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Roslindale Village: 38 Years at the Vanguard of Building Resiliency and Reimagining Spaces


February 10, 2023 | Roslindale Village: 38 Years at the Vanguard of Building Resiliency and Reimagining Spaces | By: Abby Furey, Boston Main Streets Program Director, Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion at City of Boston, and Anna VanRemoortel, Executive Director at Roslindale Village Main Street

Roslindale Summer Farmers Market 2022 ribbon cutting with City of Boston Mayor Wu and residents of all ages. Courtesy of  Bruce Spero Photography.

The City of Boston Mayor’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion (OEOI) and Boston Main Streets Foundation are incredibly excited to co-host the 2023 Main Street Now Conference alongside Main Street America in Boston, Massachusetts, from March 27-29. Get to know us and our city of Main Streets through this special blog series! Keep reading to learn more about the resiliency and future-focused mindset of Boston’s Main Streets, and stay tuned for featured articles from our team in the coming weeks.  

Conference registration is open, with regular rates available through March 16. Check out the conference website and follow the conference's Facebook and Twitter accounts for the latest updates.  

Visionary Beginnings Inspires a City-wide Movement

Roslindale Village Main Street (RVMS) was established in 1985 as one of the first urban Main Street Programs in the nation with the help of City Councilor Thomas M. Menino and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, through the newly established National Main Street Center (currently Main Street America). Councilor Menino had learned about the Main Street Approach through his work in the Massachusetts legislature and strongly believed that this comprehensive, community-based approach to economic development would be effective in reviving one of Boston’s first streetcar suburbs. At the time, Roslindale suffered from disinvestment and a deteriorated building stock.

Two years prior, Councilor Menino worked with Roslindale community members to consider adopting the Main Street Approach, resulting in a partnership between merchants, owners, coalition groups, and the City of Boston with the goal of reversing the neighborhood’s current prospects by becoming the testing ground for the Trust’s Urban Demonstration Program. 

Within its first three years–and through the community’s high level of commitment, dedication, and enthusiasm in organizing around the Main Street Approach–RVMS achieved great success in beginning the revitalization of Roslindale Village, with over $5 million in new investments consisting of 33 façade upgrades, 43 commercial building rehabilitations, 29 net new businesses, and 132 net job gains. 

From the beginning, RVMS leaders were keenly focused on the building a strong foundation to ensure a bright future:

“It was really hard at first – we had long meetings every week. But with a lot of work, the organization came together. We are working with the city, residents, and merchants. We have a strong organization that’s looking toward the future.” 
~ Greg Laham, a local pharmacist, in 1988.

From 1987 to 1994, RVMS leveraged their strong organizational foundation to shepherd transformative initiatives addressing residents’ concerns about the district’s appearance and accessibility. Despite experiencing economic losses due to a recession and losing staff after the demonstration funds expired in 1991, RVMS remained steadfast in fulfilling their mission. 

In 1995, now Mayor Menino challenged the Trust to expand the Main Street Approach model across the City of Boston. The result: the formation of Boston Main Streets, the first urban, multi-commercial corridor district Main Street program in the United States. This expansion also included renewed operating support from the City of Boston to Roslindale Village Main Street. In the eight years that followed, an additional 19 Main Streets programs from across the city joined the network. Now in 2023, the City of Boston’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion brings training, financial, and technical assistance to 20 business districts.

Strong Leadership Fosters Catalyzing Developments and Resiliency in Unprecedented Times

In 2011, additional retailers joined the Roslindale Village district and RVMS hosted the inaugural Summer Stroll, solidifying the neighborhood as a destination for residents and visitors. Two years later, Edible Boston featured Roslindale as a “food destination” and RVMS launched shop local campaigns to encourage farmers’ market shoppers and residents to patronize Village businesses. RVMS also launched its first holiday pop-up show in a vacant storefront–a model that was picked up by other Boston Main Streets districts.

Also in 2013–the same year that the youngest district joined Boston Main Streets–an RVMS-led community planning process to redesign Adam’s Park to support year-round activation was completed and the historic, yet vacant, Substation building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. These accomplishments complimented the opening of a new grocery store, Village Market, (1998) and ten new businesses (2002). 

These successes in reimagining and activating public spaces are credited to the dedication of Roslindale’s strong leadership from within the Main Street program and volunteers who dedicated years of work to support revitalization efforts. In addition to taking an active role in advocating for the new Village Market grocery store, RVMS worked to reclaim and rehabilitate The Substation, which is now home to a co-working space, a beer hall, and many community events. RVMS’ volunteer-led committees are essential to promoting the district and its small businesses, community events, and farmers’ market.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, RVMS leveraged its strong partnerships to support the district’s small businesses. In 2020, the RVMS Small Business Mini-Grant Program provided $25,000 to Roslindale Village businesses impacted by the pandemic and hired a window artist to paint a series of pieces across 8 storefronts–many of which are still up today. Collaborations with the Mayor’s Office of Food Access and the Summer Eats Program supports both the economic vitality of their Summer and Winter Farmers’ Markets, but also promotes health and wellbeing to community members. 

As RVMS moves beyond COVID-19 recovery efforts and into their 38th year of operations, they are focused on the future of the district. This work will be directed by the program’s new strategic plan, which they will begin implementing in the summer of 2023 and includes continued expansion across multiple goals such as making Roslindale as active during the week as it is on weekends, increasing the number of pedestrian-focused areas, and supporting a diverse network of businesses that meet the all the dining, shopping, recreation, and service-based needs of community members.

“From responding to emergencies to championing the economic vitality of our business and commercial districts, Roslindale Village Main Street and the 19 Boston Main Streets continue to preserve and honor our history, and the legacy of individuals and leaders who have impacted our communities. The resiliency of our neighborhoods are composed of many parts: the people, the community, and the businesses.” 
~Aliesha Porcena, Director of Small Business, Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity & Inclusion at City of Boston