Washington Gateway Brings Small Business, Services Together to Strengthen District

By Seth Daniel

When Kandace Cummings was looking for resources to update her salon, Anita Kurl, on Washington Street, she didn’t know where to turn.

She needed a website.

She needed a new logo, and the outside of the the storefront needed some updates.

After banging her head against the wall for some time, by luck, one of her customers happened to be Jenny Effron, director of Washington Gateway Main Street. As Cummings cut Effron’s hair a few years ago, she found the answers to all the questions she had been wanting to know.

She was able to get money for her website in a grant program, and then was connected to the City’s storefront program that eventually got her $2,500 to redesign her logo and her storefront.

“The changes certainly has made bigger difference than I ever thought it would,” she said Monday morning during a quarterly business breakfast sponsored by Washington Gateway at Gaslight Brasserie du Coin. “When you’re driving by or walking by, a blade sign makes a big difference for people seeing you. The City was so helpful. They would come in to have me sign contract. Things that I had to put on the back burner they were on top of. That was pretty significant because I’m just a small business and they really wanted to help me.”

The climate for small businesses – whether restaurants or retailers – in the South End has never been more on edge, and those small business owners are looking to get any foothold they can. So it was on Monday morning that an all-star cast of small business owners gathered at Gaslight to hear about services they could access to get a leg up on the Internet companies and the national and regional chains that compete with them.

“As a small business owner it’s hard to be competitive with online and other companies,” said Randi Lathrop, a board member of Washington Gateway. “Retail has changed so much. Street traffic is difficult; how do you get people in your door? We know it takes people 10 seconds to decide whether or not to come into your business.”

That, she said, is where the City’s program comes into play with the storefront improvement program. It’s also where the Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC) can help with grants and business opportunities. Speakers on Monday included Jenny Effron, Washington Gateway Main Street; Bill Nickerson of the BPDA; Karleen Porcena, Local Initiatives Support Coalition (LISC); and Steve Rumpler of the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development.

Rumpled recalled working with Cummings on her salon.

He said they spent time with her, met with her and helped her re-brand her salon.

“The Re-Store program is all about transforming and translating the feel of a storefront to customers,” he said.

Nickerson, who runs the Boston Local Development Corporation program – a derivative of the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), said his program was once out of funding, but in the last few years they have restored their funding dollars and are actively looking to loan money to small businesses at reasonable terms.

He said they have small business loans of up to $130,000 for certain project. The first step, he said, is to sit down with him and talk about the needs of the business.

One attendee at the breakfast was Deb Suchman of Polka Dog Bakery, who said they were looking for help to expand their kitchen after landing a contract with MassPort for dog treats.

That, Nickerson said, is exactly the kind of project the BLDC is looking for.

Meanwhile, Cummings said she has gone from frustrated business owner to Board member at Washington Gateway – and overseeing a business that is growing as she grows as a business owner.

“I am on the board now because after all the help they gave me, I wanted to give back,” she said. “I wanted to first be able to get people in the door and fix up the salon. Now I want to grow in my knowledge of business. I’m going to go back to them and learn more about the workings of the business side.”

Efron said they plan to have more quarterly breakfasts, and hope to bring in more people who can offer resources to local business owners.

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