Main Streets Director Ed Gaskin sees bright future for Grove Hall
When Ed Gaskin talks about Grove Hall, he sees the community’s assets first and foremost — its proximity to Franklin Park with its golf course and zoo, a newly-constructed nearby commuter rail station, the surrounding housing stock of stately one- and two-family Victorians, and commercial anchors like the One United Bank and Bank of America branches and the Grove Hall Mecca Mall.
And he sees a bright future for the bustling commercial district, with sit-down restaurants, a vibrant mix of retail stores and cutting-edge high tech businesses.
“Grove Hall has a diversity of cultures, “Gaskin says. “Over time, this is going to be the neighborhood of the future. A lot of other neighborhoods in Boston don’t have the equivalent of Grove Hall’s resources. They don’t have the park. They don’t have the housing stock.”
As executive director of the Grove Hall Main Streets organization it’s Gaskin’s job to revitalize the business district in a way that supports the businesses there and the residents of the surrounding neighborhoods. While many in the neighborhood have high hopes for Grove Hall, Gaskin says there is a competing negative view of the neighborhood.
Gaskin cites a recent interview with a reporter who he says told him the neighborhood was best known for “shootings and trash.”
“There are a lot of people who believe that,” he says. “I never think about that. I think about what do we do to make this the neighborhood of the future.”
Project RIGHT (Rebuild and Improve Grove Hall Together) Executive Director Jorge Martinez says he agrees with Gaskin’s assessment.
“There’s a lot happening in this neighborhood,” Martinez says. “We’ve got new housing units, after-school programs, new jobs. We’re going to have hundreds of new families in the neighborhood in market-rate and workforce housing. We need to do a lot more marketing and public relations.”
An early step in marketing Grove Hall is already underway. Gaskin is currently raising funds to produce banners that will be affixed to light poles on the main streets in Grove Hall to mark the commercial district.
Since taking the reins at Grove Hall Main Streets, Gaskins has met with business owners, community groups and local nonprofits, soliciting ideas for a new vision of Grove Hall.
“We already have people coming into Grove Hall,” Gaskin says. “The challenge is how we get more people to visit the stores here. How do we make Grove Hall a destination.”
Gaskin says the organization will focus on four main areas to improve the business district: recruiting a diverse mix of businesses to Grove Hall and strengthening existing businesses; attracting the technology sector to the area; fostering environmentally-friendly businesses practices; and keeping Grove Hall clean and leveraging the cultural activities in the area.
In his approach to each of the four areas, Gaskin, a business consultant with a degree from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, displays an abiding belief in the potential of Grove Hall. He says that when he proposed recruiting an Apple Store to Grove Hall, many people dismissed the idea as a pipe dream.
“People don’t aspire to bring certain kinds of businesses here because they don’t think they’ll come,” he says. “People never think to ask. We have to get out of that mentality.”
Currently more than 20 of the 140 storefronts in the Grove Hall area are vacant, 15 of them as part of a $2 million renovation project. Gaskins says the vacancies present an opportunity for the district to recruit businesses that break from the mold of Radio Shack, Ashley Stewart, Footlocker and cell phone stores that populate other business districts. He sees potential for a fitness center and higher-end dining.
“We want to set the bar higher,” he says. “We’re looking at this as an opportunity to re-shape the community. If we’re actively recruiting businesses, we can shape what the community will be.”
As for the technology sector, Gaskin says Grove Hall residents expressed an interest in seeing more high-tech jobs in the area. While most people in the area are technology consumers, few if any are producers, he explains. Gaskins says local youths can learn how to produce applications for mobile phones.
“It’s not something that necessarily takes a college degree,” he comments. “It’s something you can do with a laptop. You don’t need a lot of capital.”
The cultural events in the Grove Hall area include the Caribbean Carnival, Puerto Rican festival and Dominican festival. Tying cultural events to the district could be as simple as inviting festival participants to patronize the local businesses, according to Gaskin.
Martinez says Gaskin’s ideas mesh well with the aspirations of Grove Hall residents.
“He’s been great,” Martinez says. “He started off running. He’s given us a synopsis of all the projects on the avenue. And he’s got a plan for all of them.”