In a neighborhood struggling to regain some momentum, any new development matters — no matter how humble.
Literally, in the case of Humble Pie, a restaurant with a façade as nondescript as its name and a farm-to-table ethos that has quickly won over locals since opening in December on Main Street in the Three Rivers section of Palmer.
“They’ve been getting excellent reviews, and people are literally standing in line,” said Town Planner and Economic Development Director Linda Leduc. “That’s good because it’s another catalyst to get other business owners and developers to invest in Main Street.”
It’s not the only new development in the neighborhood. The town has also transferred ownership of 2032 Main St. to South Middlesex Opportunity Council, which is renovating the top floor to apartments and the bottom to retail — a mixed-use plan that will both infuse new residents into the neighborhood while attracting more shoppers, said Town Planner Charlie Blanchard. “That rehabilitated building will hopefully attract other businesses to the area.”
Property and business owners in Three Rivers have been meeting for the past two years as part of a grass-roots revitalization effort, which includes changing the perception of the area and filling vacant storefronts. Discussions with residents have touched on ideas such as making the stretch more pedestrian-friendly, building a walking path with river access around the perimeter of Laviolette Park and upgrading the parking there, and expanding Hryniewicz Park, which is used for movie nights, concerts, and other events staged by the town’s recreation department and the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce. At the same time, the consortium known as On the Right TRACK (Three Rivers Arts Community Knowledge) has been working for some time to build a cultural and creative economy in the village.
Meanwhile, Pinocchio’s restaurant on Bridge Street in Three Rivers installed outdoor seating last summer, which turned out to be a popular option, said Leduc, adding that the eatery stuck out a tough period when the Red Bridge, which connects that area of Palmer with Ludlow and Wilbraham, was out of service for two years; it reopened in November.
“I know that hurt the entire village, and Pinocchio’s was definitely struggling,” she went on, “but now that it’s open, the whole village will benefit.”
Three Rivers is definitely on the move, she and Blanchard told BusinessWest — and other neighborhoods in Palmer are showing signs of positive activity as well.
Baystate Wing Hospital’s $17.2 million project to expand its Emergency Department, which is nearing completion, will better accommodate the needs of the community by supporting the current annual patient volume of 24,000 visits.
The 17,800-square-foot space will include separate ambulance and public entryways and will feature 20 patient rooms, including trauma, behavioral health, and other dedicated specialty-care areas. Private rooms will replace curtained bays to enhance patient privacy, and a dedicated space will be created for behavioral-health patients. Once the new building is completed, the current Emergency Department space, which was built in 1995, will be retrofitted for other uses,” according to Dr. Robert Spence, chief of Emergency Medicine for Baystate Health’s Eastern Region.
While that’s the largest medical development happening in Palmer, it’s far from the only one. Others include CrossFit Ardor, which moved from Brimfield to the Allen Block in Depot Village last year; a new massage-therapy and wellness center called Peaceful Paths on North Main St.; and an expansion of Palmer Animal Hospital on Thorndike Street. Speaking of animals, a new pet-grooming business known as Rufflections Dog Spa recently opened on Park Street.
Palmer at a glance
Year Incorporated: 1775
Population: 13,050 (2015)
Area: 32 square miles
Tax Rate, residential and commercial: Palmer, $22.08; Three Rivers, $22.91; Bondsville, $22.75; Thorndike, $23.59
Median Household Income: $41,443
Median Family Income: $49,358
Type of government: Town Manager; Town Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Hospital; Sanderson MacLeod Inc., Camp Ramah of New England; Big Y World Class Market
* Latest information available
Last year also saw the opening of the expanded, 4,000-square-foot Junction Variety Store in Depot Village, more than doubling its previous size. The store, which had sold beer and wine, now has a full package license, and owners Meena and Bharat Patel aim to lease some additional space for retail or office use.
In the Thorndike section of town, steampunk artist Bruce Rosenbaum and his wife, Melanie, moved into the former St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Main Street, as both their residence and the new home for Mod Vic Steampunk Design. They have created a showroom and gallery in the historic space, as well as holding steampunk workshops for families. “He’s moving ahead with his work, and has pieces displayed in the sanctuary; it’s incredible,” Leduc said.
Finally, the new rail spur installed at Sherwood Lumber Yard, in the town’s industrial park — a project that has been in the works since 2013, and funded through an Industrial Rail Access Program grant — will allow the business to bring in materials by train, which will spur significant expansion of the operation, Blanchard said.
“It actually helps the entire industrial park,” Leduc said. “When trains would come in, they’d hold up the entire line, so that other deliveries weren’t getting into the park. “By having them have their own rail spur, now a train can come in and unload without that sort of interruption.”
Other recent business developments include a few ‘green’ businesses, in more than one sense of that word. One is the move of Gold Circuit E-Cycling from Ludlow to Third Street in Palmer, Leduc said. The four-person operation will not only do business in town — picking up and recycling used computer equipment, electronics, and refrigerated appliances, as well as recycling a host of other goods — but plans to develop a relationship with Pathfinder Regional High School’s work-study program.
The town will also see its 10th large-scale solar project this year, with the owner of a property on River Street leasing space to Borrego Solar for a 4.7-megawatt system, which will bring total production among the 10 sites to 29.3 megawatts.
Leduc said she gets calls every week about potential new solar developments, but if more are to be approved, the priority is to place them in remote areas where they won’t alter the town’s rural character and natural viewscapes.
Palmer has also given the green light to a growing industry in Massachusetts, approving its first medical-marijuana facility on Chamber Road, including a 25,000-square-foot greenhouse and 3,200 square feet of retail space. Altitude Organic Corp. will move its headquarters from Colorado to a property on Thorndike Street in Palmer as part of the development. “So they’re ready to invest in the town,” Leduc said.
Blanchard said the approval was partly driven by the fact that recreational marijuana is now on the horizon, expanding the market for growers, although the town currently has a moratorium on recreational-pot facilities as it decides on what types of ordinances and restrictions to put in place around such facilities.
Even last year’s total renovation of Town Hall — which included the expansion of the public meeting room; a new conference room and additional storage space; new offices for the Board of Health, Conservation Department, Building Department, and Veteran’s Agent; and new lighting, windows, and carpeting — had an ecologically friendly component.
“The town purchased two electric vehicles and had two charging stations installed at Town Hall and the library,” Leduc said, noting that they were funded by the state Department of Energy Resources’ Green Communities program. Particularly in the case of the library station, she noted, they will provide another opportunity for people, in this case electric-car owners, to explore town. “They’re probably going to charge for a couple of hours, which will give them the opportunity to explore Main Street, visit, go shopping, and grab something to eat.”
In other words, to take in a bit more of a town that’s constantly adding to its reasons to stick around.
Joseph Bednar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org