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Preparing to Pivot a Generational Family Business

How Wally’s Jazz Club is preparing for a comeback

By: Norman Eng

When the pandemic hit historic neighborhood jazz club Wally’s, it hit them harder than most, forcing them to close without a strategy or a backup plan.  With super thin margins, losing the revenue that sustains operations completely threw everything off.  

The threat of a generational family business going under and never making it back was real, an iconic symbol for the black community in Boston.  Thankfully for Elynor Walcott Poindexter, owner of Wally’s and daughter of founder Joseph “Wally” Walcott -- her sons Paul, Frank and Lloyd were actively managing the business to ensure they endured the crisis.

Frank PoindexterGeneral Manager Frank Poindexter sought out help from the resource provider community and first took part in a program run by LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation), which helped Poindexter navigate around all the resources that supported Wally’s throughout the pandemic.  

“We had no idea what to do, I was glad we found LISC, IXL Center, the City of Boston and other resources like the SBA out there,” Frank Poindexter shared.  “The most helpful part was just the information and advice we received to put together a plan to survive.  I took part in the Six Feet Beyond program with LISC, which was a 3-month cohort that provided us with consultants to help us plan for a pivot and create other revenue streams.”

No revenue coming in, salaries hadn’t been paid, debt and taxes kept piling up, and then Infrastructure issues popped up – adding even more obstacles to recovery planning.  The basement also needed work in order to stabilize the building and the front entrance’s sidewalk had cracks that needed necessary repairs to reopen. 

When the SBA activated the $10K Advance Grant along with the $150K Economic Injury Disaster Loan, Frank made sure to secure the funding which ended up helping provide a bridge to proceed with addressing the infrastructure projects.  LISC consultants assisted Frank with applying for more funding and grants, including the state’s Covid-19 Business Relief Program administered by Massachusetts Growth Capital Corporation and the SBA’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant. 

Outside BuildingBoth grants were awarded, which helped Wally’s get through the crisis, but the funding came with certain restrictions where construction projects were not an eligible use of funds.  The infrastructure work still needed a funding source, so Frank utilized debt capital from the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan next to help pay for the masonry work that needed to get done.  The road to recovery was tricky to navigate, but technical assistance providers gave Frank the confidence to stay engaged with strategy planning process – finding new programs to assist along the way and new pathways to pivot into the future.

“Invest your time in developing relationships with resource providers such as Maria Pullin at the IXL Center, Natalia Urtubey at the City of Boston, and Karen Kelleher at LISC,” shared Frank.  “They provided me with the tools to help a small business owner get through this.  They helped us think outside the box.”

As a program participant in the City of Boston’s Digital Tools for your Business, Frank gained hands-on assistance with pivoting in the online space.  Consultants helped Wally’s develop a YouTube channel – creating another revenue stream for the business that will broadcast live performances across the world in the future. 

“Since people are spending more time on the screens these days, they helped us setup the infrastructure to stream the music, along with the equipment and the operational plan to do it,” said Frank. “The website is also being revamped at the moment – we created an e-commerce shop, selling shirts, hats and other merchandise to help produce more revenue.”

Wally’s is getting ready to reopen up in Autumn of 2021.


Table Party
(Images courtesy Poindexter Family)


Company Name: 
Wally's Jazz Cafe Club
Boston, MA