As grocery stores become centers of stress, with lines of customers forming outside of their doors, the City of Somerville decided to pass an order allowing restaurants to sell groceries on April 18. The choice is meant to relieve several different pressures from the Somerville community.
“This is a good example of how in a crisis, on many different levels, you have to be nimble, move quick, and be bold,” says Mayor Joseph Curtatone. “It’s an idea that came from the local restaurant industry. It provides a few benefits. One, it certainly helps local establishments pay the bills and keep some people employed. Secondly, it provides people with another point of food access. And thirdly, it helps with the food supply and distribution chain.”
Twelve restaurants in Somerville have begun selling groceries for pick-up or delivery, and a directory is being added to the Somerville Delivers website.
Businesses that have not previously sold groceries must submit a detailed operations and safety plan for the storage and distribution of goods.
The idea for the order came directly from the community, as the City of Somerville held phone call check ins with local restaurants. Curtatone says that he is hoping the order will help small businesses make it through the coronavirus and possibly allow some restaurants to hire back staff members who had to be laid off.
Dark Horse Public House had thought of the plan to sell groceries before the order even passed. Two weeks ago, manager Roisin O’Rourke had heard from her food distributor that they would offer produce at cost, and O’Rourke began putting together grocery boxes, which she advertised over Instagram and Facebook.
O’Rourke says that she expected to hear back from maybe a dozen people, but actually was contacted by sixty. She communicated her idea with City Councilor Ben Ewen-Campen.
The pub currently offers a variety of grocery packages. Customers can purchase kits filled with chicken wings, nachos, or cheese pizzas. They can also buy a box of baking supplies, complete with all purpose flour and baking powder, as well as a vegetable box, described as having enough ingredients to make a “bowl of guacamole.”
Dark Horse Public House is also collaborating with other local businesses and artists. As a part of a partnership with Emily’s Flower Kitchen, the pub is selling bouquets of flowers for $20. They are also working with artist Cheri Ruane, who will give customers a mask in exchange for $5.
Earls Kitchen + Bar in Assembly Row recently opened Earls Grocery, through which people can buy fresh ingredients either for pickup or delivery. According to Regional Director Lynn MacDonald, the most popular package is the protein pack, containing ribs and salmon filets, but the restaurant also sells home essentials such as toilet paper and hand soap.
Earls has social distancing policies in place like curbside pickup, which ensures minimal interaction between customers and staff. MacDonald says that Earls made the decision to sell groceries out of a desire to help the community during a time of crisis.
“Right when the partial closure happened with just takeout, we were looking to jump on to groceries as soon as possible, when announced by the Mayor,” says MacDonald. “The reason we started our groceries is just to make life easier for the community. We understand that grocery stores have lines and some products are out of stock. We also know that people are trying to limit their interactions, outside of their houses and their apartments.”
Curtatone says that the new order is just one part of helping small businesses stay afloat.
“As much business activity as we can keep going, given the realities of this health emergency—it’s only a plus,” says Curtatone. “We’re thinking of every idea and soliciting every creative idea and opportunity to keep the small business component of our economy primed and ready to go, for when we get to the other side of this crisis.”
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