On Broadway: Dismay, disappointment, relief

"Everyone in South Boston waits for this day year-round. We start the countdown the day after. So, it's really heartbreaking," says Bridget Nee-Walsh in her "Southie's Own" shop. Daniel Sheehan photo

A day after lawmakers and organizers made the decision to cancel Sunday’s South Boston St. Patrick’s Day Parade ­– and the annual breakfast that precedes it – for the first time in 26 years due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, residents and business owners in the neighborhood had mixed reactions to the news.

“Disbelief. Sadness. Feeling like we got robbed.”

That’s how Bridget Nee-Walsh, owner of Southie’s Own on West Broadway, described how she is feeling in the wake of the parade cancellation.

“This is a big to-do,” she said. “Everyone in South Boston waits for this day year round. We start the countdown the day after. So, it’s really heartbreaking.”

But while some joined her in dismay, others, like longtime resident Bill Silva, were relieved. 

“As a person who’s lived here for 67 years, I’m fine with it,” he said over a plate of eggs at Mul’s Diner, decrying the congestion and ruckus that descend on Broadway each year due to the event. “It mostly isn’t the local people, it’s the outside people who cause trouble,” he noted.

Lindsay Doren, who works as a server at both Mul’s and Amrhein’s across the street, also reacted positively to the news, which clears up concerns over inconveniences tied to traffic and road closures. “I’m so excited...I was just really worried about trying to get here in the morning,” she said, “because I have to be in at 8:30.”

Doren said the diner usually closes and serves takeout orders only on parade day in an attempt to keep inebriated customers out of the restaurant, but it may stay open now that the parade is off.

Similarly, management at Doughboy Donuts & Deli, which had planned to close on parade day to avoid that well-lubricated crowd, told the Reporter those plans are now up in the air.

Chris Dolan, another Southie resident, called the decision to cancel “a little bit of an overreaction.” But an acquaintance who bartends nearby told Dolan he wasn’t worried by the development: “He said he makes just as much money [on St. Patrick’s Day] as on any Friday or Saturday,” he explained.

Jodi Coyle, who tends bar at Amrhein’s, agreed that local bars likely won’t be affected as much as some might think. They’re only going to bring more people inside by cancelling it,” she reasoned. “All the Airbnbs and stuff, they’re all still booked. People are still coming in. Now they’re just going to be indoors instead of out in the street.”

A patron at Amrhein’s, who declined to give his name, called the development “sad,” but questioned the wisdom of encouraging people to gather at indoor places. “It’s an outside activity being cancelled. I certainly understand the cause for concern, but it might be overreacting a little bit,” he said. “If it were an indoor thing, I could see there being more cause for concern.”

In a statement released on Monday, Mayor Walsh said the decision was being made “out of an abundance of caution,” a position he reiterated at a Tuesday press conference.

“Yesterday we made a decision after consulting with elected officials and organizers and thinking about the protection of people. We cancelled the parade out of caution and the potential spread of the coronavirus,” he explained. “Right now in Boston there are 8 presumptive cases and 1 confirmed case of coronavirus...This is a very fluid situation, and a national concern. We’re seeing it pass through the country and we want to do everything we can to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

While the parade cancellation may not make a huge impact on business for barkeeps along West Broadway, small shop owners like Nee-Walsh are fearing the worst. 

“We’ve been open for nine years now, and we depend on this day,” she said. “We still have shipments coming in today, tomorrow, and even Friday with supplies and surplus for the parade. We’re really hoping that people still come out and celebrate because the cancellation could really cripple us.”

Nee-Walsh estimated that her shop, which sells Irish and South Boston-themed clothing and memorabilia, makes about 30 percent of its yearly profit during this week’s St. Patrick’s Day festivities. As such, a subpar turnout could spell disaster.

“Even yesterday was pretty hustle and bustle and today, you can see, it’s pretty desolate,” she pointed out. “For the most part, every small shop like us is closed on parade day, except us. We pay the high rent, and we’re here year round, you know, supporting soccer teams and baseball teams and everything else. Just that foot traffic alone and being open that day makes us. I mean, it’s a madhouse in here. We’ll still be open on Sunday, hopefully people will still be truckin’ down Broadway and going to the bars and stopping in for their gear. Fingers crossed.”

But even if West Broadway is less than mobbed come Sunday, coronavirus-panicked customers can still shop for gear from the safety of their homes, Nee-Walsh noted.

“We ship daily, so if people do want to quarantine themselves, they can wear the green in their living room.”

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