It was standing room only at Nevins Hall Saturday morning, when Greg Mortenson, author of the best-selling Three Cups of Tea, took the stage to talk about his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Parking woes? People parked several blocks away and walked, and that didn't seem to be much of a deterrence (after all, a number of people [including me] stood for more than an hour for the presentation). Kudos to the library's Framingham Reads Together program, for bringing such a great speaker to town.
After it was over, though, I couldn't help be a little sorry for a great opportunity lost by many of the surrounding people. As hundreds of attendees walked back to their cars, how many stopped to patronize local businesses? How many even knew what local businesses were around? Many of the attendees were from out of town. And because we don't yet have an obvious, uninterrupted retail/dining district surrounding town hall, a lot of people who might have patronized some of the many interesting locally owned business downtown just headed back to their cars.
It seems a pity there weren't menus and coupons for some local eateries. They could have advertised "Three Cups of Tea specials" for all those people! The Danforth Museum was handing out fliers for Framingham Reads Together future events; but it's too bad some of the area restaurants weren't doing the same.
Soon there's another big opportunity: Patriots Day, when a lot of people will head downtown again to watch the runners go by. I think this would be a great chance for local restaurants, grocers and ethnic food places of all sorts to promote themselves. I know we've had ethnic fairs on Patriots Day in the past, but I don't think we should just count on people making their way to a fair after the race. I think it's better to promote our local businesses to the crowd while they're standing around waiting!
Why not a "walking tour" map of various ethnic grocers, restaurants and bakeries that could be handed out to spectators along the Marathon route?? Why not a logo for all those participating, and brochures at each explaining some interesting things to buy at the Asian Grocery (with recipes) or Brazilian bakery (with an explainer of some of the more popular items) or Russian store or Italian market? Why not a "driving tour" map as well, adding points of interest for food lovers like B&R Artisan Bread and North End Treats?
I was happy to hear about the recent partnership between Brazilian-owned businesses and MIT to help all downtown businesses stay open. I believe Framingham's downtown ethnic mix can make it an appealing alternative to cookie-cutter mall chain stores. However, until we have a streetscape like Boston's North End or Waltham's Moody Street, which would encourage people to stroll from block to block and window shop until finding an unexpected destination, it would help if we could take more actions so people know about our local businesses. I hope some of the grant money for downtown businesses will go toward this kind of promotion.
As for Greg Mortenson's presentation, it was great. If you've read Three Cups of Tea, you know what incredible work he's done building schools to educate children - and especially girls - in Pakistan and Afghanistan. If you haven't, I heartily recommend it; and it's not too late for some other Framingham Reads Together events around the book.
I also did a brief (8 minutes or so) video report of his talk (apologies for the lack of tripod; it was a spur-of-the-moment idea to try to video with my little point-and-shoot camera from the sidelines).