BROOKLINE — Frank Caro knows a bit about aging. The retired UMass Boston gerontology professor is spending his golden years teaching businesses to become sensitive to seniors’ needs through BrooklineCAN’s Age-Friendly Campaign.
“The well-being of older people really depends on their engagement with community life,” he said.
BrooklineCAN, a townwide initiative among the Council on Aging and 11 other town departments and organizations, is credited with making Brookline the second community in the nation to join the World Health Organization’s Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities.
The campaign, cosponsored by the Brookline Chamber of Commerce and the Brookline Economic Development Advisory Board, encourages seniors to patronize businesses sensitive to their needs. Its “Age-Friendly” decals are easy to spot on a store’s window or door.
Since the outset of the campaign earlier this year, 32 businesses have joined the effort to make their operations senior friendly. Among them are the Coolidge Corner Theatre, Eureka! Puzzles, Brookline Booksmith, Michael’s Deli, Wild Goose Chase, Caffè Nero, and Barcelona Wine Bar .
An Age-Friendly decal can be seen on the window of Eureka! Puzzles. The store has become popular among older customers by offering large-print jigsaw puzzles, playing cards, and crosswords. The staff also helps seniors decide which gifts to purchase for their grandchildren.
Coolidge Corner Theatre goes beyond its popular senior matinee discounts, elevators, and wheelchair-accessible bathrooms. Executive director Katherine Tallman said people with hearing or visual needs can request one of the theater’s state-of-the-art devices.
A receiver that boosts the volume of the movie’s audio can help someone with hearing aids. The same device can be paired with narration of the film’s visual content for those who have visual impairments.
Tallman said the theater’s staff is also sensitive to older moviegoers.
“They understand that they might have to talk louder and clearer,” she said. Staff members also help seniors navigate the website’s online ticketing over the phone.
Jacqueline Feldman, 68, of Brookline, started going to the Coolidge Corner Theatre after she retired.
“I was just in France, and no one gives discounts to senior citizens,” Feldman said. “I asked why and they said ‘because everyone is old here.’ I thought, it’s not more than here.”
Nora Faips said “when there is something tempting” she goes to the theater on Wednesdays, specifically for the discount. If it did not have the discount, she probably wouldn’t have watched “Three Identical Strangers” — adding “I doubt it, at my age. I live alone with a fixed income.”
Marvin Kopp of Sharon was also at the theater for an outing with family members.
“We try to work it around Wednesdays, so we can enjoy both the value and the fact we’re together,” he said.
Tallman said that Wednesday, the only day of the week with the senior discount, is the second busiest day of the week at the theater.
“That’s not surprising,” said Debbie Miller, executive director of the Brookline Chamber of Commerce. “I think people really appreciate the outreach businesses are doing to make you feel welcome.”
Still, Caro is not satisfied. Among his frustrations are businesses that are not sympathetic to those who use walking aides.
“Sometimes it takes a long time to get things done,” he said. “You could say good for us for our staying power, but how pathetic.”
Caro insists, though, that businesses can make smaller improvements that will make a senior’s outings easier.
After struggling to read a menu’s small fonts in a dimly-lit restaurant in Washington Square, he spoke to the manager about providing a large print menu for seniors. His goal, Caro said, is “to get them to think ‘I need to be more sensitive about how I write this menu.’”
A lengthy career in academia has prepared Caro for the long haul.
“We are appreciative when things get done,” he said. “We don’t get too mad at people when things don’t get done.”