Chamber News

Needham / Newton
February 26, 2021 Likes Comments

Uncle Charlie: 'Go out and play'

NPR's Ari Shapiro aired an interesting story last night about a debate inside the Biden White House where they're asking; should our COVID messaging focus on hope or caution?

This week in the Bay State, our governor focused on hope.
“The good news is that it’s okay to go back to doing some of the things you were doing before,” Gov. Charlie Baker declared yesterday.
Pointing to drops in cases and hospitalizations and increased vaccinations, Baker announced that capacity at most businesses can increase from 40 to 50 percent starting Monday.
Indoor performance venues, including concert halls and theaters, will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity with a cap of 500 patrons.

Aching for a round of laser tag, or a spin at an indoor roller skating rink? Both are okay too starting Monday. (With capacity limits, face masks, etc.)
Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and can offer live music (with six-foot social distancing enforced and limits of six people per table and 90-minute seatings).

More significantly, Baker announced plans to ease into Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan, starting March 22.
That means we can return to stadiums and ballparks and concert halls (with strict capacity limits).
Dancing at weddings? Go for it, says the guv.
Mosh pits? Um, not yet.
“As COVID cases go down, as vaccinations go up, you will find people more comfortable and more willing to go out and play a little bit,” Baker said, while adding that these activities should still happen within households, while private gathering limits will remain at 25 outdoors and 10 indoors.
Of course, what he's really opening with these actions are jobs. These sectors have been hurting for a long time.
Needham senator thinks it's 'dangerous'
Perhaps not coincidently, Baker’s announcement came just hours after getting hammered by lawmakers about the state’s vaccine registration system, notes Sarah Betancourt at CommonWealth.
The good news is, this time, the system didn’t crash.
The bad news, the just-added "digital waiting room" feature left a lot to be desired. All 50,000 appointments vanished quickly.
And then there was Needham’s state Sen. Becca Rausch, who took to Twitter to slam Baker’s reopening announcement.
"Let me say this as clearly as possible,” Rausch wrote. “The reopening announcements from @CharlieBakerMA @KarynPolito today are yet more in a very long line of irresponsible, dangerous decisions. Every expert I know says we must be relentless in #COVID precautions. GOV/LG do the exact opposite.”
Here’s what’s changing, starting Monday
  • Capacity limits across all sectors with capacity limits will be raised to 50% and exclude employees
  • Indoor performance venues such as concert halls, theaters, and other indoor performance spaces will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity with no more than 500 persons
  • Indoor recreational activities with greater potential for contact (laser tag, roller skating, trampolines, obstacle courses) will be allowed to reopen at 50% capacity
  • Restaurants will no longer have a percent capacity limit and will be permitted to host musical performances; six-foot social distancing, limits of six people per table and 90 minute limits remain in place
Face masks are still required and residents should avoid contact outside of their immediate households. The travel advisory and other public health orders remain in effect.
Here’s what’s reopening, starting March 22
  • Indoor and outdoor stadiums, arenas and ballparks will be permitted to operate at a strict 12% capacity limit after submitting a plan to the Department of Public Health.
  • Gathering limits for event venues and in public settings increases to 100 people indoors and 150 people outdoors. Outdoor gatherings at private residences and in private backyards will remain at a maximum of 25 people. Indoor house gatherings remaining at 10 people.
  • Dance floors will be permitted at weddings and other events only. Overnight summer camps will be allowed to operate this coming summer. Exhibition and convention halls may also begin to operate, following gatherings limits and event protocols.
Free parking in Wellesley set to expire
Wellesley’s free parking program is set to expire Monday. And there doesn’t appear to be any plan to extend it.
That would be a shame. Paid parking is an essential tool for managing turnover. But parking in Wellesley's retail areas doesn’t seem to be a problem right now, which suggests to me that it's too soon to start charging.
Municipalities should do whatever they can right now to encourage local commerce at a time when so many businesses are fragile. (Meters remain free in Newton and Needham.)

Watertown makes commitment to the arts
Watertown is jumping feet first into a proposal to create a Public Arts Master Plan, reports Watertown News.
A master plan was approved by Town Council on Tuesday. It calls for the creation of a Public Arts and Culture Committee and Public Art Authority to help put programing and the plan into place.

“Having an arts plan generates a lot of business,” Councilor John Gannon said. “Creating a destination art event — be it music, be it open studios — there is a lot of benefits to local business through people being drawn into town, dining in town and cultivating local businesses, as well, it provides a showcase for local artists, of whom there are many creative people in Watertown.”
The council also discussed changing zoning rules to ask developers to include public art in their projects.
Small business grant data now available

Thanks to the BBJ we now have a searchable list of the recipients of the state’s small business grants recently awarded through the Massachusetts Growth Capital Corp.
Reporter Greg Ryan details how the first $515 million of the $700 million program has been allocated.

Ryan found that the program’s stated goal to focus on women- and minority-owned businesses “appears to have delivered results.” Nearly half of the grants have gone to woman-owned firms. Over a third of the grants so far went to minority-owned businesses.

“Still, those who have claimed no special status have received an average grant of over $54,000, compared with more than $42,000 for women-owned businesses and just under $42,000 for minority-owned businesses."
An additional 1,108 businesses, for a total of $49 million, were awarded grants under the program yesterday. The most recent awards went to businesses that had applied earlier this year but were originally missing documents which have since been submitted.

MGCC is continuing to work with business owners who have yet to submit necessary documents so if you applied but are still waiting, you still might qualify.

Focus on what matters

Want to rebuild the economy? Improve child care policies, Jerome H. Powell, the Federal Reserve chair told Congress this week.
“Our peers, our competitors, advanced economy democracies, have a more built-up function for child care, and they wind up having substantially higher labor force participation for women,” Powell said. “We used to lead the world in female labor force participation, a quarter-century ago, and we no longer do. It may just be that those policies have put us behind.”
Powell made it clear that the labor market remained far from healed, that the pandemic’s economic fallout has disproportionately hurt women and minorities, the New York Times reports.
“Some parts of the economy have a long way to go,” the fed chair said.
Expanded outdoor dining coming to Newton
Newton Mayor Ruthanne Fuller is expanding outdoor dining this spring.
The multi-faceted plan is a big improvement over last year’s efforts, which felt overly cautious compared to many neighboring municipalities.

Starting April 1 restaurants can expand seating into parking spaces beyond their frontage, with written support from their abutting neighbors. (Applications are here.)

Also planned: An expanded outdoor dining area on Union Street (opposite the Newton Centre T stop) with metered spaces converted to parklets and traffic reduced to one lane.
Finally, thanks to a partnership with Newton Community Pride, those drab communal dining spots in some village centers are getting a face lift with painted bistro tables, umbrellas, solar lighting and other artistic elements. There will be set ups in Newton Centre, Newton Highlands, West Newton, Newtonville and Nonantum.

We’re grateful to the mayor and her team for listening, acting and taking the concerns of our restaurants into consideration.
But make no mistake about it: This program isn’t just great for our restaurants, it will create foot traffic and vitality that should benefit all of our merchants.
Ok, that's it for this week. Do yourself a favor, instead of buying one of these creepy things, spend a few bucks at one of the places listed here instead.

President, Newton-Needham Regional Chamber
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