landlord a strong message of what type of business it did not want on Charles Street when nearly 2000 residents successfully opposed Capital One’s bid to lease space at 62-66 Charles Street. They believed a bank would upset the vibrancy and diversity of the street, fail to attract shoppers to other stores and threaten public safety by creating a dead zone at night.

Because of this and a concurrent rash of store closings on Charles and Cambridge streets, the BHCA established a joint Retail Vacancy Task Force. “Rather than sit back and react, we decided to find out what types of businesses the neighborhood wants so we can be proactive and encourage them to come,” said committee chair Michael Bruck.

Four hundred residents responded to a survey asking what stores they would like to come to Beacon Hill, said Bruck. The number one choice was a bookstore or bookstore with café, followed by eight food-related businesses ranging from more restaurants to a cheese shop, bakery, fish market, fresh fruits and vegetables market, and prepared foods.

“A year ago we were concerned because a lot of businesses went out at the same time,” said Penner. “But then small businesses that will bring people in started coming in again. Now there’s a lot happening on the street and it’s very positive. The nature of retail is that you have turnovers.”

Cambridge Street lost Mike’s Movies, Phoenicia, Villa Mexico and two convenience stores. Since then Fins, Little Lamb and the Tip Tap Room opened, with a restaurant and juice bar on the way.

But businesses and residents worry that first floor spaces now being occupied on Charles Street by offices leave little room for new small retail businesses, said Penner. Toward that end, last month the BHCA board passed a proposed amendment to change the zoning on the first floor and basements on Charles and Cambridge Streets to make banks, insurance, real estate and other similar uses conditional rather than automatically allowed uses, said Young. The city might next act upon this proposal.

Residents helped beautify Charles Street through the tree pit program. The reorganization of some parking meters by the Joint Charles Street Committee and the city’s introduction of parking meters accepting credit cards has made parking easier for shoppers.

As has often been the case during holiday shopping, shoplifting and attempted break-ins have been on the increase, said Penner. At the request of both the BHBA and the BHCA, Area A-1 Captain Jim Hasson has assigned a walking beat on Beacon Hill from 10:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. through January 2.

Next, the Beacon Hill Times will delve into what the community has done and what it still needs to do to support the Plan’s vision that the families of all ages and financial capacities thrive on Beacon Hill.

Send your thoughts, comments and accomplishments you know about to suzannebesser@me.com. They’ll be compiled with others’ thoughts in subsequent articles.

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