The Dorchester Board of Trade will celebrate its 100th year next week by recognizing some of the neighborhood’s longest-standing businesses while gearing up for what they hope will be another century of successful business advocacy.
The October 20th event will take place at Port Norfolk’s Venezia Restaurant and is meant to both highlight some of the neighborhood’s oldest shareholders, including the Dolan Funeral Home, Keaney Funeral Home, D.J. Cutter Oil Heating, and Fitzpatrick Brothers Auto Body Repair. Organizers say they also hope to draw newer businesses into their network and present a unified voice for Dorchester’s 3,500-strong business community.
“The premise behind [the event] was that we have an outstanding and upstanding community,” said former DBOT president and event organizer Donna Finnegan. “We have families that have for generation after generation maintained their business within the neighborhood and hiring locally. We want to recognize them for generations of effort.”
Finnegan and her husband joined DBOT in the late 1980s as a way to help improve their real estate business’ visability amid the period’s economic downturn. Finnegan found the organization’s networking and training opportunities quickly paid dividends.
“What I took from it is that there’s a sense of camraderie amongst businesses [in DOBT,]” Finegan said. “You still have competition, but it’s a friendly competition. There are always people looking to talk with you and give you advice.”
While the 80’s were an important period of growth for the organization, current DBOT president Charles Hollins believes the coming years will be critical in guiding Dorchester’s small businesses through uncertain economic times, espescially for the many entrepreneurs who may not see their operations as sizeable enough to warrant membership.
“We’re hoping to attract an even more diverse business community. We want a really diversified economic engine for small businesses and we want people to understand that this is a business benefits organization that is there for them too,” Hollins said. “We want the people running the laundramat, the people running the auto body shops, the nail salons, and store-front shops to have a voice.”
That collective voice, Hollins said, could play a key role in lowering expenses like health insurance for businesses thorughout the neighborhood through collective deals with providers, as well as give Dorchester businesses a seat at the table when policymakers consider future legislation.
“Dorchester has well over 3,000 businesses and we have the potential for having a very, very recognizable voice in government,” Hollins said. “We could be part of effecting and drafting policy in such a way that it benefits businesses, we want to be the group you want to consult with as you draft and craft policy.”
While Hollins looks towards the future of the Dorchester business community, he was quick to highlight the hard work displayed by longstanding local companies like Fitzpatrick Brothers, which has called Dorchester home since 1894.
Currently owned and operated by brothers Frank and Harry Fitzpatrick, the Centre Street garage was opened by their grandfather Thomas as a wagon and carriage repair shop. The family soon found itself expanding its scope to service and paint automobiles as they grew in popularity.
Frank said the key to maintaining the Fitzpatrick’s business has always been the family’s willingness to embrace new technology, recounting how they were one of the first garages to test paint spray guns before they had hit the market and purchased a $4,500 computer from Radio Shack in 1979 in order to streamline their appraisal and billing process. Most recently, the Fitzpatricks have caught the green technology wave and now use environmentally-friendly paints that minimize their employees’ exposure to dangerous solvents.
“We’ve always stayed up to the minute with new technology,” Fitzpatrick said. “We’ve always embraced change as a way to help our longevity.”
While Fitzpatrick prides himself on his company’s ability to change with the times, he also attributes the garage’s success to the close-knit community that has brought him plenty of friends and customers thanks to the brothers’ hands-on approach to customers.
“It wouldn’t have worked the same way anywhere else, we’re probably the only body shop in the whole world surrounded by residential houses,” Fitzpatrick said. “And 90 percent of those houses are out customers, even when someone gets married and moves to Milton or Quincy, they tell their kids to come by the shop to get work done.”
Much like Hollins and Finegan, Fitzpatrick said that while he appreciates his business’ history, from the first time he walked down Dorchester Avenue from school to put in a few hours at the garage to the present day, his real pride comes from what lays ahead.
“It’s a funny thing, but we’ve been here now for more than 100 years. You won’t become a millionaire doing this kind of work, but it’s satisfying knowing you’re doing the same work as your father, as your grandfather. You know it’s the work you can keep on doing.”