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Boston Public Market is nearly full again, but foot traffic is taking much longer to rebound

West Roxbury friends helping to lead St. Jude; Preservationist moves on; Grossman aims to revive DC small business efforts; Mass. pols make merry for the holidays

Cheryl Cronin, chief executive of the Boston Public Market, has worked to ensure there aren't any vacancies at the downtown market. Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe (Globe file photo)The Boston Globe/Globe Freelance

Cheryl Cronin helped bring the Boston Public Market’s vendor stalls back up to full capacity during the past year. Reviving foot traffic to prepandemic levels? That’s going to be a tougher task.

The market’s chief executive hustled to ensure the downtown market’s all-local vendors — ranging from fishmongers to apple farmers to coffee brewers — can stick around. To do so, Cronin said the market charged no rent for the six months it was shuttered in 2020, and then upon reopening set rents at 10 percent of a vendor’s sales while revenue recovered, without any flat monthly charge. (She has since begun to move back to the previous model for some tenants.) As a result, the market never had more than four of its 27 stalls vacant, she said.

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Right now, there’s just one space to fill: a new bar area made possible when the market obtained a rare liquor license from the city earlier this year. Cronin said the market’s leadership is still deciding whether to tap an outside vendor, or to hire bartenders to keep the operation in-house. She hopes to open the bar ― which will allow visitors to wander the various stalls, beer in hand — in 2022.

The Boston Public Market Association is a nonprofit, which meant it could receive two grants last year from the Kendall Foundation, totaling $750,000, to help the market and its vendors recover. (The market’s typical annual budget is $2 million.) In contrast, the nearby Quincy Market, which is still suffering from some vacancies, is overseen by a for-profit company.

The public market opened in 2015 and foot traffic peaked at about 2.5 million people in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and the market closed for half of 2020. Business began to recover this fall, with 110,000 visitors coming through in October, before traffic declined again amid the latest coronavirus surge. Cronin still hopes to clear 1 million visitors for 2021.

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The market’s customer mix typically consists of city residents, downtown office workers, and tourists and day-trippers. All three categories fell this year compared to 2019, with the office crowd gone almost completely.

Cronin hopes to draw more people in 2022, in part by bringing back presentations by local chefs and hosting more live music. Ultimately, though, the rebound could hinge on the return of downtown office workers.

“Getting office workers back is a huge priority,” Cronin said. “I’m going to keep saying it even though it might be unpopular. I think it’s important for the city. It’s important for a place like the market. The city is not going to be what we want it to be if nobody comes back downtown.”

From West Roxbury to the world

If only their fathers could see them now.

Paul Ayoub and Judy Habib became friends as young children, growing up near each other in West Roxbury. Their dads were among the founders of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, launched in the early 1960s by Lebanese-American entertainer Danny Thomas.

Ayoub and Habib are continuing that legacy. They are chair and vice chair, respectively, of the hospital’s board today, giving it a decidedly Boston accent. (Ayoub is chairman at law firm Nutter McClennen & Fish while Habib is chief executive of marketing firm KHJ Brand Activation.)

Like their fathers, they’ve been longtime volunteers for St. Jude. That mission took on new meaning this month as St. Jude announced an ambitious $200 million program working with the World Health Organization to deliver cancer drugs to underserved communities around the world. St. Jude hopes to help up to 120,000 kids over the next six years.

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“No one has ever coordinated the distribution of medicines for a program like this,” Ayoub said. “When our dads [joined with] Danny Thomas to start this hospital, they really dreamed really big. But this is bold at a whole other level, and it’s providing hope to kids all over the world.”

Galer bids adieu

Greg Galer helped make the Boston Preservation Alliance a formidable force in the city during his nine years as executive director. Now, he’s looking forward to a new challenge, one that’s international in scope.

Galer will leave his job in mid-January to become executive director of the Association for Preservation Technology International; he will remain based in the Boston area, working remotely. Alison Frazee, the alliance’s assistant director, will take over as acting executive director.

The alliance has influenced about 100 projects this year in some way, by Galer’s estimate. In his tenure at the alliance, Galer played key roles in Boston adopting a Community Preservation Act surcharge on property tax bills, and the establishment of the Legacy Fund for Boston, which has $6 million set aside for historic preservation efforts.

Galer hopes he has changed the widely held opinion of preservationists in Boston that they’re simply obstructionists by nature, and that he was able to drive home the environmental benefits to redeveloping existing structures instead of tearing them down.

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“What we like to say is building reuse is climate action,” Galer said. “There’s no way the city can meet its climate goals without engaging with its resources: its historic buildings. At the same time, the preservationist community needs to realize we have to be a little more flexible.”

Grossman has big goals for small business group

The newly reconvened Council on Underserved Communities hasn’t even met yet. But Steve Grossman, chief executive of the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, already has a few ideas about what it should tackle.

The prominent Democrat was just named to the council, which advises the Small Business Administration but was on hiatus during the Donald Trump years. The first meeting of the reconstituted council is Jan. 11. Grossman wants the SBA to work on ways to “level the playing field” for inner-city small businesses.

Among his top priorities for the SBA: developing a scorecard for institutional nonprofits and for-profit companies to track and report their procurement of goods and services from entrepreneurs of color on a quarterly basis.

Grossman now has a new venue to preach this message, one that has essentially become a mantra for him: “If you truly believe in closing the wealth gap in this country [then] small-business ecosystems are the key to wealth creation.”

Coal from local pols for Joe Manchin

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Here’s one holiday tradition that the pandemic couldn’t stop: NBC10 political reporter Alison King’s annual singalong with Boston-area elected officials. More than a dozen politicians contributed prerecorded parts of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” some of them more in tune than others. The spots were stitched together for a segment that aired on Friday, with Boston Mayor Michelle Wu kicking it off by playing the song on an upright Yamaha piano, and King appearing on camera at the end, singing with Governor Charlie Baker.

Halfway through, the politicians are asked who is on their “naughty list.” Senator Elizabeth Warren said “I can think of about 50 Republican senators” while congresswomen Lori Trahan and Ayanna Pressley both said “Joe Manchin” — references to the delayed “Build Back Better” spending bill, and the Democratic senator holding it up. Attorney General Maura Healey said hers is too long to mention. State Auditor Suzanne Bump points at “the unvaccinated.” Representative Seth Moulton singles out Vladimir Putin. And Senator Ed Markey names the Buffalo Bills — and that was before the team drubbed the Patriots on Sunday.


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.