City grants are helping new merchants pay for their working spaces

Yanique Shaw
Flower company entrepreneur

Finding a place to do business in Boston isn’t easy these days, but five entrepreneurs in Dorchester and Mattapan can breathe a little easier this spring thanks to a city grant program that will help them pay for rent and other needs.

The names of the winners in the city’s second round of its SPACE grant program – they receive awards of up to $200,000 along with key technical support – were named this week at a City Hall event.

The competitive program, formally named “Supporting Pandemic Affected Community Enterprises, debuted last year with 24 grantees awarded a total of $2.83 million that came as a direct result of recommendations from small business owners. Of those grantees, 10 are open and operating and 7 have signed leases.

This week, Mayor Wu announced that the second round nearly doubled last year’s total in awarding $4.575 million to 37 grantees across the city.

“Our team has ensured that this pool of awardees reflects the diversity of talent in local entrepreneurs and small business owners,” said Segun Idowu, the city’s chief of Economic Opportunity and Inclusion. “I know that our city will benefit richly from the growth of these companies, the addition of new jobs, and the inclusion of so many who were at one time left out of important programs like the SPACE grant.”

One of the new grant winners is Yanique Shaw, proprietor of The Boston Flower Co., which she plans to open in an unfinished retail space in The Loop building on River Street near Mattapan Square. She is set to begin work on the large floral studio, retail and community workshop space “any day” with hopes of opening in the early fall.

“Before the pandemic I attended a floral workshop and it sparked my interest,” said Shaw, 36, noting that she was a member of the Encore Boston Harbor casino marketing team at the time. “I made a one-year plan to be able to leave my job and pursue my work in floral design. I was also very fortunate to freelance for bigger floral designers in Boston who let me come in and helped me get started. Now, I’m expanding. I never thought I would even be in this business. I feel crazy for doing it, and crazy if I didn’t do it.”

The grant is something that, combined with existing business loans, will help her graduate from operating out of her garage in Randolph to having a bonafide store and community space in Mattapan.

“It will certainly keep me from having to take out additional business loans,” she said, as her voice echoed through the now-empty storefront. “The grant will just alleviate a lot of stress for me and help to put aside money for rent…It will help me with my inventory to do ‘shop local’ and support local businesses. I think there will be no better way to use that money to spread around the local dollar.”

The idea will be to have about 60 percent of the retail store sell local products from small businesses in the area – a big ‘shop local’ initiative – and to set up her floral studio for weddings, corporate events, walk-ins, and daily deliveries. In the back of the store will be a large space for workshops on everything from creative classes to engineering seminars, or “whatever piques the community’s interests.”

While Shaw was growing up in Roxbury and attending Melrose Public Schools through the METCO program, her mother established a hair salon, Symmetric Hair and Nails, on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan. Like Yanique, she built the salon from the ground up.

“When I first saw the space, it was hard for me to grasp the vision, but my mom was with me and she has operated a salon on Blue Hill Avenue for 26 years and she built that from the ground up, too,” said Shaw. “She told me I had to do it.”

And now Yanique is one ‘stem’ closer to a grand opening.

From flowers to filhós, a Portuguese pastry, Raquel Semedo isn’t quite as far along in finding a space, but the 38-year-old Dorchester woman has her own dream of operating Lisboa Café and Mini-Market, a Portuguese bakery and mini-market, mapped out in her head. She was also named as a grant-winner this week.

Raquel Semedo, born and raised in Portugal with roots in Cape Verde, came to Boston five years ago and dreams of using her SPACE grant to open up Lisboa Café and Mini-Market – to bring the food and pastries of Portugal to Dorchester, specifically Uphams Corner. Seth Daniel photo

With Cape Verdean roots, but born and raised in Portugal, she left home at the age of 24 and earned a degree in the United Kingdom focused on travel and tourism. After working in restaurants and managing hotels there, she came to Boston five years ago and has made it her goal to start her business in Dorchester.

“I’m very focused on Uphams Corner now because there is such a large Portuguese and Cape Verdean population, but I haven’t been able to find a space there,” she said. “I’m looking at different places now, but I really want to do this in Dorchester.

“Every time I look for a nice place to go, I feel like I look downtown or the Seaport,” she continued. “I want to bring something here you would find there – a space you would think is in the Seaport but is in Dorchester.”

To get people in the door, she envisions a high-end café that specializes in Portuguese pastries like filhós and other delicacies that she said she has yet to find in Boston. Likewise, the market would offer Portuguese products like cheeses, warm breads, sweet breads, and bacalao.

“It fulfills my heart to provide other people great moments and great times,” she said. “I go out myself and I understand how important it is to provide these moments to people, and here in Dorchester.” She hopes she can be an inspiration to other women looking to create businesses.

“Especially being a woman and minority, I’m doing this myself and sometimes it feels lonely,” she said. “You have to keep going on even when you’re not feeling as motivated.”

Other winners from Dorchester and Mattapan include:

•SIDE Presents – a production company headed up by Therlande Louissant and Marilyn Urquiza since 2019. Recently, there were tapped to create a 1,550-square-foot commercial workspace and networking lounge in the new development soon to be constructed at 1028-1044 Blue Hill Ave. by DVM Housing Partners. The plan is to create a flex space commercial unit that would likely include a 20-person, members-only networking lounge space, a 50-square-foot co-working space, and a 500-square-foot lobby and gathering area. There is also a small rear outdoor patio included.

•Oasis Vegan Veggie Parlor, a restaurant operation by Jahriffe Mackenzie. The popular restaurant and smoothie bar has operated off and on at 340 Washington St. in Four Corners since 2017.

•Salvaged Roots Hair & Beauty, Inc., is a natural hair salon and beauty brand founded by Shanita Clarke. The salon is currently located at 190 Washington St. near Columbia Road. Artisan made Salvaged Roots products are also sold in the salon and online, including Revive and Crown Oils, Whipped Body Butter, and Loc Bombs.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter