Lexington Businesses Need Your Support During this Challenging Time

Kevin O’Neill (far left) owner of Neillio’s is pictured with his staff. They are all working hard to provide food to Lexingtonians during the COVID-19 crisis. PHOTOGRAPH BY JIM SHAW

By Devin Shaw


COVID-19 entered the lexicon of American life suddenly and unrelentingly—providing a shock to everyday norms. The news reminds us about the chaos happening with the American economy—but the national press is not telling the story of Lexington’s businesses, the lifeblood of the community, and a significant piece of what makes the town special. Lexington is filled with small businesses owned by friends and neighbors, and right now, every one of them is in a state of flux. There is confusion on how to proceed because, frankly, no one knows what is going to happen. In a time like this, our friends, our local business owners need support from the community they have been serving for years.

Doug Lucente, the Chairman of the Select B0ard, told me, “We have a number of local business that will be impacted by the coronavirus crisis. Now, more than ever is the time you should be thinking about ways you can support our local business.”

“We’ve been doing a lot of deliveries to older folks that cannot risk leaving their homes. We’re trying to be here for everybody.”
Nick Houvardas

“At Neillio’s we’re here for the community of Lexington, and we feel fortunate to be here to serve you during this tough time.”
Kevin O’Neill

“We want to assure you the local businesses are doing everything we can to make things easier for everyone.”
Eric Michelson

“If you need a few loaves of bread or a few sandwiches we can bring it to you. We are also offering curbside pickup.”
Nicole Caron

In Lexington center on a recent Friday evening, the municipal parking lot was eerily empty. Only three cars were parked behind Michelson’s Shoes, a staple of our community. No one was walking, talking, or shopping.


Eric Michelson, an owner of Michelson’s Shoes and President of the Lexington Retailers Association, told me, “We have been working with the Chamber of Commerce to try to let the community know that Lexington retailers and restaurants are here to support you. We want to assure you the local businesses are doing everything we can to make things easier for everyone.” There are many options: curbside pickup, over-the-phone ordering and delivery, and even private shopping if given enough notice.


Eric also said, “We do need your help; we are all feeling a pinch just like you. When you are buying the things you need to try and maintain some normalcy in your life, please consider doing that by supporting your local businesses.”


Restaurants are in a terrible position. The state has mandated restaurants to discontinue no dine-in; they can offer take-out only. That is not feasible for some of our favorite restaurants forced to make tough decisions on whether to remain open. Il Casale decided to close temporarily starting on March 15th. Filippo de Magistris, co-owner of Il Casale, told me, “We made the tough decision to close before Governor Charlie Baker’s restaurant mandate. Partially for the safety of our guests but also so we could put our employees on furlough, and they could apply for unemployment early on.” Filippo and his brothers paid full-time employees health insurance through the month. They are hopeful they will be able to re-open by then. He told me, “This is going to bring more attention to the difficulty of owning a small business.” He is right.


He continued, “There has been a huge outpouring of support from our customers through email and social media. I think ultimately this will be a blip in our history, and when it is all over we will get back to work stronger with the support of our local customers.” Customers have been showing support by purchasing gift cards from their website.


Other restaurants have remained open to provide take-out and delivery for Lexington residents. In speaking with a few owners and managers, a common theme was sanitation; every business in town is taking extreme measures to assure our safety.


Neillio’s is offering many discounts, including a senior citizen discount and a free $10 gift card with the purchase of a $50 gift card. Neillio’s offers high quality prepared meals for take-out. To help the community, they are now doing free delivery. Kevin O’Neill, the owner of Neillios, told me, “At Neillio’s we’re here for the community of Lexington, and we feel fortunate to be here to serve you during this tough time.”


Jay Ross, the GM of Bertucci’s in Lexington Center said, “I suggest everyone supports our business so we can continue to stay in town. Get take-out or buy a gift card—everything helps.” Their hours have changed slightly to 12-9 Sunday through Thursday and 12-10 Friday-Saturday. Consider becoming an e-club member and setting Lexington as your home restaurant on their website for special offers.


Great Harvest Bread is still operating at their usual hours and menu. Nicole Caron, the owner, said, “Our catering business is the most impacted, but that presents us the opportunity to do home delivery if it is needed—so if you need a few loaves of bread or a few sandwiches we can bring it to you. We are also offering curbside pickup if people don’t want to come inside. Essentially we are doing everything we can to get people food.” She continued, “We just encourage people to keep supporting us, so when we do get back to normal, it’s not such a big hit. Ultimately, we’re just hoping to see people.”


For Nick Houvardas, the owner of Nick’s Place, this is typically the beginning of the busy part of their year. Fewer customers have caused him to cut employees hours. He told me, “I know people are scared to come out, but this is the the time we need the help of the community. Not only for me, but all of the other small business that are still open. We’re not the only ones struggling. We are trying not to close down. People need us—we’ve been doing a lot of deliveries to older folks that cannot risk leaving their homes. We’re trying to be here for everybody.”


The team at Wilson Farm is working tirelessly to make sure they are fully stocked with food Lexington residents need, including multiple daily trips to get fresh meat from their suppliers.


Wilson’s uses Shaw’s Dairy for their milk, and Scott Wilson, an Owner of Wilson Farm, told me, “We are actually taking our own trucks to Dracut to get as much as we can—obviously the cows can only produce so much!”


Scott also said, “We are working really hard to make sure we have the key essentials. Our employees have been rising to the challenge; coming in early and staying late. Coming in on their days off. Making sure the shelves are stocked. They are working harder then ever before to make sure the customers get whatever they want and need. They’re the unsung heroes.”


Scott continued, “We have a nighttime crew that comes in every day around five, and they work all night baking bread downstairs. Right now we are baking a ton of bread—more than ever. We are trying to satisfy all of our customers.”


If you cannot leave your house, Wilson Farm also offers grocery delivery through Mercato. It can be accessed through their website. Scott told me they are making 50 or more deliveries a day! Scott also said, “I know you want to stay home, but whether you are supporting Wilson Farm and coming our way to get food to cook at home or whether you are going to a restaurant to get take-out, it is important to remember these are your neighbors and they are being careful for you and making sure you’re safe. They know you. It’s important to support them. We do not want to see any of the Lexington establishments go out of business. We need these places in Lexington so we can go have a lot of fun when this is all over.”


Speaking of fun, Spectacle Management (the company that produces concerts at Cary Hall), is being impacted by COVID-19 differently—they need to cancel shows. As Pete Lally, the President of Spectacle Management light-heartedy said, “The time to be in the public assembly business is not during a global pandemic!”


Pete told me, “We have been in the process of rescheduling shows. We’re having some success. The industry as a whole has really moved a lot of mountains in the past week. The challenge is—that the guidance we get is ever-changing. We think we’re moving a show into a safe zone,  and then we are not so sure. We have put up a special page on Spectacles website (www.spectacleshows.com/updates) to keep everyone informed as we find out information on rescheduled show dates. Hopefully, with a few exceptions, we will be able to reschedule all the shows. We hope to be able to move as many shows as we can into a safe zone.”


Pete continued, “We appreciate everyone having patience. Things don’t happen quite as quickly as we’d all like, but rest assured everyone is hustling to make it happen. We are wishing everyone well; everyone has a lot to worry about. When this passes we look forward to having people back to Cary Hall to see some great shows like the ones we have been putting on for seven years. This to shall pass, and let’s have a show!”


Ultimately, it is up to the community to help keep the local businesses of Lexington afloat during this extremely difficult. When this is over, we will want to go to all the restaurants we love, visit our favorite shops, and see some great concerts at Cary Hall. A community is nothing without a culture, and that’s what the local businesses of Lexington provide. In this time of uncertainty, let’s try to make sure it’s a certainty that our favorite businesses are still thriving when we get back to normal.

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