Ready to Learn and Adapt, A Community Leader Sets Standards

By Alex Wagner
BU News Service

ROSLINDALE—Once Steven Gag sits down at a table at the Blue Star Restaurant in Roslindale, he orders an egg with pancakes—no meat. He’s a vegetarian, he tells the waitress.

“Our daughter said, ‘Well, I don’t want to eat meat anymore,’” Gag says later on. “And she explained why, and we said, ‘Hey, we’ll do it with you.’”

As the president of Roslindale Village Main Street, it is Gag’s job to bring an increasingly diverse Roslindale community together. But for him, adapting to new and different ideas is a part of daily life. He and his wife, both active members of the growing local sustainability community, have solar panels on the roof, chickens in the backyard, and no fertilizer on the lawn.

“We’ve kind of evolved our lifestyle over the years,” Gag says. “It’s been fun to do, because there’s a lot to do with city living.”

Gag wasn’t always what he calls an “urban kind of guy.” Growing up in a small town in western Minnesota, his father, uncle, and grandfather owned and managed a local drug store, and he remembers going to Main Street shops, where there was “everything you can imagine.” Looking back, he laments the dissolution of these small businesses and the community activities they support, such as rotary clubs and bowling leagues.

“Our civic health…we’ve lost, because of that [dissolution of community activities]. We need to figure out ways to rebuild that fabric,” he says.

Building off of the initiative of Mayor Tom Menino to revitalize the once-prosperous business district of Roslindale, Gag has been responsible for organizing a constant stream of activities in conjunction with local businesses. The most popular event is the farmers’ market, which is held during 25 consecutive Saturdays of the year, usually between June and October. Various local businesses and vendors come to sell organic baked goods and produce, as well as local artwork and free trade products.

At this time of year, there is the Holiday Wander, a weekly event that encourages local holiday shopping through interaction between business owners and potential shoppers. During this Thursday’s event, shoppers and passerby could vote on which shop had the best holiday display.

“Getting out in the community, and interacting with the people who are different than you are, you realize, ‘Oh, there’s a lot to be gained instead of being lost from interacting,’” Gag says.

He is also responsible for organizing the numerous volunteers that make up the unusually large board of Roslindale Village Main Street. This means encouraging outsiders to join the board and channeling current members’ energies towards activities that will help local businesses and the community.

“It’s challenging. I think almost every one of our members, with the exception of a couple, are actively employed,” Gag says, “so squeezing a couple hours out a week becomes difficult. But, you find that people are passionate about all of these things.”

He explains how one volunteer, a strategic planner for the farmers’ market, works 20 hours a week on event planning, in addition to her full-time job. “It’s really just about the enjoyment of making it a better place to live. It’s heartening,” he says.

Even under the pressure of an interview, Gag can be just as dedicated and adaptive—sort of. “I like to say that I have about 1,200 words in me per day, and I probably used more than my allotment,” he says.



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