Opinion
Massachusetts Should Embrace Biotech

For decades Massachusetts has been fertile ground for the life sciences. Our unique concentration of extraordinary universities, teaching hospitals, research facilities, venture capital, and talent, spurred by a tradition of entrepreneurialism, provides a strong foundation for growth in the biotech industry. These strengths have brought thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in life science investments to Massachusetts.

For us, that success is more than a commercial matter. Each family can speak poignantly about a family member or friend with a disease or debilitating illness. You cannot be in the company of someone you love, powerless to help them, without appreciating the vital importance of stem cell research and other biomedical breakthroughs. In many ways, the health of this industry and the health of our society are closely linked.

But we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. Competitor states and foreign nations are investing billions to attract our researchers, institutions, and industries. The University of Wisconsin-Madison outspends both Harvard and MIT in research and development. India and China, to say nothing of states such as California, are actively working to attract signature companies away from Massachusetts. At the same time, federal funding through the National Institutes of Health, of which Massachusetts typically receives a large share, is flat and likely to diminish. Politics, especially around stem cell research, impaired the innovation and calculated risk-taking that make breakthroughs possible. It is essential that the Commonwealth step up to maintain and extend our global leadership in the life sciences.

We are doing just that. Working with all sectors of the industry, we have developed the Massachusetts Life Science Initiative. This 10-year, $1 billion investment marks a new partnership between state government, industry, academic medical centers, and public and private higher education, and will accelerate statewide life sciences growth into high gear. We want to support this industry on the path from inspiration to commercialization, from ideas to cures.

That begins with support for new ideas and innovation. The rate of innovation in Massachusetts in recent years has been triple that of the national average and we have no intention of letting it slip. To bring the best and brightest to those facilities and others, we will offer life science grants to young, promising researchers who may not yet have attracted federal funding.

Playing to our world leadership in stem cell research, we will also create a Massachusetts Stem Cell Bank to be housed at UMass-Amherst. Once completed, the bank will hold the largest collection of stem cell lines in the world and make our rapidly growing catalog widely available to researchers. Already, a group of competitive institutions have agreed to contribute to the Stem Cell Bank, underscoring the spirit of collaboration so distinctive about our biotech supercluster.

The state will also develop innovation centers to provide industry and the academic community access to cutting-edge facilities and technology. These centers will serve as regional economic engines throughout the Commonwealth, as new companies and jobs open up in the cities and towns around them.

Finally, when an idea is ready to become reality, we will help guide it to the marketplace. Breakthroughs are often lost in investment gaps typical of the movement from early academic research to industry development. We will designate grants to translate discoveries into applications and support partnerships to move new ideas along. We will also work to help life science projects in Massachusetts win federal assistance. Job growth here in the industry is fueled, in part, by federal support, and our companies lead the nation in these awards per capita. Every new job created in the life sciences results in two additional jobs in support services for suppliers, vendors, and construction. What’s good for the life sciences and biotech is good for Massachusetts.-

Deval L. Patrick is governor of Massa-chusetts. Therese Murray is president of the Massachusetts Senate. This article first appeared in the Boston Globe.

Sections Supplements
Graziano Gardens Cultivates a Retail-centric Model to Meet Growing Demand
Chris, Mark, and David Graziano

From left, Chris, Mark, and David Graziano, in their garden center, say the retail arm of their operation is blooming.

Chris, David, and Mark Graziano, owners of Graziano Gardens in East Longmeadow, have the prerequisite drive and determination that all business owners need to succeed.

But they also have a knack for expansion, in terms of service, style, and sometimes that intangible something extra that makes one company stand apart from the rest.

“We want our place to have the ‘wow’ factor,” said David Graziano, vice president. “I think it already does now, but there’s always room for more.”

The Graziano brothers took their first steps toward the elusive ‘wow’ factor 10 years ago, adding a distinctive, red-roofed building to the front of their expansive garden center. With pointed towers, massive double doors, and green trim that combine to give the cream-colored façade a holiday feel, the Christmas Castle, as it’s known, was inspired by a ceramic miniature that is part of a Christmas village made by Department 56, a leading retailer and designer of giftware and seasonal décor.

Graziano said the Christmas shop, which carries Department 56 collectibles and a wide array of ornaments and gifts from well-known companies such as Byers Choice and Yankee Candle, helps to differentiate the company from other garden centers, and also helps what is normally a very seasonal business extend its reach into the winter months.

But behind those medieval doors, the business also includes a greenhouse and nursery, as well as a garden and gift shop that are all growing with demand and an increasingly diverse product list.

“We’ve done some expansions over the years, all geared toward improving quality and serving the true gardener,” he said.

The trio incorporated Graziano Gardens and opened their garden center on Elm Street in East Longmeadow in 1986, and since then have steadily grown the business to cater to both serious gardeners and casual practitioners.

Plants, shrubs, trees, and both annual and perennial flowers are grown and cultivated on site year-round, on the center’s primary five-acre location as well as on an additional 24 acres on Elm Street.

Peak times for business are in the spring and summer, but the fall months are also brisk, and the holiday season is becoming increasingly popular at Graziano Gardens thanks to its constantly expanding Christmas shop.

The business typically closes its doors for just two months out of the year, January and February, during which time spring and summer flowers, plants, and trees are readied for the coming season. It’s also during that time that the ever-changing suite of products, both alive and otherwise, is revisited.

“In the garden center, heating costs and other utilities are a challenge to keep up with, especially in recent years,” explained Graziano. “We try to offset those costs by offering products that stand out, or that people can’t find anywhere else.

“Another great thing about our greenhouses is that we grow and retail from the same area,” he continued, “and people love to browse and shop in the greenhouse atmosphere and environment.”

The Winner’s Circle

Just this month, Graziano Gardens completed the necessary training to become a ‘Proven Winners’ certified garden center.

Proven Winners is an international marketing cooperative comprised of several international propagators, which develops new hybrid and floral varieties that perform better for both the grower and consumer.

As a certified garden center, Graziano Gardens employees successfully complete a training program and test, which evaluates their gardening knowledge and ability to assist customers with questions about plant performance, characteristics, and care.

Chris Graziano, president and the center’s lead grower, said the Proven Winners certification and other proactive moves have helped keep gardening and landscaping relevant in customer’s minds, especially in a climate that has nearly everyone increasingly pressed for time.

“Things have changed a lot,” he said. “Gardening in general has changed — people don’t have the time to garden, but still like the atmosphere plants and flowers create. We offer everything from plant products for the serious grower to landscaping to gifts, and that has been a very good mix for us.”

It also allows the business to stay on top of a wide array of trends, from home décor to landscape construction, and everything in between. Graziano said container gardening — creating mini-gardens of flowers, plants, or herbs in decorative pots, generally — is one area where the center is able to draw from its various modes of expertise to offer a service for which there is growing demand.

“They’re easier to take care of, and we can even create one and deliver it right to someone’s patio,” he said, “and on top of that, flowers themselves are being cultivated to be more hardy, and to flower more.”

Down and Dirty

The retail focus has also helped to foster a pipeline of regular customers, added company treasurer Mark Graziano. They often visit the center’s gift shop for the first time and later realize the breadth of gardening accoutrements that are available, he said.

A 10-person staff that receives regular training in gardening and landscaping helps to answer questions, and the various gardening and landscaping options homeowners and business owners can take advantage of are explained.

“The coolest thing about our setup is it attracts a lot of walk-ins,” he said, noting that, while Graziano Gardens still strives to serve ‘serious gardeners,’ the business is also prepared to introduce newcomers to the various ways in which gardening and landscaping can add value to home or business. “People see this whimsical Christmas castle, and they wonder what’s inside. That attracts new customers, and that leads to landscaping consultations.”

Indeed, the company’s landscape design and installation component, which gave the Graziano brothers their start in 1982, is still a large part of the business.
Most of the company’s landscape construction jobs are residential, but it handles about a half-dozen commercial projects each year, for clients such as Big Y, Springfield College, and Rocky’s Hardware. Graziano Gardens also recently completed the landscape design and construction for East Longmeadow Center Village, the town’s newest development.

However, David said the retail aspects of the company now represent about 70% of its total book of business, and it’s in this area that he and his co-owners hope to continue to evolve.

“We are farmers-turned-businessmen,” he joked, explaining that landscaping was first introduced to the brothers during their high school and college years, and later, the three decided to pursue an entrepreneurial venture in the industry together. Chris attended the Stockbridge School of Agriculture at UMass-Amherst, and can generally be found among the flats and hanging baskets (nearly 3,500 of them) in the garden center’s 10,000-square-foot greenhouse.

Mark has cemented a role for himself within the center’s sales and outside operations, handling planning and consultation with clients concerning landscape installations, and discussing options for plantings and plant material choices with customers. After receiving a Business degree from Western New England College, David signed on to focus largely on administration of the business, including financial, staff, and customer services.

It’s Ornamental

“But we all wear different hats,” said David, “and we’re all still getting our hands dirty. There’s a real passion for what we do here, and we wouldn’t get dirt under our fingernails without absolutely loving it.

“But here,” he said, with a wave of his hand around the large garden center, “here is where we really want to be. Here is the future of our business.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
To Ensure Adequate Support, Consider the Special Needs Trust

If you’re the parent of a disabled child, you’re probably concerned with the uncertainty of your child’s financial future and the realization that you will not always be around to provide for him.

Understanding your disabled child’s future needs and eligibility for available resources will allow you to create a plan that will protect his financial security. A supplemental needs trust (often referred to as a special needs trust) has become the preferred method to address these issues and offer assurance that your child will be taken care of after you can no longer do so.

Protecting Your Disabled Child’s Eligibility for Government Benefits

Your disabled child may be eligible for certain federal or state benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid (MassHealth). However, his right to receive these benefits may be jeopardized if he receives funds through a personal injury settlement, inheritance, or insurance proceeds, since SSI and Medicaid are designed for low-income and low-asset individuals. Each program has independent eligibility criteria that set limits on income and financial resources that an individual must maintain to secure or retain the benefits.

In order to qualify for SSI or Medicaid, a disabled individual cannot own more than $2,000 in assets, excluding certain items such as a car and, in certain circumstances, a home. Fortunately, the government has established rules allowing any additional assets over the $2,000 limit to be held in a trust for a recipient of SSI and Medicaid as long as certain parameters are met.

A special-needs trust provides a vehicle to preserve your disabled child’s eligibility for federal and state benefits by keeping these assets out of his name and setting aside all assets for expenses other than your child’s basic support. A special needs trust may not provide for room and board, but can pay for out-of-pocket medical and dental expenses, annual checkups, eyeglasses, transportation and vehicle purchase, education, insurance, rehabilitation, home health aides, entertainment (i.e. vacations, movies, concerts, ballgames), and goods and services that add pleasure and quality of life.

Types of Special Needs Trusts

Generally, there are two types of special needs trusts for disabled people. A self-settled special needs trust is one that holds funds originally belonging to a disabled child or his or her spouse, and a third-party special needs trust is one funded by someone other than the disabled child or spouse.

Self-settled Special Needs Trust

In August 1993, Congress enacted the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 (OBRA 93) to assure that only the individuals who truly need such financial assistance have access to it. OBRA 93 created two types of self-settled special needs trusts that may be used by individuals who either presently are, or expect in the future to become, eligible for SSI or Medicaid benefits.

The first type of self-settled special needs trust is an individual disability trust, commonly referred to as the d(4)(A) Trust. It is typically used to protect and hold the proceeds of a personal injury lawsuit or an inheritance to which the beneficiary is entitled, so that the beneficiary remains eligible for SSI or Medicaid benefits. To create this type of trust, the disabled child must be under the age of 65, and it may only be created by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian, or a court. The potential disadvantage to a (d)(4)(A) Trust is that those assets remaining in the trust upon the beneficiary’s death must first be spent to reimburse Medicaid for any health care costs paid on the beneficiary’s behalf. However, after Medicaid is reimbursed, any unused assets can go to other family members or friends.

The second type of self-settled special-needs trust is the pooled disability trust, commonly referred to as the (d)(4)(C) Trust. This trust is typically used in a situation where a disabled individual does not meet the criteria necessary to establish a (d)(4)(A) Trust. Unlike the (d)(4)(A) Trust that can only be created for a disabled child under age 65, the (d)(4)(C) Trust may be created for the benefit of a disabled child of any age. Further, this type of trust may be created by the disabled individual himself. It is managed by a non-profit association that pools the funds of multiple beneficiaries for investment purposes, while maintaining separate accounts for each beneficiary.

The (d)(4)(C) Trust also requires a Medicaid payback requirement. Upon the death of the disabled child, a portion of the assets remaining in the trust will be paid to the non-profit entity that managed the assets, and Medicaid will receive reimbursement based upon an accounting of the principal left in the trust attributable to the disabled child. If there is any remaining balance, it can be left to the disabled child’s heirs or any other party named by the child. The (d)(4)(C) Trust is often a better option then the (d)(4)(A) Trust when the assets are insufficient to make it practical from an economic standpoint to appoint a corporate trustee to manage the assets.

Third-party Special Needs Trust

A third-party special needs trust is established with funds that belong to someone other than the disabled child. For instance, a parent or grandparent may create and fund it with cash, life insurance, or other assets during their lifetime or upon death.

A third-party special needs trust can be created for a disabled child of any age, and the main advantage is that Medicaid will not be entitled to any form of reimbursement for services when the disabled individual dies. Therefore, any assets that remain in the trust may be designated to other family members or friends. A third-party special needs trust is a good idea for families where aunts, uncles, and grandparents want to leave money for a disabled child.

An Alternative Solution — Establishing a Caretaker for Your Disabled Child

In lieu of establishing a special-needs trust, an alternative is to leave a fixed sum of money to your disabled child’s caretaker, typically a sibling or other close relative, with the understanding that the money will be spent on your disabled child. However, this alternative is problematic for several different reasons.

First, the money left to the caretaker on your child’s behalf is subject to that person’s legal judgments and divorce settlements, and it can even be lost in bankruptcy. Second, the caretaker is not subject to any legal obligation to use the funds on behalf of your disabled child, and therefore can spend the money as desired. Third, the caretaker may be subject to negative tax implications, which subject him to a higher tax rate than if the money was held in a Special Needs Trust.

Finally, in the event that the caretaker dies before your disabled child, without leaving a will, or does not provide for your child under his own will, the money would be distributed to his heirs.

Special-needs trusts should be considered when you begin your estate planning, and it’s never too early to start planning for your disabled child’s financial future. Your plan should be prepared by a qualified attorney to ensure that your goal to provide lifelong care for your disabled child is accomplished.

Brett A. Kaufman is an estate planning and elder law associate with the law firm of Bacon & Wilson, P.C. His practice includes sophisticated estate-planning issues, guardianship, conservatorship, and planning for long-term care; (413) 781-0560;[email protected]

Departments

The following business incorporations were recently recorded in Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties, and are the latest available. They are listed by community.

AGAWAM

Kaan Inc., 332 Walnut St. Ext., Agawam 01001. Emine Cicek, 209 Ventura St., Ludlow 01056. Pizza restaurant.

AMHERST

Amherst First Inc., 375 College St., #405, Amherst 01002. Reynolds B. Winslow, same. (Foreign corp; DE) Internet marketing product brokerage.

Medallion Apparel Corp., 336 East Hadley Road, Amherst 01002. Bruce Lu, same. Jeanswear, businesswear, general apparel and accessories.

The Freshman Inc., 453 Old Montague Road, Amherst 01002. Eric Nadeau Nazar, same. Publishing.

BELCHERTOWN

Saporito’s Pizza of Belchertown Inc., 112 Federal St., Belchertown 01007. Timothy E. Fitzemeyer, same. Take out pizza restaurant.

CHICOPEE

Tumbleweed Realty Inc., 1981 Memorial Dr., Suite 216, Chicopee 01020. Mark E. Ethier, 38 Day Ave., Westfield 01085. To deal in real estate.

EASTHAMPTON

Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School Educational Foundation Inc., 188 Pleasant St., Easthampton 01027. Kathleen Wang, 11 Dickinson St., Amherst 01002. (Nonprofit) To offer financial and technical support and encouragement to the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School, etc.

GRANVILLE

N.S. Foods Inc., 43 Dickinson Dr., Granville 01034. Thomas Houston, 210-10 Willowbrook Ct., Wilder KY 41071. David A. Shrair, 1380 Main St., Springfield 01106, clerk. To own and operate food services businesses, etc.

HOLYOKE

Dhayana Inc., 50 Holyoke St., Holyoke 01040. Rakeshkumar Patel, 1922 Wilbraham Road, Springfield 01129. To operate a convenience store with lottery and Keno.

Harmony House Inc., 34 Jarvis Ave., Holyoke 01040. Rev. Edwin J. Larson, 982 Florence Road, Florence 01062. (Nonprofit) To provide a residence for the compassionate care of terminally ill persons.

INDIAN ORCHARD

Silvermjs Inc., 66 Holly St., Indian Orchard 01151. Maria J. Serra, same. To own and operate one or more beauty salons and day spas, etc.

LONGMEADOW

Specs Perry Inc., 809 Williams St., Longmeadow 01106. Gregory N. Andros, same. To own and operate an optical store.

LUDLOW

Amboy Realty Inc., 592 Center St., P.O. Box 452, Ludlow 01056. John Manganaro, III, same. To deal in deal estate.

Cabinet Solutions Inc., 597 Chapin St., Ludlow 01056. John E. Ryan, Jr., same. Mobile cabinet furniture repair and interior finishing.

CRS Systems Inc., 39 Sawmill Road, Ludlow 01056. Stanley Green, 54 Hampden St., Indian Orchard 01151. To install, service and repair security/alarms systems.

L & M Detailing Inc., 473 Holyoke St., Ludlow 01056. Katherine M. Malke, 17 Chadbourne Circle, Ludlow 010456. To provide automobile detailing, washing, vacuuming, etc.

 

MONTAGUE

B Wireless Inc., 51 Randall Road, Montague 01351. Michael R. Chudzik, 32 Walnut St., Gill 01354. Retail – wireless communications and accessories.

NORTHAMP-TON

Community Leadership of Western Massachusetts Inc., 99 Pleasant St., Northampton 01060. Suzanne Beck, 51 Henshaw Ave., Northampton 01060. (Nonprofit) To develop community and regional leaders in business, education, government, etc.

Fly Swatter Inc., 153 Main St., Northampton 01060. Eva R. Trager, same. Retail clothing.

SOUTHAMPTON

Gary’s Construction Co. Inc., 22 Freyer Road, Southampton 1073. Gary J. Pasquini, same. Construction and related activities.

SPRINGFIELD

Carvajal & Nielsen, P.C., 501 Belmont St., Springfield 01108. Sergio E. Carvajal, same. To render the practice of law.

Chiala Inc., 340 Main St., Springfield 01108. Chiala Marvici, same. Professional salon services and products.

Denosub Inc., 4 Allen St., Springfield 01108. Nancy A. Geurrandeno, 154 Berkshire Ave., Springfield 01108. To acquire, own, sell a subway franchise selling fast foods, subs, pizza, etc.

H & S Pizza Inc., 139 Dwight St., Springfield 01103. Sezgin Turan, 245 East St., Apt. A, Ludlow 01056. Restaurant.

Lee Mortgage Company Inc., 32 Manhattan St., Springfield 01109. Kisha Mock, same. Mortgage services/mortgage broker.

Memory Centers of America Inc., 2 Mattoon St., Springfield 01105. Emily F. Garndey, same. To own and operate businesses that provide services to individuals with memory impairments.

Ming Enterprises Inc., 34 Vermont St., Springfield 01108. Joscelyn A. Ming, same. Trucking and transport.

Towing Services of Springfield Inc., 1130 Bay St., Springfield 01109. Andrea Roy, 489 Trafton Road, Springfield 01108. Automobile and truck towing, storage and sale of used vehicles.

WESTFIELD

G & F Custom Built Homes Inc., 419 Springdale Road, Westfield 01085. Shaun C. Giberson, 76 Wolcott Ave., West Springfield 01089. Real estate development and management business.

Nicholas Estates Homeowners Association Inc., 166 Elm St., Westfield 01085. Curtis S. Gezotis, 43 Gary Dr., Westfield 01085. (Nonprofit) To preserve and maintain the common open space area and subdivision of the subdivision known as “Nicholas Estates”, etc.

WILBRAHAM

JJB Builders Corp., 10 Beechwood Dr. Wilbraham 01095. Judy Bergdoll, same. Ownership and development of real estate.

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With New and Classic Toys, Kiddly Winks Makes Childhood Its Business

From books to balls; Curious George to First Communion dresses, Kiddly Winks is overflowing with toys, games, clothes, and crafts for kids. The quantity of wares alone speaks to the venture’s success, as do its three locations and brisk online sales. But as owner Joy Leavitt attests, it’s not how many toys you have to sell. It’s how many great toys you have in store.

“Do you remember me?”

Joy Leavitt, owner of Kiddly Winks, a specialty toy retailer based in Longmeadow, said this is a question she hears frequently in her store. It’s usually asked by the children of Baby Boomers, many of whom were her first customers.

“I think it’s the biggest change I’ve noticed over the years. Many of the children who used to come in here to play are now becoming mommies, and they’re coming back to a familiar place.”

It’s a trend that is also rewarding for Leavitt, who first entered the toy business in 1981, when she began a toy-party business (visiting homes with products for private shows) with a partner, Elaine Weiner.

The duo achieved a measure of success with that endeavor, which eventually began to swallow Leavitt’s home — she remembers a dining room table covered with children’s clothes and a basement that became a makeshift store, once clients began making appointments to stock up on some of their favorite playthings.

“Over five years, we grew a considerable clientele,” she said. “There soon came a point when I had to get out of the house — the business was literally taking it over.”

Leavitt and Weiner moved into their first location, a 750-square-foot storefront on Williams Street in Longmeadow, in 1986. Weiner left the business a year later in an amicable split, in order to return to school and begin a career in teaching.

Leavitt, who also taught before launching Kiddly Winks, said she found a passion in retail and in offering high-quality, specialty toys, and chose to stay with the business and gradually grow its stock and its reputation.

Everything’s A-OK

The venture has proven successful; after 25 years in business, Kiddly Winks’ flagship store has grown from one small storefront to the equivalent size of three smaller shops in the Williams Place plaza.

In addition, the company now has two other locations — one in West Hartford that is approaching a decade in business, and another in Canton, Conn., which opened just under three years ago. Kiddly Winks’ Web site also sees brisk business, including a high ratio of repeat customers.

The toys Kiddly Winks carries are carefully chosen, often by Leavitt herself, and merchandise spills off of every shelf and end-cap.

Some are new, innovative toys, such as the Ratz Fratz Running Bike, which uses a new method to teach children how to ride, and is Leavitt’s current pick for product of the month.

But others are classic toys, many of which help bring wide-eyed children (and nostalgic parents) back to the store again and again. An entire display of Curious George stuffed animals, toys, and books certainly hasn’t lost its appeal in nearly three decades, nor have the Erector Sets or rocking horses. It’s proof that, while toys evolve, many have staying power, and it’s that balance that Leavitt said she aims to strike.

“We really do approach this business with a strong belief,” she said, “and this is that good toys are always good toys, and good toys empower children.”

Every Door Will Open Wide

Along with her product list, Leavitt’s staff has also grown, from three employees in 1986 to 65 today, including her husband, Michael Leavitt, whom she recruited to serve as Kiddly Winks’ CFO just before their second location opened for business.

In addition to that growth, though, Leavitt has also become a pioneer of sorts in the industry of children’s merchandise. She was among the first few members of the American Specialty Toy Retailers Assoc., and served on its first board of directors. She’s a frequent traveler to trade shows, always in search of new, innovative toys, and has made research of those products a key part of her management style.

“We started initially because we could not find good toys in this area,” she said, “so researching products has always been a big part of what we do to bring those toys here. That process has changed considerably, though … 25 years ago I was researching by writing letters to companies and poring over microfiche at the library. Now, everything is at our fingertips.”

The research and procurement process has eased, but it hasn’t slowed with new technology. Leavitt’s product line has grown from quality, unique, and educational toys to include baby-care items, special-occasion children’s clothes, and a full children’s book section.

“The independent specialty toy industry has really changed,” she said. “Before, we were essentially helping to create it. Now, I feel as though we’re editing products down, in order to find and sell the best of the best.”

Leavitt said her business fills a need for such products, but beyond that, she sees filling that gap as important on a number of levels. For one, as both an educator and a retailer who has made it her life’s work to understand children’s development and how toys can augment it, she sees play as integral to creating what she calls “wholesome human beings.”

“There is so much age compression today,” she said. “Kids are put in front of televisions and computers way too soon, and I think many are not getting enough three-dimensional play or unstructured outdoor play.

“I worry that without that, they won’t be able to negotiate their way through things as well,” Leavitt continued. “All of our toys are chosen based on this belief.”
In addition, Kiddly Winks’ staff is also trained in childhood development and in the care and use of all of the stores’ products.

“Our knowledgeable staff is a very big part of our mission to create meaningful experiences,” said Leavitt, “and we simply don’t hire anyone unless we feel strongly that they’re on that same page.”

As Kiddly Winks continues to thrive, Leavitt said no firm plans are being mulled for another expansion, although she says she “keeps her ears open,” always willing to entertain an interesting idea.

“We produce two catalogs a year, five mailers, we’ve started E-mail blasts to our repeat customers, and we’re enjoying all three of the communities we serve,” she said. “There’s nothing new in the pot now, but I’m open to ideas. I have no plans of slowing down — I’m having fun, and I look forward to seeing this business continue to grow and become more vibrant.”

On My Way to Where the Air Is Sweet

To that end, Leavitt’s product lines continue to grow to meet the nearly year-round demand for birthday gifts, First Communion outfits, or holiday goodies. Her selection of baby goods is growing in particular, encompassing clothes, toys, stuffed animals, and the so-called ‘Rolls-Royce of strollers,’ the Bugaboo.

“We are very careful to key into special occasions and ensure we have products that reflect those times,” she said. “And there’s definitely a baby boom happening right now; it’s another one of those times.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
East Longmeadow/Longmeadow Chamber Builds Momentum, Membership
Dawn Starks

Dawn Starks, president of the East Longmeadow/Longmeadow Chamber of Commerce, said increased visibility is a primary goal to boost membership.

Earlier this month, torrential rains across the region made driving conditions sticky and motorists increasingly nervous, as tornado warnings crackled from car radios.

Members of the East Longmeadow/ Longmeadow Chamber of Commerce were also biting their fingernails that day, having planned a large ‘open house’ at Spoleto’s Restaurant in East Longmeadow to recruit new businesses and beef up membership on the group’s various committees.

At the end of the night, however, those committees had been filled, and a standing-room only crowd applauded the efforts of the small, two-town chamber for surviving the storm.

Dawn Starks, president of the chamber and business manager for Acres Power Equipment in East Longmeadow, said the event was just one way the organization is calling greater attention to itself and the communities it serves, as part of a larger marketing and outreach campaign.

“We’re stepping up our efforts as far as our visibility goes,” said Starks, noting that the effort is aimed at highlighting the chamber’s work, but is also an attempt at boosting its numbers.

Raising the Ranks

Starks said that, like many membership organizations across the region and the country, the East Longmeadow/ Longmeadow Chamber of Commerce, part of the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield, has experienced a drop in its ranks in recent years. She said it began following the economic downturn spurred by 9/11, and has yet to reverse itself.

“Trends in the workplace, including attrition, have a big impact on business-oriented organizations,” she said. “Employers are using more of their employees’ time, and using it in different ways. In our case we saw an initial membership drop in 2001, and never quite got back to the numbers we’d had previously.”

There are other challenges for this group, such as the contrast between the two towns and their business communities; East Longmeadow has a fairly large industrial sector with many large employers, while Longmeadow’s profile is largely retail and dominated by much smaller employers. Roughly 150 Longmeadow and East Longmeadow businesses are now active members of the chamber, though in the past that number has been closer to 200.

However, Starks said she’s optimistic about building those membership numbers back up in the current business climate.

“Business is booming in East Longmeadow in particular,” she said. “Our goal is to recruit at least 25 new member businesses, and we think that’s very doable.”

To do so, Starks said the Chamber has begun by ramping up its media relations efforts, designating a public relations contact, Lavada Munoz, an advertising representative with the Republican, among its ranks.

“We’ve made a concerted effort to get news out on all of our events,” said Starks. “We realized that if no one knows what we’re doing, it doesn’t matter what we’re doing.”

One such event the chamber devised was the open house held during the May 16 rainstorm at Spoleto’s, in East Longmeadow Center Village. Starks said the event was styled after the Affiliated Chambers’ After Five series to a degree, but differed in that its primary focus was recruiting, not networking.

“We’re looking for new members, but we’re also trying to get our existing members more engaged, and to sign up for our various committees.”

Starks said she and her fellow board members — 17 of them — employed a grassroots approach to marketing the event and its goals, making personal visits to area businesses and calling attention to the importance of chamber involvement, not only on a regional level, but on a local level as well.

“Being part of the ACCGS is a huge benefit,” she said. “But we also think involvement on the town level is important in terms of pushing the entire region forward and making valuable connections.”

A New Attitude

The chamber’s clerk and chair of its membership committee, Edward Zemba, co-owner of Robert Charles Photography in East Longmeadow, said the chamber has recorded some successes in recent years that he hopes the group can build upon.

“Our communities are growing, and it is in large part due to organizations like the Chamber of Commerce,” he said. “Currently, we’re resetting the meter as to what the chamber can do for the businesses of our community, to keep fostering that growth.

“We want to increase the number of chamber members who are serving on committees,” he added, “and we intend to begin an effort of educating both existing and prospective members as to the true value of being a chamber member.”

Following its first-ever open house recruitment event, the group seems to be on its way to achieving those goals. Five new businesses signed on as members, and all of the open committee posts were filled; a waiting list for inclusion on the committees was also drafted.

However, Zemba went on to note that translating the mission of the chamber is key to attracting new membership, and that’s one area in which he sees a need for attention.

“Costs are always on the minds of business owners,” he said. “That’s why the chamber needs to do a better job of educating its membership on the benefits. I’m on the board, and even I don’t know half of the benefits. This is a challenge for many organizations, and we’re taking steps to correct it.”

In addition, the East Longmeadow/ Longmeadow Chamber is also ramping up its efforts in other areas, such as support of education, in part to further increase its visibility.

The group typically disseminates about $10,000 in scholarships a year, and also serves as a resource for students seeking internships and externships and job-shadowing opportunities. It also had a hand in developing East Longmeadow High School’s career center, and refurbishing the Longmeadow High School auditorium.

The organization is also becoming a lobbying force, advocating for several pieces of business-oriented legislation. It is a proponent for maintaining a single tax rate in East Longmeadow for residents and businesses, for example, and also a strong voice regarding the issue of traffic mitigation, a pressing concern particularly on Route 83 and surrounding East Longmeadow’s famous (or infamous) rotary, as the town’s population and business community continue to grow.

“In growing communities like East Longmeadow and Longmeadow, it is crucial that the growth be managed,” said Zemba. “The chamber is here to help balance this growth that is taking place.”

Building a Legacy

Starks added that the two communities are indeed growing more prosperous in their own right, which adds to the strength of the chamber, but also to its responsibility as an advocacy body.

“We have a diverse set of businesses — major corporations as well as mom-and-pop shops,” she said. “We advocate for fair zoning and regulations, but we work closely with the town on those issues. The residents have very valid concerns, but it is our job to ensure that the businesses are heard as well.”

Starks said the chamber also partnered actively with the town to advocate for the creation and support of Center Village, the town’s newest development, devised and managed by Falcone Retail Properties LLP. It includes a wide array of businesses, including Rocky’s Hardware, HealthTrax health club, a Starbucks, and Spoleto’s restaurant, owned by Claudio Guerra, who operates five other eateries in Northampton and a regional catering service.

“We really see Center Village as a legacy project for the town, and it’s beautiful,” said Starks. “I think it raises the bar for other businesses in town, or other businesses looking to come into East Longmeadow.”

That’s one reason, said Zemba, why Spoleto’s was chosen as the venue for the chamber’s open house event, which was also sponsored by a number of chamber businesses, including Acres Power Equipment, Business Partner, CMD Technology Group, Graziano Gardens, Marx Event and Entertainment Solutions, PIP Printing, Reminder Publications, Robert Charles Photography, and W.B. Mason.

“The event itself was very reflective of what our chamber is able to accomplish when it sets its mind to doing something,” he said. “In spite of severe weather warnings, we managed to put together one of the most successful events in years.

“The fact is, an event like this can’t take place without the involvement of many.”

And with rain boots and umbrellas in hand, the East Longmeadow/Longmeadow Chamber is setting its sights on sunnier skies.

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at[email protected]

Sections Supplements
Premier Source Credit Union Continues to Reinvent Itself with New Services
Bonnie Raymond and Carmen Bastos

Bonnie Raymond, right, with marketing director Carmen Bastos, said customer service and new product development are topping her list.

It’s not the largest credit union in the region, but Premier Source has been parlaying its ‘hometown service’ model into successful returns since the 1940s.
Today, that model remains a large part of the institution’s business practices, and it’s leading to new opportunities.

Bonnie Raymond, CEO and manager of Premier Source Credit Union, said massive growth or major changes to how the institution does business are not currently on the drawing board. However, recruitment of new members is, as well as the introduction of innovative, convenience-based products and services geared toward businesses and individuals, particularly in the credit union’s new home base of East Longmeadow.

“The biggest goal for us is to continue to attract a steady stream of members and to develop great products,” said Raymond. “We don’t need to be the biggest, but we would like to take our piece of the pie.”

Branching Out

Premier Source began as Kelko, a select employee group (SEG) credit union, in 1941, serving the employees of the Kellogg Envelope Company (later Westvaco) in Springfield. Since then, the entity has grown through a series of expansions and mergers.

By 1972, Kelko served employees and retirees of all Westvaco facilities and their families. Following a move to a new facility on Cottage Street in Springfield in 1993, Kelko’s membership pool expanded again to include businesses within the Springfield Industrial Park, which numbered approximately 200.

A 2000 merger with Twin Meadows Federal Credit Union, formerly based in Longmeadow, further expanded that base of SEG members to about 3,500, and added two branches at Springfield College and Western New England College, which still operate today.

A year later, Kelko merged again with Spalding Employees Credit Union of Chicopee, resulting in another branch office (now located at Top Flite in Chicopee) and a total membership base of about 4,100.

Kelko retained its name until 2004, a year before the company applied for a charter change to become a community-based credit union, thus opening its doors to any and all residents and employees within its service area. The move was made to combat the declining membership that many SEG credit unions have faced since the 1990s due to plant closings, consolidation, and downsizing. The charter was approved in February 2006.

Today, Premier Source has about 4,700 members with six offices: its branch on Cottage Street and newly constructed main branch on North Main Street in East Longmeadow, and those located at Top Flite, WNEC, Springfield College, and Hasbro Games, a branch that was added just six months ago.

Dollars and Change

With its new identity as a community-based credit union, Premier Source has been continuing its tradition of growth and cohesion in the market it serves. Its new main office in East Longmeadow was just opened in May, and a formal open house to introduce the branch to the community is being planned.

“In the beginning, we delayed a big marketing push because we knew we were putting up the new building,” said Raymond. “But under the old charter, we used to get calls from the community all the time, and now that we can serve them, I think word-of-mouth is going to be big.”

To augment that organic spread of information, however, Raymond said Premier Source has also begun some print and radio advertising, promotions at benefits fairs within local companies, and reaching out to area businesses.

“It’s not a huge splash, but it’s a big splash for us,” said Raymond. “We’re pretty small, but we feel comfortable in our identity as a small, hometown institution, and at this point, we’re most focused on slow, steady growth and trying to remain a true alternative to banking.”

Premier Source is on terra firma in terms of its financials, said Raymond. It reports $13.4 million in capital-to-assets, and total assets are currently $32.4 million. With that base bolstering the institution’s development efforts, Raymond added that her goals for growth are about 3% to 5% over current membership. She hopes to achieve that through continued community involvement on both local and corporate levels, and by promoting a suite of unique services and products.

“We’re having some specials on things like home equity loans to educate people that we offer that product,” she said, “and we’re hoping to recruit both new corporate and individual members.”

Some of the credit union’s efforts, for example, have been centered in East Longmeadow’s growing industrial park, a source from which Raymond said she’d like to glean some new members.

“Many of them have existing relationships with other credit unions or banks, and we’re not looking to bowl anyone over,” she said, “but we would like to let those companies know that we’re another alternative.”

Raymond added that Premier Source’s small, local feel appeals to many employees in the area.

“I think they see that small size and convenience of location truly are benefits,” she said. “It takes the pressure off the employee, and we strive to offer products and services that do the same.”

Direct deposit and free checking are already offered at the credit union, as are a number of unique amenities designed to make banking, and other time-consuming errands, easier for members. While making a deposit or withdrawal, for instance, members may also purchase stamps, discount movie tickets, and gift certificates to restaurants or attractions such as Six Flags.

“We’ve done that for many years, and we only sell to members,” said Raymond, adding that a new set of products is now in development, to be gradually introduced over time.

“We’re looking into product development to spur income, which in turn will help us add to our marketing budget so we can do more things in that arena,” she said. “We’re looking at overdraft protection, tier checking, and online bill pay; we’re also looking to offer mortgages. We have a referral service with Members Mortgage now that is effective, but I think we’d like to bring it in-house.”

Selling Service

As new products are rolled out, Raymond said a strong focus on member service is being maintained. She said it’s long been a strength for the credit union, and even as new opportunities present themselves, relying on existing strengths will allow Premier Source to preserve its already strong foothold in the region.

“We are on the smaller end as far as credit unions go,” she said, “but our forte is small-town service. That’s the atmosphere we want to create, and the image we want to portray.

“We feel strongly that it’s our role to work with people through good and difficult times, and we’re not interested in outsourcing every decision.”

And as Premier Source continues to carve out its piece of the pie, Raymond said it will be an overriding goal to strengthen community ties and to rely on the traditions of service the credit union has honed since 1941.

“Our new ads say ‘a star is coming,’” she said. “True, we’ve been here for some time, but as a credit union that is newly open to the public, there are plenty of new introductions to be made.”

Jaclyn Stevenson can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Supplements
That’s the Idea Behind This Nuvo Concept,/h6>
Jim Gardner and Jeff Sattler

Jim Gardner, left, and Jeff Sattler believe there is plenty of room for another bank in the region, and that the need will be even greater in the future with more anticipated mergers and acquisitions.

While conventional wisdom holds that the Pioneer Valley is already overbanked, with intense competition driving the yield curve to razor-thin margins, two area financial services veterans believe there is plenty of room for another player in the market. If all goes according to plan, Nuvo Bank & Trust Co. will open its doors in Tower Square this fall. The principals are sketchy with details, but they promise a bank that is customer-focused, progressive, and fun.

Jim Gardner believes he’s in the right place at the right time with the right concept.

But he also understands that some people in the banking industry would substitute the word wrong in each case. And he thinks they’re wrong.

“We heard it all while we were kicking the tires on this … how this region is already overbanked, and there’s so much competition, very little growth, and how the area simply doesn’t need another bank right now,” he told BusinessWest. “Well, this isn’t just another bank; it’s something new.”

That’s what the name of this venture, Nuvo Bank & Trust Co., would certainly indicate. It was conceptualized by Gardner, a former bank president and, most recently, president of the Polish National Credit Union in Chicopee; and Jeff Sattler, former senior vice president at TD Banknorth, who believe there is plenty of room for another bank in the Pioneer Valley. Especially one with the model they’re shaping — which puts the customer first.

“We’ve designed this bank to be inspired by the soul of the customer, which makes it different right out of the gate,” said Gardner, now serving as Nuvo’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We’re essentially re-inventing the bank.”

How?

Well, for now, the two entrepreneurs will say only that their bank — to be physically located in the long-vacant bank branch within Tower Square — will be different, with its rough outline to be essentially colored in by customers, both commercial and retail. The institution won’t try to be all things to all people, but it will attempt to serve all generations and mindsets — from those who still enjoy going to the bank every week to those who haven’t stood in a teller’s line for years.

“Technology is driving the consumers’ options, and it’s allowing them to do their banking when they want to do it,” said Sattler, president and COO of the venture, who left a senior management position at a bank he greatly respects to take Nuvo to the marketplace. “We’re going to allow our customers to take full advantage of that technology.”

This facility, which now exists largely on paper in the partners’ collective imagination, is scheduled to open this fall. Much has to happen between now and then for the doors to open as planned, especially the raising of $15 million to $20 million needed to get the venture off the ground; a prospectus is due to be issued within a few weeks.

But Gardner and Sattler are confident not only that they will raise the money, but that their venture will be a colorful and successful addition to the region’s banking landscape — today, and especially years down the road.

That’s because they anticipate that more of the region’s community banks that have gone public or are in the process of doing so — that list includes United Bank, Chicopee Savings, and Hampden Bank, among others — will be acquired by or merged into out-of-town or out-of-state institutions.

This phenomenon will take the total of area branches controlled by non-local entities, currently 75% by the partners’ estimates, still higher, and, theoretically, spur a need for a decidedly local bank. Sattler and Gardner say they’ll be well-positioned to meet that demand.

“We’ve spent a considerable amount of time and a lot of effort to really focus on what customers think about their banks,” said Gardner. “We wanted to know their emotional thinking, their rational thinking about their banks; from their conclusions, we’ve designed a bank that will address those concerns.

“So whatever you don’t like about your present bank,” he continued, “you’ll love about Nuvo.”

In this issue, BusinessWest takes an indepth look at Nuvo Bank & Trust Co. and the people working to making that name part of the local business lexicon. Gardner and Sattler know there are doubters who say there’s no room for another bank, but they intend to make room.

Banking on It

The fax arrived April 27.

It was several pages in length, but Gardner and Sattler started celebrating (quietly) with the first sheet. It was from the state Board of Bank Incorporation, and was a simple acknowledgement, a certificate of “public convenience and advantage,” or a ruling that the proposed Nuvo Bank would serve a purpose in the community.

The two partners had worked for exactly a year to earn that piece of that paper, which was essentially an OK to move forward with the next, and more daunting, set of challenges. But its arrival also provided a moment to reflect on what the two were doing.

“Very few people in the world get a chance to do something like this,” said Gardner, noting that’s been 20 years since Tim Crimmins, Frank Fitzgerald, and a team of partners formed Bank of Western Mass., the last new bank to be opened in the region. “It’s incredibly exciting to take a concept like this and make it real.”

This story starts with the Chicopee Rotary Club and, more specifically, with events it staged within the community. They gave Gardner, a member of the club and then leader of the credit union, a chance to meet and get to know Sattler, a long-time commercial lender who was the banker for many Chicopee-based businesses.

It was Sattler whom Gardner approached when he started tossing around the idea of creating a new bank in Western Mass. The thought process was actually triggered by a recruiter from California-based De Novo Formations, which has developed a blueprint for new community bank creation and serves as a consultant to those who decide to embark on that complex process, defined by strict state and federal regulations and voluminous paperwork.

The recruiter came armed with a proposition to lead the formation of a new bank in Connecticut, but Gardner decided that if he was going to undertake such a venture, he would do so a market he knew well. And he asked Sattler, who knew it even better and had a huge number of contacts in the Pioneer Valley, to join him.

Before embarking on their venture, the two first decided to do some research — lots of it — to ensure that the concept was viable and worthy of what will likely be the balance of their careers in the banking industry. The two assembled what they would later call a focus group to examine the market, the partners’ proposition, and the extent to which there was a fit.

“I didn’t go into this blindly … I wasn’t about to drag anyone down this path without doing my homework — there was simply too much risk a year ago,” said Gardner. “I needed to know I was on the right track; I thought I was, but I needed other voices to confirm what I thought I knew.”

The partners heard from those already within the sector that, while the De Novo blueprint was being employed successfully in many regions of the country, Massachusetts — and specifically the Pioneer Valley — wouldn’t be a likely addition to that list. That’s because of the immense competition, the slow rate of growth, and the arrival of several powerful newcomers to the market, including Connecticut-based institutions New-Alliance and Webster.

All that competition has compressed the so-called yield curve — the difference between what banks can charge for interest on loans and what they’re compelled to pay in interest on savings — to razor-thin margins.

“We heard all that,” said Gardner. “We heard that this wasn’t the right time to be opening a new bank and it wasn’t the right place. But the more we talked to people, meaning customers of area banks, the better we felt about what we were doing. People were telling us there was a real need for this.”

Such need was confirmed, at least in the partners’ eyes, but the willingness of many area residents and business leaders, some of whom served on the focus group, to become partners, or organizers (that’s the industry term), in the venture.

The list of 27 people who invested, on average, $100,000 in the venture includes Donald D’Amour, chairman of Big Y Foods Inc.; Joseph Peters, president of Universal Plastics in Chicopee; Charles Epstein, president of Epstein Financial Services; Raymond Catuogno, president of Catuogno Court Reporting & StenTel Transcription Services in Springfield; Dawn Carrignan Thomas, president of Instrument Technologies Inc. in Westfield; and Michael Hanson, a principal of Hanson Associates and former commissioner of the Mass. Division of Banks.

“These are very successful, very talented people who obviously believe in what we’re doing,” said Gardner. “That support speaks volumes about our concept and whether it’s needed here.”

Taking Stock

Sattler opened the box carefully, and then started unraveling a thick covering of bubble-wrap.

Finally, he reached a small statue of sorts that is serving as a model for the company’s marketing logo. It features two glass stick figures with their arms stretched to form a semi-circle. The two half-circles nearly come together to form an ‘O,’ in this case the ‘O’ in Nuvo Bank.

But the artwork also conveys how the new institution intends to operate, said Sattler, noting that the two figures represent the bank and the customer, and how they can and will work in unison at the new venture.

The statue and marketing materials are still works in progress, as is the model for the new bank itself. While raising the capital to move their venture forward — the organization is offering to the public a maximum of 2,500,000 shares of its common stock at $10 per share (minimum purchase 1,000 shares) — the partners will simultaneously refine their business plan, develop a marketing strategy, and finalize an operating philosophy.

And the bank’s eventual customers will play lead roles in all that, said Sattler, who was short on real specifics, but said the bank will be non-traditional in as many ways as the partners can make it. He used other words not often employed to describe banking operations — like progressive and fun.

How they intend to do that remains to be seen, although the two partners returned repeatedly to the name Nuvo and what they believe it means: the very latest thing in banking.

“We’ve gone to great extremes to differentiate this bank,” said Gardner. “We’ve been from one end of this country to the other, looking for and challenging ourselves to find new and different things to do.

“And this will be a continual, perpetual effort to re-invent this bank,” he continued. “We won’t ever rest; we’ll never say, ‘we’ve got all these things, these bells and whistles, and now we’re done.”

Both Gardner and Sattler expect that this non-traditional approach will be welcome in the Pioneer Valley if, as expected, there is additional consolidation and acquisition of local institutions by larger, out-of-town entities. But they believe the need exists now.

“Banking is changing, and the players just keep getting bigger,” said Sattler, noting that Bank of America and TD Banknorth now hold more than 40% of the deposits in the region and are focused mostly on the larger commercial loans. “This leaves plenty of room for a community-oriented bank with local decision-making.”

Elaborating, he said the Nuvo Bank & Trust concept appealed to him because he and Gardner share what he called a “fundamental community philosophy,” and can apply it to two different disciplines — Gardner on the retail side of the ledger and Sattler on the commercial side.

“I thought that if we could put those disciplines together, with a relationship-focused approach, we would have a winning concept,” said Sattler, noting that the bank will make full use of advancing information technology to serve both retail and commercial customers.

And on the commercial side of the equation, Sattler believes the bank’s small size and community approach will serve it well. “The banks keep getting bigger, and they’re credit-scoring deals under a half-million,” he said. “Where’s the relationship? How are these banks going to help companies that are starting out and trying to get bigger?”

Extensive renovations are currently ongoing at the cavernous former bank branch in Tower Square, which has served several other roles in recent years, including home to the Pioneer Valley Photo Center. The space will be made considerably warmer and inviting, said Gardner, adding that, while the facility will be an enjoyable place to visit, he’s not sure how many future customers will actually go there.

Indeed, while many individuals still prefer going to the bank, a growing number are opting for online services — everything from bill-paying to loan applications. This trend will enable the bank to service all of the Pioneer Valley from one branch, said Sattler, adding that there are no real discussions about future additions of bricks and mortar.

“How many people in the Y generation are going into a bank anymore?” he asked. “We’re not an Internet bank by any means, but we are going to be capable of providing personalized, empowered service from our employees to customers, whether they want to come into the bank or not.”

Making a Statement

For now, the partners are focused on the Springfield site and quickly proving that the risks they are assuming were well worth taking.

Time will tell if the partners can actually re-invent the bank, as they claim, but Gardner and Sattler do not lack in confidence.

“We think this is absolutely the right time and the right place for this,” said Gardner. “That’s because we’re looking at banking differently than the people who are doing it now.”

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

Features
Dr. Seuss, Merriam Brothers Among Entrepreneurship Hall Inductees
Seth Roberts, Steve Roberts and Frank Roberts

Members of the Roberts family, one of the inductees in the Class of ’07: from left, third-generation members Seth and Steve, and fourth-generation member Frank.

Tom Goodrow talked of “putting more entrepreneurs in the pipeline.”

That’s how he described the broad goal for the many entrepreneurship programs at Springfield Technical Community College, which he serves as vice president of Economic and Business Development.

Like nurses, radiologists, and precision machinists, entrepreneurs are in somewhat short supply — and also crucial to the future of the Pioneer Valley economy, Goodrow told BusinessWest, adding that, as with those professions, increasing the number of entrepreneurs is a challenge. The process starts, he continued, with introducing people to the notion that entrepreneurship is viable career pathway, and continues with efforts to caress ideas into successful ventures.

The Western Mass. Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame, located at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center (SEC) in the Springfield Technical Community College Technology Park, has helped with this mission in several ways, said Goodrow. For starters, the annual inductees — including the recently announced Class of ’07 — provide ample doses of inspiration, he noted, adding that the banquet staged each fall to recognize those inductees raises more than $50,000 each year for a host of entrepreneuship programs.

These include the YES (Young Entrepreneurial Scholars) program, which serves more than 1,000 young men and women in two dozen area high schools, as well as the Community Foundation of Western Mass. student business incubator in the SEC. That facility hosts up to nine fledgling businesses, with current tenants ranging from a gift basket venture to a company that stages events.

Those businesses will be on display at the Oct. 4 induction ceremony for the Class of ’07, which has a literary pattern to it — sort of. Among the honorees are the late Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss, who reinvented the genre of children’s books, and George and Charles Merriam, brothers and Springfield print shop owners who would merge their name with that of the father of the American dictionary, Noah Webster, to create the publishing icon Merriam Webster.

The other inductees, all families that started successful ventures that are still thriving in the Pioneer Valley, are: the Falcone family, founders and owners of the Rocky’s Hardware chain; the Roberts family, founders and owners of the F.L. Roberts chain of gas stations, car washes, and quick lubes; the Bassett Family, which started Bassett Boat Company; and the Gordenstein family, which started Broadway Office Supply, now known as Broadway Office Interiors.

“The Class of ’07 includes some of the most famous names from Springfield’s business and cultural history,” said Goodrow, one of the lead organizers of the induction ceremonies. “These businesses and individuals reflect the region’s strong entrepreneurial heritage, a tradition that we’re working to continue through YES, the student business incubator, and other programs.”

Here’s a look at the Class of ’07.

Theodor Seuss Geisel
(Dr. Seuss)

He created some of the most unforgettable characters in children’s literature — the Lorax, Yertle the Turtle, Horton the Elephant, the Grinch, and of course, the Cat in the Hat.

But Theodor Seuss Geisel, or Dr. Seuss, as the world would come to know him, did much more that. He redefined a genre, children’s literature, by insisting that books need not merely educate: they could also entertain. And he also showed that the word entrepreneur needn’t be saved exclusively for captains of industry; it could also be applied to writers and artisans.

While Geisel, a Springfield native, made his mark with strange creatures from far-away places, he actually started with a different kind of monster; one of his first jobs was with the Standard Oil Company, for which he drew grotesque, enormous insects to help that company sell a pesticide called Flit. During World War II, Geisel drew editorial cartoons that attacked American isolationism and later made documentary films about Hitler and the Japanese war effort.

But he is of course best known for his children’s books, which started with And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. Seuss continued writing children’s books, such as the The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins, Horton Hatches the Egg, and others, before his breakthrough in 1957 called The Cat in the Hat. Using only 223 different words, he crafted a rhyming masterpiece still regarded by many critics as the best, and most important, children’s book ever written.

Geisel would go on to write more than 50 children’s books, published in 20 languages, selling more than 200 million copies. Many of them have been turned into television shows and, more recently, movies. Geisel, who died in 1991, lives on through the characters he created — many of them immortalized, along with the artist himself, in a statue garden in the Quadrangle that brings thousands of people to Springfield every year.

The Cat in the Hat, the character, turned 50 this year, a milestone that was celebrated in March in ceremonies at the Springfield City Library.

The Falcone Family

The name Rocky’s has been part of the Pioneer Valley lexicon for 81 years now.

It has become synonymous with good customer service and a friendly retail environment. But there are some other words for which that corporate name would be a synonym — perseverance, imagination, and entrepreneurship.

Indeed, while many small, family-owned hardware chains went out of business when the giant big-box retailers invaded the region in the early ’90s, Rocky’s is still here.

Better than that, it is growing — expanding its reach geographically with stores across Massachusetts and now beyond, and diversifying into commercial real estate with projects like the East Longmeadow Center Plaza, a mix of retail, office, hospitality, and municipal facilities.

It all started in 1926, when Rocco (Rocky) J. Falcone opened a small hardware store at the corner of Main and Union Streets in downtown Springfield. A few years later, he took a second entrepreneurial risk; knowing that people needed to use power tools but couldn’t afford them, he started a rental business that thrived for decades. He later opened a second hardware store in Springfield.

Rocky’s is a family business, and each generation has taken the company to a higher level. In 1966, Jim Falcone took over after his father passed away, and eventually took the Rocky’s name beyond Springfield and into many surrounding communities while forging a national affiliation with the ACE Co-op.

It was the third generation of the family, especially Rocco II, that created a survival plan for the company when Home Depot and Lowe’s arrived on the scene. Instead of surrendering, as other chains did, Rocky’s dug in, redecorating its stores, making them cleaner, brighter, and even more customer-friendly. The strategy was simple: concede some of the decorating, home improvement, and major appliance aspects of the business to the huge chains, and step up in the areas in which it could compete. And Rocky’s has thrived with that model.

In recent years, the company has added many stores — it is now up to more than two dozen — and it has diversified into commercial estate, a division led by Jayson Falcone, with the East Longmeadow complex and many other projects on the drawing board.

The Falcone family was recently recognized collectively by BusinessWest magazine as its ‘Top Entrepreneur for 2006.’

George and Charles Merriam

It’s one of the most repeated phrases in education, journalism, and politics.

“According to Webster…” it starts, and people have filled in the blank with hundreds, if not thousands, of different words.

The people now managing one of Springfield’s most famous, but also quiet, companies would prefer that speech-givers amend that phrase slightly and say, “According to Merriam-Webster.” That’s because there are many dictionaries that borrow the name Noah Webster, known as the creator of America’s first dictionary, A Compendius Dictionary of the English Language, but Merriam-Webster is the only one that has direct ties to that pioneer in lexicography.

Charles and George Merriam, who grew up in their father’s printing office in West Brookfield, Mass., opened a printing and bookselling shop in Springfield in 1831 called G. & C. Merriam Co. They inherited the Webster legacy when they purchased the unsold copies of the 1841 edition of An American Dictionary of the English Language, Corrected and Enlarged from Webster’s heirs after the great man’s death in 1843. At the same time, they secured the rights to create revised editions of that work.

The two, who are credited with popularizing, or democratizing, the dictionary, thus began a publishing tradition that has given the world some of the most famous dictionaries ever made, including the groundbreaking Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, or simply Webster’s Third, in 1961, and the popular Collegiate, now in its 11th edition, which was introduced in 1898.

Today, while researchers and editors continue the ongoing process of adding to the dictionary and refining definitions, they are also delivering the dictionary in ways Noah Webster may not have imagined — then again, he was a visionary. Today, people can check spellings, definitions, and usage via Web sites, CD-ROMs, portable hand-held devices, and even their cell phones.

While research and development continues on new ways to bring the dictionary to users, editors also continue to add new words. Among the latest additions to the Collegiate: ringtone, phishing, bird flu, cybersecurity, text messaging, and google.

The Gordenstein Family

It all started when six brothers decided to go into business together.

The year was 1910, the brothers were from the Gordenstein family, and the venture was called Broadway Office Supply. The company made deliveries on Indian Motorcycles, and supplied businesses with everything from paper to safes to slide rules.

The traditional business office and the technology used in it have changed considerably since World War I, and Broadway has changed right along with it. The company now handles office furniture and interior design work, which led to a name change to Broadway Office Interiors. The mix of services has also changed; in addition to selling office furniture and accessories, the company also assists businesses with making workspaces ergonomically correct, while also conducive to effective communication between people and departments.

Today, Broadway is led by Ron Gordenstein, the third-generation president of the company, who continues to expand and diversify the business, mixing extensive lines of office furniture with a growing office design component that uses state-of-the-art software to help businesses design their spaces and then see what they’ll look like before any furniture is moved.

Talking about the past, Gordenstein has said that the name Broadway was chosen in 1910 because at the time, Broadway was king, and the six brothers wanted to stress that their company had star power. And for a time, the company was actually located on Springfield’s Broadway.

Today, the street address, the company’s name, and its overall mission have changed. But the focus on the customer hasn’t, and that’s why this company is still going strong in this, its 90th year.

The Bassett Family

Today, Bassett Boat is one of the Northeast’s leading dealers of Sea Ray boats, and is also one of the largest women-led businesses in Massachusetts.
But to say it had humble beginnings would be an understatement.

It was in 1943, when World War II was at its height, that Louis Bassett Sr. started a business selling bait — shiners he netted in the Connecticut River. Bassett and his wife, Norma, would later diversify into small rowboats made for fishermen and, eventually, a broad range of customers including many state parks. How that business would become one of the region’s leading dealers of recreational boats is an inspiring story that involves two generations of the Bassett family.

It was Louis and Norma Bassett who grew the business, made it into one of the region’s first dealers of Sea Ray boats, and established dealerships in Springfield, Westbrook, Conn., and Warwick, R.I., as well as a large service center in Ludlow. It was their daughter, Diane Bassett Zable, who came back to Springfield from the family’s Connecticut location in 1992, after her father died, to take the helm of the Springfield dealership, located near the North End Bridge.

Bassett Zable has led the company to designation as a master Sea Ray dealership, with sales of more than 300 boats a year, or nearly $30 million in annual sales. She has also found what seems like a permanent home on the list of the largest women-run businesses in Massachusetts, as compiled by Center for Women’s Leadership at Babson College and the Commonwealth Institute.

Bassett Zable and her husband, Paul Zable, have charted an aggressive course for the company, and they’ve encountered some rough seas — including a few recessions and a luxury tax, repealed years ago, that put some dents in leisure boat sales.

They’ve survived all that, and guided the company to steady growth since.

The Roberts Family

They call him “Grandpa Frank.”

That’s how members of the third generation to run another family business in the Class of ’07 refer to F.L. Roberts, the man who started it all and whose initials now grace dozens of convenience stores, car washes, and Jiffy Lubes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

F.L. Roberts & Company was started in 1920 as an automotive and tire store at the corner of Main and Adams streets in Springfield. Texaco motor oils and gasoline pumps were added soon after opening the first store, and by the mid-’30s, there were 15 more stations in Springfield and surrounding communities.

Along with geographic expansion came diversity, a process helped along by the next generation in the family, Frank Roberts’ son, Abbott. In the 1940s and ’50s, he expanded both the fuel and motor oil components of the business, and made F.L. Roberts part of the local business landscape.

By the 1970s, that name was being seen in more places, and over the doors of many types of businesses. By then, third-generation members Steve and Seth Roberts had opened new businesses that would complement gas stations and convenience stores. These included a chain of car washes, a chain of quick-lube facilities, two diners, and even a small hotel and a discount tobacco shop. In the late ’80s, the company’s principals embarked on several commercial real estate developments, including a complex in Springfield’s North End, and the Riverdale Shops in West Springfield.

Today, F.L. Roberts and Co. is still a family-owned business. It has expanded to more than 500 employees and more than 70 sites. The locations look much different than the one Grandpa Frank started with, 87 years ago, but the mission remains the same — to serve the motoring public. The fact that F.L. Roberts is now a household name speaks to how well they’ve accomplished that mission.

Today, there are several members of the fourth generation of the Roberts family now working for the company, which continues to extend its reach in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

More than 450 civic and business leaders are expected to attend the Oct. 4 banquet at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House in Holyoke; for information or to order tickets, call (413) 755-4500.