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WORCESTER CULTURAL REAWAKEN

JENNIFER RUSSO

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GALENTINE’S DAY

CELEBRATING THE GIRLS

JENNIFER RUSSO

Galentine’s Day is celebrated this year on Sunday, February 13th. While not an “official” holiday, it is becoming more and more popular as a day for women to celebrate the other females in their lives. If you’ve ever watched “Parks and Recreation”, this was the name of an episode in Season 2, which had one of the highest viewer ratings. After the episode aired, Galentine’s was trending on social media and, as a result, the television-created “holiday” has taken on a life of its own. Now women all around the world have started celebrating their girlfriends and besties the day before Valentine’s Day.

This day isn’t about romance, flowers, and chocolates – it’s about honoring those other women who have been there with you through thick and thin. It doesn’t matter if you’re single or in a

relationship, this day is all about friendship and fun. So, what are some great ways to celebrate?

Get Together for Brunch

Many women celebrate Galentine’s Day by going to brunch with the girls, being as this was the

highlighted event in the beloved “Parks and Recreation” episode that made the day an instant tradition. Fancy it up a bit and dress the part, put on a cute dress and some heels, along with that flaming red lipstick you usually only wear when you want to go all out. Locally, we have some great places to grab brunch on a Sunday. 

Armsby Abbey has amazing chocolate chip waffles and quiche, as well as house-made Bloody Mary’s and mulled mimosas. Lock50 proudly serves some of the best crepes in Worcester and has an incredible brunch burger served on an everything bagel. For something different, Café Reyes is a hidden gem that serves Cuban style breakfast like bocadito con chorizo and panini pressed Cuban French toast. The Hangover Pub offers a hangover benedict with chipotle hollandaise and their signature “man candy” – delicious thick cut candied house-made bacon.

“I organize a grown-up tea party every year on Galentine’s. My girlfriends and I dress up, wear fascinator hats, break out the good teacups, and watch Downton Abbey while we chat about everything under the sun.” Mary T

“Me and my daughters get all dressed up and go to a cheap restaurant with my best friend and her daughter. We’ll go to Chick-fil-A or Sonic and bring a centerpiece and a tablecloth and pretend it’s a five-star restaurant. It’s hilarious.” Hillary M

Make it a Movie Night

Speaking of man candy, what better way to celebrate with the girls than over Channing Tatum’sexpertly defined abs? Local theaters are having special airings of “Magic Mike” on Galentine’s Day.

Blackstone Valley Cinema is playing it at 4 PM – so get some tickets and some popcorn and a tissue to dab the drool. Or you could go for a sappy romance like “Redeeming Love” or “West Side Story”.

A Little Gift

A card or thoughtful gift for your besties is always a nice thing. Consider an on-point phrase on a wooden sign, a really great hand lotion, or a book you think they’ll like. You can’t go wrong with an adult board game, we recommend “For the Girls”. Anything with a “Golden Girls” theme is always a great choice too, RIP Betty. You know your friends and what they’d appreciate.

“Last year for Galentine’s, my best friend got me a mug that says ‘We are best friends

because everyone else sucks’ – it was one of my favorite gifts ever. I smile every time I

use it!” Lynda K

Taste Some Wine

Get your inner wine critic on and taste some of the best wines Central Mass has to offer. Sail to Trail WineWorks in the Higgins Armory building opens at 12PM on Sundays and has wine flights for $30. Women-owned Canal District Wines in the Public Market are always happy to talk you through their wines. They even have an organized tasting scheduled for February 10th called “Pretty in Pink”. A short drive away is Nashoba Valley Winery, which serves delightful fruit wines, spirits, and beer. Worth the trek is the beautiful Hardwick Winery, which has some tasty offerings and live music on weekends.

Shop for the Right Bra…and Maybe Some Other Things

The O Shop on Richmond Ave was a “random COVID inspiration project,” says owner Stephanie Ramey. “I was inspired by something I had read and realized that there was a real need for inclusivity in bra fitting, as the majority of women fall outside of the sizing box – 90% of the women who come in are not wearing the right sized bra.”

In addition to expert fittings, bras, beautiful lingerie and robes, the store also has a section of

adult products with a focus on women. “Women tend to put themselves second in many aspects of their lives, including access to their own pleasure. Most products out there are reviewed by men, not women. We don’t need a man to advocate for how something will make us feel,” says Ramey.

Set in an old Victorian style home, this is a boutique style shop that screams classy, but is

welcoming and approachable with zero judgement. The store is designed to be a safe and cozy

space where you can feel free to ask questions of knowledgeable staff. The O Shop offers private parties with a wellness and sexuality consultant, where you can bring in some champagne. Why not go in as a group and all leave knowing what size bra you are actually supposed to be wearing, and maybe leave with a little somethin’-somethin’ for yourself?

Get Pampered

A spa day is a terrific way to relax and dish about the latest news in your respective worlds. All girls deserve a little “me” time. It’s worth the splurge, so go all out with a Girl’s Day Out package

at Tu Moda (includes a massage, facial, manicure, pedicure, scalp massage, shampoo and blow dry, and a makeup touch up). Don’t want to spend a lot? Consider treating yourself to a classic mani/pedi, or you could always get a killer spray tan at Bellissima Day Spa for less than $50.  

Try Something New

Get dolled up in the cutest ski outfit and take a day trip to Mount Wachusett, try rock climbing or  yoga, take a virtual or in person cooking lesson, have fun at a paint nite…use your imagination. The possibilities are limitless!

“A few years back, my girlfriends and I went to a pole dancing fitness class.  It started off as more of a joke, but we had a great time and got a great workout.  Super fun experience!”  Mel G

However you choose to celebrate those amazing women in your life, do it with flair. It’s kind of the point!  Give thanks for those great friends and rocks in your world and enjoy every minute of it. 

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People to Watch 2022

By Jason Savio

Worcester has a lot of movers and sWorcester has a lot of movers and shakers on the fast lane to making noise in 2022. From politics to entrepreneurs, here’s a look at some people who are making a name for themselves.

Alice Dillon 

Alice Dillon is making sure everyone can enjoy art and not feel left out. As the associate director at Arts Worcester, Dillon says she is “demystifying” what goes into creating an art exhibit so that artists and those who come to view the work aren’t intimidated. 

Dillon started at Arts Worcester in 2018 as an intern while studying art history for both her bachelors and masters degrees at Clark University. Now, as associate director of Arts Worcester, she is in charge of all the steps that go into producing the physical exhibitions held at Arts Worcester’s galleries, including corresponding with the artists, describing what the gallery is looking for in terms of theme, and ultimately organizing and helping to set up the exhibitions. 

“I would say that I am most proud of the relationships I’ve cultivated with not only the artists but also the visitors to Arts Worcester” Dillon says. “Because I am very aware that walking into a gallery can be very intimidating for a new artist or just somebody walking in off the street.” 

She makes the experience at Arts Worcester more accessible by taking the time to answer questions artists have and creating signage for visitors who might be walking into a gallery for the first time and aren’t sure how to read artwork labels. 

Going into 2022, Dillon says there are “great and exciting exhibitions coming up,” and she’s also focusing on her own artwork as a fiber artist working with fabric and thread. She exhibits her work regularly in Worcester and is looking to expand. 

Derrick Cruz 

For something to get done, you have to get up and do it yourself. That’s the approach Derrick Cruz took when he decided to run for Fitchburg city councilor of Ward 6 this past November and winning despite having no real political background. In fact, Cruz had gone to film school in L.A., but when he returned to Massachusetts after graduation he made a change in his career path.

“Basically I just got pretty frustrated with what I was seeing on a national level across the board and got to a point during the pandemic and my isolation that I decided I either have to shut this TV off and live in my own little bubble, or shut this TV off and get involved,” he says. “I chose the latter.” 

Cruz, 32, “got the Campaigning for Dummies book and it worked out,” as he explains it. 

As a ward councilor, a lot of the work Cruz does is “constituent services,” the “day to day” issues, like fixing potholes and settling disputes between neighbors, for example. “I’m looking to build bridges and break down some of these barriers we put up during the pandemic,” he says. 

He describes his new role as “therapeutic.” 

“For anyone who is missing that sense of community, the best advice I can give is to get involved and give back to the community,” he says. “It’s a great feeling once you get involved.” 

Katherine Aguilar 

It’s lit, literally, at Katherine Aguilar’s Kommon Sense Co. inside the Worcester Public Market. Specializing in all-natural soy wax candles, Kommon Sense is a “sustainable gift boutique” that also carries products like organic bath and body supplies from other woman-owned businesses. Aguilar, owner of Kommon Sense Co., started her business in 2019 as only an online merchant before adding her current brick and mortar location. She creates the candles herself as well as the holders, which are repurposed glass bottles she gets from the landfill. 

A U.S. immigrant from El Salvador, Aguilar is a proponent of woman-owned businesses. She is currently partnered up with 16 other businesses run by women and sells their products in her store. She has hopes of expanding to multiple locations across multiple states in the years to come. Aguilar says she wants to help as many young women as she can and is looking for interns who want to get involved with K. Sense Co. She also hopes to create a non-profit sector of her company in 2022. 

Maria Ravelli 

If you’ve seen a running fridge sitting outside around town lately, your mind isn’t playing tricks on you. It’s part of Maria Ravelli’s Worcester Community Fridges, a mutual aid effort she founded in January 2021 to combat food insecurity in the city. The concept is exactly what it sounds like: an outdoor refrigerator that belongs to the community so that free food can be available to everyone 24/7.

“Hundreds of families access the fridges on any given week,” Ravelli says. “There’s definitely a lot of food going in and out of the fridges every day.” 

Anyone can take what they need out of the fridge and also leave what they can, any time of the day, no questions asked. There are currently four locations: Main Street, Portland Street, Brooks Street, and South Street. Local businesses sponsor the electricity and allow the fridges to be placed nearby. Ravelli has a large group of volunteers helping her, but she says it’s really up to the community to take care of the fridges. 

Ravelli is already working on a location for a fifth fridge and is also piloting an upcoming mutual aid resource fair in the spring for all the local grass-roots organizations. 

Nick Lazzaro 

At just 21 years old, Nick Lazzaro is already a big part of the community and striving to make a difference. He was elected to the Millbury School Committee when he was only 19 years old, where he currently sits as a board member, and is also the chairperson of the Policy Sub-Committee which reviews and suggests policy adjustments for the school committee to accept. 

“I enjoy the ability to represent the student perspective,” Lazzaro says when asked about his experience on the board. “Most of my policy making and decision making comes through the lens of how I would have reacted to these policies when I was a student. I enjoy being able to advocate for students who have previously been underrepresented.” 

Lazzaro is currently a Junior at Holy Cross and plans on going to law school. As for his work in the community, he is hoping to continue being active in local government in some capacity after his term is up in April. When not in class or working with the school committee, Lazzaro has his own small business called Nick’s On-Site Detailing that he’s used to create a scholarship fund for student entrepreneurs. 

John Murray 

John Murray is making moves and making the most of the unprecedented time COVID brought. Between the time he graduated from Saint John’s High School in 2019 and his recent start at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Murray volunteered on multiple campaigns, including Tony Economou for Worcester City Council, Deval Patrick for President, and Joe Kennedy for Senate, for whom he worked communications and was an intern and a delegate at the Worcester caucus. He

started his own student run political radio show at Worcester Polytechnic Institute called “Youth Views” where he’d interview political candidates. Murray has also got involved with student government at UMASS, serving as a senator on the Outreach and Development Committee. 

Murray took time off from school during the pandemic, and calls his decision “a blessing in disguise” because he was able to work in local political campaigns for Johanna Hampton-Dance for City Council District 2, Khrystian King for City Council at Large, and Jermaine Johnson for the Worcester School Committee. 

“Seeing the level of success across the city, and saying I played a small role in big history, is very fulfilling,” Murray says. 

Murray is looking forward to returning to UMass in the spring and in the interim has created a Facebook group called Worcester Political Dialogue to try to promote conversations about local politics and bettering the community. 

Guillermo Creamer Jr. 

If you’re working as an intern and enjoying a check, you may owe Guillermo Creamer Jr. a thank you. 

Creamer Jr., 27, is the co-founder of Pay Our Interns, an advocacy group that focuses on getting interns paid in the public and private sector. He co-founded Pay Our Interns in 2017 and to date it has gotten Congress to allocate over 45 million dollars in intern pay, according to Creamer Jr. Creamer Jr. knows what it’s like to be an unpaid intern because he once was one working at the D.C. Mayor’s Office and in Congress. 

“To put it bluntly, Pay Our Interns has completely changed the way internships function,” Creamer Jr. says. “It’s now less common to find an unpaid internship than it was five years ago.” 

A Worcester native, Creamer Jr. is no longer working hands-on with the D.C.-based Pay Our Interns and is instead a remote special projects associate for Blue Haven Initiative, an impact investment organization, for which he is in charge of running a $3 million portfolio. 

Creamer Jr. is also on the Human Rights Commission for the city of Worcester, helping lead the police body-camera effort and “being in tune with human rights throughout the city.” He ran for city council during the last voting cycle but came up short. Not deterred, Creamer Jr. is not eliminating the chance of running again. “It’s possible,” he says. “I can’t say no.” 

Sonia Paulino

Sonia Paulino is all about sharing what she loves with others in the community. She recently started a teaching position at Worcester Technical High School after working as a software developer for nearly five years in the Worcester Public School system. 

As a software developer, Paulino worked on a small team developing internal applications–mostly apps administrators would use–such as a sign-in application for people visiting a school so the office could digitally keep track of everyone who entered the building. She’s also part of Code Squad, what she describes as a “nonprofit boot camp that teaches adults how to code.” It was there that she realized she has an affinity for teaching and decided to take on the role at Worcester Tech. 

“I thought that vocational teaching specifically was a good for me because I still love IT,” Paulino says. “It was my chance to combine my love of IT and my love of teaching.” 

In the new year, Paulino says she is going to strive to be a good teacher, positive influence, and get involved in the Worcester Tech community. 

Clare Robbins 

For Worcester native Clare Robbins, the future continues to look brighter and brighter. Last summer she was hired as the chief of staff to the Worcester City Council and in the fall was promoted to the role of assistant city clerk. 

As chief of staff to the city council, she says her responsibilities included assisting the councilors with day to day operations, events, communications, and constituent services. In her role as the assistant city clerk, she assists with election and clerk operations. 

Robbins has always had an interest in the political process. She graduated from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire with a degree in Politics and Gender studies, and studied at the school’s New Hampshire Institute of Politics, a spot that every presidential candidate stopped to campaign. 

“It really showed me how important it is for elected officials to hear from citizens and influenced me to pursue a career in government,” Robbins says. “I particularly like municipal government since it affects everyday people the most.” 

Before joining the city of Worcester, Robbins was the state scheduler for United States Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire.

For 2022, Robbins says she is looking forward to continuing to work with her colleagues in the Clerk’s Office and serving the residents of Worcester. 

Brendan Eddy 

Chances are you may have met Brendan Eddy when he was a child knocking on doors helping his father, William J. Eddy, run for city councilor in Worcester. That experience developed a passion for politics for the younger Eddy, who has since gone on to serve as field director for District 2 City Councilor Candy Mero-Carlson’s successful re-election campaign. Eddy also worked on congressman James P. McGovern’s campaign for re-election in 2020 and Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty’s campaigns for re-election as well as interning in his office in 2018 and 2019. 

Currently a senior at Boston University majoring in Political Science, Eddy is about to embark on a new adventure as a strategic engagement & business development intern at National Grid Ventures, working on a joint-venture with RWE to develop offshore wind farms along the east coast. He will be joining National Grid’s graduate development program post-graduation from Boston University in May 2022. 

“I’m proud to be a part of the clean energy transition and look forward to doing my part to ensure environmental sustainability,” he says. 

Lardy Navarro 

Worcester’s own Lardy Navarro discovered his passion for fighting at a young age. “I used to fight in school, or you know, outside in the streets. I felt like people were bullying me because I was the smaller guy,” Navarrao explained. He began taking martial arts classes by the time he was 14 and hasn’t looked back since. 

Navarro is set to make his pro debut in the Bare Knuckle Fighting Championship in early 2022 as the youngest fighter in the organization at only 20 years old. He will begin the year at a five week training camp with top fighters, boxers, and Olympains in Florida. As an amateur boxer, he won Golden Gloves, Silver Mittens, and even competed in the Nationals. Bare knuckle boxing was only recently sanctioned in the United States, and Navarro explains it’s a “whole different sport”. 

He is thankful for his strong support system in Worcester, ranging from his family to his sponsors. “I know from the bottom of my heart I’m going to do big things, I want people to tune in and get excited,” Navarro says.

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WINNERS OF 2020 WORCESTER MUSIC AWARDS

The winners of the 2020 Worcester Music Awards were announced November 10 at an award ceremony held at El Basha Restaurant, 256 Park Ave, Worcester. The WMA’s are produced by Pulse Magazine, a Worcester based arts and entertainment monthly.


According to Pulse Publisher Paul Giorgio, this was the 15th annual Worcester Music Awards and the first held post-Covid. Giorgio, said that” We are celebrating those musicians who stuck it out and performed both pre and post covid in Central Massachusetts.” “Many of these musicians literally lost their lively hoods during the pandemic and we came together to celebrate the winners, but also the return of live music in Central Massachusetts.”


Several groups won multiple awards. Local singer Cara Brindisi led the pack, picking up 4, My Silent Bravery won 2 and the Blue Light Bandits also garnered two trophies.

The full list of the 2020 Worcester Music Awards winners are:

Best Blues/R&B: Big Jon Short 
Best CD Artist: My Silent Bravery (Holding Hope)
Best Club DJ: Chuck Chillin 
Best Country Act: Tequila Bonfire 
Best Americana Act: The Hip Swayers 
Best Cover Band: BoomBox
Best Tribute Band: Petty Larceny 
Best Female Vocalist: Cara Brindisi 
Best Male Vocalist: Ricky Duran 
Best Hardcore/Metal Act: Whiskey Church 
Best Jam/Groove Act: Clamdigger 
Best Jazz Act: The Russo Brothers 
Best Live Act: The Blue Light Bandits 
Best Live Venue: Palladium 
Best Up and Comers: Liam Coleman 
Best Pop Act: The Blue Light Bandits  
Best Electronica Act: Sunshine Nite 
Best Punk Act: Michael Kane and the Morning Afters 
Best Radio DJ: Nick Noble 
Best Rap/Hip Hop Act: Genocide Geno 
Best Rock Act: Bobbing for Apples 
Best Solo Act: Cara Brindisi 
Sexiest Musician: Cara Brindisi 
Best Local Music Station: WAAF
Best College Act: Lexi Zarozny 
Best Cover Art: My Silent Bravery – Holding Out for Hope   
Best New Music Video: Cara Brindisi – Sunflowers in September 
 

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Worcester Railers Return to the Ice

Jason Savio


Railers forward #72 Drew Callin returns for third season with team . Credit Rich Leblanc

It has been a long time coming but professional hockey is finally coming back to Woo Town. 

On October 23 the Worcester Railers hockey club will make its return to the DCU Center for its home opening game of the 2021-2022 season against the Maine Mariners. 

After a false start last season and a season cut short a year prior, it certainly hasn’t been easy for the Railers to get back on the ice. When speaking to those in charge of getting the team back in front of its fans, you can sense a collective nervous anticipation and excitement. A lot of work has gone into putting this Railers team together, and not only is the expectation level high for the club to perform well, there is an expectation to just see the club simply skate again.


Railers forward JD Dudek returns for second season with team. Credit Rich Leblanc 

False Start

The Railers’ 2019-2020 season ended the same way it did for a lot of other sports teams that year: a screeching halt. Because of COVID, the Railers 2019-2020 season was cut seven games short, ending on March 7, 2020. The Railers players haven’t hit the ice together since. 

The team tried to get things going for the 2020-2021 season, but eventually had to back out because of numerous challenges posed by COVID, including state mandates not allowing fans in the DCU Center building and the team not being able to play the two Canadian clubs in the ECHL because of the borders still being closed.

“We were hoping to get a 25 percent capacity, if we could’ve gotten 25 percent capacity, we could’ve opened our doors and made things work,” says Railers Head Coach and General Manager David Cunniff. “Everything is attendance driven. We don’t have T.V. deals, so without fans being allowed to come into the building, we weren’t going to (be able to) pay our players and pay the staff.”

The Railers club wasn’t the only one that had to opt out of last season, others like Cincinnati and Toledo did as well, according to Cunniff. 

Railers President Stephanie Ramey says that between fans not being allowed inside and the travel roadblocks with the Canadian teams, it was just a “recipe for disaster.”

“And beyond that, the DCU center became a field hospital, so that presented a whole other set of challenges right there,” she adds. “The idea with minor league sports is that we’re a business that really depends on our fanbase.” 

Making it through the storm

The Railers might have been down but the players and those leading the organization weren’t. Instead of disappearing into the blue until the DCU Center’s doors opened again, the team made good on its dedication to the community and stayed actively involved in helping the people of Worcester. 

“Our mission for (that) year was to keep our community initiative intact and create ones that were unique to answer some of the needs of the pandemic,” says Railers COO Michael Myers. 


Worcester Railers mascot, TRAX, giving back to front line workers during COVID-19 pandemic. Credit Worcester Railers 

For the third consecutive year, the Railers were named the recipient of the East Coast Hockey League Community Service Award thanks to its many efforts. When the team was shut down, it organized a drive-thru food pantry in partnership with Massachusetts Military Support Foundation, worked with youth hockey programs to help replenish food pantries as part of Hockey Checks Hunger, and also organized a drive-thru teddy bear toss to benefit Friendly House in Worcester.


Railers Win ECHL Community Service Team of the Year Award for Third Straight Season. Credit Worcester Railers 

“We really haven’t missed a beat or slowed down it seems,” says Ramey. “We were very creative during that time and it helps keep us very visible and reinforce the idea that the Worcester Railers is a community first organization.”

Back to Business

The Railers’ new season will officially start on October 22 when they play the Maine Mariners at Cross Insurance Arena in Maine, and that date cannot come soon enough for the team’s leadership.


Railers forward Ross Olsson returns for third season with team. Credit Rich Leblanc 

As 2021-2022 season begins to take shape, there are still awkward details because of COVID. The team won’t actually be together for the first time until October 10 when the players have their physicals taken and then skate together. The first Railers team practice will be the following day on October 11, and there will be two exhibition games against Maine on October 15 and 16.  

For Cunniff, he cannot wait to see the team he has organized on paper finally come together for real. 

“I’ve waited a long time to be a GM and coach and I did a lot of work last summer building the team and putting the team in place and the reward is getting to watch the guys play,” says Cunniff, who will be entering his first full season as a head coach after previously holding an assistant coach position with the Hartford Wolf Pack. 

Ramey is in a similar boat. She joined the team as president in May of 2020 and hasn’t seen a puck drop once since then. 

“It has been sort of funny to lead this team through this very tumultuous time and still haven’t seen them on the ice,” she says. “There is no one more excited for this team to play than me. I’m so happy that it is happening now.”

A live pre-event party will be held on Commercial Street the day of the home opener in conjunction with Off The Rails and will feature live music before the game to help hype everyone up, as if they need anymore hyping. 

The Railers aren’t just coming back for the sake of coming back, though. The team is coming back to win games. Although a winning season has eluded the Railers, Cunniff has faith in his team and is looking forward to guiding his players onto a successful run.

“As a GM and head coach we’re not just looking for the best individuals or players, we’re looking to put the best team together,” Cunniff says. “So the culture that we develop–the team camaraderie–I think we have a really good group of guys that are selfless, they don’t have egos, they’re going to play for each other, they’re going to play for the logo on the front of their shirt. I can’t wait to just get them together and watch them gel and blend and turn into the team that I think they can be.”

“We’re really excited with the group of talent that we have and that Cunniff has been able to put together,” says Myers. He points to “really good local talent” like “Southie kid” Liam Coughlin at forward, forward Jordan Smotherman of Westoboro, defenseman Nick Albano of Beverly, and more. 

Cunniff expects a full house at the home opener barring any other state changes to attendance mandates concerning COVID between now and then. As for the fans, Ramey says they can expect an increase in access to things like hand sanitizer at the DCU Center and can expect the Railers organization to “stay in tune with CDC guidance, the state of Massachusetts, and the city of Worcester.” There will also of course be “all of the exciting elements of minor league sports,” like interactive entertainment,  giveaways and more.

“Families have had so much added stress on them, and its opportunities like sporting events that allow the general public to take a breath and celebrate together. That’s the beauty of sports,” Ramey says. “It’s the little kid in their glory seeing Trax the mascot, the parents doing the chicken dance, and the excitement of cheering on your team when they score a goal. These are all things that make you feel good. This team really matters here, and I know people are excited for their return.”

For more, visit: railershc.com/

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Four of Worcester’s Thriving Neighborhoods?

Rachel Shuster

Worcester is a thriving city with a growing vibrancy that permeates throughout each neighborhood. Whether you’re born and bred in Worcester or new to the city, you can’t help but notice the city’s transformation.

When we talk about transformation and growth, four of Worcester’s neighborhoods really stand out – Downtown, the Canal District, Shrewsbury Street and Main South. All have a rich history which is the foundation for the city of Worcester, but have seen tremendous economic and cultural development and vitality emerge over the past several years, with only continued growth for the future.

Let’s take a closer look at Worcester’s four!

Downtown Worcester

For City Manager Edward M. Augustus, Jr., the Downtown Worcester neighborhood has been one of the most profound changes in the last 10 years. 

“Worcester, like a lot of older industrial cities, had a vibrant downtown with specialty stores like dress shops, kitchenware, etc.,” Augustus says. “Then in the late 60s early 70s, the big thing was malls and suburban malls. Worcester hollowed out in the downtown area. There was a change in shopping and people’s habits and that certainly affected the downtown.”

Other factors also contributed to the shift in Downtown. “There were also five high schools in the downtown neighborhood at one time,” Augustus says. “Thousands of kids and employees would come down and shop or go out after school in the neighborhood, but over time, those schools shut down and took away all that traffic and vibrancy. Because of the empty storefronts and partially filled office buildings, at 5:30, downtown became a ghost town.”

With focus on bringing in businesses, restaurants and housing over the years, the Downtown neighborhood now has restored its vibrancy with a new depth.

“Now we have created a Downtown that is truly a neighborhood with thousands of people living in the neighborhood,” Augustus says. “Now, If I’m leaving Downtown after work to go home, I’m replaced with someone coming home to Downtown.”

The area has truly become a neighborhood where people can live and thrive. “People who live there in the new housing developments like 145 Front at City Square may walk out to 110 Grill or Deadhorse Hill to have dinner or the Beer Garden for a drink,” Augustus says. “I see people jogging and exercising and walking dogs. That didn’t happen two years ago. That’s been the most profound change – getting the residential component in the mix.” 

Development projects and businesses have also attracted people to the neighborhood. The Hanover Theatre and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, Mechanics Hall, DCU Center and Worcester Public Library all bring people in and entice them to keep coming back. 

“We want to create density for all those people – they need to eat, hang out, buy their groceries, have their everyday needs,” Augustus says. “That helps attract those businesses. Businesses follow people. Having a culture, an infrastructure and vitality on the street – you wouldn’t think twice about walking around. Those feet on the street are going to give the perception and the reality of a safe and vibrant neighborhood.” 

Of course, even a thriving neighborhood experiencing ongoing areas of opportunity. “We are not immune to challenges like panhandling, homelessness, mental health, the opioid epidemic – there is a visible presence in Downtown,” Augustus says. “That can create impressions – or a reality – that make people uncomfortable.” Just as there are continued efforts to bring vibrancy and life to Downtown, the efforts to address these issues are just as critical.

“My dream is to have every building fully participating in the renaissance that is Worcester – no buildings that are half full, no floor in those buildings out of commission or not up to code, no empty storefronts,” Augustus says. “If you go back and look at the urban renewal plan from 5-6 years ago, we targeted properties in Downtown, and we’ve done about 85 percent of that. That wasn’t tearing down buildings but rebuilding, renovating, and bringing in new owners. Now the market is doing that for us – the market is creating demand.”

Main South

“Main South is a dynamic, diverse, and close-knit community filled with wonderful small businesses and multigenerational families,” says Casey Starr, Director of Community Initiatives for the Main South Community Development Corporation (CDC). “There is a rich cultural tapestry represented here and reflected in the art, culture, and food of the neighborhood. For many decades, Main South has been a port of entry into the city for many immigrants – a place where people from all over the world call home and are welcomed.”

Starr moved to Main South for college in 2003 and has lived in Main South from 2003 until 2017. “It will always be my favorite neighborhood of Worcester,” she adds. 

Main South has a rich history rooted in community. “Main South has an industrial history and once served as the hub for manufacturing and employment opportunities for residents,” Starr says. “After the factories shut down and/or moved, the neighborhood struggled through an economic decline. The Main South CDC was incorporated in 1986 due to a lack of safe and affordable housing and the need for an organization that could bring about sustainable change and be governed by residents. One of the best parts of the Main South neighborhood is the strong partnerships that exist amongst agencies, institutions, and community members who all work in collaboration to improve the community.”

Several planning and development projects have occurred over the years, creating just what the Main South CDC set out for – a revitalization of the neighborhood. The Kilby-Gardner-Hammond Revitalization Project provided affordable housing units, the construction of a new Boys & Girls Club and a new bike path. The Main South Byrne Criminal Justice Innovation (BCJI) Project set out to develop a community-based and comprehensive approach to addressing the physical, social, and gang-related disorder that was persistent in the neighborhood for decades.

“Main south is a dense and vibrant neighborhood with the right mix of residential, commercial, intuitions and schools,” Augustus says. “We went through a period of decline, but now this area is fully participating in the renaissance that the entire city has been going through the past 10-15 years.”

At one point you’d find abandoned properties and lots and factories closed, but now you’ll find those properties and factories converted into housing on Beacon Street. “We’ve got a big development for the Table Talk Pies headquarters and Clark University’s lacrosse field which is used by the Boys & Girls Club,” Augustus adds.

Nowadays, you’ll rarely see an empty store front or minimal foot traffic. “There are a lot of people on the street and a very nice mix of food vendors, traditional retail like clothing, kitchenware services, salons, etc.,” Augustus says. “There’s great vibrancy and diversity and ethnic makeup of businesses, business owners and customers.”

The newly created Main South Business Association is also building community amongst Main South business owners. “They are working collaboratively to support a successful business district in the neighborhood,” Starr adds. 

Bringing this vitality to Main South has been the result of many. “There have been helpful forces at work,” Augustus says. “The Transformative Development Initiative (TDI)’s Main South fellow, Ivette Olmeda has been an amazing presence. She has worked with property owners, helped them be aware of programs available during COVID, put up decorations during holidays and so much more. She has helped with the cultural and branding efforts in the area, bringing the community together to articulate a vision and need.”

Main South also has the highest concentration of community gardens in the city, with gardeners from all over the world. “Main South is home to the YouthGROW Farm, Worcester’s largest urban farm site that is farmed by our neighborhood youth,” Starr says. “The neighborhood has a strong sense of pride and community, and there are always residents, business owners, institutions and organizations working in collaboration to improve the neighborhood and quality of life.”

While the Main South neighborhood has developed and continues to thrive, there are still clear opportunities to focus on moving forward. “Old perceptions – we need to update people’s understanding of what Main South is,” Augustus says. “That being said, we still have issues with quality of life – panhandling, substance abuse, mental health issues, are still challenges. We continue to work with stakeholders, residents and businesses to address these issues.”

The vision for Main South remains focused on continuing to rehabilitate underperforming properties and convert them into housing or commercial businesses. Continuing on this path will only create more growth and development for an already thriving neighborhood. 

“We envision a diverse, inclusive, vibrant and safe community; where local residents live in quality affordable housing, earn a livable wage, have access to services and thriving small businesses, and where ongoing collaborative partnerships provide a promising future for all,” Starr says.

Canal District

With a tidal wave of economic and cultural development, incoming businesses like restaurants and shopping and city projects, The Canal District has become a destination.

“At the Canal District Alliance (CDA), we want to create an environment where people want to live, work and play,” former president and current secretary of the board of the Canal District Alliance (CDA), Mullen Sawyer says. “We have been intentional to look for local ownership, not big chain and box stores and preserve the historic nature of the district.” 

So much of the American industrial revolution took place in Worcester because of what the economic canal brought. “It changed economics forever – quadrupled the population and increased commerce and business profoundly,” Sawyer says. “It became the desired mode of business because it was cheaper – a tax evasion strategy.” 

For many years, the Canal District was a thriving Jewish quarter of community. “When I grew up, Water Street was where you got bagels and bulkies,” Augustus adds. “A lot of grassroots people bought properties and had a vision of what it could be like. It was many years of doing one property at a time and slowly executing on that vision.” 

The CDA has been at the forefront of that charge. “The CDA formed to revitalize this neighborhood –some people thought we were crazy,” Sawyer says. “It was abandoned and there were no plans to develop it. We very quietly and methodically continued. Being authentic and retelling history would give us a unique opportunity to develop interest in the community. It’s worked beyond our wildest expectation.” 

Today, a billion dollars in development is being put into the ground, bringing good jobs, places to live, and high quality of life to the inner city. Developers like Meridian Construction are bringing new opportunities to the community that can compete with New York and Los Angeles. “We are hearing from developers that they want to be part of the tradition we’ve established – authenticity, history and culture,” Sawyer says. 

More recently, there has been an interest in family activities. “The last several years, we spent time on public safety, trash and parking, so it’s nice to see that we are attracting family friendly organizations and businesses because that’s the ultimate success of our vision,” Sawyer says.

The Worcester Red Sox and Polar Park coming to Kelly Square is one of the most impactful cultural and economic additions to the neighborhood. 

“I knew when the planning for the ballpark started, that it would be the economic project that people in Worcester would truly realize the quality of the community and start getting rid of any self-deprecating tendencies,” Sawyer adds. “The ballpark was always intended to fit in with the history and vision of the neighborhood and be complimentary, not problematic. And that’s exactly what’s happening.”

The Canal District has grown to become an entertainment district. “People come from all over to shop at antique vintage stores, explore the Worcester Public Market, eat at places like Birchtree Bread Company, Lock 50 or specialty shops like The Queen’s Cups, see a hockey game or practice at the Fidelity Bank hockey rink and now watch a ball game,” Augustus says. “The layout of the neighborhood also lends itself well – it’s not just one street but different areas to explore and walk around.”

Just like the other Worcester neighborhoods, the Canal District has its challenges. “Here we find similar challenges as other neighborhoods, but helping Worcester get a little away from the car culture and into the walking culture is something we’re focused on with the Canal District,” Augustus says. “It’s our job as a city to make that walk attractive and safe. The private sector is doing their share. We still have growing pains but it’s getting better.” 

The future for the Canal District is to remain focused on economic and cultural development, affordable housing, public safety and continuing to bring in a diverse community and visitors from all over.

“We will continue development related to and around the ballpark,” Augustus says. “We’ve got the Table Talk Pies facility that will impact this neighborhood, The Cove, a 13-story, 318 unit residential and commercial development replacing the former Lucky Dog Music Hall/The Cove Music Hall and other housing options totaling to 1,000 units of housing, a hotel, a lab building and more.”

Shrewsbury Street

Commonly known as “restaurant row,” Shrewsbury Street has always been a thriving area of Worcester, offering some of the city’s best eats, a rich history and more. Many Italian immigrants came to Worcester and settled in this area, making it the heart of the Italian community in Worcester.

“It’s a great, unique neighborhood,” Augustus says. “It’s always had great restaurants, diners, and classic things everyone knew. With Shrewsbury Street, you always think of food. Over time, it’s become more diverse making it ‘restaurant row’ rather than a ‘little Italy.’ You’ve got Mexican, Greek, and other culinary options which also brings diverse and eclectic people from all over. It’s become a neighborhood on people’s destination list. If you’re visiting, you’re more than likely to end up there eating. This area continues to play a role in creating more diversity in the city.”

Some of the restaurant classics and stand outs include La Scala, Via Italian Table, Nuovo, Brew City Grill & Brew House, 111 Chop House, Flying Rhino Café and Watering Hole and diners like The Boulevard and The Parkway.

Shrewsbury Street also has fun spots and activities like Wormtown Brewery and Redemption Rock Brewing Company, Cristoforo Colombo Park for recreational activity, bars such as Funky Murphys and The Pint and much more.

Businesses on and around Shrewsbury Street are quite eclectic. “There are many automotive places, medical offices, gyms, law offices, small specialty stores and pharmacies,” Augustus says.

When it comes to opportunities, Shrewsbury Street shares similar and unique challenges as it’s fellow neighborhoods. “The city has a large Department of Public Works (DPW) campus right off of Shrewsbury Street,” Augustus says. “The goal has been to put a new DPW facility somewhere else and sell those 9 acres and add to the density and residents in the Shrewsbury Street area. Now that we have the ballpark and more capacity as we navigate COVID, we can re-focus on that project and hopefully bring more residents into the area.”

Augustus also noted that an apartment complex with over 340 units has been approved for development for the former Mount Carmel church lot. The complex – Alta Seven Hills – will include more than 500 parking spaces on a 5.3 acre lot on Mulberry Street. This complex includes one, two and three-bedroom apartment units, and amenities including a pet spa, swimming pool, and an electric vehicle charging station. “This will bring in hundreds of more people in the area,” Augustus adds.

All four of these neighborhoods add to the thriving and growing nature that Worcester is, has been and continues to experience. Each neighborhood has a deep appreciation for its history, embraces diverse and eclectic communities, has unique yet shared challenges and is ready for continued development. Those who continue to support and champion the city’s growth and development are excited about what the future holds for these neighborhoods and beyond.

“We just recently got the 2020 census data back. Worcester hit its highest population in its 300-year history,” Augustus says. “People are voting with their feet. We are finding that they are staying after college and proactively moving here. The quality of life these neighborhoods give people, the relative affordability, the arts and culture, the recreation scene, the culinary options – all these things are keeping and attracting people. They each have their own identity but, something we are continuously focused on is how we can better connect them. We are now the fourth largest city in the northeast. These neighborhoods are helping us grow our city.”