A series of upcoming posts will explore the evolution of shopping and its impact on local businesses.
There’s nothing like getting a sense of how times have changed like a side by side eyewitness comparison of someone who has not only been a Somerville shopper since 1964, but a Somerville small business owner as well.
Loraine Sarra had a lingerie shop on Main Street that many of you probably remember-Beneath it All.
Lorraine’s “love local” profile is underscored by her 30 years of volunteering to help small businesses in town through the Somerville Business and Professional Association. She currently holds the position as Secretary Treasurer for the SBPA.
The SBPA does more than help small businesses, it enriches the community as well. Many events downtown such as the “Strolling Carolers and Musicians” and the horse drawn “Carriage Rides” are Christmas memories compliments of the SBPA. In addition, the SBPA has donated to local scholarships and organizations such as the Somerville Rescue Squad, the Food Bank of Somerset County, the Women’s Shelter ,and various other organizations in the county.
It seemed like it would be interesting to get a glimpse into Somerville’s Christmas shopping past through the eyes of someone who’s seen it all. I asked her to walk us down Somerville’s holiday memory lane.
Q: How would you compare today’s downtown Christmas shopping experience to when the SBPA started?
L: Well when we moved into the area in 1964 there wasn’t any mall then. When the SBPA started there was around 300 retail stores in town. Only a few small places to eat or have coffee- Woolworth’s, Buffalo Bill’s (now Phoenix Cafe) Lorraine’s Sweet Shop and so much more. Everything you needed was available, including drug stores and food stores.
Q:-Sounds like a pretty bustling scene. What did it look like in terms of holiday decorations, music and events back then?
L: There was a sound system on the roof of one of the stores and holiday music was played until the holidays were over. There were enormous tress that were wrapped in lights and tinsel, with large wooden soldiers standing in the tinsel.
Q: A lot of people are not aware that the SBPA sponsors alot of Christmas activities that have created some wonderful memories for their family. Would you describe the Christmas activities that the SBPA sponsors for Somerville?
L: To my knowledge, the SBPA had always done pictures and brunch with Santa.
Q: Sorry to cut you off there, but I saw that pictures with Santa were cancelled this year?
L: We try to encourage our members to host some of our events. This year the restaurant that always hosted Santa didn’t respond to our request, which is sad for so many people who enjoy that tradition.
Q: Do you expect we’ll have them again next year?
L: I have gotten quite a few calls to do so and hope that we can. It’s an event that the parents also enjoy.
Anyway, The SBPA also ran “Santaland” which was a craft fair with hand made items by a senior group. We also had musicians every weekend before Christmas and at least one carriage ride per one Saturday.
Q: So aside from the senior crafts a lot of that is still going on.
L: Yes, the Christmas poster up on the SBPA Facebook page lists all the events and times for the Strolling Carollers and Musicians as well as the Carriage Rides.
Q: What you’ve described could be a parallel to the Somerville’s Ghosts of Christmas present and past. What, in your opinion, would Somerville’s Ghost of Christmas future have to say?
L: Well, it would be nice to have some of that available again-the variety we used to have in terms of shopping. If you have a town full of residents, why should they spend their salary in other towns? How many times a week will they eat out? Parking will still be a problem.
Q: Do you have any ideas on how that might happen? How Somerville could attract a wider variety of businesses?
L: Retail as it used to be is getting to be something of the past. Internet shopping has taken over the market. I can understand that. Most of online shopping offers free shipping which is great.
However, that’s not how memories are made, jobs created or how unique downtown areas are preserved. So I think the way to attract businesses is to promote local shopping and keep the experience alive. That’s where the SBPA comes in, provided you have their shopping needs
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
L: I wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.
For more information about the Somerville Business and Professional Association visit the website at Somervillebiz.org and “like” the facebook page. Add your own Somerville Christmas memories and pics in the comments!
~Diane Gerber is the facebook admin for the SBPA and a believer in loving local. She formerly managed Aternatives of Raritan’s It’s all good” store on Main Street that offered training for job seekers with disabilities.