By Michael Bonner | March 24, 2021
Maura Healey crossed Main Street at the intersection of King Street before joining Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus Jr. and District 4 City Councilor Sarai Rivera inside a small clothing boutique.
The Massachusetts Attorney General made several stops in Worcester on Wednesday from Lincoln Street to help with food donations to picketing with the nurses striking at Saint Vincent Hospital.
Before grabbing lunch in the Main South neighborhood, Healey browsed the jewelry, clothing and heels inside Voltage Fashion Boutique.
“So I have not been wearing heels lately,” Healey said, which sparked laughs from the small group inside the store.
As Healey bolted to the wall of high-heeled shoes, Augustus said jokingly, “There’s nothing in my size up there.”
Healey moseyed through the small space, and then began to discuss with the owner and Main South Business Association president Laura Perez-Garcia about the struggles and obstacles the pandemic set before businesses like Voltage Fashion Boutique.
“The last year has been really unexplainable,” Perez-Garcia said. “There just has been so many ups and downs. It’s been very, very challenging and I think that’s a word that everyone is very familiar with over the last year.”
The boutique has been closed for eight of the last 12 months. The store has also dealt with challenges in acquiring merchandise due to shipping delays.
Augustus and Perez-Garcia explained to Healey how local funding along with TDI grants from MassDevelopment helped keep Voltage Fashion Boutique open.
The grants helped Perez-Garcia pay rent as well as any utility bills on the property.
“That helped me to at least keep the place,” Perez-Garcia said. “Everything else we just kind of figured out. Those grants were very, very helpful.”
With the funding, Perez-Garcia feels optimistic about the future as new COVID-19
cases continue to move in the right direction in the city and vaccines continue to be administered.
As she hears of other neighborhoods beginning to bounce back, she hopes the same will occur in Main South.
“Just because of the stigma of the area, the pandemic didn’t help that at all,” Perez-Garcia said. “Whereas pre-pandemic, the stigma of this area is ‘Oh don’t go to Main South,’ go to another part of the city that is suggested instead. The pandemic then hit and made it worse. Then no one was coming.”
It’s a stigma Perez-Garcia and the Main South Business Association are working to remove.
The first steps, Perez-Garcia said, are making visitors feel secure and safe, which takes a community effort from local officials, residents and law enforcement.
A sense of frustration lies in the idea that the neighborhood has a stigma, Perez-Garcia said. Stigma can often be a synonym used to mask racial biases and prejudices.
“It is very frustrating. It just is what it is,” Perez-Garcia said. “It’s decades-long stigmas and what the area has represented for many, many decades to certain parts of the city.”
Perez-Garcia spoke with Healey about being a woman of color and a small business owner. The pride she feels for her boutique, which she opened four years ago, as well as the community is evident in how she speaks of the neighborhood.
“It’s finding the way to resolve [the stigma] and keep it resolved so we can be as flourishing as any other part of Worcester,” Perez-Garcia said.
Before departing, Healey purchased several bracelets from the boutique.
It’s a small purchase but one Perez-Garcia sees as significant. As every small business owner understands, the small purchases add up and coming out of a pandemic can be crucial.
“There definitely will be hurdles ahead,” Perez-Garcia said. “I’m confident that with the good weather around the corner, and things looking up, because of the vaccine and federal stimulus, that that’s going to jumpstart the economy, at least to where consumers are going to be more comfortable.”
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