Boston’s Chinatown Storefront Library

By David Cheng

More than half a century has passed since Boston’s Chinatown residents last had a place of their own to just sit down and read.  Instead of theaters that lined Washington Street in the 1950s, today there are restaurants, grocery stores and street vendors — plenty to satisfy an appetite, but books have been a different story.

On October 14, a long-awaited vision for a Chinatown Library finally became reality.  With 3,000-square-feet of space contributed for three months by Archstone Apartments the Chinatown Storefront Library opened at 640 Washington St.  It will rely on donations from publishers and area families. Supporters hope this project can lead to a more permanent home. It already won an extra month from Archstone, when it extended the lease.

“The project was conceived as a temporary library for several reasons.  One was to activate vacant space along Washington Street.  The Boston Street Lab, one of the producers of this project, has a mission to take vacant spaces and use them in more creative ways to bring more street life.  So the idea was to really partner with an organization that could actually donate space,” said Amy Cheung, the library’s program manager.

“The other idea is that we actually want the city at one point to step in and open a permanent library so this is almost an experiment or demonstration project to show to the city and residents and the supporters what the potential of the library could be –but we’re not here to provide permanent services.”

Six years ago, the Chinese Youth Initiative, a branch of the Chinese Progressive Association, decided that a library  was vital but missing resource in Chinatown.  Their participation only went as far as getting the library idea launched.  After that, a team of the Boston Street Lab, Friends of the Chinatown Library, and city’s Department of Micro-Urbanism raised funds for the venture, Cheung said.

“I think a library in Chinatown is incredibly important because it serves several different functions.  It serves as a social meeting space for people, it serves as sort of the front line place for people to get resources.  It serves as a place for people to get books and materials, reading resources, and right now Chinatown doesn’t have a library so I think there’s been a big gap for many years,” she added.

A large gap indeed.

The last time a library branch in  Chinatown opened its doors was the same year Elvis Presley first broke into the United States music charts and the only time a pitcher threw a perfect game in the World Series. The Tyler Street branch had closed in 1938, drawing protests and briefly reopened from 1951-56 , before it was demolished to make way for construction of the city’s Central Artery elevated highway — since replaced by the Big Dig‘s underground roadway.

But some residents don’t think the new library is a good idea.

“I don’t think that they put it in the right spot.  I mean just from experience of living in Chinatown I haven’t seen a lot of teenagers wandering around the city, at least around this area and I know the history of this area being the Combat Zone and all,” Tom Beauregard, a Chinatown resident.

“Yeah it’s cleaned up, but just from experience I’ve had people ask me if I wanted drugs just by walking on Washington Street right by where the new library is.  If I was a parent I don’t think I would want my kids hanging around that area regardless of the time of day.”

With school libraries available to students and the Internet offering research help everywhere, around-the-clock, there are some skeptics but response to the new library has been overwhelming, said Sam Davol, who coordinated the library project with Boston Street Lab.

“I think it’s great because I don’t think anybody in Chinatown would want to go down to Copley to go down to the library anyway, especially kids.  So it gives them a place that’s close by to learn and get off the streets,” said Hunter Hughes, an Emerson College student and current resident of Chinatown said.  “I mean, could it be used for anything more useful?  Honestly, not that I know of.  I think education for kids is very important.”

Chinatown Library Slideshow

(photos by David Cheng)


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Decorating Days in Beacon Hill

Photos: Ivy A. Turner

By Irina Grechko

Fifteen years after a small group of Charles Street business owners decided to decorate the streets for the holidays,  Holiday Decorating Days in Beacon Hill has grown into an annual event that adorns every  lamp post in the neighborhood. This year’s two-day event attracted its biggest crowd — more than 100 people.

“A local floral designer showed us this design of wrapping a laurel around the pole and hanging the bows,” said Ivy A. Turner, who has organized the event since 2000.

Initially, the Beacon Hill Business Association championed the holiday event and the Beacon Hill Civic Association joined in later asthe main sponsors t and to help get more residents involved. Suzanne Besser,  BHCA executive director,  said that her group focuses on bringing people together to improve the quality of life on Beacon Hill.

“We do a lot to foster community experience and build a whole relationship between everyone. This [Holiday Decorating Days] is probably one of the biggest community events because it brings us all together. It makes a Beacon Hill a better neighborhood to live in if you all get together and do things like that. It’s community building,” she said.

Holiday Decorating Days expanded from Charles Street to adorning of lamp posts on Charles and Cambridge streets, and eventually came to decorate every single street on the Hill.

“In 1999, I got the idea that for the millennium, we would have once in a lifetime event. We would decorate every single lamp pole in Beacon Hill for special millennium celebration,” Turner said.

It was a difficult, slow task as every group had only one Sunday, to cut the laurels, put the wires on and then decorate each post.  While planning the decoration of every lamp as a once in a lifetime event, feedback from residents was so positive that after 2000, Holiday Decorating Days became an annual event.

The current version came together when volunteers had the idea to make it a two-day event.

“He [volunteer] said, if we found a place where we could cut the stuff the day before, we could have this big event where we could get the stuff ready and the next day it would be a lot easier. And then someone got the idea that if we had a van we could drive it around to people to make it manageable. And then the Otis House Museum got involved and said they would host this event,” Turner said.

With enough headquarters and space, on Saturday, volunteers cut and wire the laurel garlands, sort and package the bows into smaller bundles. A van then drives around to deliver supplies to block captains, who are responsible for either one block or the whole street.

Sunday, the decorating continues, with volunteers assigned to different groups and streets, until every single lamp post is adorned with a laurel garland and two red bows.

This year’s crowds got Turner in the spirit of the season.

“Today’s event was really our best ever. It was the biggest turnout, the most enthusiastic people and the hardest working. It was a total different feeling than past years. This year, volunteers came and planned to stay and work a lot. They came prepared to work for a whole day.” she said.

In addition to a large participation from the local residents and members of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, an unexpectedly large number of Suffolk University students, members of the Beacon Hill Young Professionals and volunteers from Boston Cares.

Jay Faro, a Beacon Hill resident, said this year was his ninth time as a volunteer to the Holiday Decorating Days event.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s a great way to meet people. Volunteers from the hill come down and we all work together and so people that maybe I don’t see from one end of the year to the next, I get a chance to see them today. And I get to meet new people,” he said.

Turner said friendships form and at least four marriages have resulted among people who have met on decorating days.  One reason she said she loves this event is  the sense of community and tradition.

“ I think tradition is important. And I think it’s something people look forward to and it makes people feel more part of their community. And I think when you walk around a neighborhood and every single lamp is decorated, there is a different feeling when you know that you helped,” Turner said.

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Holiday Shopping holds steady on Beacon Hill

By Talia Ralph and Katie Shustari

Many local shops in Beacon Hill report that holiday traffic in the area is holding steady from last year. “People are buying pretty much the same amount as they were last year,” said Virgil Aiello, the owner of DeLuca’s market on Charles Street. “But then again, last year was a pretty slow year.”

For a snapshot of some of the local businesses in Beacon Hill, see the slideshow below.

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Hub Shoppers Have Two Weeks To Hunt For Bargains

By Dave Cheng and Nicola Hassapis

Bells are ringing, lights are twinkling yet shoppers are waiting for last-minute sales or a chance to hold onto their hard-earned dollars a little longer in Boston’s downtown shopping district.

“People are definitely more conservative in their spending,” said Susan Ellis, who works in the cosmetics department at Macy’s in Downtown Crossing. “But we say the same thing every year and get panic-stricken, and then they all come out the last week.” Continue reading

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You Can Help – Tips For Giving

by Emily Holden

People who want to give but may not have the funds are finding other ways to support the causes and organizations who serve others at the holidays. Sometimes giving money is just not an option and new and gently used items can be just as helpful. Here are things to know about donating used goods, from Charity Navigator.

Determine whether the items are useful.

Clothing, household items, books and shoes may be gently-used but things like personal care items must be brand new for health and safety reasons. That means no opened bottles of lotion or makeup. Put yourself in the recipient’s position: If you wouldn’t wear the jeans with holes in the knees, chances are they wouldn’t either. Don’t donate anything that is unusable or beyond repair.

Start locally and find the right organization.

Additional transportation reduces the impact of your donation so avoid unnecessary travel to donation sites. Chances are you can find a charity right in your own neighborhood. Begin by looking in your local community for a charity that will accept your items. Schools, churches and government buildings or office buildings often act as collection centers for various causes and agencies.

Search to find a particular cause.

Organizations like Charity Navigator can help you find specific charities or organizations such as your local Salvation Army office. Log onto charitynavigator.org and you can search for specific groups looking for the items you wish to donate.

Consider selling items and donating the money to charity.

Selling things you own and contributing proceeds to a charity gives the recipient the greatest flexibility when it comes to choosing what it needs most. Also, by selling the items yourself, you eliminate any for-profit middle man that might take a cut of the donation. Great places to sell your items include eBay and Craig’s List. You may also consider holding a multifamily yard sale and donating proceeds to a charity.

Happy giving!

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Charities See Growing Demands, Fewer Donations

by Cassandra Baptista

Boston charities are feeling the strain to meet a greater need for goods and services after two years of a difficult economy for non-profits and contributions of cash or goods.

“It looks like it’s a little tougher this year,” said Thomas Langdon, director of community relations and development for Boston’s office of The Salvation Army. “In past years, people really were stepping to the plate. We really haven’t been seeing that this year.”

There are few bills larger than $1 in the kettles these days. Based on the organization’s annual report statistics, the demand for more specific items and services has increased such as, meals, shelter, coats, and holiday gifts. For example, in the past year, the number of coats distributed increased reached 13,000. (Click for related story on goods donations and how you can help)

And he’s not alone. Wayne Pozzar, food acquisition associate at the Greater Boston Food Bank, has seen a decline in food donations. GBFB is a nonprofit organization that “distributes more than 30 million pounds of food annually…to a network of nearly 600 member hunger-relief agencies,” he said.

Pozzar explained that the organization’s 2008 hunger study found 90% of its member food pantries and soup kitchens agree that the demand in Boston is up.

“Companies seem to have less to spare,” he added. “Supermarkets are now putting out discount aisles.”

One measure of need is The Salvation Army served 1,189,694 meals so far this year—equal to almost two meals per Boston resident.

And to counter the projected decrease in donations, the Salvation Army put out kettles earlier this year, because of the increased need. But a different kind of donation came when representatives were setting up the kettles: 45 people offered not to donate, but to work.

“We’ve never experienced that before,” Landon said. “These are people who just can’t find work, so they’ll ring a bell for $8 an hour.”

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Hub Preps For Less “Ho” in Holidays

by Kelly Burnett

Decorations may be red-and-green but economists are finding a gray mood as shoppers head to the stores. High unemployment, shrinking consumer credit and limited holiday spending may crimp gift-giving in the Hub. Continue reading

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