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Habit – Pam Santorelli

In our next Small Business Spotlight, we catch up with Pam Santorelli of Habit, a trendy women’s fashion boutique that has been bringing the latest styles to South Boston for almost ten years.

Tell us about Habit and what made you start the business?

SAM_0026-2I’d always had a passion for fashion and retailing, and had worked at various jobs including Louis Boston (a high end fashion boutique on Berkeley St then).  I met my business partner who was working there as well, and we shared the same kind of vision and passion, and so we decided to go for it.

What’s the concept behind Habit?

We’re a small women’s clothing and accessories boutique, geared to young professionals and young moms in the neighborhood, basically around ages 25-35.  It’s a good mix of casual and dressy, as well as some more classic pieces mixed in.  The price point is pretty good, and people are always surprised when to find how affordable it is because they usually think “pricey” when they think small boutique.

How did you choose South Boston?

I had been living here for 3-4 years before, and when we were looking for a location we looked everywhere from Cambridge to the South End, and we just saw that they didn’t feel right and we didn’t really feel comfortable there.  Some friends of mine asked me why not South Boston?  At the time there wasn’t as much here as there is now, but we saw there were lots of young professionals moving into the neighborhood, and so when we spotted this location we went for it.

12507652_10153881309112250_889814590942400647_nIs your anniversary coming up?

Our 10 year anniversary will be this August!  We’ll have some kind of fun event, stay tuned!

What’s the best part of running your own business?

I love how it lets you be creative and it offers so many opportunities for you to grow.  I also love helping people who come through here and are interested in the fashion world, and being able to guide them in that direction.  It’s really flexible which is great because you set your own hours, although that does mean you always have to be on 24/7.

What’s it like working with other small business owners in the neighborhood?

This is a great small business community.  We try really hard to build the shopping/restaurant experience and always help refer customers to each others’ businesses.  For example, if I don’t have what a customer’s looking for, I’ll send them down the street to Ku De Ta or Pretty Reckless.

We do several events together throughout the year, including the Spring Stroll in April and of course the Street Festival in the Fall.  We also do some smaller shopping nights throughout the year including ones benefitting charity like Think Pink, supporting the Ellie Fund.

SAM_0030-2What’s changed in the time you’ve been here?

Being here for 10 years, you get to really meet and learn about your customers.  I’ve seen customers start here as young professionals, and see them get into relationships, get married, have a baby, and some of them are even moving on to #2!  It’s really great getting to know the customers and it’s such a wonderful community here.

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The Labouré Center – Sister Maryadele Robinson and Judy Swanson

In our Community Spotlight series, we’ll profile the various non-profit organizations that do so much to strengthen the communities we work in.  For our first edition we spoke with Sister Maryadele Robinson and Judy Swanson of the Labouré Center, of the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

Sister Maryadele Robinson and Judy Swanson of the Labouré CenterTell us about the history of the Labouré Center.

MR: We started in 1906 as a result of newly arrived neighbors in need.  The inspiration to start the Labouré Center, which at that time was known as Columbus Day Nursery, was that people arrived as immigrants and needed jobs; so we started the service to give mostly women immigrants job training, and usually they’d end up at an entry level job as helpers in offices or as cleaning ladies.  While they and their husbands were at work, we would do the child care.  The daycare was started in that year, and really has run continuously since then.

What other programs does the Labouré Center provide?

MR:  I think the beautiful aspect of our beginning which we try to carry through is that everyone’s welcome.  Through the years, as the services changed, it was in response to community need.  For example, today we have trained social workers who help individuals, families, and children learn life skills, how to mediate problems, etc.

We also have two wonderful youth programs that are very effective.  One where teenagers apply for and get a job as a tutor.  They are trained by adults to teach young children, and we do cultural, recreational, artistic interactions and activities after school.  Another program we have is mentoring, where adults are trained to work with a child between the ages of 8 and 16.  It’s a one on one match, where the mentors commit to spending 2 hours per week with their mentee.  Once a month we do an activity with all the mentors and youth.

For adults, we have a job training program, which gets people into a health care career path.  They leave with a certificate to be a home health aide or a nurse’s aide, which opens the door to very well-paying jobs like LPN or RN, and we urge people to keep going in their education.

For seniors, we also have a program where we have somebody who goes to 3 senior centers in South Boston to help tenants with anything they need.  And there’s a volunteer program called “Public Health and Wellness” where sick elders who are home-bound are visited by a volunteer who does preventative work so they don’t need skilled care later on.

JS: We’re really a “cradle-to-grave” kind of organization, where we’re involved throughout the entire life of people.  As opposed to other non-profits that have a more specific focus, we do so many different things, so sometimes it’s hard to categorize the center.

Child Care at the Labouré CenterHow has the changing face of South Boston affected the Labouré Center?

: What I see is that the changing character of the community also changes who can help you.  We started out with people who lived here their whole lives.  Now we have new people coming in who are very busy, who work two full-time jobs and yet still find time to help.  I think that we’re a wonderful conduit into the community.  People find out about us and they come here and want to volunteer because they know about the work that we do and they can also find a new group of friends.

MR: We’re delighted in having the new residents involved in our fundraising and in our programs, and we’ve been reaching out to people who are newer to the area to join our board.  We like to have fresh new ideas and embrace everybody.

JS: We also have a thing called “Circle of Friends” which is an easy way to get involved: if one of the social workers needs something, for example a teenage mom who needs a high chair, they’ll come in and I’ll email it out.  We don’t do it frequently so when people do receive the email they know there’s a real need.  And literally within seconds, I’ll have responses!  It’s really amazing.

How do the small businesses in South Boston work with the Labouré Center?

JS: We try to partner with them any opportunity we can.  For example if they want to have a meeting here, we are absolutely open to it.  If there’s anything that the Chamber of Commerce is doing we want to be involved, which is why I try to be involved in the Street Festival each year.   It’s tough to be a small business owner!

MR: It’s the personal relationships that matter.  A long time ago, the optometrist was the Santa Claus at Christmas, and more recently Heather from the Juice Box volunteered her house for the House Tour.   Frank Burns of A Street Scrap Metal made T-shirts with Labouré on them and raised over $3000 for us over time when people bought T-shirts, and Stapletons did the flowers for the House Tour.  We also try to reciprocate by giving them our business when we can.

Anything else you’d like to share with us?

MR: Speaking of accompanying people throughout their entire life, last week one of our long-time volunteers Evelyn just turned 98!  She was at the House Tour holiday shop and encouraging people to donate.  She finally decided to retire from volunteering, which got some laughs when one of her friends texted her to tell her to quit slacking off!

To learn more or to find out how you can support the Labouré Center, please contact Judy Swanson <>.

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Proud to support women business owners in Southie

Business owners in Gift UncommonGift Uncommon is proud to support all of our business owners, and especially the women business owners who have been pioneers in the community.  Over 2/3 of the businesses that accept Gift Uncommon gift cards in South Boston are owned or co-owned by women!  They’ve led the way in retail, food, and services and we hope that you’ll consider purchasing a gift card online (or visit us at one of our events) that can be spent at any of their businesses, and in doing so support their continued success!

Pictured here are the owners of Ultimate Self Defense, Habit and Wears+Wares, Cranberry Cafe, Beauty Bar, and Indulge Day Spa.

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Ultimate Self Defense – Andrea Muccini

Welcome to our new series, Small Business Spotlight, where we tell the stories behind local businesses that partner with Gift Uncommon. In this installment we interview Andrea Muccini, owner and founder of The Ultimate Self Defense & Performance Center in South Boston. We discuss what led her to form the business, why she chose Southie, and what some of the positives are of running a small business.

Read our interview highlights below and watch the video to see Andrea (and her students) in action.

What inspired you to start your business?

I started martial arts as an activity, then the place I was training closed. Not too long after, one of my fellow students said that he really wanted to get his black belt and asked if I could help him. I said okay. At the time, I was working as a physical therapist in South Boston. I said, “Let’s see if the landlord will let us use the basement.” Lo and behold, this 16 year old student and I started rehabbing this basement in South Boston. Then the business started and I thought, “Wow…we’re creating something new here that’s fun, that other kids might enjoy, and that might benefit the community.”

Why did you choose Southie as a home base?

I found Southie by accident. I started living here and I happened to work on Broadway in a physical therapy outpatient clinic. That’s how it started. The reason why I stayed in Southie is because I felt like I found my people. I grew up out West and when I moved to South Boston I thought, “Wow…I really feel comfortable here.”

What are the biggest positives of running your own business?

It’s really hard! And because it’s my “afterschool activity” (I have a full-time job as a physical therapist)  I’m just going at it all the time. But I get to meet people up close and personal – I get to meet all the great people that live here in South Boston.

Tell us about your scholarship fund.

I started the Mixed Marital Arts Scholarship fund because we never turn anyone away. Everyone can come and train – the door is always open. We got the non-profit going so any child that wants to train in the City of Boston can enjoy martial arts.

What else should we know?

What I really like about this business is that it’s focused on the family. A lot of our families come and train together. To see Mom, Dad, and the kids doing judo together or Brazilian jiu-jitsu or taking karate classes…the family that trains together, stays together. That’s what I really like.

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Shopping Small in Southie

It’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas on Broadway!

It’s hard to resist the holiday spirit when you’re on Broadway in South Boston. Small businesses of every type – from salons and restaurants to retailers and fitness studios – are decked out in seasonal décor. With all of the noisy headlines about how the big retailers are faring this shopping season, local businesses like these serve as a nice reminder to “think small” when it comes to holiday gift giving.

Now that the frenzy of Black Friday has passed, it’s a good time to reflect on the impact that Small Business Saturday® had on the 2015 holiday shopping season. Small Business Saturday was created by American Express in 2010 with the intention to encourage people across the country to shop at small, local businesses during the holidays. The most recent Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey released by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express on November 30, 2015 shows the continued growth of this event. More than 95 million consumers shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday 2015, representing an eight percent increase from last year. The survey also shows that total spending among those aware of Small Business Saturday in the US reached $16.2 billion, an increase of 14 percent from $14.3 billion in 2014.

While these numbers reinforce the economic impact of Small Business Saturday, it’s important to remember that shopping small can create a positive impact on local communities all year long. Studies show that when you shop local, 48% of each purchase is channeled back into the community versus 14% when you shop at a chain store. Small businesses are also an important catalyst for innovation and job creation in a neighborhood. And the bonds that are formed between small business owners and their customers are often ones that stand the test of time. These loyal relationships can help keep communities strong and thriving.

Dyan LaRosa, Beauty Barthe owner of the Beauty Bar, was recently interviewed on WHDH about Small Business Saturday. When asked why she thought shopping local was so important, she said “It’s a wonderful way for the community to come out and do some shopping.” And she adds that it’s all about giving back: “If we flourish, we pay it forward. We give to the South Boston Neighborhood House and we give to other local South Boston organizations.”

So as you consider your gift lists this holiday season, don’t forget about supporting local businesses in your community. Whether you’re looking for the perfect food item, piece of clothing, or a gift card, small businesses can fulfill the wishes of everyone on your list. If you need some help getting started, Caught in Southie recently published a helpful article dedicated to local holiday shopping events.  Skip the crowds, hit the sidewalks, and support your local businesses this holiday season.