The Dorchester Board of Trade gathered Thursday to elect new board members and network. As they munched on appetizers and sipped cocktails, many talked about what it was like doing business in Dorchester and what could be done to make it easier.
“I think there should be a guideline, like a book, that just gives you an idea when you start a business what’s required,” said Karen Diep, owner of Van Shabu and Bar, located on Dorchester Avenue. “It would also be helpful if the city gave people a timeframe…It’s very frustrating as a business owner, you don’t know when you can anticipate to open. I’d love if we could work with the Board of Trade to maybe minimize that process.”
For those that work daily with businesses, many echoed Diep’s comments.
“It’s not easy to be a small-business owner anywhere in the city, and Dorchester is no exception,” said Meaghan Overton, executive director of the St. Mark’s Area Main Street, a business development non-profit.
“One of the major things that I come across working with businesses is trying to get through the permitting and licensing process,” Overton said. “A lot of these folks are running their business by themselves or with one or two other employees and it’s really tough to have the extra time to go down to ISD and the Zoning Board and understand that process.”
Overton, however, added that the Board of Trade and business advocates have plenty of opportunities to help refine and repair the process.
“Often if they [business owners] need a variance they have to go to their local civic association, but most of those meetings are once a month,” she said. “Figuring out some sort of way to be more flexible with business owners and help them get the support from the community they need would be helpful.”
Over in Uphams Corner, Max MacCarthy, the executive director of Uphams Corner Main Street, said many of the challenges his businesses face, are similar to the challenges shops in Savin Hill or Cedar Grove have to deal with.
“We’re right near the South Bay Mall so you have a lot of people going to Best Buy, Stop and Shop in addition to all the online shopping, so it’s a challenging time to do business,” said MacCarthy. “But with a lot of people moving back into the city, there are opportunities to provide a unique experience that people can’t get at the big box stores or online.”
Although big box stores are a challenge for any small business, Rich O’Mara, owner of Cedar Grove Gardens, said it comes down to providing something that can’t be found at the national chains.
“I’m a firm believer that the small business man can compete with the larger chain stores,” said O’Mara. “The small business really has a lot to do with service. We try to have educated, knowledgeable staff that can answer questions and offer a higher level of service than you might be able to find in a box store.”
O’Mara added that while the prices maybe slightly higher at your local shops, the money more often than not, finds its way back into the community.
“I have a reputation of being a little more expensive than a lot of stores,” said O’Mara. “Even though the local stores might be a little more expensive, not all things are the same. We as small businesses tend to keep 60 percent to 80 percent of the money you spend in the neighborhood.”
It’s certainly a challenge running a small business, but they aren’t alone, a message that Andrew Wilbur, president of the Dorchester Board of Trade, wants to get out.
“We have a very diverse community, it’s made up of people from all over and a lot of them are trying to start businesses in this area, but they just aren’t aware of the programs that are available to them,” said Wilbur. “They don’t know who to ask, they don’t know where to go, and our main objective is to try to go out there and help them find those services.”
While the Board of Trade concentrates on the area’s business, Wilbur said the group also wants to make sure Dorchester consumers can find what they need in the neighborhood, so the money and the jobs stay in the community.
“There’s nothing that you can’t find in this community, so there is no reason to really go anywhere else,” said Wilbur. “This is the place you want to spend your money because you’re helping your neighbor be successful, so he’s going to have money to make his house better, his kids are going to get a better education, and the property values are going to go up. It’s all together, it’s a cycle and that’s something we really want and we encourage people to shop local.”
To find out more about the Dorchester Board of Trade, click here.