By Anne O'Connor
SHIRLEY -- "We really strongly believe in building things."
Innkeeper Alison Tocci is eager to prove her words. The Bull Run will hold its first poetry event on July 15.
Her neighbor, a restoration carpenter and poet, Kristie Connolly came to her with a full-blown idea for "Words Change Everything."
"Right away, I liked it," Tocci said. "We're all about the arts here."
Poets will read and three judges will score the work. The totals will be kept secret, but whoever gets the most will win a $25 gift certificate to the restaurant and $10 cash.
Having judges score instead of holding a slam was a deliberate decision. "I wanted it to be very gentle," Connolly said.
Tocci sees a poetry night as an extension of the music and storytelling evenings the Bull Run hosts. They are a time when people can put away their cellphones and bond through a common experience.
"It's a time out to see an intimate glimpse of what's going through people's thoughts," she said.
Poet, publisher and educator Doug Holder, based in Boston, will read and be one of three judges.
Having the highly-regarded poet take part will help draw an audience from west of Boston and also from Worcester, another poetry hot spot, Tocci said.
The usual Bull Run clientele are local or come from closer to Boston, she said.
Since she and her husband George bought the family business in 2009, they have renovated and made changes to the food and service. They run a music series with up-and-coming artists, legends like Lulu who sang in the spring and local performers.
Their goal was to keep the folks who have been customers since her parents owned the business and to grow. Lee and Mary Guercio bought the tavern and restaurant in the 1940s.
It is difficult to change perceptions, Tocci said. "You really have to work."
The plan is succeeding. The first couple to hold their wedding in one of the rooms, came back this year for a 50th anniversary celebration.
A tavern has been in the spot since 1740. The pre-Revolutionary tavern once served hungry and thirsty travelers on the road to Boston. A number of additions has expanded the Bull Run's footprint over the years.
Now 11 members of the extended Guercio family work at the venue. It is not just dining and drinking anymore, Functions, catering and entertainment in three different rooms and on the patio are on tap.
Each element of the business attracts different groups of people, Tocci said. Jazz shows draw well-dressed customers. Blues fans have a more bearded mien.
The innkeepers keep a close eye on what is working and are open for suggestions.
Through the online ticketing process, they had email addresses for people who attended a barbeque with a band on the patio. They will survey the attendees for feedback.
Its not just customers who help drive the future of the Bull Run. Employees are encouraged to contribute their thoughts in a suggestion box.
Some are not doable, but every once in a while someone suggests an amazing idea, Tocci said.
Tickets and information about "Words Change Everything" and other performances and events at the Bull Run are available at www.bullrunrestaurant.com.
Space is limited so advance sign-up is requested.
Follow Anne O'Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.