By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Last March, Matt Slobogan teamed up with photographers Derek Cameron and Dan DiPalma to spread word of the challenges local businesses faced as the pandemic took hold.
Now in 2021, the effort has been re-started with a new message. Though businesses have reopened, owners still face struggles as they cope with fewer staff and customers. Slobogan—who manages the Downtown North Attleborough Facebook page—is working with Cameron to share the stories of how the owners are doing, as well as introduce the newest businesses.
“I want to keep them in people’s thoughts,” said Slobogan, owner of The Preservation Framer. “The restaurants, especially.”
In the posts, owners talk about how the last year has gone and the obstacles they’ve overcome. They also recap their reopening and how things are going now. Anne Chambers, owner of Northworks on N. Washington Street, was the first to be featured in this series. She said the response to the post has been great, and she is appreciative for what Slobogan and Cameron are doing for downtown.
“It’s a great boost for people who may not see my (Facebook) page, but see others,” said Chambers. “People thought I was closed, and it alerted people that I’m still here, I’m still open. It gives people a fresh taste of downtown.”
Chambers said that the pandemic lasting a year was completely unexpected. However, she said that people are positive, and she has optimism for the future.
“I feel positive, one of the luckiest,” said Chambers. “I’m grateful for that every day.”
Slobogan has also featured Havana Cafe, Bella Capelli Hair Studio, Althea’s Beauty Depot, and Mackie’s Family Restaurant in the series. He said that eating establishments have been the hardest hit, the difference between pre-pandemic and now being “night and day.” He said the response has been good, with many liking and sharing the posts. Before COVID, people were often completely unaware that North Attleborough has a vibrant downtown, but now, said Slobogan, they are seeking it out.
“They didn’t really venture out to find new things,” he said. “There’s definitely some positive side effects to the routine being changed.”
The social media campaign is just one part of the process. Slobogan is in talks with Geoff McGeehe, founder of the Greater Attleboro Small Business SWAT Team. Formed during the pandemic, this group chooses one business to help, and all members patronize it. It’s already saved one business from closure and the group recently visited Whisk and Paddle, another downtown North business.
Recently, it was announced that Downtown North Attleborough Week will take place on May 31-June 6.
“They (SWAT) make it their mission to focus on one business,” he said. “For a week straight, they all go there. It’s a boost. I’ve heard that many of the businesses have been very successful.”
Below are excerpts from posts written by downtown business owners as part of the Facebook campaign to generate support
“We would like to start by thanking all of our staff for their extremely hard work and dedication and to our customers for their love and support. We truly appreciate and love you all! 2020 was crazy! But we made it and have learned so much from it. It has definitely made us stronger as a family and a business. Like any other business, it has been a struggle from working long days and nights just trying to make things work.”
-Danielle Mackie of Mackie’s Restaurant
“Havana Cafe & Restaurant like many other small businesses in town have been struggling against the Covid-19. In order to minimize this infectious disease, the state implemented a series of restrictions and regulations which affected us directly. At the beginning, we were only allowed for takeout and deliveries, which implied a drop in our sales. The customer’s volume was not the same for obvious reasons. The next step was the opening at certain capacity that means less than 50% for our restaurant, also all sanitary precautions like masks, sanitizers etc.. which were not required before are now a must, making it an extra expense. But not everything has been negative, we have found support in different ways from our amazing community.”
-Marisol Villalba, Havana Cafe
“When we were told that hair salons were Phase 1 of the reopening, I was thankful, finally able to get back behind the chair and open my doors, but I was also a little apprehensive about reopening the salon. “If I choose to stay closed for the sake of our health and our families’ health, we risk losing our clientele. If we reopen, we put ourselves at risk, plus our clients, a dilemma I thought about briefly, but with other salons opening I needed to open.”
-Lisa Martelli-Whalen, Bella Capelli Hair Studio
“Opening during a pandemic has proven to be very challenging. This pandemic has everyone skeptical of any human interactions, which is reasonable. However, the support from my community and surrounding areas has been phenomenal.
We at Althea’s Beauty Depot greatly appreciate it. We look forward to our customer’s continuous support as we continue to proudly serve them.”
-Althea Davis, Althea’s Beauty Depot