By Miriam Valverde
If you stroll down Market and Washington Streets, you’ll see Brighton’s metamorphosis from a meat packing outpost to a 21st century neighborhood commercial district.
A neighborhood of less than three square miles bordered by Brookline and Cambridge, Brighton has grappled with business closings, empty storefronts and – most recently – a rash of bank robberies.
But the neighborhood seems stable and successful in the current economy, thanks in large part to Brighton Main Streets, a non-profit organization that works with local businesses to encourage residents to buy flowers, do their banking and get their hair cut close to home, to boost sales and promote the local business district.
In 1995, Mayor Menino launched the Boston Main Streets program, aiming to improve the quality of life and strengthen the relationship between businesses and the community.
According to reports from the City of Boston, between 1995 and 2006, 580 net new businesses and close to 4,000 new jobs have been created among the districts.
Brighton Main Streets has worked hard to turn a commercial district that was afflicted by deteriorating shops and many vacant lots into a pleasant place.
“The stores are in pretty good condition, they had been run down for a while, but now they look better,” said Paul from Blowout Hair Design & Tanning, whose shop has been part of the community for over 30 years.
“We work to maintain economic stability,” said Rosie Hanlon, executive director of Brighton Main Streets.
Brighton Main Streets is driven by volunteers who work to enhance the shops’ appearances, promote business, restructure economically troubled companies and raise money.
“They [Brighton Main Streets] help put up store signs and raise money for store improvements and new businesses,” said Amanda Rojas, from Amanda’s Flowers on Washington Street.
Yet, despite the best efforts of the neighborhood organization, recent bank robberies have plagued the commercial district. In March 2009, five different bank robberies called for the attention of local police and the FBI.
“We don’t deal with bank robberies, but as far as crime goes, by creating a vibrant and safe neighborhood we hope to decrease crime,” said Hanlon.
Main Street encourages advertising and marketing of the neighborhood’s businesses in difficult economic times.
“If I was very young and starting a business today, I would have a tough time, advertising is too expensive,” said Paul.
Although the organization encourages businesses to advertise their services and products online, they do not want to lose the human touch with the neighborhood. Brighton Main Streets still encourages residents to shop locally as well as virtually.
“I recognize 90% of my customers, it’s always ‘Hi Mary, Hi Johnny,’” says Paul. “We’ve been around for 30 years so it’s very rare to see a strange face.”
But it’s important to keep them coming back.