Chamber News

Needham / Newton
December 18, 2020 Likes Comments

Our work together is just beginning

Believe it or not, this is my 153rd morning update since March.

And in some ways, it feels like our journey is just beginning.
 
We still need to get through a very challenging winter. Then we’ll need to work together in 2021 rebuilding our economy.
 
Since March, we’ve hosted 106 webinars, covering everything from the PPP and PPE to transitioning our workplace to the latest trends in real estate and the economy. We’ve reinvented networking. We’ve provided opportunities for you to hear directly from local, state and federal leaders.
 
We’ve worked together to support, promote and advocate for our merchants, our small and large businesses, our sole entrepreneurs and our nonprofits. We’ve influenced public policy. We’ve been your voice.
 
None of this would have been possible, without our members.
 
Chamber dues typically covers about half of our operating costs. It’s more essential than ever this year because we had to cancel nearly all our in person events (which typically covers another 30 percent, with the rest coming from sponsorships and advertising).
 
Understandably, some member businesses and nonprofits have had to defer dues this year. We’ve also seen cherished member businesses close.
 
If you’ve found these emails beneficial; if you appreciate our advocacy; if you appreciate our programming; and if you’re not yet a chamber member but are in a position to do, please help us help you and our communities by joining the chamber today. We need you. Really.
 
And to everyone who is a chamber member: Thank you.
 
Thank you and please join us on Monday (Dec. 21) at 11 a.m. for a brief, members-only, presentation and discussion, hosted by our board chair Linda Sloane Kay and me as we look at where the chamber has been and where we hope to go together in 2021. RSVP here.
 
New Newton closures start today
 
A new round of closures go into place in Newton today, part of an effort by Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller and some other municipalities to curtail the regional rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.
 
The modified return to Phase 2, Step 2 of the state’s reopening plan comes with the best of intentions.
 
But, as I wrote earlier this week, it all feels misdirected because we know that the real culprit behind most COVID spread are private social and family get togethers -- not the businesses our elected leaders keep handcuffing.
 
And as Tim Logan writes this morning in the Globe, this rollback has "created a hodgepodge of local rules and restrictions, an approach that many say is frustrating to business owners, confusing to residents, and might not do enough to contain a virus that’s spreading at a rapid clip."
 
A list of the latest closures in Newton – including gyms and fitness centers (see next item), theaters and museums, plus new restaurant rules -- are here. Specific information for food establishments here and for fitness centers and health clubs here.
 
The solution doesn’t fit the problem
 
The new workout closing orders in Newton and a number of other municipalities is putting fitness club operators and their landlords in a bind that some operators fear they’ll never recover from, reports Andrew Martinez at Bisnow Boston.
 
“The damage this does to our business, for our employees, it’s nothing that we’re going to ever be able to recoup,” says Brian Kablik owner of the Planet Fitness franchise in Newton and two other locations.
 
Even more frustrating, adds Kablik, “It’s extremely unnecessary from a COVID-control standpoint.”
 
Fitness club providers say they’ve been extremely careful to follow strict state and CDC guidelines, which includes social distancing, reduced capacity and obsessive cleaning. Planet Fitness reports having a 1.1% positive test rate per 100,000 check-ins since their 75 franchises reopened in Massachusetts this summer. Other venues in Newton report having no instances of spread.
 
Today’s closing orders impact yoga studios, cycling studios and other boutique fitness clubs. (Needham, Wellesley and Watertown are among those that have not adopted the same rules.)
 
It also curtails some (but not all) activities at our large, community-focused nonprofits such as the West Suburban YMCA and the Leventhal-Sidman JCC.
 
Fitness memberships at these cherished nonprofits don’t just pay for treadmills.
 
They help underwrite programs that are essential in these COVID days; including child care and remote learning programs for working parents.
 
The Y, JCC and others remain open and are adjusting to the new guidelines. Problem is they're based on Phase 2 rules written in May that don’t conform with what we know about COVID spread today.
 
For example, as of today, you or I would not be allowed to work out in a Newton fitness club, say, 30 feet away from anyone. But we would be allowed to do so if we have a personal fitness trainer standing next to us. What kind of scientific justification is there for that? And how elitist too!
 
Also – and this is important -- while many consider working out in a gym to be a frill, that’s not the case for individuals managing diabetes, cardiovascular disease and other ailments. For them, this is a an essential service.
 
Watertown’s first pot shop opens today
 
Watertown marijuana retailer Ethos (formerly Natural Selections), which has been selling medical marijuana since July, opens for recreational sales today (Dec. 18), the first of three approved shops to open in town.
 
But Ethos' stay at its current Elm Street location will be short lived. The company has lost its lease and is looking to relocate to Arsenal Street (at site of the long closed Monro Muffler and across the street form the Mosesian Center for the Arts) by the end of 2021 the Watertown News reports.
 
Update on COVID testing
CIC-Health’s drive through COVID testing site at the Riverside MBTA station will be doubling from 240 daily PCR tests to 480 daily starting next week, with plans to keep adding capacity. Tests are $80 (I listed the incorrect price yesterday) by appointment only. Results in 24-36 hours.
 
What these testing companies are doing is quite remarkable. They’re scaling up a business in warp speed, with all sorts of challenges along the way. For example, one of the challenges at Riverside is a nationwide shortage of -- not tests – but the trailers used for the drive through testing.
 
Our chamber will continue to work on solutions to bring more testing to our region.
 
In fact, if you work for a large employer that might need 300 or more tests monthly, please reach out and I will connect you with the folks at CIC who may have a solution for you.
 
That interactive map showing COVID test locations statewide is here.
 
Two sides of the same sad story
 
Finally, two really good columns were published this week exploring the urgent crisis facing our restaurants.
 
Let's begin with Arpit Patel owner of Baramor in Newton Centre, writing in the Newton Tab,
 
“The hard truth is that I have had to lay off 60 percent of my staff over the last month. I am forced to continuously deliver bad news to my employees knowing that they will have no source of income, that they will not be able to pay rent, and that they will struggle to make ends meet.”
 
And in the Globe, Devra First provided a regional perspective…
 
“If you want to see a terrifying vision from the ghost of Boston future — one that could well come to pass — try getting takeout from your favorite restaurants in January and February. All closed? If help doesn’t come, and soon, this could be what the dining landscape looks like in the longer run: decimated.”
 
Both Patel and First go on to discuss how hard restaurants have battled, pivoted and adapted to survive and how desperately they need state or federal funding.
 
And they both urge us to do more…
 
“The government is supposed to take care of its people,” writes First. “Yet in this country, we start GoFundMe campaigns to pay for funerals for people who died because they couldn’t afford health care. And now citizens are trying to do the equivalent to save the restaurants we love. In the name of all that is good, as you can afford it, please: Get takeout. Pick it up yourself, if possible, to avoid third-party delivery fees, which can be as high as 30 percent. Buy restaurant gift cards for everyone this holiday season.”
 
... and Patel adds:
 
“How can everyone support your local restaurants? Order takeout more frequently and order directly. Email the Baker administration and our congressional representatives with a letter of support to provide the much-needed aid for restaurants at the state level to save the livelihood of your favorite bartenders.”
 
Hang in there friends. Please join our chamber if you're not yet a member. And join us on Monday at 11 a.m. if you are.
President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
617-244-1688
 
Your chamber is here when you need us.

 

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