Town Council Turns Down Request from Watertown Small Business Group

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A group representing local, independent groups spoke to the Town Council on Tuesday and asked them to consider adopting measures to support local businesses, but their request was denied.

Members of Watertown-Belmont Local First include locally-owned businesses and while the group is modeled on other similar groups, spokeswoman Rena Baskin said the group is independent. Members must be located in town, owned locally (headquartered in Massachusetts), must not be publicly traded and must be independent – not franchised, Baskin said.

Supporting locally-owned businesses can have benefits, Baskin said.

“They are the largest employer and provide the most employment to town residents,” Baskin said. “They invest more in the community and customer service is more personal.”

The benefits can be seen in dollars, too. Baskin said studies have found 60 percent of all dollars spent at locally-owned businesses stays in town, while 30 percent of dollars spent at nationally-owned businesses stay in town.

The group ask the council to consider supporting locally-owned businesses by taking steps to help them. Some ideas include having a locally-owned business week and even zoning parts of town requiring a certain proportion of locally-owned businesses in the area.

Town Councilors all said they support local businesses and said they are often the pride of residents.

“I think everyone in Watertown is proud of this community and when they have visitors they take them to eat at local restaurants and buy at local shops,” Lenk said.

While he supports local businesses, Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett said he is not sure about some of the ideas put forward by Watertown-Belmont Local First.

“There are elements that when I look at this and say this is protectionism,” Corbett said.

Councilor Aaron Dushku said he would like to study the suggestions and made a motion to have the Town Council’s Economic Development subcommittee study the group’s suggestions.

The council voted against the measure with three supporting (Dushku, Tony Palomba and Ken Woodand), five against (Lenk, Corbett, Council President Mark Sideris, Angeline Kounelis and Vincent Piccirilli), and Councilor Susan Falkoff voted “present.”

After the vote, some of the members of Watertown-Belmont Local First responded to the decision. Ahmad Yasin, a restaurant owner in town for 30 years and current owner of Kareem’s restaurant on Common Street, said he was “surprised” by the vote.

Baskin said she did not realize that the council would vote the same night at the presentation. She hopes that further education can help convince more of the councilors to support the group’s effort.

“I think they can’t wrap their minds around how it keeps money in the local economy and can help the town’s budget,” Baskin said. “We are not saying we want to exclude other businesses. We want to reserve some space for (local) businesses.”

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