By Maxim Tamarov
Winthrop restaurants, cafes, and delis received a slight financial boost last week as the Winthrop Foundation went around town buying gift cards in an effort both to help charitable organizations and to boost the local economy.
The grant, $750 worth of $25 gift cards per shop, has been a boon to local establishments that have seen their business reduced to a fraction of its normal volume due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“That’s an incredibly kind thing that the foundation did,” Jim Letterie, owner of Letterie’s Italian Market, said. “We’re extremely appreciative of them doing it.”
Letterie said his business has been down to 20 percent of its usual operations. The deli has no outdoor seating to host customers who want to grab a sandwich or sub, so its business has been entirely takeout.
Still, Letterie’s has remained open throughout the pandemic.
“We’re trying to do the best we can and stay positive and try to employ the kids that we have to keep them working,” Letterie said. “They’ve helped us by continuing to come in when a lot of people are afraid to go out.”
It’s not just that the money itself is badly needed, Letterie said of the grant. The gift cards also serve as an introduction of the deli or restaurant to customers who may not have known they existed.
The Winthrop Foundation grants come from a trust initiated by the Massachusetts Port Authority, according to trustee Betsy Rueda-Gynn. The trust was set up to provide funds for Winthrop because of its proximity to Boston Logan International Airport and funds are doled out based on milestones in MassPort construction projects. Overall, the fund is expected to disburse $2.5 million by the time the current five construction projects are completed.
So far, the Winthrop Foundation has already given $10,000 to Mi-Amore; $10,000 to the Community Action for Safe Alternatives (CASA); $2,500 to the high school for an alternative graduation ceremony and $3,800 to the middle school for summer reading books, both to be administered through the school committee; $10,000 to For Kids Only; and $26,250 in these restaurant grants.
Because the foundation is not allowed to donate to businesses directly, Rueda-Gynn explained, the trustees decided to buy gift cards to local businesses. According to Treasurer Jeffrey Turco, the cards will be given out to the Winthrop Senior Center, the Winthrop Food Pantry, and the Winthrop High School Class of 2020.
Not all the cards have been bought yet, as is the case with the Hi Tide restaurant. Manager Gary Bashllari said he has seen a 60 percent loss in business since the beginning of the pandemic.
On top of the Foundation’s direct purchasing of gift cards, the Winthrop Marketplace has been receiving a weekly injection of $2,000 worth of gift cards from Mi-Amore. Since the two donation sources, the store has been seeing an influx in gift card users.
According to Chris Wallerce, manager at the Marketplace, Mi-Amore switched from donating outgoing groceries to the gift card donations because of health reasons once the pandemic started. With this help, the Marketplace has been able to run at its normal business volume.
Adrianna’s manager Joe Schettino said the café dipped to 20 percent of its regular business during the pandemic and was slowly picking up. He said the help was “good,” but that he had not yet seen anyone come in to use them.
As of Governor Charlie Baker’s Phase 2 reopening, which kicked in on June 8 and allowed restaurants to offer outdoor seating, Adrianna’s has made use of its patio. So has Odyssey Pizza and Grill. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, according to owner Odise Thomai, Odyssey’s business was down to about 30 percent. Since then, the business has returned to about 80 percent.
Thomai said he had no way of knowing if customers were using their own gift cards or if they were using grant gift cards, but he did acknowledge that since the Winthrop Foundation came through, there have been some people using gift cards.
Thomai also noted that he appreciated the foundation doing their part.
“Every little bit helps,” he said.
Maxim Tamarov is a freelance reporter covering coronavirus and environmental issues for the Winthrop Sun Transcript. Send comments or story ideas to [email protected]