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Main Streets program boosts business districts

Saphia Suarez
Main Streets program boosts business districts
Mayor Martin Walsh joined community members to cut the ribbon at In the Cut Barbershop in the Mission Hill neighborhood of Boston. PHOTO: JEREMIAH ROBINSON, MAYOR’S OFFICE

When the Banner caught up with Jackey West recently, she was on her first day on the job as the new director of the Fields Corner Main Street program. The challenges she faces in getting to know the businesses in the diverse Dorchester commercial hub are not unique. In the last year-and-a-half, nine Boston business districts have hired new Main Streets program directors.

The nationwide program was started in 1980 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a way to revitalize local economies. Three years later, Boston began its Main Streets program under then-Mayor Thomas Menino, starting in Roslindale. Boston’s program grew to be the biggest in the nation, with 20 districts. The districts operating as separate offices that function as individual 501(c)(3) nonprofits, with the city’s Small Business Development office as their funder.

“I think the program was founded with the idea that we wanted to be a local-based town — Mayor Menino was really a man of the neighborhoods and wanted to make sure that they grew, and Mayor Walsh definitely supports and wants to bring up that vision,” says Natalia Urtubey, Director of Small Business with the City of Boston. “We want to support them in an effective and thoughtful way, as well as continue to engage with the neighborhoods about what their districts should look like.”

In Fields Corner, West says the role of a Main Streets director entails connecting small business owners to resources, particularly those offered through the city.

“Having someone who can connect small business owners with resources and bring politicians and civic leaders into our community is really important,” she says. “It’s important for the residents of Dorchester and Fields Corner to be heard, and it’s important for them to understand the breadth of resources that are available and be able to access them.”

However, with nine new hires in a short time, Boston’s Main Streets program has experienced high turnover and vacancies over the past year. Urtubey is a relatively new hire herself, having served in her position for just over a year now. Though the Fields Corner program director was filled just days ago, the Dudley Square and Chinatown programs are currently looking to hire directors. Former Dudley Square Main Streets Director Joyce Stanley retired last week after having worked with Boston’s Main Streets program since its inception.

The Dudley Square Main Streets program office is still developing its hiring process as it plans to fill Stanley’s position. Chinatown’s program director position has been vacant for longer, and Roslindale’s district director just went on maternity leave.

Taylor Connolly, communications manager for the city’s Office of Economic Development, says the Main Streets program director position requires a hands-on approach.

“You’re getting to know your businesses and residents,” she said.

For the holiday shopping season, Boston’s Economic Development Office and small business communities have launched a “20 districts in 20 days” campaign, which began on Monday. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage local small business spending during the holidays, Connolly says, as well as to highlight the investments the office has made in the Main Streets program. 

So when doing your holiday shopping, keep it local — look no farther than your city’s neighborhood business districts.

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