In the decade or so since TJ Douglas and Hadley Douglas opened the Urban Grape, their South End wine shop has become a huge success, with annual revenue approaching $7 million.
But to reach an ambitious goal of becoming the largest Black-owned wine retailer in the country, they will have to leave their comfort zone — and the state.
The married couple and business partners have found a spot for their second store in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and plan to open there sometime this winter. Helping make it possible: newly closed financing from Cambridge Savings Bank that includes a $2 million Small Business Administration loan and a $350,000 revolving line of credit. They also received a $550,000 loan from the Boston Foundation’s Business Equity Fund, and are looking to raise money from private investors.
When most Massachusetts package store owners expand, they go to a nearby neighborhood or town. But consultants with Bain & Co. suggested that the Douglases set their sights on a spot much farther away, namely Washington. Because of Massachusetts’ strict wine shipping laws, the Urban Grape’s ecommerce business essentially has been limited to in-state buyers. That will change once the Urban Grape opens the D.C. location, and uses that site as its prime ecommerce distribution hub.
Hadley Douglas said they were attracted to the Shaw neighborhood in part because the historically Black neighborhood felt similar to the South End, a largely residential place within walking distance of the city’s main business district. The new store will offer a private events room, a change from the Boston spot where most in-store events take place around a central communal tasting table.
They’re open to eventually expanding into other cities and states. “There’s a lot of opportunity for us in the future,” TJ Douglas said. “But it starts with D.C.”
So what’s their secret ingredient? Maybe the 13-year-old retailer’s biggest differentiator is its “Progressive Scale,” a system dreamed up by TJ Douglas to rate wines by viscosity instead of varietal or region, and group them together in the store. TJ and Hadley Douglas also regularly pitch their shop as an event space for local companies and have worked to diversify their audience beyond the typical wine store clientele. (They sell beer and spirits, too.)
“This was what’s important to us: taking what we’ve created in the city we love and bringing it on the road,” Hadley Douglas said. “We want to be that incredible Boston success story. That wouldn’t have happened if we didn’t feel we had so much strong support at home.”
Esteves takes the helm for Main Streets Foundation
Boston’s neighborhood business districts have a new champion.
The Boston Main Streets Foundation has hired Eric Esteves to be its first executive director, to coordinate support for the city’s 20 Main Streets districts. The foundation’s annual budget has been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Esteves hopes to change that. Eventually, he wants to raise $3 million to $5 million a year. That would entail holding a gala in 2024, and broadening the donor mix beyond the core supporters in the real estate and development sectors. His background is in IT, before he worked for nonprofits, so he hopes to tap into his tech circles, as well as the biotech and financial services industries. (Most recently, Esteves worked for the Lenny Zakim Fund, an antipoverty nonprofit, as its executive director. )
Esteves was already quite familiar with the Main Streets Foundation: He served on the board of Dudley Square Main Streets (now Roxbury Main Streets) from 2007 through 2014, and developed websites for many of the districts a few years before that.
After watching how the group helped small businesses navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, board chair Joel Sklar and search committee chair Geri Denterlein knew bringing on an executive director could amplify that work. They view this to be a critical time, as many neighborhood businesses are still recovering from the pandemic.
While Esteves said he’s eager to have an impact on the city’s future, there’s also a fringe benefit to the job.
“I have my own favorite restaurants in every neighborhood,” he said. “[This] allows me to connect to some more business owners, as well as find some more hidden gems.”
CLJE Fellow Mark Erlich's new book takes a deeper look into the history and dynamics of the building trades, and offers solutions for the future of the industry. "The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work" is out now. https://t.co/5BoRnlVueS pic.twitter.com/eU8aqQWrMO— Center for Labor and a Just Economy | HLS (@CLJEHarvard) July 17, 2023
Erlich wrote the book on construction
As head of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, Mark Erlich got a firsthand look at the underground economy and its impact on the construction trades. Now that he has hung up his hardhat and embraced the academic life as a fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center for Labor & a Just Economy, Erlich has used his experiences to write a book, “The Way We Build: Restoring Dignity to Construction Work.” The University of Illinois Press just published the 160-page book as part of its “The Working Class in American History” series.
Erlich held a release party over the summer. It’s time to get out there and spread the word. His next event will be a webinar the Keystone Research Center and ReImagine Appalachia are hosting on Wednesday.
Erlich makes no secret about his point of view. From his perspective, the erosion of union representation in the construction trades has hurt wages and benefits and can lead to unsafe situations as builders try to cut corners. Erlich makes the case in his book about how unions can become more relevant, by embracing immigrants and new technologies.
His biggest surprise: how little has been written about the topic in recent decades.
“It’s filling a vacuum,” Erlich said. “When I was in the field and a union leader, I got a PhD in ‘constructionology.’ . . . It’s a pivotal industry that I don’t think gets the analysis it deserves.”
South Shore Stars shoots for new school
It’s crunch time for South Shore Stars. The nonprofit is looking to open a new school for kids with language-based learning differences, such as dyslexia, a year from now, and wants to raise $1.4 million for startup operations. Good thing insurer Quincy Mutual is kicking things off, with a $100,000 donation.
The organization recently acquired the building at 163 Libbey Parkway in Weymouth, which the Stars School & Learning Center will share with the nonprofit’s administrative offices. The goal is to be the main school for about 100 kids from grades one through five on the South Shore. Currently, the only schools devoted to this kind of learning are more than 30 miles away.
Quincy Mutual president Tom Harris, a South Shore Stars board member, said the group has a number of fund-raising leads. And South Shore Stars chief executive Jennifer Curtis, a former Weymouth schools superintendent, can make a compelling case.
“If you put her in front of the right person, she will be a very effective fund-raiser,” Harris said. “I’m really confident in her ability to close deals.”
Hao and Palfrey bring home some bacon
Yvonne Hao, Governor Maura Healey’s economic development secretary, wants to put “points on the board.” That’s how Hao, speaking at the Globe Summit last week, described the state’s chase for federal funds during this once-in-a-generation opportunity for research and infrastructure money.
Well, it didn’t take long. Midpresentation, an aide informed Hao that a Massachusetts Technology Collaborative-led team had just been awarded $19.7 million from the CHIPS and Science Act to jump-start a regional microelectronics hub.
The pivotal player in this game is Quentin Palfrey, a lawyer with considerable government experience tapped by Healey to lead the administration’s federal grant-seeking efforts. He worked with Hao on that Department of Defense application, and is closely coordinating with other Cabinet members, including Rebecca Tepper (energy and environment) and Monica Tibbits-Nutt (transportation). “We’re fighting for every dollar,” Palfrey said.
In fact, there was no time for him to celebrate: A submission for transportation funds to realign the Mass. Pike in Allston is due on Thursday.