Are Dudley businesses in peril?
Uptick in commercial vacancies prompts community concern
Following the news of Haley House cafe temporarily closing and a flood of other businesses in the area following suit, Roxbury community members mobilized last Saturday morning at an emergency roundtable to discuss solutions for what they’re calling an economic crisis.
Neighbors, business owners, community organizers and politicians gathered at Black Market Dudley to call out issues that may be hurting economic development in the neighborhood.
Six businesses, including Haley House, have closed or are about to close in Dudley Square: Ashley Stewart, Boston Home Shoppe, Payless Shoes, New York Fashion and Halal Meats. Last year Dudley Dough and Tasty Burger closed. Local restaurateur Cheryl Straughter’s Soleil is now operating in the former Tasty Burger space.
Kai and Chris Grant, owners of Black Market Dudley, a pop-up marketplace for black-owned businesses, hosted the roundtable event. “We’re not just business owners, we’re residents who live here and want to work and play here,” Kai Grant said.
According to her, Saturday’s meeting is the first of three sessions; the second one will take place in March and the third, in April, and the series will culminate in a 10-point action plan that will be sent to Mayor Martin Walsh, The Boston City Council, Governor Charlie Baker and various state elected officials.
“We are for action,” said Grant. “But first we have to identify some problems and solutions.”
Jamarhl Crawford, a Roxbury resident and community organizer, spoke out about public safety, a similar concern voiced by other business owners at the meeting.
“There’s a lack of city and police reaction to problems that have been here since the ’70s, due to racism. Prostitution, open use of drug and alcohol, public urination — this wouldn’t be allowed to happen in other neighborhoods,” said Crawford.
Crawford said these issues create a public health issue, as well as a deterrent to attracting business and foot traffic.
Cecelia Lizotte, owner of Suya Joint restaurant, also spoke up about how public safety affects her business. “We want to make Dudley Square a destination for culture and entertainment. We have a 2 a.m. liquor license, but we only stay until 10 p.m. because of security issues,” she said.
District 7 City Councilor Kim Janey, who attended Saturday’s roundtable, responded to the concerns on safety. “There’s got to be the right balance of looking at the root cause of why people are living in the conditions that they are,” she said.
Janey continued, “We don’t want to just lock everybody up, but we have to look at why they’re out on the streets as sex workers or drug dealers.”
Some community members pointed to the fact that there is not enough population density and disposable income among current residents to support local businesses.
Many attendees spoke about making Dudley Square into a destination spot. Looking to Dorchester’s South Bay shopping center as an example, Grant said, “We have to give people a reason to shop here. That can’t happen without capital investments from the city.”
In a later phone interview with the Banner, Janey said Saturday’s event was powerful and she was encouraged by the turnout and the commitment from people in the room.
The councilor also emphasized that solving the economic crisis would take a comprehensive approach with multiple solutions that include more mixed-income housing and support for business owners facing rising commercial rents.
“It might look like having more business owners own their commercial space, similar to tenants buying their apartments as a condo and not having to worry about increasing rents over time,” she said.
“Some people looked to the Boston school department moving to Dudley as the savior of economic activity in the square,” added Janey. “But they are not the savior, and we as residents, business owners and stakeholders are the ones who will put forth solutions that can help save our community.”