By Kathleen Mellen
In many ways, the town of Hampden seems like a throwback to an earlier way of life.
The Western Mass. community of just over 5,000 is just east of East Longmeadow and less than a 20-minute drive from the bustling metropolis of Springfield. But with its rural feel, old-fashioned New England charm, mom-and-pop businesses, and neighborly sensibility, it seems worlds away. There’s not even a traffic light in town.
“Heck, the bear population is exploding now; there are sightings every day,” said John Flynn, chairman of the town’s three-member Board of Selectmen. “Once people are in this town, they don’t like to leave it. It’s a great community. We’re still old-fashioned New England.”
Flynn knows whereof he speaks: he grew up in Hampden, where his great-grandfather, John J. Flynn, and his father, John M. Flynn, both served as selectmen before him.
“I’m a third-generation selectman,” said Flynn, who was elected in 2005. “My dad was the guy who’d get the phone call at 2 in the morning … now I get the texts and phone calls.”
While the population has remained fairly constant for decades, Flynn says, there have always been new faces, and they are welcome. Some have come to open businesses, or to work at the nearly four-decades-old Rediker Software, owned by Rich and Gail Rediker, another longtime Hampden family, or, more recently, at GreatHorse golf and country club, a relative newcomer that opened in 2015. Still others work out of town, but are drawn to live in Hampden by its Americana flavor.
“It’s just like Cheers,” Flynn said, referring to the NBC sitcom that ran in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Everybody knows your name.”
A Cautious Approach
While much has remained the same in Hampden during Flynn’s lifetime, he said, growth and change are both inevitable and desired. But, he stressed, the town strives to ensure that its essential qualities will always be preserved.
“We’re happy to get that growth, but you have to be careful not to lose what made Hampden Hampden,” Flynn told BusinessWest. “You want to make sure that the reasons people are in Hampden are still there. We can’t sell part of ourselves just to give it away to business.”
That said, there is plenty of potential for growth in town, including in two already-established business districts, one on Main Street and one in the area of Rediker Software, the town’s largest non-municipal employer, located at the main intersection of East Longmeadow, Wilbraham, and Somers roads and Allen Street.
Founded in 1979 by Rich Rediker, the company’s CEO, Rediker Software provides administrative software to schools. It employs about 90 people at its headquarters on Wilbraham Road that was constructed in the 1990s and expanded in 2005, and designed to blend in with the New England character of the town.
“It’s built like a house,” said Andrew Anderlonis, the company’s president and Rediker’s son-in-law. “Rich didn’t want a corporate building; he wanted to build something that would really be a part of the town and the community.”
That’s what Flynn is talking about.
“We would love to expand more Rediker-type businesses — that’s the look we want,” Flynn said. “We want people to drive through Hampden and feel the old New England town.”
With customers in all 50 states and more than 115 countries, the family-owned Rediker Software is one of the 30 fastest-growing tech companies in the state.
Hampden at a glance
Year incorporated: 1878
Population: 5,296 (2016)
Area: 19.7 square miles
Residential tax rate: $19.29
Commercial tax rate: $19.29
Median Household Income: $81,130 (2016)
Median family Income: $86,848 (2016)
Type of Government: Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, Rediker Software, GreatHorse
Latest information available
Theoretically, it could probably be headquartered anywhere in the world, Anderlonis said, but it started in Hampden, and it will stay in Hampden.
“We’re a small family business, so we really promote the family atmosphere here, and the town helps that effort,” he explained. “People like the small-town feel. There are local places they can go eat, it’s nice and green and lush, and they don’t have to fight for a parking spot in the morning. Hampden has been a great home for Rediker, and the road ahead looks really healthy.”
In return, the company gives back to the community through such things as its sponsorship of Link to Libraries, a literacy program that distributes some 100,000 books a year to schoolchildren. The company also collaborates with the Hampden/Wilbraham school district, offering internships and career placement.
“We’re also one of the town’s firewater suppliers. We have a 10,000-gallon tank in our parking lot that we maintain and service,” Anderlonis said. “We try to be involved where we feel we can help.”
Flynn says Rediker’s continued good health is good for the town, too. Indeed, that business, along with a new Northeast Utilities substation and the GreatHorse country club, have added to the town coffers through the property taxes they pay. It’s in large part thanks to those businesses that the town was able drop its tax rate last year from $19.36 to $19.29.
“I don’t think there are many communities in Western Mass. that were able to do that,” he said.
The 260-acre GreatHorse golf club, built on the site of the former Hampden Golf Club for a price tag in the neighborhood of $55 million, would be an asset to any town, said Bryan Smithwick, the club’s general manager. “We’re a major contributor of taxes to the town, and we play a major role in providing infrastructure support and community support.”
During its high season, the year-round facility employs 150 to 160 people, most from the local community, and about 75% of the club’s 300-and-climbing membership lives within a 20-minute drive, with a fair amount coming from Hampden.
While it might surprise some to find the opulent facility in such a small town, Smithwick says the club is thriving not in spite of its location in the tiny burg, but because of it.
“The social fabric that makes up Hampden and the social fabric that is part of the GreatHorse culture are very similar to each other. Hampden is such a tight-knit community, and GreatHorse is the same,” Smithwick said. “Some of the members have known each other their entire lives. Some met last week and now play rounds of golf together. That small-town, family culture is a huge part of our success.”
GreatHorse, like Rediker, also gives back to the local community — through such things as sponsorship of benefit events and collaboration and internship programs with local schools.
With GreatHorse’s growing popularity, Smithwick said owner Guy Antonacci would like to add overnight lodging for its guests. But because the entire town is served by a well and septic system, the potential for such growth is limited.
The club has approached the town about the feasibility of bringing town water and sewer to the facility, something Flynn says is under consideration.
“That would be nice for them,” he said, “but anything we do has to be right for Hampden.”
That said, Flynn says he sees potential in the proposal, which would bring water and sewer into Hampden to service the western part of town, including the school, the senior center, the police station, and parts of the business district.
“If they were connected to city water, you could see some good growth there, and it’s a place people could work. People in town would love a five-minute commute,” he said. “If we could get the business district built up, the potential is staggering. I’m stunned at the possibilities.”
The goal, as always, will be to help the town fulfill its vast potential, while always meeting that mission Flynn mentioned earlier — maintaining what makes Hampden Hampden.