SEBA Works to Aid South End Businesses During COVID-19 Outbreak

As neighborhoods across the city continue to come together during this time of crisis, one South End organization is working nearly around the clock to help small businesses in the neighborhood adapt to the rapidly changing situation.

South End Business Alliance (SEBA) is a group of business owners and people who work in businesses in the South End and come together to help each other as well as artists and non-profit organizations within the neighborhood. SEBA has an all volunteer board.

Board member Randi Lathrop said that as an organization, SEBA focuses strictly on the South End’s small businesses, over 50 percent of which are food establishments. She said the organization has begun to reach out to local businesses to see what they need and how SEBA can help.

“My philosophy is if you don’t have a job, you don’t have a home,” Lathrop said, citing the reason why she believes it’s so important to help out businesses that are struggling right now. “This crisis has paralyzed businesses to date,” she said. “Our job is really trying to help our businesses through this emotionally, physically, and economically” difficult time, as well as to communicate information coming from City Hall.

SEBA board members are working together and using their individual expertise to assist different businesses and people in the neighborhood. The AC Hotel in the South End is currently housing doctors, and SEBA hosted a podcast organized with State Reps. Jon Santiago and Aaron Michlewitz to try and further spread information. “The South End is lucky to have these two,” Lathrop said. Other podcasts include speakers who are lawyers and accountants to get information from even more perspectives.

Though SEBA is still figuring out what some businesses need and how they can assist, some businesses, like Giacomo’s restaurant, have already received some help from SEBA. Prior to the outbreak, Giacaomo’s was cash only, so to reduce the spread of the virus, SEBA helped the restaurant get set up with Venmo so people could pay electronically in a contact-free way.

Boston Pedicab in the South End has also reached out to SEBA and offered to provide rides to residents who need to pick something up from a restaurant.

Foodie’s remains open and fully stocked, and has introduced special shopping hours for those ages 60 and older. From 8:00-9:00am, residents over the age of 60 are welcome to shop at Foodies, which is a later window than many corporate stores are currently offering. “Foodies has been filling their shelves,” Lathrop said.

“We’ve been really pushing on social media and email; listing all restaurants doing takeout and delivery,” she said. “SEBA is about connecting and communicating and networking.”

SEBA has put out a survey for South End businesses to fill out, outlining their particular needs or struggles so SEBA can figure out how best to serve each business, as each one faces unique challenges. “Challenges vary from business to business,” Lathrop said.

Lathrop said that food businesses are primarily concerned about their tipped employees, and most non-food businesses have shut down due to the social distancing recommendation and stay at home advisory put forth by Mayor Walsh. Businesses are looking to help their employees apply for things like insurance, healthcare, and making sure they can pay their rent.

“Landlords are being very generous,” she added.

“I think the South End has always prided itself on having independent or family-owned businesses,” Lathrop said. “Survival is our biggest goal; getting everyone to be able to survive.”

She said that she and her husband decided to move to the South End more than 30 years ago because of the diversity and economic differences in the neighborhood. “The South End is a very, very special place,” she said. “The South End historically has always come together.”

For businesses who have questions or comments for SEBA, they can email them to either [email protected] or [email protected]. SEBA board members are in constant contact with each other through text and Zoom meetings, and they encourage businesses to reach out.

“I think we will survive. I think you’ll feel this for a very long time,” Lathrop said, but “we’ve got to support the local and family-owned businesses in the South End.”

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