Highlights and Data Synthesis from the RVMS Economic Development Committee Business Owner Survey 2016

In winter 2016 the RVMS Economic Development Committee (EDC) crafted and administered a survey to the business community in Roslindale Village to learn more about the concerns of the business owners, their challenges, the types of services they would like or think they need, and their business goals in Roslindale Village.

EDC Chair, Dennis Patch, has already shared the full raw data with survey participants (54 individuals) and anyone who would like to view the full raw data can contact the RVMS office (617 327 4065) to request a copy.

ED, Christina DiLisio, has helped to process the raw survey data — brushing off her rusty qualitative analysis skills and putting her urban planning training to good use! What follows are not only highlights and key take-aways but also next steps regarding some of the immediate steps RVMS can take, or has already taken, towards addressing concerns of note. Additionally some suggested steps that business owners and managers can take now to participate in the collective problem-solving are highlighted.

Please read on for a review of 10 of the 26 questions in the survey!

Thank you to Dennis Patch, EDC Chair, all the EDC volunteers who helped to administer the survey (literally walking from business door to business door), and the business owner participants who kindly shared some very serious and close-to-the-chest information.

Detailed Survey Results:

  1. Question: Given RVMS’ mission of promoting Roslindale Village as a place to live, work, and play, what would you like to see RVMS do more of?

Results: Most respondents (10) noted some form of increased marketing and advertising that RVMS should do (e.g. advertise to communities and towns outside of Roslindale, send yearly events calendar to the homes of Roslindale residents, increase street advertising in the Square). Respondents (6) also offered suggestions for new events (e.g. teen events, pet-focused events, increased music offerings). Some respondents (3) suggested that attracting a greater diversity of business would be helpful while other respondents (4) mentioned aspects related to design (e.g. beautification programs) or items that the City of Boston oversees (e.g. cleaning up Washington Street and improving affordable housing).

Next steps for RVMS: The RVMS Marketing Committee has already started to explore suggestion like “send yearly events calendar to the homes of Roslindale residents” as part of broader new neighbor initiatives. Additionally, the RVMS Marketing Committee is launching a re-design of our website to better share news of all that is happening in our Village and build upon some of the gains we’ve made in social media over the last year. Finally, the RVMS office is working with the Marketing Committee to help identify advertising opportunities that can help us reach residents in surrounding communities (outside of Roslindale). For example, RVMS already advertises in the Boston Globe for the holiday season but is looking into advertising in the Metro as well as connecting with local tourism boards.

How businesses can help: If you have had success with an advertising platform, or if you have any contacts with an advertising platform, please share it with us. The owner of Delicious Yogurt connected RVMS staff with someone who runs a radio program and we’d love more connections to any of your favorite sources.

  1. Question: As a business in the Square/Village, what are your top two concerns about Roslindale as a location?

Results: Most respondents (26) cited City concerns — parking, safety, traffic, loitering folks (whether presumably homeless or drunk or young adults), or pan-handling specifically. Next highest in replies came from other respondents (17) who said that rent, vacancies, absent landlords, and a less-than-robust business mix were a top concern. Finally, concerns about foot traffic (6) stood out as well as concerns about marketing outside of the neighborhood of Roslindale and attracting visitors (6).

Next steps for RVMS: Members of the RVMS Design Committee as well as members of the RVMS office recently conducted a walk audit with the City of Boston Public Works Department alongside District 5 City Councilor Tim McCarthy’s office and identified locations in need of help with trash cans, refreshed or improved cross walks (which the Boston Transportation Department would need to help with), and traffic signage. The Councilor’s office and the Public Works Department created a “punch list” of concerns and have already completed work on some of the items identified (removed some bollards at corner of Corinth Street, repaired some sidewalk on Corinth Street, replaced a trash can on South Street, and have been working to get more signage for the Village Market one-way street). Additionally, RVMS is working alongside Councilor McCarthy’s office to move up in priority a re-design of Corinth Street which the Councilor shared news of in the early stages of his re-election campaign. Under this proposal, Corinth Street would be entirely repaved and RVMS is hoping to partner with a number of community groups (e.g. WalkUP Roslindale) to help identify other re-design features which could be incorporated into any changes on Corinth Street when it is repaved. The RVMS office continues to work with local law enforcement (day time cop Eddy and night time copy Teddy) to ensure the Square is safe. Please contact Christina DiLisio in the RVMS office if your business has not yet met our walking cops and please send a message to the Boston Police Department telling them how much you appreciate our local patrol officers — not every neighborhood has them! The RVMS Economic Development Committee has started to test new plans for responding to vacancies and requests from prospective businesses and the ED, Christina DiLisio, has begun conversations with a number of property owners about building second and third floor office space above their first floor tenants. RVMS continues to research best practices about retail in neighborhood business districts — admittedly, online shopping and the ease of big box retailers who offer everything you need in one spot remain formidable foes. The RVMS office and committees such as the Farmers Market Committee are excited to share news that a street fair will occur on Poplar Street once in August, once in September, and once in October to help create a more robust shopping experience on Farmers Market Saturdays. Local crafts sellers, as well as artists and non-profits, will be lined along Poplar Street selling their wares. If your business would like to join us that day, just contact the Farmers Market Manager, Emmy Smela at rvmsfarmersmarket@gmail.com for more information. We hope that these opportunities and more will encourage residents to make a real commitment to shopping local (if they don’t already).

How businesses can help: Please help RVMS report problems by logging any complaints through the 311 app or the 311 Mayor’s Hotline call center. The more constituents who report a problem, the faster it gets fixed! If you want to tell our area Captain how much you love our walking cops or how much you’d like to meet them, please call (617) 343 4564 or (617) 343 4560.

  1. Question: As a business in the Square/Village, what are your top two concerns about your particular business?

Results: The majority of respondents (12) noted issues like rent, increasing sales, expanding business, vacancies, and increasing the number of new customers. After that, many respondents (8) cited City concerns such as parking, traffic, crime, graffiti, and accessibility. Concerns about foot traffic (5) and parking (7) specifically remain a top concern for business owners.

Next steps for RVMS: The RVMS office has been putting business in touch with Technical Assistance through the City of Boston and welcomes any business interested in this resource. Businesses are paired with a one-on-one consultant who can help a business work through any number of issues impacting their ability to attract and retain customers. RVMS has been working to build relationships with landlords and to propose strategies or policies that would allow for our community to prioritize local ownership but progress is slow. We are grateful for some of our new Board Members who are new property owners and are grateful for the growing relationships we have with other property owners.

How businesses can help: If you have seen a successful strategy in other cities or towns, please share it with us. Additionally, RVMS has just completed the compilation and printing of our business kits – folders full of all the information a business owner needs to navigate many of the concerns listed in this section. If you haven’t yet received your business kit, please contact the office. We are eager for feedback on the business kits so that we can make them even better.

  1. Question: What goals do you have for your business three years from now?

Results: Most respondents (25) cited a desire to expand, to increase customer base, or to grow in some kind of way (increased sales, pay staff more, hire year round). Most distressing was the information that four respondents at the time the survey was administered explicitly mentioned closing outright or leaving Roslindale if they can’t secure enough funds to pay down debt. To our knowledge, at least one of these four indeed closed in May.

Next steps for RVMS: Clearly this is a priority for RVMS and cuts to the heart of everything RVMS does and cuts across many committees and programs. Since the needs of each business are unique, individual follow up meetings from the ED is a likely first step and then following that identifying some resources that may be close at hand.

How businesses can help: Please share your specific concerns with any members of RVMS you feel comfortable talking to. Better understanding your unique situation and needs helps the organization to better connect you with the right resources. RVMS can connect you to pro-bono legal help if you are about to negotiate or re-negotiate a lease, can connect you with sources for low-interest business loans, and can help you find some low-cost or free staff members. If you hear of other good resources that have worked for others, please share so we can add that information to our database.

  1. Question: What pedestrian improvements would you like to see in and around the Square to aid your business?

Results: Most respondents (7) cited trash with others (5) cited concerns about the ease or safety of crossing our busy streets and the locations of crosswalks. Other folks (3) were concerned about the street furniture in our neighborhood (benches, etc.) while others (3) were concerned about traffic and others (2) were concerned about safety.

Next steps for RVMS: Careful follow up from the recent audit with the City of Boston to push for these quality of life improvements.

How businesses can help: Here again the 311 app or the 311 Mayor’s Hotline are the best options for businesses to help address these problems. Additionally, new community groups like WalkUP Roslindale are eager to work on these topics and might welcome some great insight from business owners – even better if you can volunteer!

Other Action Items:

Some businesses (17) noted that to their knowledge they had not ever been included in the RVMS weekly e-newsletter. The RVMS Marketing Committee has this list on file and is working to feature these businesses over the coming months. RVMS welcomes and encourages all businesses to submit literally any news about their business because we are always hungry for content. If you have any questions at all about how to promote your business through RVMS please speak with Christina (rvmsdirector@gmail.com or 617 327 4065).

Some businesses felt strongly about the kinds of businesses which should be solicited and recruited to the Square. In order, they are: retail (11), cafe (10), something related to activity or fitness including dance centers (10), office space (5), and service business (4). The RVMS Economic Development Committee is looking into research with FinePoint Associates, an Economic Development research firm which has worked with RVMS in the past, to follow up on our 2013 market study which identified which businesses RVMS should be actively recruiting. It may be time for RVMS to revise this data and introduce any new information. In the meantime, RVMS staff have been communicating these categories to property owners and leasing agents and working to help identify particular businesses which could come from these categories.

Many businesses would like to see more public art (30). The RVMS Design Committee as well as the RVMS office has started researching some plans for next phases of public art that can be brought to our community.  Please join us to help shape this conversation!

A recurring theme of biking emerged from the survey and RVMS is pleased to have been able to bring a bike corral to our Village. The Economic Development Committee is looking to bring more bike infrastructure to our neighborhood as an easy strategy for improving the overall economic climate in Roslindale Village. While the Arboretum path gets underway, the EDC is looking to more directly support the many local bike organizations in our community who are already advocating for improved biking infrastructure on roads like Washington Street. Hopefully additional biking resources will soon come!

Most respondents (27) were in favor of increased residential density but many included a caveat that the first floor tenants not be disproportionately harmed in the process and that parking be considered in development projects.

Ellie Greenler

Ellie Greenler, Farmers Market Manager

Ellie grew up on an organic vegetable farm in Wisconsin where she discovered the incredible power that food has in bringing people together. At Haverford College, Ellie earned her B.A. in anthropology/public health and further deepened her love and understanding of the power of community, food, and health! Right after graduation she ran a CSA and market garden in Canada, but knew that she eventually wanted to return to food access and community organizing work. Ellie has worked in Nicaragua with a women’s farming cooperative, in Seattle doing urban farm and nutrition education, and on multiple diversified organic farms.

Outside of farm and community work Ellie loves all things active, specifically rock climbing, rowing, yoga, and cross-country skiing, but also deeply enjoys a day spent baking cupcakes and pies.

Hilary Sullivan

Vice President & Resident

Hilary Sullivan has been a proud Roslindale resident for nearly 10 years and has been on the RVMS board for the last five years. She also co-chairs the RVMS Design Committee and participates in the Marketing Committee Hilary works full time at Northeastern University as the Director for Service & Community Partnerships in the Center of Community Service. Hilary’s passion for working with nonprofits began while serving for two years as an AmeriCorps National Service Member after graduating from college. After traveling across the country to serve with various nonprofits, she arrived in Boston in 2008 and has been involved in volunteerism and higher education ever since. Hilary also founded and led the Boston AmeriCorps Alumni Board for four years. She hopes to help build a strong volunteer base in Roslindale and wants to ensure there are people of all ages are engaged in the community in a way that fits them best.

Hilary received a Bachelor’s in Social Work from Westfield State College and a Masters in Nonprofit Management from the University of Maryland. In her free time, she enjoys swimming, traveling, and meeting new people.

Featured: Small Business Resources


RVMS works to help business owners receive on-site technical assistance from the City of Boston. We also promote our district’s current businesses in our newsletter and throughout our social media outlets. Here you will find links to services offered for free through the City of Boston as well as other helpful documents about starting or maintaining your business in Roslindale Village.