Mayor tours Grove Hall business district
Neighborhood district struggles to find right mix of businesses to attract more shoppers
Grove Hall Main Streets Director Ed Gaskin led Mayor Martin Walsh and city officials on a tour of the commercial district last week, underscoring the opportunities and challenges facing businesses and shoppers in the area.
The tour was part of Walsh’s Holidays on Main Street effort, in which he is challenging Bostonians to make five purchases in neighborhood business districts this holiday season. In Grove Hall, Walsh visited stores and bought several pairs of socks at the Blue Hill Avenue clothing retailer Porta Classic.
As the mayor walked the district, Gaskin filled him in on the status of businesses in the district.
One challenge is that the average per-capita income of people living around Grove Hall — $24,000 — limits their spending power. Accordingly, many of the area’s businesses are the same discount retailers found in other nearby business districts, making it difficult to draw in new customers.
Gaskin said Grove Hall would benefit from a greater diversity of businesses.
“Typically, you’ll see a Payless Shoe store in Mattapan, in Dudley and Codman Square,” he said. “I’d rather see something else here.”
As it stands, the area has several barber shops and hair salons, bodegas and fast food joints. Gaskin said the challenge is to persuade landlords to market vacant shops to new and different businesses.
“Right now, when there’s a ‘for lease’ sign, it’s a free-for-all,” he said. “We have to do better at finding the businesses we want and recruiting them to come in.”
Currently, the area has just one sit-down restaurant, Flames, which serves Jamaican food. Gaskin says the area would benefit from businesses that would capture some of the auto traffic that passes through – 20,000 to 40,000 cars a day. A cobbler or tailor, for instance, or a computer repair shop would do that.
“Part of it is, how do we make Grove Hall more of a destination for people from outside the community?” Gaskin said.
As the head of the Main Streets district, Gaskin’s job is to support the local businesses while also working to ensure the overall economic health of the district. Touring the district with Walsh and other city officials gave Gaskin the opportunity to highlight the district’s needs and tout its successes.
Stopping in at Mattapan’s Finest, a barber shop and hair salon, Gaskin described how the barbers and hair dressers give free haircuts and school supplies to local children on the first day of school.
“All the barbers volunteer their time,” he said.
Gaskin says there currently are opportunities to change the business mix. The district has an 18 percent vacancy rate, and many retail spaces are currently being renovated.
The city is helping the Grove Hall Main Streets district strategize on how to diversify business with market research, including a “leakage report,” an assessment of how much of the community’s spending goes outside of the Grove Hall area.
In addition, the city has made sidewalk improvements, with new curb cuts to improve handicap accessibility. Walsh noted the rough pavement on Blue Hill Avenue, where utility companies have been working on gas and electricity.
“We have more to do here,” Walsh said. “After all the construction is done on the streets, they need to be resurfaced.”
Walsh also said the Department of Neighborhood Development will be seeking developers for vacant lots in the area.
“We’re looking at housing and economic development,” he said.