Small Business Prevails In 'City Of Champions'

By Phillip Martin

Mar. 29, 2011
School street in Brockton, Mass. (Timothy Valentine/Flickr)

BROCKTON, Mass. — For at least three decades, the image of Massachusetts’ sixth largest city was dominated by larger-than-life figure Rocky Marciano.  Professional boxing personified Brockton’s working class, rough and tumble reputation, which was also exemplified by another world champion, “Marvelous” Marvin Hager. 
Their images shaped Brockton’s view of itself as “The City of Champions.”  However, since the triumphant days of Marciano and Hagler -- spanning from the early 1950’s through the 80’s — Brockton has undergone a major transformation. 

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A changed city
The city that was once dominated by Italian and Irish Americans is now a community of various immigrant groups and the state’s fastest-growing African American population. According to the 2010 Census, the city lost 500 residents over the past decade, falling from 94,304 to 93,810 persons. Brockton has also been transformed from a small city anchored by mid-sized enterprises to a community dotted with numerous small businesses.
One of the most successful is Everett’s Auto Parts Enterprises. Tom Andrade, the owner’s son, is the company controller. Everett’s has been in business since 1951.
Andrade explained his business. “We have three primary lines of business: We sell used auto parts. Customers can come in and pull they’re own parts, a traditional junkyard. We also have a full service yard where we purchase vehicles at salvage auctions, inventory them and sell them through the computer system. We do all the work for you. Thirdly, we process a lot of scrap vehicles. We take scrap vehicles, and harvest the metals out of them. Crush the vehicles.”
Andrade expresses what few others can: The recession has been good for business.  

Everett's Auto Parts, in Brockton, is one of the city's many successful small businesses. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

“Normally in a recession we don’t tend to do as well as you’d think we should, but this recession has been so long and so hard hitting that it’s acting theoretically the way it should, and we’re busier than we’ve ever been,” Andrade said. 
They’ve actually had to kick their employees off the parking lot to make room for customers. Andrade says that Brockton is an ideal location for a company of this sort because of its immigrant, working class demographic character.  
“Just the wide availability of customers, and some of it low-income in nature, it lends itself to this business,” Andrade said.
Hispanics now make up about ten percent of Brockton’s population, according to the latest census. The city also has the largest Cape Verdean population in the country.  African-Americans now comprise a third of residents, according to the 2010 census, an increase of 75 percent since 1990. And the average household income is about $39,000.   That’s good for business, says the owner of an electric supply and installation company, who asked that her family name not be used.
“It’s cost effective and people want to work. I have a lot of people just in my neighborhood who ask for work. I just had a guy apply for a job,” the businessperson said. “I’m not advertising that I’m hiring but he came up right on the corner to apply. Cause he’ll come to work everyday, and he’ll work hard. You know, for a minimum wage.” 
Leasing office space is also less expensive than renting in several other nearby communities. The patriarch of the family-owned electric supply company says there are additional advantages for small companies in Brockton.
“Brockton is a very user-friendly city. Historically it’s been a very good place for small business. Even more so now with a large increase in the minority population because minority people from these countries are used to small businesses,” he said.
He says Brockton’s small size also makes it easier to do business there. “You can walk right into the city hall and talk directly to the inspector or the tax person or whoever you’re dealing with,” he said. “There isn’t a long mail order thing and so forth and they’re right there to help you with whatever you need.

Tom Andrade (right) poses with a member of his staff at his business, Everett's Auto Parts. (Phillip Martin/WGBH)

Ups and downs in the City of Champions
While pizza shops, fast food restaurants, car repair shops and companies offering inexpensive eats and repairs of various sorts are bucking recessionary pressures, small manufacturing companies and construction related-firms are struggling. Even the owner of the electrical-supply company finds herself barely able to stay afloat. 
Walking into the lobby of her company there was no receptionist to  greet me because she had been laid off.  The owner says the problems have more to do with the state and federal government than Brockton itself:
“We don’t as employees contribute to state unemployment.  We pay a little of federal unemployment social security. And the company matches that.  So the state decides that we’re going to up the amount that you have to pay in March, but we’re going to retroactivity that to January. I have to pay three months of a higher rate tax that I wasn’t counting on that I don’t have the cash flow for, and immediately had to lay off two guys.” 

Not a Realtors’ market

Real estate companies are also feeling the pinch of the economy.  Last year housing foreclosures increased here by six percent, in spite of a new state law signed in Brockton months ago by Gov. Deval Patrick requiring banks to wait 150 days, rather than ninety, to start foreclosing on homeowners.  It also required warnings for those in danger of losing their homes. 
The city in the view of some is also over-crowded.  The Brockton Enterprise quoted a local  real estate agent, William Callahan, who said that the leveling out of the city’s overall population suggests that Brockton simply is out of room. Others, however, believe there is still room for growth.

Another issue directly tied to the once-booming real estate market is a controversial proposal to build a $350 million dollar power plant on the city’s south side. Some argue that it will  bring in much needed property-tax revenue, while others believe it will bring in pollution and depress home property values. 

All of this affects the way that Brockton is perceived and, therefore, the atmosphere in which small businesses operate.   

Improving education

Brockton's Main Street. (Timothy Valentine/Flickr)

From a business point of view, Brockton High School is graduating a better educated potential workforce and earning a national reputation as a result. Ten years ago, Brockton High was one of the worst performing schools in the state. Last year, it outperformed nearly 90 percent of Massachusetts schools on the MCAS. High School principal, Susan Szachowicz, is credited with leading the school from near failure, to bounding success, and she shares that credit with fellow teachers, students and staff. 
One of the graduates of Brockton High is the owner of the electrical supply company. She says that she plans to stay in this city where she was raised and schooled. 
“My sense of community happens here.  I don’t get that feeling in Boston,” she said. “I get it here in Brockton. It’s just nice. They know who you are.”      

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