As Boston Businesses Fight to Thrive After COVID Emergency, City Looks to Help With Grants

The COVID-19 pandemic left a hole in Boston's commercial real estate market, but new businesses are trying to find their foothold; to help, the city launched the Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises grant program, or SPACE

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The COVID-19 health emergency may be over, but that hasn't meant an end to the struggle for businesses in Boston.

While the pandemic has left a hole in the commercial real estate market, all hope is not lost. But current, returning and new businesses, as well as landlords, are having to cater to a broader type of customer.

The Silver Dove Afternoon Tea is a new business in town, serving a different kind of experience in Boston's Government Center.

"With restaurants, you always need to expect a slow start," said co-owner Patrick Brewster.

Since opening in February, Brewster said business has been "mayhem."

He realized that to succeed in post-pandemic Boston, he had to offer something unique to more than just the typical office worker in the area.

"Coming out of COVID, I was working at a busy restaurant and I could just tell that people were desperate for stuff to do," said Brewster.

"What's bringing retail back is the ability and the need to go and experience these things live," said Mike Edward, chairman-elect of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board.

Edward, who is also the president of Perry Real Estate, said the vacancy rate in commercial space in Boston is the highest it's ever been at near 20%, comparted to under 10% before the pandemic.

It means landlords are having to be more creative and flexible to convince a business to move in, he said.

"You have to have people feeling like they're coming to the office for a reason," said Edward.

To help with that, Boston launched the Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises grant program, or SPACE.

"The goal of this program was to take these diverse businesses and put them in spaces like this that have been vacant for a while," said Alia Forrest, Boston's director of business strategy for the Mayor's Office of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion.

The program will be awarding up to $200,000 to bring businesses back, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic.

The city will be announcing the first batch of 20 or so businesses that will receive the grants in the coming days, then it will take new applications for the second and final round sometime after the summer, for a total of about 50 awardees.

"We're trying to make downtown not just about working," said Forrest.

Although Brewster didn't apply for that grant, his business is proving that trading bagels for scones is one way to thrive and fill a space in the market.

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