Councilor and Mayoral Candidate Annissa Essaibi George concluded her official campaign business tour in Charlestown at the end of last month, and said while the tour is over, she has just started the work of advocating for businesses around the city.
On March 20, her ‘Get Boston Back to Business’ tour saved the best for last and came to visit businesses around Charlestown. Among the businesses they visited were the Warren Tavern, Charlestown Tea & Treats and Street Bistro. Launched in March, the tour brought Essaibi George to small businesses in each of Boston’s neighborhoods to speak directly with local business owners and staff about the resources and support needed to recover, rebuild and thrive post-pandemic – a key part of her campaign as a small business owner herself.
One of the biggest things she said she has learned is that small business owners in Charlestown and citywide have had to use personal savings to stay afloat, and a full recovery is going to take creative ways to access cash.
“Over the last year, many of our businesses have dipped into personal savings for rent, utilities and annual licensing fees,” she said. “Some have taken out loans. Although we see an opportunity for stability in sight, the impacts from this last year will be long-term. We need opportunities to help businesses strengthen and grow so they can recoup some losses.”
In addition to helping those that need to stabilize, she said there are now opportunities to help others that are ready to expand. With many storefronts now vacant and commercial space in less demand, she said that presents opportunities for businesses that are ready – and she would make that a focus of her administration.
“The idea of helping businesses who are strong and ready – helping them grow and creating a deeper pipeline from the City for businesses ready to grow,” she said. “Boston will continue to grow and with the vacancy rates increasing, we should be ready to help businesses ready to grow.”
She said the City has done a good job with the Office of Housing Stability and the Office of Economic Development under former Mayor Martin Walsh. However, she said she sees a greater need to establish more mentoring programs and programs that guide small businesses to access capital for stabilization or growth.
One of the biggest obstacles right now, she learned, was consumer confidence. Businesses of all types are simply trying to get customers to come back and it isn’t easy.
“Whether it’s to shop or eat or for services, consumer confidence and uncertainty and getting people in the door has been the greatest concern I’ve heard,” she said. “Our businesses have been creating environments that feel safe and are safe…For our businesses, especially those that opened in the pandemic, it has been a very unique experience.”
One key point of flexibility that Essaibi George said her Administration would roll out is relaxing some of the license renewal standards. She said one person on the tour indicated they got their licenses for 2020, but didn’t really get to use them and then they had to be renewed again. That’s an item she said the City should be able to help on as well – administrative issues that could hurt a small business.
“We need to look at that and look for ways to help businesses in a new way – whether administratively or access to capital or cash,” she said.
While the official tour has concluded, Essaibi George said it has not ended and has really only informed her for what has to be done if she is elected mayor.
“It’s helpful for me to hear directly from business owners and have more productive conversations with our businesses,” she said. “It’s informed me and my thinking for the work ahead.”