Boston Community Change

Ben Whelan

It is a widely accepted fact that a major way to strengthen a community, whether it be a city, a neighborhood, or a stretch of a few blocks, is to get the residents to use local businesses. Partnerships are created between residents and local commercial interests that keep money and jobs in the community, while at the same time creating inter-dependant relationships that benefit both parties in ways that extend beyond the financial. However, while everyone agrees that it’s a good thing, the question remains: How do you convince consumers to patronize their local businesses?

One creative idea is the Boston Community Change Program, which is built on a massive partnership between the city of Boston, the Interra Project, residents, local merchants, a slew of non-profits, and UMass Boston, the first university to join. The program allows holders of the Boston Community Change Card to receive a cash rebate when shopping at participating merchants spread across the city. In addition to the rebate, a portion of each transaction will also go toward benefiting the local non-profit or school of the cardholder’s choice, as well as benefiting the Main Street organization in the neighborhood that the purchase was made. The hope is that the incentive of helping out the city, not to mention specific neighborhood, combined with non-profit donation piece will be enough to convince residents of the city to spend more at smaller, locally owned businesses and strengthen the community.

The project began about four years ago when the Interra Project, an organization focused on helping communities start Community Card programs in cities across the country, met with city officials to explore the possibility of starting a project here in Boston. The city had been thinking about ideas for how to build stronger ties between public and private interests on a micro level, and jumped at the chance to use Interra’s unique card system to achieve their goals. After meeting with local businesses and residents over the last year, city officials and representatives from Interra have arrived at the current model as one that they think will work.

Another important part of the project is getting local universities involved, as their students are not only avid consumers, but project developers believe that the younger generation is more sensitive to issues concerning their environment and how they live. The program will also help students who are not Boston residents explore the city by giving them incentives to shop in neighborhoods that they might not normally visit in order to receive the discounts only available at certain retailers.

Chancellor Motley is a major supporter of the program and in many ways, as an urban university with students scattered across the city, UMass Boston makes perfect sense as a pilot school. According to Phillip Carver, the Vice Chancellor of Government Relations and Public Affairs and contact for the program on campus, explained that “The Chancellor realizes the positive impact that small businesses have on our local economy and that is why he wholeheartedly endorses the Boston Community Change Card. The program is ideal because it benefits all who participate. It’s a win for the business owner who makes the sale and creates customer loyalty, a win for the cardholder who retains cash for future purchases and a win for the non-profit organization that receives an unsolicited, unrestricted donation.”

You can receive your own Boston Community Change Card by visiting the project website at Also be sure to check the list of participating retailers, as new listings are frequently added. On the following page is a list of participating businesses convenient to campus.

Cape Verdean LiquorsTake a break from those 40s and 30 racks and at least pretend you have some class and sophisticaton by swinging through Cape Verdean Liquors to pick up a bottle of vino. While they have a full selection of booze and beer, your Community Card can only be used to purchase wine. But really, whenever “discount” and “liquor” are combined in a sentence, it’s a winner in our book.

690 Columbia Road, Dorchester; 617.436.0845; 10% rebate with a minimum purchase of $20

Ka CarlosThis neighborhood hangout tucked away in Uphams Corner serves Cape Verdean and Portugese cuisine to a mixture of local residents and food fans from all over the city. The menu offers an eclectic mix of down home traditional fare, such as katchupa (a hash made from hominy, beans and pork) and upscale selections such as the Filet Mignon with a red wine demi-glace.

33 Hancock St., Uphams Corner; 617.282.4616; 5% rebate with a minimum purchase of $50

Maxwell Corrugated Box CompanyAre you going to need a corrugated box every day? Probably not, unless you’re breeding kittens. Is it a good place to take a date? Not unless they have a fascination with boxes. But for those of us who just moved, these brown cardboard containers are a godsend, so have some respect.

65 East Cottage Street, Boston 617.929.1072 10% rebate with a minimum purchase of $10

Stitch HouseWith the cold climes of Boston in fall and winter just around the corner, it might not be a bad idea to stop by the Stitch House and pick a needle and some yarn to start on a defense against the frigid temperatures lurking in our near future. Named Boston’s Best, these purveyors of all things knitting are the crocheting capital of the city.

846 Dorchester Avenue, Dorchester; 617.265.8013; 5% rebate with a minimum purchase of $50

Strand PharmacyThe Strand Pharmacy, located next to the historic Strand Theater, is a locally owned, neighborhood pharmacy that stands out in a world of massive chains and conglomerates. Whether you’re buying gauze for your home surgery venture or just out of Q-Tips, stop by and flash your Boston Community Card for a discount.

533 Columbia Rd, Boston; 617.436.0155; 10% rebate with a minimum purchase of $15; non-pharmacy items only

Seven 50 GrilleThe Seven 50 Grille offers dining options ranging from the classic pizza shop selections of subs, burgers, pizza and wings to traditional Italian dishes, as well as serving breakfast in the mornings. Dine in at their beautifully decorated dining room, take out, or, if you’re really that lazy, get it delivered.

750 Dudley Street, Dorchester; 617.436.1100; 5% rebate with a minimum purchase of $35