Kim Janey, Boston’s District 7 City Councilor, sees the dark clouds of racial and economic disparity that often hamper her constituents from connecting with opportunities for advancement. Yet she is drawn to the light. “You build bridges while the sun is shining,” she says. “You don’t wait for the storms to come.”
Indeed, Janey has built such a bridge. In 2018, she nominated for Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) ten minority-owned businesses – four of which took part in the program. When asked why she was motivated to nominate, she simply puts, “I want to make sure we have an economy working for black people, for those in the Latinx community, for immigrants, for women, and particularly for those who have been marginalized and left out.”
More Than Just Books
One of the businesses Janey nominated was Frugal Bookstore. Located in historic Dudley Square and across the street from ICIC’s office, Frugal is Roxbury’s only bookstore and Boston’s only black-owned bookstore. With the motto, “Changing Minds One Book At A Time,” Frugal prides itself on being a community center, hosting spoken word events, free drop-in homework help, children’s story time sessions, and much more.
“A bookstore is full of knowledge,” says Frugal’s co-owner Clarrissa Cropper. But a bookstore is more than just the books it sells. It’s also about the relationships it helps foster. “If we can be a business where people come and build those relationships, then we definitely want to be that place,” she adds.
It was through the relationship Cropper built with City Councilor Janey, a frequent customer of Frugal, that she learned about ICCC. She credits the program with opening her eyes to strategic pricing. “It hits home,” says Cropper. “It takes a lot of time to put together a book quote for hundreds of books, yet we don’t charge for the time we spend doing it.”
She also learned about the importance of building relationships both in person and online “The impact of social media is huge,” notes Cropper. “But we weren’t active as we might have liked.” As a direct result of the insights she gained from ICCC, social media is now part of Frugal’s marketing strategy, allowing her and her husband Leonard Egerton to better engage with customers.
Don’t Wait for the Storm to Come
As Chair of the Boston City Council’s Small Business and Consumer Affairs committee, City Councilor Janey does not wait for the storm to come. She proactively connects entrepreneurs in her district and across the city to resources they can leverage to tackle challenges and build capacity. It is in this spirit that she nominated ten additional businesses for this year’s ICCC program.
It’s also how she confronts the rise in empty storefronts in Dudley Square. Concerned but undaunted, Janey told her constituents at a neighborhood meeting to approach these business closures not as insurmountable problems but as challenges they could solve.
“Some people looked to the Boston school department moving to Dudley as the savior of economic activity,” she told The Bay State Banner. “But they are not the savior, and we as residents, business owners and stakeholders are the ones who will put forth solutions that can help save our community.”
And Janey sees the partnership she has with ICCC as one of the solutions to revitalizing her community’s economic vitality. “There will always be challenges – the rain is always going to come,” she says. “That’s why you proactively seek out building relationships.”