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Updated: December 12, 2022 the hustle is real

The Canal District is changing, but it’s far from the end of the story

Renee Diaz

It’s 4:27 in the morning. My daughter is sitting next to me, trying to type on my laptop, intrigued by the sound of the keyboard and the light radiating in our living room from the screen. I have the pellet stove going, the TV on, and my dog is laying on her bed near us. My daughter is just like her dad; she likes exactly eight hours of sleep. The only problem is her eight hours wakes her up between 3:30 and 4:00 a.m. I cannot complain; if I wake up with her, I normally go back to bed for a few hours. This morning I feel completely rested and awake, already having made a protein smoothie and done laundry.

I am coming off a crazy three-week work schedule where I have been working more than normal due to larger, detailed orders and the beginning of our holiday season. In the thick of it, the news broke that three of my friends closed their restaurants in the Canal District: Maddi’s Cookery and Taphouse, Smokestack Urban BBQ, and Buck’s Whiskey & Burger Bar.

I have been bombarded with text messages asking me why. All the owners have their own reasons, and being friends with them, I will not speak on their behalf. I respect their decisions and who they are as people and will miss all their restaurants. Each of their establishments hold a special place in my heart, having all of them cater different events for The Queen’s Cups and dining there regularly. I can proudly say my husband and I are the only people to ever get married at Smokestack!

There are obvious problems in the Canal District. When I touched on these issues a few years ago in my column, I was public enemy #1 and received negative backlash. I could not have predicted we would have gone through a pandemic, but I did predict construction and the new Worcester Red Sox stadium would affect small businesses greatly. So far, I am not wrong. This is not a “Told you so!” moment for me. It’s just the reality.

When approached about this subject now, I just tell everyone we must ride the wave and hope for a better future. More construction is headed our way. More apartments are being built. There will be more businesses that come and go. But it’s not always goodbye in the Canal District. There are still businesses here, successful ones, places people want to spend their money. Do you know Seed to Stem was featured in “Vogue”? Yes, Vogue! What was once a tiny little shop on Shrewsbury Street has blossomed into a business so beautiful and respected it has been published in some of the most prominent publications there are.

Closing a business is a decision that does not come lightly or one that happen overnight. One day I will be met with a decision like that, and it is not something I look forward to. Behind every small business is someone who has poured their heart into their vision. And behind them are the people who have lived through the highs and lows of the business, the financial woes, and supported them endlessly. Real people, real feelings. In the same token, many of us who are still open need our community. We need to keep the morale positive for our employees. The struggle is real, and the fight to stay open is not for the faint of heart. This holiday season, I am focusing on shopping small more than ever before.

It is now 5:45 in the morning. My daughter is back asleep, I’ve paid some bills and folded laundry. My dog has now left her bed and moved in front of the pellet stove. She looks angelic. There is not a light on in any of the houses surrounding us, and outside it is still so dark that life feels still. I haven’t had a moment to reflect like this in too long, especially lately with long workdays and weeks that seem to go by like days. It’s been an emotional few weeks, digesting the fact that some of my favorite places have closed around me, but I am choosing to focus on those still open and keeping all of our visions alive.

Renee Diaz is the owner of Worcester bakery The Queen's Cups.

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