Hudson business leaders talk COVID-19’s impact on downtown area

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Photo by/Laura Hayes
People walk down the sidewalks of Downtown Hudson.

By Laura Hayes, Contributing Writer

HUDSON — Many businesses in downtown Hudson have reported being impacted by COVID-19, either reducing their hours or seeing a decline in their revenue.

That was one takeaway from a presentation on the health of the downtown business district on May 12 sponsored by Hudson, the Hudson Downtown Business Improvement District (BID) and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC).

The presentation, which was part of the statewide Local Rapid Recovery Program, focused on how the pandemic has impacted businesses and opportunities for revitalization.

“I think you’ll learn from the data tonight that the pulse of our downtown is extremely strong,” acting Director of Planning and Community Development Kristina Johnson said.

Hudson prepares for COVID-19 recovery

Hudson partnered with the BID and applied to the Department of Housing and Community Development for consulting services.

The consultants’ job was to help Hudson evaluate the downtown’s current economic climate and develop strategies to reemerge “more resilient than ever,” said Johnson.

MAPC will be working with Hudson on a three-phase project over the course of five months. Currently, they’re in the first diagnostic phase, which included collecting data and surveying businesses.

“It’s really important that our post-COVID pivots for the downtown are rooted in good data,” Johnson said.

At the end of their second phase, the MAPC will deliver a draft of their recommendations before then submitting a final plan at the end of phase three.

As part of the recovery plan, Hudson residents and business owners are encouraged to take a survey.

Business Improvement District pivots amid COVID-19

The BID was formed in 2017.

It took on a number of projects, like hanging flowers from the streetlamps and holding downtown events.

“All of that was really great until COVID hit,” BID Executive Director Richard Braga said. 

Facing the pandemic, the BID had to make a decision. 

“Obviously, it wasn’t going to be worth our while to spend all this money on beautification projects if we don’t have any businesses left,” Braga said.

So, the BID pivoted. It worked with the town to expedite temporary approvals for outside dining. The BID, acting as a real estate agent, matched prospective tenants with property owners. 

The BID established a grant to supplement rent for an arts-related and unique retail businesses, including downtown newcomer Guitars & Grooves. 

The BID also hired a Certified Public Accountant who helped businesses navigate federal stimulus packages while providing additional help with applications, free of charge for property owners and the business tenants. 

Braga estimated that about 68 businesses took advantage of those services.   

MAPC surveys local businesses

MAPC counted 91 total businesses in downtown Hudson. Likewise, there are six vacancies. 

Businesses were surveyed in April, and MAPC received 37 responses from retail, food, arts and entertainment and personal service businesses.

According to MAPC’s presentation, nearly all of the businesses said they were impacted by COVID-19. Some reduced their hours or capacity. Others reported a decline in revenue. Still more incurred expenses to implement safety measures. 

Specifically, 57 percent of the businesses who responded said they were operating with reduced hours, reduced capacity, or they had to close.

According to MAPC economic development planner Jennifer Kaplan, most of the businesses were interested in receiving some type of assistance such as low-cost financing for purchasing property or participating in shared marketing and advertising. 

In terms of revitalization strategies, Kaplan said businesses were interested in more cultural events and activities, recruitment programs to attract additional businesses, more opportunities for outdoor sales and dining and implementing marketing for the district. 

The MAPC noted several sites which may be opportunities for redevelopment, such as the former National Guard armory.