What’s Happening on Main Streets

This winter’s mild weather has been a wonderful gift after last year’s horrendous snowstorms. Mother Nature gave Boston a well-deserved break and our business community rejoices.

One of the nicer aspects of my job is getting to know some incredibly kind and thoughtful people who work on Mission Hill. Small business owners are the embodiment of the American Dream and it is no coincidence that most have immigrated to our shores from distant lands. What always impress me about these entrepreneurs are their optimism, patriotism, and appreciation for what an amazing country this is. Patriot Samuel Adams’ famous adage that “a nation of shopkeepers is very seldom disinterested” still rings true today.

I recently welcomed the new owner of the South Huntington Market at 12 South Huntington Ave. to the neighborhood. Cuong Ngo took ownership of the long established business at the start of the year and says he is amazed at how friendly and welcoming his customers on Mission Hill have been to him. This cozy and immaculate little storefront fields a constant stream of regular customers picking up snacks, sodas, or lottery tickets at that busy nexus where South Huntington meets Huntington Avenue at the entrance to our city from Brookline.

Cuong, a married father of a fourth and first grader who lives in St. Mark’s parish in Dorchester, was employed in the medical supply business for 25 years before deciding to “work for myself” at this neighborhood mainstay that serves its clientele seven days a week. Judging from his friendly and solicitous manner, I can tell this Vietnamese-American will be successful at this location, which is becoming a hot new address for development in Boston. Drop by and give a Mission Hill welcome when you pick up your latest issue of the Gazette.

Noticing a floral bouquet near Coung’s cash register, I’m reminded of the story about the new business owner whose pals sent him flowers to mark the occasion. They arrived at the business site and the owner read the card; which stated, “Rest in Peace.” The owner was angry and called the florist to complain. After the florist said, “Sir, I’m sorry for the mistake, but rather than getting angry, you should imagine this: somewhere there’s a funeral taking place today and they have flowers with a note saying…Congratulations on your new location!”

Mission Hill was featured recently in one of those investigative news stings on a weekday evening television newscast, which brought a smile to my face. The undercover reporter confronted a middle-aged construction worker using a handicapped parking placard hanging from his mirror to avoid parking regulations. The handicapped pass was issued to a long since deceased man and I enjoyed watching this scofflaw trying to avoid the camera’s intrusive lens throughout Brigham Circle.

This, like graffiti, is one of those petty crimes that burns my bottom and I confess to enjoying the public shaming of this character. Incidentally, the state Inspector General’s Office reports that abusers of a handicapped-parking pass can receive a fine of $500, plus a 30-day license suspension.

I recently took a fascinating tour with a friend of mine of the MATEP power plant at the corner of St. Francis Street and Brookline Avenue. This engineering marvel has been supplying the electricity, steam, and chilled water for 74 buildings in the Longwood Medical Area since around 1980. The power plant key customers are the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Joslin Diabetes Center and the Harvard schools.

With responsibility for the powering needs of those important medical facilities, you quickly appreciate why MATEP runs such an impressively tight ship, and does so with most people being totally unaware that such a sophisticated power plant exists among them. It amazes me to see how far this city has progressed with plants like this operating in such an environmentally conscious way. It is a far cry from the Boston of my youth.

Some have asked me why I am so passionate about local business (other than my intense dislike for soulless shopping malls). I think it hearkens back to wonderful memories I have of working after school at a small local store during my high school years. The small business block defines for me what America is all about and protecting the unique character of Boston’s diverse neighborhoods has always been important to me. You can immediately assess the health of a community by visiting its main streets and the well-being of a community rests with those residents and businesses in that area.

Keeping local dollars in the local economy benefits the area and statistics calculate that locally-owned businesses have three times the impact of dollars spent at national chain stores. Compact and vibrant walkable town centers reduce environmental pollution, and require less space and public services than strip shopping malls. The marketplace of small businesses ensures innovation, competition, and lower prices over the long term and provides jobs for local residents, benefiting all. I guess I could keep going, but you get the idea. Shop locally.

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