Why local businesses need student support now more than ever

Maria%27s+Taqueria

Photo: Hongyu Liu

Maria’s Taqueria

By Editorial Board

COVID-19 has decimated countless American businesses. In 2021, many are struggling under new COVID safety regulations, which force them to reduce seating capacity and often reduce late night hours, an essential for many near Emerson. As a result, Yelp’s September economic impact report found nearly 100,000 businesses had no choice but to permanently shutter their doors from the heavy financial burden the pandemic presents. 

If we want the small businesses we love to stick around, and we should seeing as they generate 44 percent of US economic activity, we need to give them the financial and vocal support they need to survive COVID-19. We also must call on Emerson to support the small businesses that invigorate our community, considering their vast ability to influence economic success of businesses neighboring the college. 

Corporate chains with yearly profits in the millions will likely survive the pandemic. Some large restaurant chains, after pressing for a federal bailout, have done much better than expected from drive-through customers, delivery, and takeout orders. Amazon’s profits in the first nine months of 2020 were up 70 percent from a year earlier.

However thousands of small, family-owned businesses will fade away without the support of customers that allowed them to open in the first place. For Emerson-local businesses, like Maria’s Taqueria and The Tam, the pandemic alone is nearly enough to close their doors forever. In a story from last week, Christian Manciaa, who owns the authentic Mexican restaurant known for its hospitality towards Emerson students, said Maria’s is his family’s baby.  

Mancia told The Beacon his business lost nearly 70 percent of its revenue since the pandemic began last spring.

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“This year was supposed to be a phenomenal year for us,” Mancia said. “Every year we are always like, ‘This year is going to be good,’ and then always something happens.”

The financial state of small businesses across the country is already in shambles from the pandemic alone. What doesn’t help is Emerson’s tunnel vision for financial success instead of supporting smaller, local businesses that give back to our community. Emerson must support the surrounding small businesses during their time of need, rather than stunting their growth by inviting competing chains to campus. 

The two commercial spaces in Little Building were given to Tatte and El Jefe’s, both already large, successful, corporate chains. Tatte serves “elegant comfort food” at 18 locations, 16 in Boston and two in Washington DC. Many of the locations are in affluent or student neighborhoods. El Jefe’s has three locations including their Emerson spot, with the others in Harvard Square and Bethlehem, PA. While they are convenient and offer great menu options, why the lack of support for the businesses that have been serving Emerson students for decades?

The college also only gives a small selection of restaurants the ability to charge students in Board Bucks–making meals essentially free for on-campus students, as $800 of the free currency are included in their meal plan. This gives Tatte, El Jefe’s, Garbanzo, and other restaurants that accept Board Bucks, a significant advantage over the other local restaurants in the area, as students are more likely to use Board Bucks than pay out of pocket.  

This is especially unacceptable in wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has caused small businesses to suffer through stay-at-home orders and new safety precautions.

It makes sense that these smaller businesses are struggling, even with students back on campus. Allowing students to use their Board Bucks primarily at chain restaurants forces them to forgo the many smaller business options that surround Boylston and Tremont St. This makes supporting struggling businesses, like Maria’s and Dumpling Cafe, difficult for students enrolled in the school’s meal plan. Why would students spend money out of pocket when they could eat using their $800 of Board Bucks, which is covered under their meal plan?

Emerson knows this— it is an intentional business move that prioritizes the college’s need for financial gain over the livelihood of local businesses that have served the community for years. Emerson needs to consider adding these smaller businesses to their list of restaurants that accept student Board Bucks, giving students the option to support these businesses at no extra cost to them.

The places that you choose to dine at make a huge difference in what restaurants succeed, especially when people are already dining out less because of the pandemic. When you think about where to eat dinner next, consider supporting the small, local businesses that make our city unique instead of chain conglomerates. If you care about local businesses surviving through the pandemic, you should put your money where your mouth is.

This is not to put the blame on students. Most Americans have financially struggled in some way because of the pandemic, and college students are no exception. Emerson will always have a larger financial impact on the community than an individual student ever could. That’s why it’s up to Emerson, which has the financial means to prop up local businesses, to ensure that restaurants which mean so much to their community aren’t forced to shutter permanently. 

The Berkeley Beacon Editorial Board is the voice of the student newspaper that looks to serve the Emerson College community with thoughtful insight into ongoings and occurrences affecting their everyday lives. The board’s positions are determined by its members. The board consists of the editor-in-chief, managing editors, and opinion editors. The opinions expressed by the Editorial Board do not impact the paper’s coverage. You can respond to a position brought forward by The Beacon Editorial Board in the form of a Letter to The Editor by email: [email protected].

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