Home 2005 March
Features
’Mary Kay Wydra calls herself the Valley’s biggest cheerleader. That’s an oversimplification of her duties as President of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, but still, the title fits. And while she works to sell the region to travelers, she’s also recruiting residents to root for the home team.

H For Mary Kay Wydra, the Pioneer Valley is home. But it is also her workplace, her passion — and her product.

She’s been selling that product for more than 15 years as part of the team at the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), which she now directs.

Wydra has dubbed herself the definitive cheerleader for Western Mass., though that may be an oversimplification of her day-to-day duties. Responsible for promoting the Pioneer Valley as a year-round destination for everyone from large-scale corporate groups seeking convention and meeting spots to tour groups in search of new sites to visit, not to mention the casual day-tripper, Wydra and her staff must constantly find new ways to market the region as fun, exciting, historic, educational, accessible, and affordable, all on a shoe-string budget.

There are many challenges that come with that assignment, some that are relative to the broad tourism industry, such as seasonal slowdowns and intense competition for tourism and convention dollars.

Others, though, are hurdles specific to Greater Springfield. For starters, there’s the perception that the region is primarily an ëideal pit stop’ for refueling, grabbing a quick bite, and moving on. There’s also the perception that the Valley is too far away (from anywhere) and has little to offer.

Those elements, coupled with the present need to triumph over negative headlines regarding crime, poverty, and fiscal duress, would complicate any cheerleader’s job. To overcome those obstacles, Wydra and her staff are composing a multi-faceted strategy for not only selling the region, but building momentum within it.

BusinessWest looks this month at the components in that strategy, which includes recruiting new players and inspiring the home team.

The Laws of Attraction

Wydra, a Westfield native, has worn many hats at the bureau. She started there in 1988 as a secretary after graduating from Springfield College with a degree in business and a minor in psychology. She later left to pursue a job in public affairs with Big Y.

Soon, though, Wydra came to the realization that tourism was her calling.

"I really missed my industry," she said. So, after 15 months away from the convention and visitors bureau, she returned, this time to stay, rising up the ranks to assume her current position in January, 2001.

The date is notable — just eight months later, the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 brought the nation to a standstill and the travel industry into a prolonged tailspin. Tourist destinations of all kinds suffered, she said, but major metropolitan areas were especially hard hit.

"People were fearful of traveling to large cities for a long time," she said. "Because of that, more people took notice of our major attractions, and they began to realize that we were a varied, interesting, and accessible place to visit."

So in some ways, 9/11 actually created opportunities for the Pioneer Valley, she said, a situation augmented by the addition of several new attractions; the fact that hotel occupancy rates in the Pioneer Valley have exceeded the state-wide numbers for the past several years are proof of that.

Wydra said steady, improving tourism numbers are the result of a set of marketing and community-based initiatives, designed specifically to keep the Pioneer Valley on the map.

Her approach takes into account both those people unfamiliar with the region and those who live and work here, and is heavily weighted toward positive public relations — an important facet of the bureau’s operations and a key component to putting Greater Springfield’s best face forward.

It’s also one of Wydra’s professional strengths. She handled much of the bureau’s marketing efforts prior to accepting the president’s post, and displays many successful print campaigns of years past in her Main Street, Springfield office.

The current campaign uses materials that showcase the Pioneer Valley to outsiders, including businesses and organizations that may want to hold conventions and meetings in the area, tour groups, and individual travelers, all with a family feel and all underscoring the expansive nature of the region, Wydra explained.

Of course, there is a strong emphasis on major attractions — Six Flags in Agawam, Springfield’s new Basketball Hall of Fame, and the Yankee Candle flagship store in South Deerfield among them. The rise in leisure travelers that began in 2002 can also be attributed to the simultaneous addition of four new attractions — the new Hall, the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden at Springfield Quadrangle, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and the Superman — Ride of Steel roller coaster at Six Flags.

"We really pushed the fact that we had four new attractions being added all at the same time, " she said, "and that helped us get the word out about the Pioneer Valley in general."

It also added to the progress being made in the cross-promotion of events and attractions within the three counties that make up the Pioneer Valley, one of the aspects of her job that Wydra finds most gratifying.

Weekend Warriors

"The great progress we’re seeing among people identifying themselves as part of the entire region and not a specific county or town is wonderful," she told BusinessWest. "We are united by a highway and a river, and can offer so many different types of experiences. You can start a trip in a city and experience the urban flavor of the region. Then, you can go a little further west and visit some of the more funky, artsy places like Northampton; go a little further still and you’re in the heart of a beautiful, bucolic area … I think people realize the value of that."

Another phenomenon Wydra has noticed is the evolution of the region’s tourism sector, from what was largely an afterthought in an area dominated by manufacturing, to one of the fastest growing segments of the area’s economy.

She said the tourism industry has created a number of jobs locally, and has spawned the creation or expansion of hospitality management programs at UMass, American International College, and Holyoke Community College.

"Years ago, people found travel and tourism information in the leisure section of the daily newspaper," she said. "That is no longer true. Now, the things we are doing are on the front of the business section. We need to continue to cultivate that to benefit the Valley."

At the same time, area residents need to take a measure of ownership in the region’s tourism sector by becoming part of cheerleading squad, Wydra added. This includes providing recommendations, directions, or travel advice to visitors, while encouraging families and groups exploring convention sites to consider the Pioneer Valley.

In short, Wydra wants to create a greater sense of pride in the region.

She’s doing so through several initiatives, including the Pioneer Valley Pride program, which in part will enlist local individuals to promote Greater Springfield as a possible convention location for regional or national associations they may belong to. Meanwhile, the GSCVB continues to promote the decade-old Howdy Awards, given to residents who work in the hospitality industry annually, to recognize exemplary service.

"These individuals are often overlooked, but they are the people who are giving directions, checking people into hotels, and serving their food," she said.

This year, to augment the program, she has added a wrinkle to the Howdy tradition — ëHowdy U’ — that will take shape in June. The program, designed to give those in the hospitality business a crash course in Pioneer Valley tourism, was developed in part to create career ladder opportunities for people in the service industry, as well as to decrease the high turnover levels that are common to hospitality and tourism-related jobs nationwide.

The two-day course, to be held at Western New England College, will first provide its students with information regarding broad skills such as dealing with angry customers, and later, region-specific information.

"We want people to be knowledgeable about the region — to know about attractions like our museums, live theater, and symphony, and how to direct people to them," she said.

The second day, Howdy U participants will be loaded onto a bus and shuttled around the Pioneer Valley on a guided tour of both visible and hidden gems, in order to develop a working knowledge of their proximity to one another.

"That will allow them to tell people how close different attractions are to one another and help them suggest possible itineraries," she explained.

Howdy U graduates will also be able to illustrate the variety of attractions that exists in the region, which Wydra sees as one of its best assets.

"It’s a big selling point," she said, pointing out that in addition to specific attractions such as the Yankee Candle flagship store or seasonal events like Bright Nights and the Big E, the bureau frequently promotes ëhub and spoke trips’ that allow tourists to stay overnight in one location, but branch out on any number of day trips in surrounding towns and cities.

"We like to point out that there are so many attractions within minutes of each other, that it’s very easy to pick a hotel or a bed and breakfast in one city or town, but experience the entire Valley in a matter of days," she explained. "Overall, we try to pitch the Pioneer Valley as a package. All of these partnerships enhance the work we do, and help us expose what the Valley has to offer."

In addition, Wydra is focusing on attracting new populations to the area, including an increased number of bus tour groups and student travelers, of both high school and college age. The bureau also continues to market heavily to potential convention customers, and is poised to capitalize on the opening of the new MassMutual Convention Center, being built on the Springfield Civic Center site, slated to open in September of this year.

Its very construction is adding to the Pioneer Valley Pride Program, Wydra noted. "People are watching it go up and they’re starting to get excited about what it means for Springfield."

With or without major projects like the new convention center aiding the marketing efforts of the bureau, though, it always maintains a strong concentration on its three major customers — meeting planners, tour operators, and leisure visitors — and has stepped up its collaborative efforts with business partners across the Valley, including some unconventional partners such as area hospitals and banks. The partnerships reflect both the unique and close-knit nature of the region, Wydra said, as well as the growing importance of tourism initiatives to the region’s fiscal picture.

"There needs to be a concerted effort to bring commerce into the region," she said. "It’s important to everyone, and as more people are exposed to what the Valley has to offer, more people will ultimately take advantage of all of our services."

A-list Possibilities

With so many different variables to monitor, Wydra said measuring success has become a detailed process. The occupancy rates at area hotels are constantly monitored, as are the number of bus tours arriving in the Valley and what types of people are aboard. Attendance at major events and attractions is also compared to the previous year’s, down to the last child to pass through the Big E gates, or the last car to exit the Bright Nights tour.

All that data is proof of what Greater Springfield’s improving allure to travelers, Wydra said, thanks to home team hustle.

"The Pioneer Valley has become a destination due to a lot of hard work by a lot of people. My job is to be enthusiastic for the region — which in and of itself is not hard, because I believe in it, I love it, and it is home to me."

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Companies Help Employees Crunch Thier Numbers
A more holistic approach to health and wellness within area companies is becoming the norm, due
to the benefits wellness programs can have on a workforce. And while employees shed pounds, many companies are also shaving expenses.

InClaire D’Amour-Daley, Big Y’s vice president for Corporate Affairs, was reminded of how much her company’s employee wellness program has evolved recently at a corporate meeting.

Reaching for a Big Y donut, she instead found a plate of apples. It was an interesting discovery; those apples had never been there before.

"Those donuts are so good," she said. "But it’s nice to have other options. Otherwise, we’d eat the donuts."

That dozen apples on the boardroom table next to a dozen glazed was proof that health, nutrition, fitness, and overall employee wellness is becoming more of a focus in the corporate arena.

Many area businesses already have established wellness programs for employees, however a growing trend within companies of all sizes is added attention on those programs, and the expansion of wellness services for staff, with the goal of better integrating healthy habits into their lives at work or otherwise.

Some of those changes are small, such as encouraging employees to take the stairs whenever possible during their workday.

Others may seem subtle, but are poignant in that they reflect changing attitudes. At Big Y, for example, former fitness director, Pam Ouellette, recently received a new title — wellness director — and an expanded set of responsibilities in order to better address employee health within the Big Y corporation.

The reclassification of her position is indicative of the overall shift in focus within many corporate fitness programs — from simply offering an in-house gym for employees to creating a broad spectrum of wellness initiatives and activities designed to improve employees’ overall health and happiness.

More and more businesses are taking the health of their employees seriously, and realizing that good employee health isn’t just an altruistic endeavor, but a smart business move as well.

BusinessWest looks this month at some of the health and fitness programs in place within area businesses, and how they are growing and changing to keep the Western Mass. workforce on the road to wellness.

Here’s the Skinny

Wellness programs are not relegated to more-corporate settings like MassMutual and Big Y; a wide spectrum of businesses offer comprehensive fitness programs to employees, including colleges, medical centers, and nonprofits. Western New England College, for instance, kick-started its employee wellness program 10 years ago, and, like Big Y, it recently made some staffing and programming changes to emphasize its growing importance to the staff pool.

The college’s core wellness initiative, WorkWell, has grown in and of itself over the past decade, said Cyndi Constanzo, wellness and recreation director for WNEC.

"There has historically been a lot of institutional support," she said. "We really bought into the notion of employee wellness, and we have had great opportunities to bring programs to employees and their families because of that support."

Costanzo said that for every dollar the college invests in employee wellness and fitness, $2 is returned. But that statistic is based on qualitative, not quantitative results and research, so she said the real value of wellness programs is often hard to prove. This is one of the reasons why more-comprehensive programs are only now being seen in organizations of all sizes.

"In the past I think it has been a hard sell," she said. "But now there is a move to jump-start employee wellness initiatives because the benefits — the cost savings, especially in health insurance — are being brought into the limelight.

"Now, most people see at least some value in the area of employee wellness."

Dr. David Artzerounian, MassMutual’s medical director, agreed that wellness initiatives are at or near the top of many boardroom agendas.

"For us, good health is good business," he said. "Employees feel better, and they accomplish more; managers see it as a win, because they are more likely to meet their corporate objectives. And in the long run, the company saves money."

In fact, the Healthy Workforce 2010 initiative, a federal program that operates under the auspices of the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, serves as the framework for many corporate fitness programs. The national initiative’s sourcebook for employers states that the leading causes of death in America are, in some way, linked to personal behaviors, such as tobacco use and diet and activity patterns. Further, guidelines for employers instituting wellness programs in their facilities include the major reasons why healthy practices in the workplace are beneficial to employees as well as employers. These include increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, lower health care costs, and an improved corporate image.

Anne-Marie Szmyt, director of WorkLife Strategies for Baystate Health Systems, said the statistics that measure the success of wellness programs can take some time to develop, as the outcomes of prevention efforts are usually harder to gauge than initiatives put in place to address existing problems, health-related or otherwise.

"You don’t see a change in health care costs immediately," she said, "but the anecdotal evidence is strong. A sense of loyalty begins to develop within the workforce very quickly, and later you see less turnover of employees.

"Companies need to decide which wellness programs they will invest in, and remain invested for the long term," Szmyt continued. "There are a lot of studies out there that show that any increase in a better sense of well-being among employees leads to better productivity."

And wellness programs can be facilitated at either a high or low cost, she added, depending on an individual organization’s budget or size.

"There are a number of resources out there, many free, that can assist in setting up workplace programs," she said. "The important thing is that you don’t put it off, in part because it takes a while to see those positive results."

Wellness programs are also generally ongoing and constantly developing initiatives. An organization might start with an on-site fitness center or program, for instance, and later move on to adjusting food choices, educational programs, and the promotion of behaviors that can be easily incorporated into daily life.

Szmyt said corporate wellness programs as a whole seem to be moving in a more holistic direction, moving away from solely fitness interventions and focusing on the overall health of all employees and their families. Costanzo agreed; while the facilities many companies have, like Baystate’s central fitness center or WNEC’s ëHealthful Living Center,’ are excellent capstones to fitness programs, they are only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

WNEC, for instance, has instituted classes in smoking cessation, ëbrown bag’ lunch talks on a variety of health issues, and courses specifically tailored to those employees with particularly physical jobs, said Costanzo, including maintenance and grounds staff, to help them avoid injury at work.

"You have to tailor wellness programs to the employees who need them most, and that’s often the employees in jobs with large physical components," she said. "Employees need to be healthy to work, but also need to be well in order to care for their families and complete other tasks."

"Many wellness efforts extend far beyond the fitness centers," added Artzerounian. "We are focused on educating our employees on the health risks they may have, such as weight problems, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure, as well as lowering those risk factors."

Like many local companies, MassMutual has long had a comprehensive wellness department that has garnered added attention in recent years. To underscore the importance of wellness and fitness initiatives within MassMutual, the company’s fitness center was moved into the main State Street building in 2003 (it had once been across the street), and all fitness programs were given an added boost in the form of increased budgets for new exercise equipment, educational programs, and other initiatives, at all MassMutual locations.

In addition to increased corporate support of wellness programs, employees in several organizations are also beginning to see added incentives to healthy living at their workplaces, designed to make fitness programs more attractive and more widely used as they become more expansive.

Costanzo said employees are now offered ërelief time,’ that is awarded after a certain number of hours of exercise, allowing staff to come in late or leave early from work. That incentive in particular has attracted several employees to the planned wellness activities at WNEC — about 350 employees are regularly working out in order to earn time out.

D’Amour-Daley said her company has a program similar to WNEC’s, offering employees that take advantage of corporate fitness programs extra time off from work. But, conversely, she said charging employees to work out in the Big Y fitness center has also proven effective.

"Memberships are available to all employees, but they’re not free," she said. "We’ve found that people are more apt to go to the gym if they have to pay for it; they don’t take for granted that it’s there for them to use, and the payroll deductions are a constant reminder to get up and go."

Big Y also holds weight-loss challenges intermittently, offering a cash prize to the employees that shed the most pounds. D’Amour-Daley said the recent expansion of programming company-wide has been in response to a nationwide trend as well as the need to address fitness and wellness within a growing company — and among the group of employees that work too far away from Big Y’s Springfield-based corporate offices to take advantage of gym-centered programs.

"We started our fitness programs with an in-house fitness center," she said, "But the change in our fitness director’s title and responsibilities is a direct reflection of the greater challenge we have taken on to address wellness in all of our locations. We want our wellness programs to get to the whole person."

Varied programs help the company bring wellness initiatives to each of its stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, such as the dissemination of health and nutrition information, contests like the ë10,000 steps a day’ program that issues pedometers to all employees and challenges them to take 10,000 steps daily, and Weight Watchers groups. Employees also recently attended a screening of last-year’s smash documentary Super Size Me to glean information about smart food choices.

"We’re in the food biz," said D’Amour-Daley, "So health, fitness, and nutrition initiatives are a natural fit."

Paying attention to the everyday challenges that all people face, like a tray of donuts at a board meeting, is intrinsic to creating a fitness and wellness program that will be both effective and sustainable, said Tina Manos, manager of the Wellness Activities Center at MassMutual. Manos said each department of any given company has the potential to better the health of its direct staff, and addressing wellness in all corporate areas rather than just through a specific wellness department is the best way to incorporate a culture shift.

Everyone is different; those prone to grabbing fast food in the cafeteria can be helped with more healthy food options, for instance, and Manos said people new to exercise programs that may need some extra guidance could benefit from a daily walking group or nutrition class. Others still may need strategies to blend physical activity into their already hectic lives.

"Programs that address the hesitancy some people may have toward exercise are very important," she said, adding that one of the new initiatives MassMutual has incorporated into its wellness repertoire is a series of exercise options designed to fit into a compressed time period — ideal for people who have little time in their busy schedules to add a fitness regimen. "The program is designed to help employees see that there are things they can do in a half-hour to exercise."

Donut Disturb

"There has been a huge commitment lately to wellness and a big part of that commitment is making fitness more accessible and convenient," said Manos.

Convenient, yes, but also all-inclusive, available to help employees through each part of their workday and beyond — from that morning trip to the gym to that last, late afternoon pastry temptation.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Opinion
The new convention center taking shape on Main Street in Springfield will open its doors in a few months. As the countdown continues, so does speculation about what this $50 million facility will mean for the city and the Pioneer Valley as a whole.

Indeed, depending on who is offering the opinion, the center will either be a huge boon to the local economy and the centerpiece of its growing tourism sector, or it will be a dud, an elephant of the color of the facility’s exterior walls — white.

Our guess is that it won’t be either — at least not right away.

We believe that the convention center/civic complex, to be known as the MassMutual Center, will be an asset for the region, and that it can fulfill what is its basic mission — to provide revenue for the state through the taxes that will be paid on the hotel rooms it will fill.

How soon the center can become this asset remains to be seen. For now, we believe it is important for area residents to keep things in perspective.

That’s because there are a number of factors that may contribute to a slow start for the center, beginning with the fact that convention planners often think several years out, and this facility has only been on the market for about 18 months or so. And what those marketing the facility have been able to sell with, to date, are color photographs in a brochure and on the Web. They should do much better when they can offer walking tours of the center.

But there are other considerations beyond mere timing.

The convention and meeting business is extremely competitive, and it will only become more so in the years ahead. Only a few miles down I-91, Hartford is creating a new convention center that will be larger than Springfield’s and offer more amenities. Meanwhile, other cities, including Worcester, Providence, and Lowell, are heavily marketing their cities and meeting facilities. And don’t forget about Boston, which is having its own troubles securing business for its massive new convention center.

It would be a stretch to consider any of the smaller competing cities, especially Lowell and Worcester, as garden spots. But then again, Springfield certainly wouldn’t be classified as an easy sell at the moment. Indeed, while those competing communities have their own problems, none are being managed by a control board and none are the focus of an ongoing corruption probe that yields a new, embarrassing headline seemingly every week.

Despite Springfield’s current public relations problem and the heightened level of competition in the meeting and convention market, we believe the MassMutual Center can enjoy some success — if it is marketed properly and if it gets some help in the form of continued progress in downtown Springfield, especially another hotel.

Marketers must target the right audience for this facility. While it is possible that the city will play host to national associations or groups (some already come here regularly), it is more likely that it will attract the Northeast, New England, or Massachusetts chapters of those groups.

To draw them, those marketing the new convention center must focus on selling the region, not the city of Springfield. This is not meant as another dig at the city and its many problems, but merely acknowledgement that what will bring groups to the area isn’t its capital city, but rather the sum of the Valley’s parts.

Increasingly, meetings and conventions are family affairs, and, with its mix of attractions ranging from Six Flags to the Basketball Hall of Fame to Yankee Candle, the Valley has much more to sell than most of its direct competitors.

This doesn’t mean that it will be easy to sell the MassMutual Center. For all the reasons we’ve listed above, the facility may struggle at the start. We hope that time is short and that the facility proves worthy of its pricetag.

The commonwealth needs the room-tax revenue and the region needs a facility to take its tourism business to the next level. We believe the MassMutual Center will eventually achieve both missions.

Departments

The following incorporations were recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties between late January and mid-February, the latest available. They are listed by community.

AGAWAM

MiG Xpress Inc., 661 River Road, Agawam 01001. Sergey Agibalov, same. Trucking service.

AMHERST

Katherine J. Atkinson, M.D., P.C., 29D Cottage St., Amherst. Katherine J. Atkinson, M.D., 24 Trillium Way, Amherst 01002. To render professional medical services including family practice services.

CHICOPEE

MVL Co. Inc., 44 Old James St., Chicopee 01020. Thomas P. Mauer, 243 Pearl St., South Hadley 01075. Lawn, tree and shrub care, etc.

Pachi Paradice Inc., 42 Buckley Blvd., Chicopee 01020. Guy J. Robillard, 77 Meadow St., Chicopee 01013. Internet sale of casino supplies.

EAST LONGMEADOW

HNM Corp., 668 North Main St., East Longmeadow 01028. Mustafa Ali, 28 Memery Lane, Longmeadow 01106. Retail sale of grocery and convenience items.

Pepper Belle Tourette Syndrome Awareness Program Inc., 26 Forbes Hill Road, East Longmeadow 01028. William J. Perrero, same. (Nonprofit) To promote awareness of Tourette Syndrome among the general public, etc.

FLORENCE

Sunrise Amanecer Inc., 21 Summer Ave., Florence 01062. Veronica Navarrete-Vivero, 21 Sumner Ave., Florence 01062. (Nonprofit) To provide education and health services to underserved racial and cultural minorities in the Hampden and Hampshire county area.

HUNTINGTON

Lansing Spatech Inc., 10 Pond Brook Road, Huntington 01050. David L. Lansing, same. To repair, replace and service hot tubs and spas.

LUDLOW

Airsports Paintball Inc., 6 White St., Ludlow 01056. Gregory DeMone, 39 Sawmill Road, Ludlow 01056. Recreational activities, mountain board, and paintball supplies and sales.

NORTHAMPTON

Fringe Studio for Hair Inc., 56 Main St., Suite 202, Northampton 01060. Bruce Klein, 575 Bridge Road, Unit 11-1, Florence 01062. Hair salon.

PALMER

Palmer Softball Inc., 1701 Park St., Palmer 01069. Charles Smith, same. (Nonprofit) To play adult sports, including softball, volleyball, and horseshoes.

SOUTHAMPTON

Sheldon Construction Inc., 60 Crooked Ledge Road, Southampton, 01073. William A. Sheldon Jr., same. General contracting.

SOUTHWICK

Molt’s Liquors Inc., 345 North Loomis St., Southwick 01077. Joseph F. Molta, same. To own and operate a package store.

SPRINGFIELD

Avid Ironworks Inc., 2 Mattoon St., Springfield 01105. Joseph A. Visconti Jr., 33 Day St. South, W. Granby, CT 06090. Kenneth J. Gogel Esq., 2 Mattoon St., Springfield 01105, registered agent. Steel fabrication and welding.

Dandia Inc., 127 Mulberry St., Springfield 01105. Daniel Sullivan, 200 Birch Road, Longmeadow 01106. To deal in real estate.

Forest Remodeling Inc., 20 Greenleaf St., Springfield 01108. Edward J. Forest, 122 Hampden Road, Somers, CT, 06071. James Eklanian, 20 Greenleaf St., Springfield 01108, registered agent. Remodeling of residential structures.

JSMR Inc., 19 Arcadia Blvd., Springfield 01118. Michael A. Remillard, same. Restaurant.

RAL Inc., 42B Bancroft St., Springfield 01107. Robert A. Lopez, same. To own and operate a package store.

Veterans in Packaging Inc., 48 Zephyr Lane, Springfield 01128. Edward J. Peplinski, same. To deal in packaging and packaging supplies.

WESTFIELD

ACI Investigative Group West Inc., 7 Sally St., Westfield 01085. Shawn Carey, same. Investigative services for fraudulent insurance claims, etc.

J & P Landscaping Inc., 4 Rachel Terrace, Westfield 01085. Peter R. Plourde, same. A landscaping and property maintenance service business.

Maharaj Inc., 21 Hillcrest Circle, Westfield 01085. Bintula Patel, same, president, treasurer and secretary. Retail liquor store.

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Professional Property Services, Inc., 31 Russell St., West Springfield 01089. Patricia Jean Harrison, same. Trade contracting and home improvement.

WILBRAHAM

Julien J. Drapeau Home Improvement Inc., 6 Surrey Lane, Wilbraham 01095. Julien J. Drapeau, same. Every type of home improvement.

New England Playaz Inc., Law Office of Frank W. Bloom, 85 Post Office Pk., Wilbraham 01095. Francis Bloom, same. (Nonprofit) To expose and promote high school basketball players seeking college or prep school academic and/or athletic scholarships, etc.

Sections Supplements
Web Site Offers a New Alternative for Intrepid Travelers
GoNomad.com

GoNomad.com

On Sugarloaf Street in South Deerfield, there is a small, red-shingled building, in keeping with the area’s quaint, New England architecture.

Inside, though, is a gateway to the rest of the world.

The building is the new home of GoNomad.com, an online travel resource for ëalternative travelers’ — those in search of a thrill, an education, or a one-of-a-kind experience while traveling.

GoNomad.com’s owner, Max Hartshorne, calls the site "a comprehensive resource center," designed to provide alternative travelers with both inspiration and information to plan virtually any trip.

The most prevalent aspect of the site is its editorial content — essentially a Web-based magazine, GoNomad features hundreds of articles describing unique trips that stray from the more common Disneyland, Vegas, or cruise ship vacations.

"Our readers don’t want to read about lounging on the beach," he said. "They want to learn how to hand roll couscous in Morocco. They want to take a cooking class in Croatia, or go on an archeological dig in Jordan. It’s a very interesting niche of people."

And it was a niche that Hartshorne wanted very much to call attention to. He bought GoNomad.com from its founder, Lauryn Axelrod of Vermont, a travel writer and documentary filmmaker, in February, 2002. He already had some editorial and travel industry experience, having served as managing editor for Transitions Abroad Magazine, based in Amherst, for some time, but wanted to take the idea of alternative travel to a new level.

He also wanted to capitalize on the Internet market, and provide an extensive travel ëWeb-zine’ that would do more than just entertain readers.

"Working in the editorial world is my real love," said Hartshorne, who has also worked in sales for Bolduc’s Clothing in Agawam, among other ventures. "I love working with writers and photographers and I’m also an extensive traveler. I knew I wanted to continue the work I had been doing at Transitions Abroad, but I knew utilizing the Internet was the way to go.

"If you look at all media as a triangle, at the end of the day the Internet is at the top," he said, creating a point with his hands and extending his forefinger for emphasis. "I think the best way to create a travel resource like this is to do it on the Web. Everything is right there — the inspiration and also all the links you need to plan a trip from start to finish."

Charting a Course

But early 2002 was a risky time to take over an Internet-based business that centered on alternative travel.

Less than five months after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, travel and tourism was at an all-time low, and niche markets like ecotourism, work and study abroad programs, and cultural immersion tours — all examples of alternative travel — were suffering even more so.

"It was a big risk," Hartshorne said. "But the site was already up and running, and had a following. I decided it was a risk I wanted to take."

The venture has paid off for Hartshorne; since assuming control of the site, he has added several features meant to increase both traffic to the site and the convenience with which visitors can plan their own adventures.

GoNomad includes travel guides, links to travel-based companies such as travel agents, airlines, tour companies, and volunteer organizations, and key information for alternative travelers, ranging from unique places to stay to the latest recommended immunizations, and how to find a bathroom — quick — in any country.

Hartshorne said the travel stories are meant to serve as both motivation and guidance for would-be travelers, and the added links are the tools GoNomad visitors can use to plan any trip they can envision — be it a weekend jaunt to Brooklyn, or a trek through Iran, taking daily meals with — what else? — nomads.

He updates the site regularly to reflect the most often viewed articles and resources, and said those updates are proof of the diversity of the site as well as of its core users. Alternative travelers don’t always equal ëextreme travelers,’ he noted, but the common thread that links GoNomad’s typical visitor is they travel to enrich their lives, rather than take a break from it.

On any given day, GoNomad could feature a motorcycle tour of Bulgaria or the top 10 ëbare beaches’ worldwide. It could also extol the benefits of teaching English in Paris, Tokyo, Spain, or Ghana, or of volunteering in the Himalayas.

But the site also offers details on an historical weekend in Richmond, Va., and of an English garden tour.

"All of the articles and resources aren’t meant to be about one person’s trip," Hartshorne explained. "They are meant to be about the reader’s potential trip. It should give people an idea of where to visit, where to stay, or where to eat, and also provide a general feel of the flavor of a place."

Hartshorne has also developed partnerships with a number of businesses, online and otherwise, to augment the services GoNomad offers and to capitalize on the ever-changing virtual marketplace. For one, Hartshorne has joined forces with airportparkingreservations.com, based in Suffield, Conn., allowing GoNomad visitors to secure a parking spot at one of several airports globally at a fixed rate.

"We are getting thousands of inquiries on that," he said. "In urban areas, it’s not easy to find a parking spot. Travelers are really latching on to this and taking advantage of great deals."

Hartshorne also offers free listings for hotels, bed and breakfasts, travel agents, work/study programs, and other businesses, as well as ëpremium’ listings for a fee, and, like thousands of other content-heavy websites, has joined Google’s Ad Sense program, which places contextually relevant ads next to the stories on the Web site.

"This provides a pay-per-click revenue stream," Hartshorne explained. "The ads are extremely targeted, so a feature story on say, Brazil, will have ads for Rio hotels, airfare to Brazil and tours in the Amazon."

Hartshorne also benefits from the sale of travel insurance and travel books and other items in the ëGoNomad Marketplace,’ and this year, he will continue to add to the site, delving into the business of selling airline tickets — his own private-label line of low priced European and Asian flights — in addition to the railpasses, vacations, cruises, domestic and international ticket and hotel sales already offered.

To further increase revenues while remaining true to GoNomad’s original flavor, Hartshorne is creating a ëpod cast’ service — audio versions of travel articles in MP3 format, which visitors can download and listen to in their homes or, he hopes, on the airplane that will deliver them to their chosen destination.

"Our revenue stream is varied," he said of the many business ventures in the works. "But we don’t stray from our mission. We’re not about cruise ships, we’re not about Vegas, and we’re not New York, Paris, and London. We’re about participatory, learning travel. We will continue to grow and offer different services in order to keep that aspect of the site strong."

Plane Speaking

And as the business grows, so does its notoriety. GoNomad has been featured in a number of publications, including the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and Hartshorne has served as a guest expert on travel and the state of the tourism industry for several media outlets including CNN, on which he appeared twice recently in the wake of the Asian tsunami that hit Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, India, and the once-booming vacation spot of Phu Ket, Thailand.

Having kick-started his business after the tourism industry, and in many ways the U.S. as a whole, suffered its most devastating blow in September, 2001, Hartshorne is indeed an expert on the fragility of the travel and tourism industry.

"The most important thing people needed to know after 9/11 was that America was still open for business," he said. "The same holds true for South Asia following the tsunami. People are donating millions of dollars to relief efforts, and I gladly donated as well. But the best way we, as Americans, as travelers, can help the countries that were hit by the tsunami is to go there.

"Many people equate those entire countries with the damage caused by the tsunami, but that’s not accurate," he continued. "There are some great, inland areas that are just fine, and accepting tourists. Spending our dollars there will help the entire economy."

He added that GoNomad travelers are the ideal group to lead the way.

"These people want to see the whole world, not select parts," he said. "They want to go to South Asia, or to the Middle East. They want to learn about new cultures. That act of people connecting with people is what is needed most."

Hartshorne is hard at work monitoring those connections from his South Deerfield office each day… constantly welcoming new visitors to the rest of the world.

Fast Facts
Company: GoNomad.com
Address: 14A Sugarloaf St.,
South Deerfield, MA 01373
Phone: (413) 665-5005
Web site:www.GoNomad.com
E-mail:[email protected]

Departments

The following building permits were issued during the month of March 2005.

AGAWAM

Six Flags New England
1623 Main St.
$10,000 — Pour foundation for new coaster

AMHERST

Amherst Shopping Center Assoc. LLC
183 University Dr.
$110,000 — Interior fit out for video store

Middle Hampshire Development Group
31 Hall Dr.
$10,000 — Convert three rooms to two exam rooms

CHICOPEE

PJC Realty
577 Meadow St.
$1,500,000 — Build Brooks Pharmacy

HOLYOKE

Sisters of St. Joseph
34 Lower Westfield Road
$21,837 — Install new door locks

NORTHAMPTON

Ernest and Beth Senecal
219 Prospect St.
$39,504 — Renovate attached garage for salon

Gleason Bros. Inc.
7 Pearl St.
$7,200 — Install hood system and duct work

Seven Bravo Two LLC
152 Cross Path Road
$44,000 — Renovate for office space and flight school

SPRINGFIELD

55 State St. LLC
55 State St.
$13,000 — Interior alterations

Mercy Hospital
271 Carew St.
$426,000 — Emergency department renovations

Radiology & Imaging
125 Liberty St.
$12,000 — Remodel interior

WEST SPRINGFIELD

Best Western Sovereign Hotel
1080 Riverdale St.
$30,000 — Interior renovations

Departments

Bartlett, Michael S.
Bartlett, Colleen
451 West Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Bartlett, Robert W.
14 Mobil Home Way
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/03/05

Beatty, Mary Elizabeth
293 Morgan St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Bennett, Marie Anne
521-523 Broadway St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/03/05

Biggins, Peter F.
185 Pasco Road
Springfield, MA 01151
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Blake, Deborah A.
12 Ladd St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

Blazej, Laurie
26 Cochran St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Boucher, Jed J.
82 Montcalm St.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Brooks, Ellen M.
71 Edgeland St.
Springfield, MA 01108
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/14/05

Brooksbank, Douglas J.
101 Huntington Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Bush, Nancy J.
40 Orange St., Apt C
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Cabral, Cindy Lynne
46 Amherst St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/14/05

Chaisson, Tracy A.
56 Main St.
Northampton, MA 01060
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Chapline, Michael Lee
41 Summit St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/04/05

Chartier, Cori Diane
9 Birch St.
Wilbraham, MA 01095
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Clinton, Louis A.
58 Berkshire St.
Springfield, MA 01150
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/11/05

Conniff, Joseph Edward
72 Thalia Dr.
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Conniff, Louise Ann
160 Point Grove Road, Apt
Southwick, MA 01077
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Cooper, Raymon L.
Cooper, Michelle M.
95 Bulat Dr.
Springfield, MA 01129
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/06/05

Danos, Carla
44 Wood Ave.
East Longmeadow, MA 01028
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Davis, Roberta L.
80 Laurence St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/11/05

Deleon, Ricardo
729 High St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

DiVirgilio, Joseph
DiVirgilio, Carol
15 Carmel Lane
Feeding Hills, MA 01030
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/03/05

Dube, Mary Jo
1649 1/2 Hampton St.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Duggan, Carolyn M.
79 Wheeler Ave.
Springfield, MA 01118
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Dyjach, Theresa M.
23 Beacon Ave.
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Fett, William E.
57 Riviera Dr.
Agawam, MA 01001
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Gonyea, Steven J.
66 Bradford Dr., Apt. C
West Springfield, MA 01089
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Hara, John J.
22 Yale St.
South Hadley, MA 01075
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/03/05

Harrison, Molly J.
62 West Parsons Land
Florence, MA 01062
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Hightower, Kevin C.
6 Coleridge St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Hyte, Joyce I.
24 West Court
Holyoke, MA 01040
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Jarvis, Robert G.
One Pleasant St.
Granby, MA 01033
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Johnson, Nancy K.
868 Southampton Road
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/14/05

Jones, Richard David
31 Marshall Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Kazonis, Athanasia
72 Mayher St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Kellogg, Thomas D.
491 Bridge Road, Apt. 214
Florence, MA 01062
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Kilgore, Meredith E.
42 Mill St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Laino, Katie E.
215 Lamont St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Lansing, Jeffrey R.
Lansing, Irene M.
125 Main St.
Westfield, MA 01085
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Lopes, Patrice A.
9 Spring St., Apt. C
South Hadley, MA 01075
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/03/05

MacDaniel, Paul W.
MacDaniel, Barbara J.
257 Spikenard Circle
Springfield, MA 01129
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

MacKintosh, Glenn P.
7 New Crest St.
Ludlow, MA 01056
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Matrango-Tisdell, Laura Frances
63 Mark Dr.
Agawam, MA 01011
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

McCarthy, Blaine P.
18 Beacon Ter.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/04/05

McCarthy, Charles
44 Alvord Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/04/05

McNair, Veronica Lachelle
36 Santa Barbara St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Montgomery, Norma E.
31 Osborne Ter.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

Munoz, Edith
828 Beacon Circle
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Nguyen, Anh Thi
526 Main St.
West Springfield, MA 01089
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/03/05

Pleasant, Frank
11 Willard St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

Reyes, Maria
62 Oswego St., Apt. 3R
Springfield, MA 01105
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Savage, Rebecca Kate
155 Lincoln Ave., Apt A
Amherst, MA 01002
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Schlund-Vials, Cathy J.
133 Crescent St.
Northampton, MA 01060
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Sheret, Leslie A.
152 Metacomet St.
Belchertown, MA 01007
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Shortridge, Casonia Y.
39 Groton St.
Springfield, MA 01129
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Smith-Jackson, Sherry A.
20 Goldenrod St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/09/05

Stewart, Michelle
145 Barber St.
Springfield, MA 01119
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Tougas, Jean A.
81 Laclede Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01020
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Valle, Carmen S.
98 Division St.
Springfield, MA 01107
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/15/05

Vaughn, Steven Michael
77 1/2 Ontario St.
Springfield, MA 01104
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/07/05

Viamari, Christopher J.
122 Wheatland Ave.
Chicopee, MA 01013
Chapter: 7
Filing Date: 02/10/05

Westbrook, Jerome D.
80 Rochelle St.
Springfield, MA 01109
Chapter: 13
Filing Date: 02/08/05

Departments

INCORPORATIONS The following incorporations were recorded in Hampden and Hampshire counties between late January and mid-February, the latest available. They are listed by community.

AGAWAM

Heritage Sales Inc., 90 Industrial Lane, Agawam 01001. George L. Vershon Jr., 36 Hampden Lane, Agawam 01001. To deal in stones and metal monuments and markers, head stones, etc.

River Road Corp., 395 River Road, Agawam 01001. Michael D. B’Shara, 1215 Longmeadow St., Longmeadow 01106. To deal in real estate.

AMHERST

Political Economy Research Fund Inc., 418 North Pleasant St., Gordon Hall, University of Massachusetts, c/o Robert Pollin, Amherst 01002. Robert Pollin, 138 East Pleasant St., Amherst 01002. (Nonprofit) To provide grants and gifts to colleges, universities and/or secondary schools to promote research in the field of political economy.

CHICOPEE

Fitness Associates Inc., 1329 Memorial Dr., Chicopee 01020. Colleen Rondeau, 60 Michael Dr., South Hadley 01075. Management corporation for fitness facilities.

Nick’s Affordable Home Remodeling Inc., 539 Springfield St., Chicopee 01013. Nikolay Dipon, same. Commercial and residential construction and remodeling.

Trumpets Inc., 450 Memorial Dr., Chicopee 01020. May Cun, 384 Stonyhill Road, Wilbraham 01095. To own and operate a restaurant, cafe, nightclub, pool hall, etc.

EAST LONGMEADOW

Foy Inc., 200 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow 01028. James W. Aleks, 216 Pinehurst Dr., East Longmeadow 01028. To deal in beauty products, supplies, etc., used by beauty product stores.

Ryan Mortgage Group Inc., 280 North Main St., East Longmeadow 01028. Timothy P. Ryan, 136 Wenonah Road, Longmeadow 01106. Mortgage lending and brokerage.

HADLEY

RxATC Inc., 49 Lawrence Plain Road, Hadley 01035. James A. Owens, same. To provide 24-hour remote pharmacy consultant services to hospitals and medical facilities.

HOLYOKE

Holyoke Sports Legacy Inc., 25 Magnolia Ave., Holyoke 01040. John A. Collamore, same. (Nonprofit) To preserve the history of sports in Holyoke, assist Holyoke youth sports.

LONGMEADOW

Connectiuct Valley Weathersby Guild Inc., 362 Converse St., Longmeadow 01106. Michael F. Batchelor, president and treasurer; Kelleen M. Batchelor, same, secretary. To assist the moving industry in resolving claims for damages.

Go Fit Inc., 45 Woodside Dr., Longmeadow 01106. Susan Jaye-Kaplan, same. (Nonprofit) To provide health and fitness programs to economically underprivileged and underserved women and youth in inner city and rural settings, etc.

LUDLOW

Alexander’s The Great Restaurant Inc., 200 Center St., Unit 7, Ludlow 01056. Ferat Kolenovic, 33 Jackie Dr., Ludlow 01056. Restaurant.

NORTHAMPTON

Flying Dog Studios Inc., 320 Riverside Dr., Northampton 01060. Anna Pertzoff, 131 Chestnut St., Florence 01062. To operate an art center.

The Northampton Pottery, Ltd., 102 Main St., Northampton 01060. Megan Hart, 192 Academy Hill Road, Conway 01341. Pottery school and gallery.

PALMER

Friends of the Palmer Senior Center Inc., 1029 Central St., Palmer 01069. Ervin Smith, 1009 Pleasant St., Palmer 01069. (Nonprofit) To promote the best interests of the Palmer Council on Aging, etc.

SOUTHWICK

Augusti Brothers Pizzeria Inc., 1 North Pond Road, Southwick 01077. Michael Augusti, same. To operate an Italian restaurant and pizzeria.

Target Restoration Inc., 141 Feeding Hills Road, Southwick 01077. Gerald A. Mongeau, same. Fire and flood restoration.

SPRINGFIELD

Comprehensive Environmental Technologies Corp., 99 Chapin Terrace, Springfield 01107. Richard A. Britt, 22 Rachel St., Springfield 01129. Manufacturer’s representative in remediation of mold, service and distribution of products.

Disabled American Veteran Enterprises Inc., 48 Zephyr Lane, Springfield 01128. John K. Crotty, 13 Kimberly Dr., South Hadley 01075. To deal in packaging and packaging supplies.

Glory Home Care Inc., 191 Westford Circle, Springfield 01109. Skylar L. Dotson, same. Home care services.

Ministerio Rescatando al Perdido Inc., 64 Grosvenor St., Apt. 2L, Springfield 01107. Jose Luis Torres, same. (Nonprofit) To help the needy.

Springfield Direct Marketing Inc., 1 Federal St., Bldg 101R, Springfield 01105. Frederick J. Steinman, same. Direct mail advertising.

Veterans Managed Inventories Inc., 48 Zephyr Lane, Springfield 01128. Thomas B. Knowling, 1120 Bigelow Common, Enfield CT 06082. John K. Cross, 13 Kimberly Dr., South Hadley 01075. Third party inventory management service on a contract basis.

WESTFIELD

Aakash&Hinu Inc., 50 Russell Road, Westfield 01085. Artibahen R. Patel, 5514 Park Stone Ct., Sugar Land, TX 77479. Sanjay Patel, 55 Russell Road, Westfield 01085, registered agent. Convenience store.

Huge Leasing Co., 1294 East Mountain Road, Westfield 01085. Michael P. Dupuis, same. Leasing motor vehicles.

LPI Inc., 798 Airport Industrial Park Road, Westfield 01085. Raymond E. Carillon, 4 Griswold Circle, Granby 01033. Machine shop.

Panda House Inc., 589 East Main St., Westfield 01085. Cuiying Lin, 140 Union St., #D-73, Westfield 01085. Restaurant.

WILBRAHAM

Jones Educational Services Inc., 487 Stony Hill Road, Wilbraham 01095. Elizabeth A. Jones, same. To promote tutoring services to the general public, etc.

National Debt Solutions Inc., 2377 Boston Road, Suite 203, Wilbraham 01095. Jason L. Campbell, 511 Main St., Hampden 01036. To act on behalf of debtors to negotiate or settle with creditors all types of debts.

Valley Restoration Services Inc., 6 Parkwood Dr., Wilbraham 01095. Florence Marshall Kibbe, same. Adjustment, estimation, repair, etc., of property damage or loss.

Sections Supplements
Surge in New Development Shows Changing Attitudes About Chicopee
Chicopee construction

Chicopee construction

The notation on the latest construction -activities report for the city of Chicopee says it all.

Next to a listing for a planned, 2,000-square-foot Starbucks cafÈ to be built near the PeoplesBank ATM on Memorial Drive it says, No Longer a Rumor.

While the actual facility hasn’t been built — no groundbreaking has even been scheduled — Starbucks’ latest Western Mass. site appears to be fact, says City Planner Kate Brown, and this says something about Chicopee and Memorial Drive.

"There’s an interesting juxtaposition there," Brown told BusinessWest. "You have Wal-Mart on one side of the street, and a $5 cup of coffee on the other side. I’m not really sure what that says, but I think it means that Chicopee and Memorial Drive have what a lot of national retailers are looking for.

"I think it means that people are now looking past the income statistics," she continued, noting that, until now, most national chains have looked past Chicopee, presumably because its demographics were not attractive enough. "People are getting past the numbers and seeing the opportunities that exist here."

Bill McCabe agrees.

He’s a project manager with CBL & Associates Properties Inc., a Tennessee-based, publicly held real estate investment trust (REIT) with more than 70 million square feet of retail property in its portfolio. The company spent more than three years in tough negotiations to wrest a large portion of the former Fairfield Mall property from the Pennsylvania-based REIT Preit-Rubin Inc., and finally prevailed early last year.

CBL is now constructing what is being called the first phase of new retail development in the old mall site. Four national chains — Staples, Marshall’s, Sleepy’s, and iParty — will occupy a 75,000-square-foot facility, while additional retail is being planned.

"This really fit in our portfolio … the location is fantastic — the turnpike exit is right there — and Memorial Drive gets a significant volume of traffic," said McCabe, who noted that the presence of Wal-Mart and Home Depot have prompted many other retailers to give Chicopee a hard look.

Mayor Richard Goyette calls it a "domino effect."

He said that as more national retailers come to Memorial Drive, the traffic count on the street goes higher, which, in turn, prompts more retail, and a continuation of that cycle. The phenomenon can be seen not only in new ventures, but the expansion and renovation of existing businesses, he said.

"I see a lot of momentum on Memorial Drive … there’s a lot happening, and that only draws more interest in that area," he said. "It’s exciting to watch things unfold."

And as development continues on Memorial Drive, attention is also being paid to infrastructure, said Goyette, noting that work is being done to ease access into the new retail complex at the former mall site and to accommodate the increased traffic on roads leading to the area.

We expect to be drawing people from a much wider area than we have," said Goyette, who told BusinessWest that city officials want to make Memorial Drive a destination, not a place people want to avoid.

What’s in Store?

A further look at Chicopee’s latest construction activities report, which includes projects in all phases — conceptual, planned, permitted, under construction, and completed — and also lists development opportunites, reveals the extent of activity on this street framed by the turnpike and Westover Air Force Base.

In addition to the four big boxes under construction at the former mall site, which was demolished in 2002, an Applebee’s restaurant is planned for the north side of that complex, near the Wal-Mart entrance drive. Meanwhile, CBL is moving ahead with phase 2 of its plans for the former mall property, with several more retailers planned for another 70,000 square feet of space.

And then, there’s the Starbucks, which is planned for a site just off the turnpike exit, in the so-called BJ’s plaza, a development that also includes Big Y and sits adjacent to a Stop & Shop, a recently opened Hampton Inn, a Bank of America branch, and the aformentioned ATM.

There are a number of other projects in the planning stages, and several developments that have been completed, including:

• A planned 8,500-square-foot expansion project at Curry Honda;

• Preliminary plans for Bob Pion Pontiac to expand into the former Admiral DW’s restaurant next door;

• Ongoing faÁade improvements at the Price Rite plaza, including paving and a new roof;

• Planned relocation of the Ocean State Job Lot at the front of the Fairfield Mall site to the site of the former Ames store in a plaza further north on Memorial Drive;

• Construction of a new Auto Zone at the site of the former Ponderosa restaurant;

• Rehabilitation of a former bank branch building into the new home of the Freedom Credit Union;

• Demolition of the Pizza Hut restaurant near the front of the former mall and construction of a Ninety Nine restaurant; and

• Construction of "The Arbors Kids" day care and summer sports adjacent to an existing assisting living facility.

The list goes on, said Brown, noting the sum of the development projects and their diversity show that Chicopee, and specifically Memorial Drive, is becoming an increasingly popular site for retailers of all kinds.

Why? The need for some national chains like Home Depot and Wal-Mart to penetrate and then saturate new geographic areas certainly has something to do with it, she said. But location, location, location, — the credo of the commercial real estate realm — is also a big factor, as are changing attitudes about the city itself.

For decades, the national chains seemingly ignored Chicopee, said Brown, opting instead for the Holyoke Mall area, Boston Road in Springfield, Riverdale Road in West Springfield, Route 20 in Westfield, or Route 9 in Hadley.

What few retailers the city could attract were mostly discount shops like Bradlee’s, Ames, and Caldor’s, which all fell victim to Wal-Mart and other national giants. The situation was so bad that Brown, when asked if the arrival of Wal-Mart had an adverse effect on existing retailers, said, "there was hardly anyone left to be devastated."

Thinking Outside the (Big) Box

That scene is changing, with the arrival of Home Depot and Wal-Mart, the current construction of the four additional big boxes, and the promise of more development up and down the street, said Brown, who told BusinessWest that the surge in development on Memorial Drive began in the late ’90s, and was greatly accelerated by the ultimate demise of the Fairfield Mall.

Opened in 1974, the mall enjoyed some early success with a mix of discount anchors and several local businesses in its main concourse. Eventually, however, it couldn’t compete with larger area malls, especially nearby Holyoke, and as the discount stores failed and traffic to the mall steadily decreased, its fate was sealed.

The de-malling of the site — a term used by development professionals to describe the process of retrofitting a parcel for development — started in late 2000, and was slowed by a sluggish economy and a complicated ownership situation. At the time, the property was held by three concerns, all with different agendas and priorities.

The property still has three owners, but they appear to be on the same page. Home Depot owns its parcel, formerly the site of the Caldor’s store, New York-based Vornado Realty Trust holds the parcel on which the Wal-Mart was built, and CBL owns the former mall concourse area and most of the parking lot.

It was the arrival of Home Depot, which began construction in 2001 and opened in August of 2002, that got the ball rolling, said McCabe, adding that the start of construction on the 139,000-square-foot Wal-Mart provided additional momentum — and vast potential.

It was a combination of location and potential that attracted CBL, which primarily owns regional malls that are the dominant retail facility in middle-market acres.

The 22-acre portion of the former Fairfield Mall site is one of many acquisitions CBL has made in the past year. Others include the 1.2 million-square-foot Mall del Norte in Laredo, Texas, the 991,000-square-foot Northpark Mall in Joplin, Mo., and the 1.1 million-square-foot Monroeville Mall just outside Pittsburgh.

The Chicopee purchase is much smaller in scale, said McCabe, who works in the company’s Boston office, but it is an important addition to the portfolio. And he believes the company’s track record with many national retailers, coupled with the site’s location and other amenities, bode well for the future.

"We wouldn’t have gone into this if we didn’t have the retailers on board," he explained. "One of the nice things about being a national company is that we have very good relationships with a number of different retailers. If we didn’t think this made sense for them, we wouldn’t have gone forward with this property.

"We feel comfortable with the location," he continued, "and with Chicopee."

McCabe couldn’t reveal to BusinessWest the names of retailers who are close to inking deals to come to the former mall site, but he said several contracts are pending for storefronts that will be between 1,600 and 12,000 square feet.

He expects a mix of local and national stores, and said Home Depot and especially Wal-Mart are companies that attract other retailers.

"We have a number of Wal-Marts in other shopping centers we own, and they’re fantastic for business," he explained. "A lot of other retailers see the traffic that Wal-Mart generates and they want to be a part of that."

With Wal-Mart and the mix of other retailers to occupy the site, the former mall complex will be drawing shoppers from at least a 10-mile radius and perhaps more, said McCabe, noting that there are several projects planned to accommodate the higher traffic volume.

Additional turning lanes will be created at the former mall site to allow easy access, said Goyette. Meanwhile, the city will undertake a project to widen Fuller Road, which connects Memorial Drive with Route 291, and another to facilitate movement on Sheradon Street, which runs behind the former mall complex.

Progress — Down the Road

Returning to the subject of demographics and income statistics, Brown said, "if we had Longmeadow’s numbers, this resurgence on Memorial Drive would have happened a long time ago."

The fact that it’s happening now is evidence that attitudes about the statistics are changing — and that perhaps the most important stat is that there is now a Wal-Mart at 545 Memorial Dr.

While the reasons for the burst of activity on the street can be debated, what can’t be is the notion that the area is now a real destination.

As with the planned Starbucks cafÈ, the emergence of Memorial Drive is no longer a rumor.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]