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Charlestown Business Owners Review Walsh's Promises to Help Commerce

Actions will speak louder than words spoken before supporters at Conte Forum.

When he spoke at his inaugural on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, Boston's new Mayor Marty Walsh focused on several important issues that will be priorities for his first term; slowing crime, improving education and assisting the business community throughout Boston's neighborhoods. 

"We have to make clear to everyone that Boston is open for business," said Walsh to the crowd that came to Boston College to hear the mayor's first speech. 

"That means attracting and growing new businesses and strengthening those already here – from big corporations to small start‐ups. It means making certain that all businesses, including minority and women owned companies, have access to opportunity," he said.

And those comments was just what Abby Gray and her fellow small business owners in Charlestown have been waiting to hear.

"I am thrilled to hear that Mayor Walsh is concentrating on small business," said the owner of Olivia Browning and a leader of the Charlestown Chamber of Commerce.

And Walsh's comments are important to the many local shops, restaurants and services in the neighborhood as Gray believes her "hometown" is ready for an up-swing.

"Charlestown, specifically, is at a turning point. We have a population that wants more places to shop and eat. We could be the next Boston destination for so much, including all of the history," she said, noting the draw of the USS Constitution, the Navy Yard, Bunker Hill and the historic architecture.

Walsh appears ready to help Charlestown in that effort. 

"We must help job‐creating small businesses plant themselves and grow in every neighborhood of our city, not just in some," said Walsh who said he will revitalize the city's Main Streets Program and launch Neighborhood Business Districts which will provide wider access to resources.

But for Gray, action from the new mayor will speak louder than promises made before supporters at the Conte Forum.

While Walsh said he was committed to permitting and licensing reforms because rules and regulations should "protect consumers without strangling our small businesses in red‐tape," Gray answered that Charlestown already has the oldest Main Street in the country and still has "no proper zoning of historical commission for signage," hampering the promotion of every business in the neighborhood. 

For John Moore of the popular Navy Yard Bistro, economic pressures in the guise of rising rents could place a damper on Walsh's focus on helping small business prosper under his administration. 

"I think that Walsh will be great for small businesses like mine and other restaurants in the neighborhood. But that will only come about if we can afford to stay," said Moore.

One area that would assist existing businesses is to create more opportunities for stores and restaurants to get their start in Charlestown to bring greater vibrancy to the neighborhood, said Gray.

"If Mayor Walsh and his team could specifically target Charlestown, he would have to work with the current commercial real estate owners to free up retail and restaurant space," said Gray.

"The whole first floor of City Square should and could be retail and restaurants." she noted. 

"We need the ability to get loans from local … [b]anks that make sense and we need a streamlined Boston Redevelopment Authority," she said, pointing to Walsh's promise to create a newly-revamped authority.

But the Navy Yard Bistro's Moore warned that Walsh needs to be careful in what sort of business the city's new redevelopment authority should promote.

"There are chain restaurants, from fast food restaurants to more up-scale businesses like Legal Seafood, looking to sublease commercial space in City Square, and they really don't belong here," said Moore, who fears neighborhood business centers being transformed into characterless locations much like Times Square in New York City "that is overrun by tourists but no one who lives there goes."

"There still needs to be a distinction between 'Mom and Pop/Main Street' versus 'small business,' Donald Trump is considered a small business!" said Gray.

"Most store owners and start-ups do not have financing. We have to be creative, use savings, home equity loans and credit cards," she said.

Now is the opportunity for Walsh and his administration to put his words into action, especially in Charlestown.

"The new authority and the mayor needs to be progressive in their actions to help existing local businesses at the expense of helping national chains," said Moore. 

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