Building Community in Roslindale

In anticipation of the Roslindale Village Main Street 30th anniversary celebration, we’ve invited guest writers to provide insight into our neighborhood, and how it came to be.

By Steve Gag

Steve Gag
Former RVMS President, Steve Gag – Photo by Del Holston

Roslindale Village Main Street has 30 proud years of accomplishments and the theme that resonates throughout the

dozens of projects that RVMS has undertaken is community building. What is community building? Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement (I had the good fortune to share breakfast with her 40 years ago and she is one of my heroes), summed it up well:

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.” 

I was first introduced to the power of community building in 1993 when my wife and I joined 700 other Roslindale residents under the leadership of RVMS to create the Roslindale Food Coop. This was shortly after Kelleher’s Market closed its doors leaving the neighborhood without a supermarket. Dozens of community and business leaders came together to raise money, find a site and work with the City and Commonwealth to bring an anchor tenant into the Village. Although the dream of a community owned cooperative was lost because of the high cost of remediating toxic waste that was found on the building site, the project ultimately led to the opening of Roslindale Village Market five years later.

Another good example of community building is the RVMS Farmers Market. I knew we were building strong community ties when I met several new residents who said they moved to Roslindale because of the farmers market. RVMS started one of the first Boston neighborhood farmers markets 30 years ago in the lower MBTA parking lot. Seven years ago we moved the market to Adams Park. A vibrant group of 15 or so foodies, “farmer wannabes” and business owners came together to reorganize the market and within three years, the average daily customer count had grown from 100 per day to 2,500 and our once modest market was seen as the best in Boston.

My final examples of community building are the recent campaigns to stop large formula businesses from entering Roslindale Village. The very essence of Roslindale Village is the small, locally owned shop that provides a unique set of products and services. Scan the list of Roslindale Village businesses and you will find very few formula businesses, also known as “chains.” Two years ago, Dominos listened to hundreds of Roslindale residents and shop owners who opposed their plans and the large corporation decided not to locate in the Village. Petco did not listen and will be opening shortly on South Street across from Wall Paper City. However, because the neighborhood was so united on this issue, the city, in conjunction with RVMS and Boston Main Streets is looking at ways to give neighborhoods more say when chains decide to come into neighborhood business districts.

My belief is that like Dorothy Day, coming together as a community is what makes us human. RVMS provides people with a place and a way to build community. In many ways the process of bringing people together is just as important as the project itself. One of the leaders of the Petco organizing committee, Adam Shutes, told me that he decided to buy and re-open the Cheese Cellar because the Petco campaign reemphasized for him how important small, locally owned businesses are for the community. Relationships, ideas and friendships are sparked at every Farmers Market and every project meeting. Building community is what RVMS is about.

The Origins of Roslindale Village Main Street

In anticipation of the Roslindale Village Main Street 30th anniversary celebration, we’ve invited guest writers to provide insight into our neighborhood, and how it came to be.

A Talk with Josef Porteleki – Founding Member of RVMS

By Jocelyn Hutt

Josef Porteleki
Josef Porteleki – Photo courtesy of Boston Globe

It’s hard to think about what Roslindale Village might be had it not been for Joe Porteleki. His imprint can be seen everywhere; not only with his family-owned and operated store, Roslindale Ace Hardware, but other businesses as well – Village Market might never have opened without his (and others’ help). This is just a fraction of what you find out when you sit down and interview Joe about the beginnings of RVMS and its evolution. As we get ready to celebrate its 30th year, we did just that – we sat down with Joe and picked his brain a bit to learn more about the history of RVMS, which of course is also the history of Roslindale.

What was the impetus to form RVMS?

During the 1970’s, there were many things affecting the economy; the oil embargo, busing (which affected Boston), and the development of Malls as shopping areas. These factors made it less attractive for people living in the Boston area to shop locally. At that time I was a member of the Roslindale Board of Trade and we decided to work with then City Counselor Thomas Menino to come up with ideas to encourage people to shop and live in Roslindale (which at that time was called Roslindale Square, not Roslindale Village.) During the late 1970’s, were we successful in working with the National Historic Trust – it was then that things began to turn around. We then hired Kathleen McCabe as the first Director.

What were some of the early challenges and successes?

Convincing merchants to stay open a bit later was a big win – we all understand that it’s sometimes difficult and it makes for very long days, but it increased foot traffic to the area which was a critical component. We worked on creating a more welcoming look and feel to the area– and we tried to make sure that the area was mentioned in the local papers as much as possible.

What are you most proud of as far as RVMS?

Well you’ve probably heard people say something to the effect of, ‘If I knew then what I know now” – I feel that way a little bit – but in the most positive sense. I’m proud to know that RVMS, which is a volunteer run organization at its core, is still functioning – it makes me happy to know that my hopes and determination weren’t in vain.

We couldn’t agree more Joe – and we, and Roslindale Village, thanks you for your contribution to our community – we couldn’t have reached 30 years without you.