Boston's stories of justice, hope and resilience

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Boston's stories of justice, hope and resilience

The Scope

Boston's stories of justice, hope and resilience

The Scope

Allston small businesses push forward amid development boom

Photo: Jimmy Emerson
A mural in Allston Village. Image via Jimmy Emerson, DVM on Flickr.

As Boston’s neighborhood demographics evolve, so have small businesses, adapting to challenge of their customers’ changing needs.

In Allston, one volunteer organization is building development programs and workshops to alleviate some of that pressure. Allston Village Main Streets, or AVMS, was founded in 1996 to bolster local establishments and improve the development of Allston’s business district. The group does so by providing resources to the neighborhood’s storefronts and restaurants, from technical help to advertising and grant funding support.

“We promote the neighborhood and put on events to bring people in,” said Alex Cornacchini, executive director of Allston Village Main Streets. “We do one-off smaller events that bring people into the neighborhood, introduce them to businesses positions, artists, local vendors and try to draw more excitement into the neighborhood and get people aware of what businesses are here.” 

To combat incoming development from large companies, the AVMS team wants to shine a light on the beauty that already exists for the community to enjoy. To that end, the organization recently launched the AVMS Public Art Fund, a program offering funding of up to $3,000 for public art projects in Allston. The funding will be given to anyone who lives or has lived in the area. 

“I think we’re lucky in Allston that people have a sense of pride in the neighborhood. People that live here or people that used to live here have found businesses, bars, and restaurants and venues and galleries that they’ve really made a connection with,”  Cornacchini said. 

Cornacchini manages one of the 20 main street districts in Boston funded by Boston Main Streets Foundation and the City of Boston. He and the rest of the team had to reconfigure how they would support small businesses during the pandemic and are helping these businesses survive today. 

According to the MassINC Polling Group, 53% of small businesses in Massachusetts claim to have taken in less revenue than before the pandemic shutdowns began. With that many local establishments noticing a decrease in revenue, neighborhoods like  that rely on them — Allston included — have been impacted economically, and residents say they are disheartened by it. 

Alex Eichler, 25, moved to Allston in 2021 after graduating from Boston College. He was attracted to the affordability, easy commute and variety of restaurants — qualities many residents are fond of in Allston. Eichler feels keeping the neighborhood’s small businesses alive is a good idea.

“It would be a real shame to see more big box stores over the kind of businesses that are more local and run by people who live here,” Eichler said when discussing the larger developments in the area. 

Others are concerned about how prioritizing businesses could impact the artistic culture of the Allston. 

Musician Emi McSwain grew up on Hanscom Air Force Base just outside of Boston before moving to Allston a year ago. Like Eichler, she enjoys the cost-friendliness and variety of shops in the area. McSwain also pointed to the robust population of  creatives in Allston, but is worried about the longevity of those artistic hubs. 

“This area of the city is filled with so many creatives and creative spaces and I think that that’s something I hope to continue to see that even though they’re trying to kind of pack this area out,” McSwain said. “There’s a pretty cool underground music scene and underground art scene in Allston that’s hanging on. But I feel like it’s tough when the city wants to make it into a place to make profit rather than foster creativity.”

Residents are not the only ones fond of the authenticity in Allston. Larger organizations are taking notice — and capitalizing on it, too. 

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in the amount of development,”  Cornacchini said. “Allston is one of the fastest developing neighborhoods in Boston and I think that’s because people in large businesses and companies see value in Allston.” 

As new development moves in — like the Allston Yards Redevelopment, a recently-approved housing and commercial project near the Boston Landing site — residents are concerned about what this means for their once-affordable homes and diverse neighborhoods. However, business owners reassure that, with each other’s support, their shops will persevere. 

Deanna Conchreras, owner of The Mindful Mutt, opened her dog daycare and overnight boarding center in November 2021. What started as dog walking from her home turned into a small business with customers from all over the city. Conchreras isn’t worried about how new businesses might change the landscape of the neighborhood. focused on her own success, on improving the quality of service for dogs in the city and supporting the small businesses in her community. 

Deanna Conchreras’ dog daycare center, The Mindful Mutt, is one of Allston’s many small businesses. She believes that bringing more local stores like hers to the neighborhood will have a positive impact on the community. Photo by Harriet Gaye.

“I support having more businesses that do what we do,” Conchreras said. “I’m not concerned about anybody coming and stealing our clients. If a big box store came and in and try to do what we do, all power to them. If they can serve more people at a cheaper price and provide the same level of care that we can, I think that’s great because people need to have services for their dogs.” 

Conchreras’ confidence in Allston’s current small businesses is a quality Cornacchini has noticed within the community and builds on that to help support them.

“Even if people move out of the neighborhood, they still remember places fondly and always come back to them.”

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