It’s not just the weather: The topic of liquor licenses has been hot in Waltham of late. Our community has been processing two separate but related issues.
The first issue remains before the Licenses and Franchises committee of the Waltham City Council, currently on summer recess. The matter they’re wrestling with has at least three parts (1) whether there should be more liquor licenses in Waltham, (2) if so, how many, and (3) and how should they be distributed.
We have no hard statistics to share but, anecdotally, we know that a number of our members are firmly in favor of more licenses while a number of our members are firmly opposed. As an organization, Waltham Local First hasn’t taken a detailed, official position on this complex matter, but the prevailing, general opinion on our Steering Committee is that more licenses are certainly needed, based on the fact that there are far fewer licenses for sale than there are willing buyers, and that the prices being charged for the limited licenses available are higher than many independent, locally owned businesses are able to pay.
The second liquor license related issue in Waltham has centered on the disposition of the recently discovered, unissued liquor license. The Waltham License Commission recently awarded that license to a national steakhouse chain when at least two independent, locally owned restaurants formally expressed interest.
On this matter our Steering Committee was unanimously dismayed that independent, locally owned businesses in our community were passed over in favor of a large national corporation.
Bob Perry, Chairperson and co-founder of Waltham Local First, expressed his views on the matter in the following Letter to the Editor that appeared in the July 14, 2016 edition of the Waltham News Tribune:
“The recent awarding of an exceedingly rare prize — a free liquor license — to a new Ruth’s Chris Steak House opening in November on the corner of Totten Pond Road and 3rd Avenue was based on maximizing the number of jobs that would be created and the amount of tax revenue that would be generated by whichever applicant received this extraordinary windfall.
“Certainly, Ruth’s Chris will create more jobs and collect more meals tax than the much smaller Gustazo or Brelundi, the other two applicants for that free license. However, I contend that an analysis looking at jobs and meals tax alone is incomplete. When considering how to best serve the citizens of Waltham, I would strongly prefer that consideration be given to cash flows beyond meals tax (it’s not commonly known that only 1 percent of the 7.25 percent collected actually stays in Waltham), and some of the subtler, “hidden” community benefits of local, independents over chains.
“Economic: Numerous studies have shown that local, independent businesses re-circulate (re-spend) in their local communities over 50 percent of their revenue compared with just 15 percent by national chains. They spend more on local labor, more on local services, including accounting, legal, architecture, graphic design, and printing, and more on procurement of goods for resale than do national chains. Remember: those dollars re-spent locally create and sustain jobs and generate sales taxes too.
“Philanthropic: While some national chains do give to local charities, the fact is that the backbone of business charitable giving in local communities is the local businesses. In addition to the dollars they give, their owners and employees are also more likely to serve on local boards and volunteer for local causes. Chains tend to direct their charity to national causes.
“Cultural: Waltham’s distinct commercial character, heart, and soul comes not from Uno’s Pizzeria or Papa Gino’s; it comes from Charcoal Guido’s and Il Capriccio. Waltham is Waltham because of Heidi’s and Leo’s Place, not because of Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. Adding Ruth’s Chris makes us a little more ordinary; Gustazo and Brelundi make us a little more special.
“I know their responsibilities are great and that their decisions are hard, but it is my hope that when in the future any of our hard-working and well-meaning government leaders have a choice between helping a local, independent business versus a national chain, that they will consider all the implications of that choice. Think local first.”
Business, politics, indeed life itself is a river. It keeps flowing. Yesterday’s opportunities and decisions are past. New ones are before us today. Opportunities that are fresher still are just upstream and will be before us tomorrow.
Waltham’s City Government—our City Government—from our Mayor to our City Council, to our License Commission, and our Building Department, our Planning Department, and so on—will face many more decisions in the future that resemble this recent licensing dilemma in nature. We at Waltham Local First strongly urge our leadership to choose in favor of our independent, locally owned businesses, the heart, soul, and backbone of our commercial community, whenever those opportunities arise. It’s in the best interest of Waltham, the City we all call home.
This hurts. Back Pages Books on Moody Street—one of the founding members of Waltham Local First—closed this week.
Back Pages’ Owner Alex Green quoted a friend in his eloquent farewell posted on the store’s website, saying “nobody is surprised when you close a bookstore, they’re surprised when you open one.” Well, as a long-time small-businessperson myself, I am not surprised, but I am stunned.
Back Pages Books was a cultural anchor in Waltham, a public watershed of intellectual discourse in our City Center. With a thoughtfully curated collection of books for sale, and a regular schedule of first-quality author events, Alex provided a crucial counterbalance, an ongoing, vital counterargument to a common social media meme: the complaint that “all we have on Moody Street anymore is restaurants and dollar stores.”
I awoke this morning realizing that Waltham’s kvetchers on the interwebs are more right about that this week than they were a week ago: another of Moody Street’s historically great businesses is gone. Two questions are top of mind for me, and here are my thoughts on each:
Why did Back Pages Books close? I’m certain Alex made his excruciatingly difficult, final decision for a variety of reasons. But the fact is that most businesses close because they are not profitable, and therefore not viable. Of course, profit is a function of both revenue and expenses, so it can be rightly argued that cost control is a major determinant of business success. However, revenue—sales—is the most important factor in the success of a business. I’m certain that if Back Pages had been generating high sales, they’d still be open. It’s painfully simple, really: I believe that they simply needed us to buy more of their books.
How should we respond to the loss of a great local business? To quote the great Elvis Presley: A little less conversation, a little more action. We need to walk our talk. We need to Shop Local, people.
Local businesses that are not selling food (grocery stores, restaurants) or services (hair and nail salons, auto repair shops) face strong headwinds in the modern world, primarily originating from giant discount retailers like Amazon online and big-box stores like Costco, BJ’s, Walmart, Target, TJ Maxx, Marshalls, and more. We the people, especially amidst the ongoing twin trends of most of us having to live with less free time and less disposable income, are more than tempted by the convenience and savings of those non-local, big-business options; we may feel that we have no choice.
However… if we REALLY want more and varied local retailers, we must make the disciplined decision and take the decisive action and live with the more limited choice and the somewhat higher prices that shopping local generally means. We need to dig deep.
It’s like getting and staying in shape: We know we will look better, feel better, and live longer if we eat more carefully and work out. But that takes time and some sacrifice—we have to spend a little more time and money to look and feel our best. We have to take some pain.
But there is a payoff for eating well and exercising: We DO look better. We DO feel better. We WILL live longer.
The fitness metaphor holds for Shopping Local: Our city and our community will be much healthier if we spend our money in our local businesses. If more of our local businesses thrive (and they will thrive only if we make the choice to spend our money there), other local businesses will open because they see that we support our local businesses, leading to a more diverse business mix. If we commit to a program of Shopping Local, Waltham will look better, being in Waltham will feel better to each one of us, and as a community, Waltham will live longer, with fewer and shorter “down” cycles, both economically and culturally.
It’s time, people. It’s time for less talk and more action. STOP complaining about the business mix in the downtown. GO downtown and spend money in the businesses we have and make our community healthier so that others will choose to do business here. That’s what it takes to keep a business like Back Pages Books alive and well: we must buy THEIR books.
We as consumers have to make the next move and buy those dresses and shoes and eyeglasses and candles and suitcases and, yes, those BOOKS from More Than Words, and everything else that IS for sale in our local retail stores. To borrow a fitness slogan from a very big business: JUST DO IT!
Alex Green, I and many others will miss your great store. But I know that YOU will be fine, in time. Still… Back Pages is gone, and nothing about that feels the least bit fine.
Looking ahead, we must know and own the fact that protecting and strengthening our downtown is OUR responsibility, collectively. We have to get out there and and give our wallets a workout. No excuses. No more complaining. Social media mavens, stop teasing us by TELLING us that you care about them, while not really shopping there, in Waltham’s local businesses. We need you in our businesses. There is no shortcut. – Yes, Elvis, a little less talk, a little more action!
Johnson Compounding & Wellness has been operating in Waltham since 1852(!), and Steve and Diane Bernardi are only the third family to own the business in its 162+ year history.
To help us all get acquainted with Steve and his remarkable business, we asked him a few questions:
What inspired you to buy Johnson Compounding & Wellness? We were inspired to buy our business because, as pharmacists/employees of other pharmacies, we were unable to practice our profession the way we believed it should be done.
What do you enjoy most about working in Waltham? What I enjoy most about working in Waltham is our staff. We have over 50 pharmacists/technicians/students and customer service reps that represent over 18 different countries/cultures and languages spoken. We greatly appreciate the dedication they have to their jobs as well as to us as the owners.
What is your favorite product or service among those that you offer? We have tens of thousands of different products so it would be hard to name one my favorite. My favorite service we offer is individualized prescriptions that we make that are exactly what the doctor ordered so that we fit the medication to the patient and not the other way around.
What’s one thing that you want everyone to know about your business? The one thing I would want everyone to know about our business is that we are not just family owned but also family operated so that our oversight of the day to day operation is a reflection of how we feel people should be treated with exceptional customer service. Our goal is to make our customers interaction with us the best part of their day on any given occasion.
What’s one fact about your business that you think might surprise people? I think people would be surprised to know that we employ over 50 people in the limited space that we have.
What activities do you enjoy when you’re not working? My wife and I both enjoy fishing when we’re not working. My wife additionally enjoys helping our children take care of their children, and I am a golf fanatic.
Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your business? I think the most important thing a business brings to its community is the ability to give back and this is something we strive to constantly do.
This Saturday, November 29th is Small Business Saturday!
The vast majority of our members are small businesses. As such, this new American tradition—following hot on the heels of Black Friday that seems to be a big box storapalooza—Small Business Saturday is an important calendar landmark for our member retailers.
We’ve put together the following alphabetical list of promotions that we know our members are running this Saturday. We encourage you to take part in the festivities and patronize as many as you can!
Charcoal Guido’s on Moody Street:
Spend more than $100 and pay with AMEX and Charcoal Guido’s will match AMEX’s $10 credit with a $10 Charcoal Guido’s Gift Card for future use.
Cur.io Vintage will be kicking off its Holiday Sale on Small Business Saturday.
On 11/29 only, they’re offering a buy one/get one at 50% off promotion, plus a free vintage necktie or scarf (the customer’s choice) with any purchase over $20. They’ll also be kicking off their holiday gift card raffle; entry comes with any purchase over $20.
Their Holiday Sale will be the first two weeks in December, and will be a 20% off store-wide discount. The gift card raffle (for one $25 and one $50 gift card) will continue through 12/13 and the winners will be announced on 12/14.
On Small Business Saturday Ramble Market is going to be drawing winners for their Grand Opening raffle that they have had going since Oct. 18th. They will also be offering 10% off anything in the store to anyone who mentions Local First! Anyone can still enter to win the raffle by signing up for their email list anytime between now and Small Business Saturday. The prizes are $500, $250, and $100 gift certificates.
The following summary extract from the 2014 Independent Business Survey summarizes the fundamental reason we exist as an organization:
“The Local First movement is influencing buying habits. A large majority of businesses located in cities with an active Local First campaign reported that the initiatives had brought in new customers and/or generated other specific benefits. These businesses experienced revenue growth of 7.0% in 2013, compared to 2.3% for those in places without such an initiative.”
Published in February 2014 by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, this survey is the 7th annual of its kind conducted by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a forty-year-old nonprofit with the following mission: “To provide innovative strategies, working models and timely information to support environmentally sound and equitable community development.”
Here are the Key Findings from the 2014 Survey:
The 2014 Independent Business Survey gathered data from 2,602 independent, locally owned businesses across all 50 states. A little over half of the respondents are retailers and the remainder encompass a wide variety of industries. Among the survey’s key findings:
Sales Growth — Independent businesses reported revenue growth of 5.3% on average in 2013.
Holiday Sales — The retailers surveyed experienced a 1.4% increase in same-store holiday sales, which
was comparable and, in some cases, superior to the holiday sales results of competing chains.
Buy Local — The Local First movement is influencing buying habits. A large majority of businesses located in cities with an active Local First campaign reported that the initiatives had brought in new customers and/or generated other specific benefits. These businesses experienced revenue growth of 7.0% in 2013, compared to 2.3% for those in places without such an initiative.
Biggest Challenges — Competition from large internet companies was rated as the biggest challenge facing independent businesses, particularly among retailers, 69% of whom ranked it as a very or extremely significant challenge. Other leading concerns include supplier pricing that favors big competitors, high costs for health insurance, and escalating commercial rents.
Internet Sales Tax — More than three-quarters of independent retailers said that the fact that many online companies are not required to collect sales tax had negatively impacted their sales, with 41% describing the level of impact on their sales as “significant.”
Access to Credit — The survey found that access to credit is a major barrier impeding expansion for a sizable minority of independent businesses. While only one-third of the businesses surveyed applied for a bank loan in the last two years, of those that did seek financing, 42% either failed to obtain a loan or received a loan for less than the amount they needed.
Policy Priorities — Independent businesses ranked the following as their top policy priorities: eliminating public subsidies for big companies, capping credit card swipe fees, lowering taxes, and passing legislation to extend sales tax collection to large online retailers.
We want to welcome Waltham Farmers’ Market as one of the newest members of Waltham Local First. If there were ever an archetypal entity that represents “Local First,” it’s a farmers’ market.
We also want to welcome Waltham Farmers’ Market BACK, after the long, cold winter. —No doubt restarting each spring is always challenging, but we suspect this off-season was particularly challenging for their organizers, because this year they’ve had to figure out where, then how to move the Farmers’ Market.
Now that their home of many years in the One Moody Street parking lot is part of a huge construction site, the Waltham Farmers’ Market has relocated to the Waltham Government Center building at 119 School Street, right at the corner of Lexington Street.
Don’t worry: It’s a big parking lot, enough to host all the farmers and other local producers that you’ve learned to love. And it’s also easy to find, and there’s plenty of nearby parking, particularly in the Central Square Parking Deck, spanning Lexington and Common Streets, between Main Street and School Street.
Now we need to welcome them in person. See you tomorrow at the Waltham Farmers’ Market!