As businesses continue to navigate uncharted waters due to the pandemic, organizations like Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS) provide assistance in any way they can.
After a successful summer season, local businesses are looking towards the colder months and how to adapt holiday shopping to the circumstances.
The Gazette spoke with RVMS Executive Director Alia Hamada Forrest to learn more about what the organization has been doing to help out small businesses, as well as what Halloween will look like on Roslindale’s main streets.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Forrest said RVMS’ “first instinct is, ‘how do we help?’” She said that businesses were looking for money to help pay rent and utilities to help keep them from having to permanently close.
“In the very beginning that’s what we kept hearing from businesses,” she said. Aside from grants from the City, RVMS was able to hold a Spring Appeal in April and May to raise money for a mini grant program for small businesses.
Roslindale businesses could apply for up to $1000 through an application where they had to specify how the money could be used.
“That was a major way we were able to help financially,” Forrest said. She said that $25,000 was given to more than 25 businesses.
“We also support and guide businesses who are interested in outdoor seating,” she said, including purchasing some bistro sets for Shaking Seafood, who had outdoor seating at their Poplar St. location this summer.
“For other businesses who are still using outdoor seating,” Forrest said, RVMS is “helping to spread the word” that they are open and have heaters in place.
RVMS shares this sort of information, as well as information about virtual events, specials, promotions, and more, via its weekly e-newsletters that are circulated to more than 5,000 Roslindale residents.
“I think people, especially Roslindale residents, are looking to see how they can support and keep businesses here,” she said.
“I see a lot of creativity these days,” she said, including at Birch St. House and Garden, which holds virtual live shopping events every Thursday evening to help more customers be able to shop in the store.
RVMS is also working with businesses on planning for the colder months as they rapidly approach.
“Right now, we’re brainstorming with businesses on how to have outdoor seating in the winter,” she said, and asking questions like “what does holiday shopping look like right now?”
She said that the organization is working on a potential campaign for the holiday shopping season to help get people out shopping safely.
She said she has also noticed a different trend in shopping patterns in the neighborhood.
“A lot of people are getting their shopping done during the day; during the week,” she said, and “Saturday and Sunday have the slowest days” when they used to be the most busy.
She said that since more people seem to be coming out during the week, this holiday season, RVMS is hoping to have a campaign for shopping early or shopping during the week.
This was something that “we never really thought about promoting,” she said, as they usually have one big holiday shopping event or a few scattered throughout the month of December.
“We’re trying to be creative and figure out what will actually help out businesses right now,” Forrest said. “It’s been a really challenging balancing act, but we’ve seen some businesses really figure out ways to be safe and still be successful.”
The RVMS summer market in Adams Park has become a grab-and-go market, which will extend into mid-November. Forrest said that the winter farmers market at the beginning of the pandemic had to be cancelled, and as they were contemplating what to do about the summer farmers market, she said that one question kept popping up: “should we just not do it?”
But RVMS ended up allowing the summer farmers market with specific safety guidelines in place. There are now 15 vendors instead of the usual 30, and “we had to really focus on food and farms this summer,” instead of specialty food, crafts, and other art. “Food access is high priority right now,” she said.
She said that RVMS is encouraging people who want to visit the farmers market to preorder with the vendors they would like to shop with, though this is not required. A link to each week’s vendors can be found at roslindale.net.
Attendees must wear a mask and wash or sanitize their hands before shopping. Only 45 people are allowed into the market at a time, and Forrest said there is “typically a line,” but it moves quickly and people can expect to wait between five and 10 minutes.
She said that people are also encouraged to look at the vendor list before arrival, as they ask that attendees only stay in the park for 15 minutes.
“It’s not a mingle and lingering experience anymore,” she said. She said eating is no longer allowed at the market either, which she sad “has been sad. People have always come to our farmers market and it’s always been a community experience,” with dogs, babies, live music, and free children’s activities, which are no longer happening.
“I think people are very grateful to have something to do on a Saturday still,” she said, and people are still coming out to the market. She also said that the first half hour of the market is for seniors and people who are at high risk for the virus.
“That could be something we could continue,” Forrest said, even after the virus is under control, as she feels there is a “benefit for older folks who don’t want to deal with crowds.”
Halloween is on a Saturday this year, and many families are looking for fun, safe things to do with their kids.
The RVMS farmers market will be open that day and “we will have it all decked out” in a Halloween theme with vendors wearing costumes and pumpkins, corn stalks, and hay bales will be placed around the market as well as some spiderwebs and other spooky items.
She also said that RVMS will have a virtual costume contest, and people can either arrive at the market in their costumes, or take pictures of themselves or their kids and tag RVMS on Instagram to be added to their story for a sort of virtual costume parade.
She also said that RVMS is partnering with the Roslindale library as it does every year for a Day of the Dead celebration, but this year it will be virtual. On Halloween, the virtual event will start at 11am, and participants will receive a custom Zoom background.
Visit https://friendsofroslindalelibrary.org/events/ for more information about the virtual event.
Forrest said that overall, RVMS is “asking a lot of questions right now,” and trying to be supportive to local businesses as they head into the holiday shopping season. “Our role…has to be totally reimagined,” she said. “It’s become a learning culture, which is not bad, it’s just new.”