Support system in place
By Ginger DeShaney
Donna Brown and Karen Stanley take the South Boston Chamber of Commerce’s mission very seriously: to be the unified voice of the entire South Boston Business Community.
Donna, the executive director of the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation, and Karen, the event planner for the Chamber and a former business owner, work relentlessly to support local businesses and encourage people to shop in the neighborhood.
And this year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they are working even harder as they have to adapt to the times while supporting neighborhood shops.
“Our goal is to promote businesses and get people to shop locally,” said Donna.
“Support local businesses,” Karen stressed. “Support your small business community by shopping locally. We are trying to work together and stick together to do whatever we can.”
Small businesses are the backbone of any community. “They are critical,” said Donna. “They step up to sponsor teams, nonprofits …”
“Small businesses are always giving,” Karen added. “Now they’re asking for people to support them. It’s time to help them survive.”
Small businesses are the face of the neighborhood, Donna said, providing a real community feel: “It’s how I identify with my neighborhood. We’ve been through towns with vacant storefronts and that sets a negative tone.
“It’s hugely important to drive business to small businesses,” added Donna.
The pandemic has taken a toll. “Businesses are hurting,” Karen said. “It’s definitely a struggle,” added Donna.
Both agree the shutdown has been brutal. The Chamber, which functions under the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation, promotes assistance for businesses as it gets the information. “It’s the uncertainty that’s so difficult,” Donna said, noting with a spike in cases of COVID-19, “it will be a tough winter.”
The women mentioned some restaurants have closed and some are going on hiatus for the winter.
“It’s a scary time for all,” said Karen. “January and February are tough times for retailers anyway, and then you throw in COVID …”
“We’re trying to think of how we can get people through January, February, and March,” Donna said, noting that she’s hopeful a vaccine will help.
Every year the Chamber organizes several events that help promote and support local businesses, but because of the pandemic they have had to get creative.
In a normal year, the Chamber kicks off with the Spring Stroll on Broadway. Businesses give discounts on Stroll nights and the Chamber lines up sponsors for pedicabs to bring people from East to West Broadway and vice versa.
Donna and Karen are hopeful they will have a Spring Stroll in 2021. It’s something that can be done socially distanced. “We want to get people back out there,” Donna said.
Then there’s the Street Festival in September, which was canceled this year. Instead, the Chamber hosted Super Saturdays that encouraged people to shop, dine, and splurge in South Boston, with businesses offering promotions and discounts.
The Street Festival started as a sidewalk sale and blossomed into a neighborhood event with two entertainment stages, lots of items for sale, food, and more. Merchants and nonprofits would set up tables and introduce themselves to patrons, which is important since new people are always moving into Southie.
“It’s our signature event,” said Donna, noting it’s a big deal to close off the streets and reroute the buses.
“It’s hugely important to drive business to small businesses,” said Donna about the Street Festival. “It’s like Christmas for them. They sell a ton.”
“It’s about community,” added Donna, noting that people view the Street Festival as a chance to reunite with friends.
In October, there’s Trick or Treating on Broadway. “It’s become a great community event,” said Donna. This year, because of COVID-19, the Chamber instead organized a Halloween Scavenger Hunt over several weeks; when participants found hidden shamrocks, they entered their findings for prizes.
The Christmas Stroll is larger than the Spring Stroll. There is usually a Chamber tree-lighting ceremony at the library, photos with Santa, carolers, and more.
This year, everything had to be adapted. There is still a tree — donated by Stapleton Floral, with Massport donating the tree stand — and the tree will be lit, but there will be no formal lighting ceremony.
There will be three nights of activities for the Chamber’s “Shop. Dine. Support.” Holiday Spree on Thursdays, Dec. 3, 10, and 17.
Dec. 3 kicked off the festivities:
Santa rode in an antique fire truck up and down Broadway between 4 and 6 p.m., waving to families and distributing candy canes. He made the following stops: Medal of Honor Park; Library on East Broadway; West Broadway Municipal Parking lot (the Southie tree); Corner of C Street and West Broadway.
In addition to Santa, a convertible featured singer Anna Young, who belted out Christmas tunes.
“The stops will be spread out so we don’t draw too big of a crowd,” said Donna.
On all three days, local businesses will offer promotions and discounts. On Dec. 10 and 17, the Chamber will have backdrops at the library and at the Southie tree on West Broadway for families to take selfies. “We want to get people out walking, shopping, and dining,” Donna said.
For more information, visit https://www.southbostonchamber.org/shop-local for a list of almost 40 participating businesses and their discounts.
“We’re doing what we can to make it still feel like Christmas,” said Karen.
Donna and Karen don’t do all of this work alone. They also credit many wonderful volunteers and businesses who step up to help.
The Chamber will keep up awareness of who is open, who is not. “We’ll do as much of that as we can,” said Donna. Information will be featured on the Chamber website, distributed in newsletters, and posted on the Chamber’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts.