Daily News

GREAT BARRINGTON — The Community Development Corp. of South Berkshire (CDCSB) announced that the town of Great Barrington has awarded the organization nearly $700,000 toward its affordable-housing initiatives. The awards include $199,610 for improvements at the Hillside Apartments complex and $500,000 to acquire the Marble Block building on Main Street.

“We are so thankful to the town of Great Barrington, to the Selectboard, to Town Manager Mark Pruhenski, and to Assistant Town Manager Christopher Rembold for this generous allotment of ARPA funds,” said Carol Bosco Baumann, CDCSB executive director. “As I’ve said before, CDCSB is determined to produce and preserve housing that is affordable to all. These awards couldn’t have come at a more necessary time. Although housing is a fundamental human right, too many people have been forced to leave our community, and too many struggle to make ends meet, all because they can’t afford to live here — or work here. Without locally based workers, our local businesses struggle to succeed. This funding will have a profound impact on our ability to serve individuals and families in our community — and it will help local businesses as well. We are grateful for the town’s support in helping us achieve our mission.”

As part of the funding agreement, four residential units in the Marble Block building will be restricted to 65% area median income for 20 years.

Current CDCSB projects include a contract to acquire the Marble Block in downtown Great Barrington; Windrush Commons, a 49-unit affordable-housing complex under construction at 910 Main St. in Great Barrington; as well as the Small Business Technical Assistance program, which to date has mentored and assisted nearly 50 small-business owners and entrepreneurs in Berkshire County. In 2021, Bentley Apartments was completed, providing 45 new affordable-housing units for low- to moderate-income individuals and families in the Berkshires. CDCSB is planning the next two phases of development for this property: a public park sited along the Housatonic River and another housing development on the remainder of the Bridge Street property.

Daily News

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — American Eagle Financial Credit Union announced $7,500 in donations to local food- and housing-assistance organizations within the credit union’s service area. The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, Connecticut Foodshare, and Hands on Hartford will each receive a $2,500 donation from American Eagle to advance their mission and fund their supportive services for people in need.

“American Eagle is very thankful for every organization making a difference in our communities and touching the lives of those in need this holiday season,” said Howard Brady, president and CEO of American Eagle Financial Credit Union. “These three organizations — Connecticut Foodshare, Hands on Hartford, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts — perform tremendous work by putting caring into action and providing needed support and resources to our service area throughout the year. We give thanks for their partnership and for all they do.”

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley (RAPV) received a generous toy donation from the Agawam High School hockey team on Dec. 11. The team conducted its toy drive to collect donations for the RAPV community service committee’s toy drive. King Ward also donated a bus to transport the toys. The toys were collected at Agawam High School and loaded into a Springfield Thunderbirds King Ward bus for drop-off at RAPV’s office.

The Agawam High School hockey team has participated in the event for the past three years and made generous donations to benefit the local organizations the community service committee serves. All donations will benefit the Adopt-a-Family program.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to give back to our communities, and we appreciate all their support,” said Sue Drumm, an RAPV community service committee member.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Rocky’s Ace Hardware, one of the country’s largest family-owned Ace Hardware dealers with 47 locations in nine states, kicked off the season of giving in November with its semi-annual Round Up for Kids fundraiser, raising a grand total of $25,908 across all participating locations. Customers were asked to round up their purchase total to the next dollar, and the difference was donated to Children’s Miracle Network (CMN) hospitals.

“We are thrilled with the results of this Round Up campaign, which really gets us in the holiday spirit each year,” Rocky’s Ace Hardware President Rocco Falcone said. “CMN helps the more than 10 million kids each year who rely on care from a children’s hospital to get the best possible medical treatment.”

This was the third Round Up for Kids fundraiser Rocky’s has held this year, with 100% of the money raised going to benefit local CMN hospitals, including Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield.

Participating Rocky’s locations included the Island Pond Road and Liberty Street stores in Springfield and the stores in Agawam, East Longmeadow, Westfield, Ludlow, Palmer, and South Hadley.

Since 1983, CMN hospitals have helped fill funding gaps by raising more than $7 billion. Its various fundraising partners and programs support the nonprofit’s mission to save and improve the lives of as many children as possible.

Special Coverage Travel and Tourism

Serving Up Success

The new indoor pickleball courts

The new indoor pickleball courts at HCC’s Bartley Center have seen plenty of use.

Christina Royal was once a competitive amateur tennis player. But not long after taking the job of Holyoke Community College (HCC) president back in 2017, she discovered a new outlet for those skills — and a new passion.

It was pickleball, which she tried at the suggestion of former HCC trustee Julie Pokela. At the time, Royal was looking for a way to get some exercise and relieve some stress from her busy new job. She found pickleball to be the perfect outlet — and a lot easier on her knees than tennis.

“I love competitive sports, and I’ve played them all my life, so to be able to get back into that was really thrilling,” she said. “When I’m interested in something, I go full immersion, so I got my own equipment and started playing regularly.”

Three years ago, Royal was playing in a pickleball league in Easthampton and invited Tom Stewart, director of HCC’s Bartley Center for Athletics & Recreation, to watch.

“She said, ‘I’d love to get pickleball courts at HCC,’” Stewart said. “The floor was scheduled to be redone anyway. I said, ‘when we redo the floor, we’ll put them in.’”

Indeed, when the floor in the Bartley Center gym was redone over this past summer, inserts for existing indoor tennis nets were removed, and inserts for pickleball nets were installed, along with permanent pickleball court lines.

“People are into it big time. Players range from novices to advanced, so it’s not like it’s just advanced folks taking over. All abilities come in and play, and they gravitate to each other based on ability level.”

Now, for a $5 per visit fee, any member of the general public can come to HCC to play what has been touted as the fastest-growing sport in America.

“We’re offering the courts and all the equipment — nets, balls, and paddles,” Royal said. “We have everything here you need to play, and it’s all new.”

The seven pickleball courts at the Bartley Center are available weekdays from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Courts cannot be reserved in advance, but instead are assigned on a first-come, first-served basis. There is no pickleball fee for HCC students and Bartley Center members, while others are charged $5.

“It’s going quite well; we’re getting anywhere from 35 to 40 players a day,” Stewart told BusinessWest. “We get a lot of positive responses; people are glad we did it and wish it was open even more to them.

“If you need a paddle and ball, we provide that, but most folks bring their own,” he added. “People are into it big time. Players range from novices to advanced, so it’s not like it’s just advanced folks taking over. All abilities come in and play, and they gravitate to each other based on ability level.”

Andrew Rogers sees that same phenomenon on the four new pickleball courts the town of South Hadley installed over the summer at Buttery Brook Park.

South Hadley’s new pickleball courts

While cold weather has put a damper on things, South Hadley’s new pickleball courts have been wildly popular since opening in August.

“We have open-play nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays and play mixed doubles; everyone swaps around the court,” said Rogers, the town’s Recreation director. “We have a 10-year-old boy who plays, and a friendly couple in their 70s. Everyone plays together, and people are supportive of each other. It continues to blossom and grow.”

Pickleball had been on the town’s radar for five years and went through several budget cycles before it was approved, along with some fundraising and assistance from the DPW and Parks Department, among others. Alongside the courts are a picnic area where players can stretch and wait for a game, and the South Hadley Electric Light Department donated labor for lighting and electrical work.

The courts opened for play on Aug. 1, and about 100 people showed up for games and a learn-to-play clinic. While winter weather has put a seasonal damper on things, during the warmer months, it wasn’t uncommon to see the courts packed well into the evening, as they are in other communities that have installed similar facilities, like Westfield, Agawam, Belchertown, Easthampton, Southampton, and more.

“One family has three kids under 13, and they’re there all the time, mixing in with people a couple generations older.”

“People mingle and jump between towns and meet new people,” Stewart said, adding that a group in South Hadley promotes games through an app called TeamReach. “They can say, ‘hey, I’m showing up to play, anyone want to come?’ I know over 330 people on that app, which speaks to its popularity. In fact, it’s the fastest-growing sport in the country, and it’s starting to get even more popularity. You can find it all over TV. It’s definitely something anyone can play, all ages mixing together, male, female … it’s really wonderful.”


How do You Play?

According to Wikipedia, the appearance of a pickleball court, and the manner of play, resemble tennis, but the court is the size of a doubles badminton court, less than a third the size of a tennis court. Court lines include two seven-foot areas on either side of the net known as the non-volley zones (or, colloquially, the ‘kitchen’), where the ball cannot be hit with the paddle unless the ball bounces first. Only the serving team can score a point, and continues serving until they fault. All serves are made with an underhand stroke.

The hard polymer ball used in pickleball produces significantly less bounce than softer flexible balls, such as a tennis ball. To minimize any advantage the serving or receiving side might have at the beginning of the game, the ball must bounce once on each side of the net before either team may ‘volley’ the ball, or hit it in the air before it bounces.

HCC’s Christina Royal and Tom Stewart

HCC’s Christina Royal and Tom Stewart check out the action in the Bartley Center.

It’s not actually a new sport, but has been around since 1965, for most of those years steadily gaining popularity in the Pacific Northwest, then elsewhere. In 2021 and 2022, pickleball was named the fastest-growing sport in the U.S. by the Sports and Fitness Industry Assoc., with more than 4.8 million players. A growing interest in the sport is attributed to several factors, including a short learning curve, appeal to a wide range of demographics, and low startup costs.

“It’s beyond what we expected. We knew it was going to be popular, but had no idea how popular,” said Rogers, adding that there has been discussion of further fundraising to expand the courts.

While pickleball has been compared to tennis without as much running — one of the reasons it’s so attractive to people of all ages and fitness levels — Stewart has often described it to people as a giant ping-pong table. But he’s also adept at explaining the connection to tennis, and how it’s subtly different.

“Tennis players are used to the racket doing the work, because the string so stuff, but with pickleball, you do more work with the paddle; it’s not wound as tight. But they pick it up fairly quickly.”

Players often attack lob shots on the fly — as noted earlier, the serve and the return both have to bounce, but after that, lobs are fine, just not in the kitchen — making it a game of hand-eye coordination, he added. “You’re not going to get the groundstroke game you get with tennis. Advanced players may groundstroke for a while, but mostly what I see is serve and volley.”

Royal said the courts have created more access to, and interest in, the Bartley Center. “We already have a lot of people that utilize the facilities for basketball or for working out in our fitness room. Here’s another way we can open up our campus to the community.”

Stewart, who serves on the board of regents for the National Junior College Athletic Assoc., noted that tennis is a dying sport at the junior-college level. “There are no junior colleges in New England that have tennis anymore. Tennis used to be so popular, you couldn’t get on a court. Now people are having a harder time getting courts for pickleball, particularly indoors.”


If You Build It, They Will Come

Stewart and Royal both envision HCC hosting pickleball leagues and tournaments.

“In addition to my own passion for the sport, there’s a real opportunity here from an economic-development perspective for our region to draw more visitors to the area for pickleball,” Royal said. “That creates all sorts of business opportunities.”

When the Bartley Center went up at HCC 22 years ago, Stewart recalled, then-President David Bartley told him, “make sure this place is open and being used.” That mission has been accomplished, he added. “We’ve been pretty successful for 22 years, and this just adds to it.”

Municipalities like South Hadley are having the same experience.

“We had the lights on until 10 during Daylight Savings,” Rogers told BusinessWest. “We still have people out there if it’s above 32 degrees and the balls aren’t cracking. One family has three kids under 13, and they’re there all the time, mixing in with people a couple generations older. You can play for a long time because it’s not that taxing. It’s great exercise, but it’s not running you ragged, so you can come back and do it again tomorrow.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Business of Aging Special Coverage

Wait of the World

Mark Auerbach says he’s ‘going public’ with his quest for a new kidney

Mark Auerbach says he’s ‘going public’ with his quest for a new kidney to help raise awareness about the importance of organ donations and perhaps shorten the time on the waiting list for some of those in need.

Mark Auerbach says he had started down the stairs in his home in Longmeadow that night in 2019 when he tripped over an untied shoelace and started falling. He recalls knocking a bannister out of the railing and slamming through his front door.

As a result of the fall, he broke his femur and his hand, eventually spending more than three months in inpatient rehabilitation. But the fall did something else. It “fatally injured” one of his kidneys, as he put it, accelerating a process of deterioration that had begun years earlier when he was diagnosed with diabetes.

“In 2019, my kidney doctor said, ‘you are heading for the need for a transplant, and you’re in stage 4; eventually, you’ll be in stage 5, and you’ll need one,” he recalled, adding that stage 5 essentially arrived in the spring of 2021.

Soon thereafter, Auerbach, a veteran arts reporter, owner of a public-relations firm that bears his name, and current ArtsBeat reporter for Pioneer Valley Radio, joined the lengthy list of people in this country on a waiting list for a donated kidney.

How lengthy? Well, he was accepted into a donor program at Massachusetts General Hospital and is now one of roughly 1,400 patients in a queue waiting for the proverbial ‘right donor.’ Nationwide, there are approximately 100,000 people on such lists.

“I didn’t really want to go public — you sacrifice your personal privacy when you put it out there. So I was really hesitant. But from a public-relations standpoint, I realized that if I didn’t tell my story, I couldn’t expect someone else to do it.”

While waiting for a kidney, many on those lists choose to be proactive and not simply wait. Some buy billboards stating their case, while others take out ads in newspapers and use social-media channels to encourage people to come forward and donate — not just for them, but for the myriad others waiting for a truly life-changing gift.

Auerbach is one of them. He said he has “gone public” — but in a quiet way, with personal appeals; regular postings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter; and interviews like this one and another on his ArtsBeat show with guest (and longtime friend) Patrick Berry, host of WWLP’s Mass Appeal — in his quest to find a donor for himself, but also to raise awareness about the urgent need for organs and to spur action.

“I didn’t really want to go public — you sacrifice your personal privacy when you put it out there,” he told BusinesWest. “So I was really hesitant. But from a public-relations standpoint, I realized that if I didn’t tell my story, I couldn’t expect someone else to do it.”

He started with letters to family members, close friends, and clients alerting them to his situation and framing it in the larger context mentioned earlier — that he is one of 100,000 people waiting for a kidney and ‘here are the things you can do to help me.’ That list included everything from becoming an organ donor on one’s driver’s license to learning how to donate, to perhaps giving specifically to him.

Dr. Ken McPartland

Dr. Ken McPartland says there is a huge need for living donations of kidneys.

Such proactive steps are becoming increasingly necessary, said Dr. Ken McPartland, medical director of the Transplant Division at Baystate Medical Center, who told BusinesWest that the number of people on waiting lists is growing, the waits are often becoming longer, and the situation has been made worse, at least temporarily, by the pandemic, which prompted many potential living donors to remain on the sidelines out of caution.

“If someone has a living donor, they can get a transplant pretty much right away, which is usually within a few months,” said McPartland, part of a team that handles 50 kidney transplants a year at Baystate on average. “But if they don’t, they sometimes have to wait five to seven years to get a transplant.”

Of the 41,000 kidney transplants performed last year in this country, he noted, only 6,500 involved living donors — the rest of the organs were from those who were deceased, and the waits for those can be very long.

“There’s a huge need for more living donations,” he explained. “We know that people can donate a kidney and do very well and live a normal life. There is a risk, but the risks are is really low, and this is the biggest opportunity for improving not just the number of transplants, but the quality of transplants; we’d be able to help more people earlier in the process.”

“If someone has a living donor, they can get a transplant pretty much right away, which is usually within a few months. But if they don’t, they sometimes have to wait five to seven years to get a transplant.”

Dr. Leo Riella, medical director of Kidney Transplantation at Mass General Brigham, agreed. He said the numbers — specifically those related to the number of transplants performed each year at his hospital and the number of people on the waiting list (170 and 1,400, respectively) — help tell the story of the importance of encouraging donations.

“That number of those waiting is growing by roughly 10% a year,” he noted, adding that there is a huge backlog of cases. And as people wait longer, their odds for achieving quality of life grow longer.


Organ Players

Auerbach quipped that it was easier for him to get into Mass General’s kidney-donation program than it was to get into the drama program at Yale.

He was exaggerating, obviously, but only to a degree. And the logistics of getting into a program constitute only one of the many challenges facing those who need a kidney — or any other organ.

For many, including Auerbach, there is the emotional trauma that comes with the news that they are essentially on a clock — they have so much time (in his case, 18 months to three years) to secure a donor before they will have to go on dialysis, or worse.

“That was a punch to the gut,” he told Berry on his radio program. “And I felt very alone at the time. My family, my partner, everybody was like, ‘that’s too bad — we’re here for you.’ But that’s not necessarily what I needed at the time. The only way for me to move forward was to take charge of my own life and to do my own planning.

“I thought, ‘worst-case scenario, if 18 months to three years is reality, you better have a will, you better have a way to transition out of your business, the people who work for you and depend on you — you better plan for that,’” he went on. “The other things is, do you want to be hooked up to a machine, or do you want quality of life? And I chose the good quality of life. But … my life will be expanded, knock on wood, if a donor comes through.”

And then, there is just the waiting, and not knowing if the phone is going to eventually ring with a caller delivering the news that a kidney has been found.

Unfortunately, as the population ages and with the numbers of donated kidneys — both from living donors and those who have died — being relatively stagnant, the number of people living in limbo (that’s the kindest word to use) is only increasing, said McPartland, noting that there are generally between 150 and 175 on the waiting list at Baystate Health at any given time.

Dr. Leo Riella

Dr. Leo Riella

“That number of those waiting is growing by roughly 10% a year.”

As noted earlier, those without living donors may stay on the list five years or longer waiting for a kidney to be donated, he went on, adding that, for some, especially older patients, their condition may deteriorate while they are waiting — to the point where they become too sick to qualify for a transplant.

For quality-of-life reasons, someone needing a kidney will certainly fare much better if they can receive that organ before they need dialysis, McPartland added. “The way to really help patients is to get a transplant before they ever start dialysis. The patients do better, they live longer, and the kidneys work better and for longer.”

Riella agreed, noting that, in many cases, kidney disease, which he called a “silent disease” because those suffering from it generally do not experience pain or discomfort, isn’t detected until late in life — in many cases, too late, as their disease has progressed to the point where they cannot move up a waiting list in sufficient time to ultimately improve their quality of life through a transplant.

This is why early detection is important, he said, adding that blood tests can reveal if and to what degree the kidneys are in decline.

Overall, the average wait time for a kidney is six years, said Riella, adding that this number has only increased in recent years, and for several reasons, especially the aging of the population. “The gap in the number of kidneys available and the number that is needed is huge.”

Like other hospitals that perform kidney-transplant surgery, Baystate and Mass General are very active in efforts to help encourage people to donate organs, and also in helping those on lists to get kidneys through various means, including matching programs.

For example, if someone on a list finds a willing donor, but that kidney is not compatible, that kidney can be exchanged for one that is compatible through a voucher program, enabling people to move up on a waiting list.

It is for these reasons that Auerbach chose to go public despite his many reservations about doing so.

“I thought, ‘I’ll become the poster child for organ donations. Hopefully, I’ll get one, or at least the list will get whittled down, and I’ll move up the list faster. I’ll be the spokesperson for those 100,000 people.’ That was my motivation.”

While many fully understand the urgent need for kidneys and other organs, he explained, his story and that of others in similar situations must be told to reinforce the message and add a very needed personal touch.

Both McPartland and Riella agreed. They noted that, while much of the discussion about organ donations is focused on numbers — everything from how many individuals are on lists to how long their waits are — behind the statistics are real people, like Auerbach, facing quality-of-life, if not life-and-death, issues.


Bottom Line

Auerbach told BusinessWest that he tries not to think about the informal ‘clock’ he’s on — one doctor told him 18 months to three years, while another told him five years before he would need dialysis — and often wishes he was not given such estimates.

And he’s not alone in that sentiment. Such clocks, while helpful in the planning process, only increase the anxiety and make the waiting all the more tortuous, he noted.

“I’m trying to take it day-by-day and be optimistic,” he said. “To have a clock ticking as I’m watching and waiting would drive me crazy.”

The only thing that can shorten such waits is for more donors to come forward, said all those we spoke with, adding that this why stories like Auerbach’s need to be told. And why people need to listen — and respond.


It takes only five minutes to sign up to be an organ donor at www.organdonor.gov/sign-up. To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, call Baystate Medical Center’s Transplant Program at (413) 794-2321, option 2, and speak with the living donor coordinator, or visit the Baystate Transplant website at baystatehealth.org/transplant for a confidential screening process.

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Furnishing the Future


Lambson Building

Lambson Building

Gene Borowski has a keen sense of history.

So he was especially intrigued by an old hydraulic elevator in the former Lambson Furniture building in downtown Westfield, which was manufactured at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in the late 1800s and installed in the furniture business around 1896.

It was still operable, he said, but its cable shutoff system no longer meets modern building codes. So now, on the first floor of the building sits an array of 21st-century elevator parts, ready to be assembled — though Borowski still plans to use the original carriage in the new, modern shaft.

“It was one of the first hydraulic-powered elevators of its time,” said Phil Peake, one of Borowski’s co-investors on a project to rehabilitate the building. “And it actually worked.”

The development project known as Lambson Square includes both the four-story Lambson building at 89 Elm St. and the connected two-story building at 81-83 Elm St., which most recently housed Bentley Billiards, as well as a 15-space parking area in the rear.

“It’s quite a project. The goal is to take this business and turn it into some kind of resource for the town.”

Borowski bought the building in 2019 for $275,000, and has accessed $350,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to painstakingly restore — as in brick by brick — the building’s Italianite exterior. Another award of $585,000 targeting underutilized properties in the downtown district will finish bringing the building up to code, including restrooms, handicapped access, and more.

“It’s quite a project,” said Peake, who is also a psychology professor at Smith College. “The goal is to take this business and turn it into some kind of resource for the town.”

Borowski plans to use the first floor of both buildings for restaurants, bars, and music and entertainment space. Among the items he’s secured are a chandelier from the old Union Station in Northampton and all the kitchen and furniture from the Sierra Grill restaurant in Northampton, which closed a few years ago. He also plans to turn a small roof off the second floor of 81-83 Elm into a courtyard and perhaps café space.

The second floor of 89 Elm will house small businesses and vendors and perhaps co-working space, while the third and fourth floors will feature a mix of residential units: two-bedroom, one-bedroom, and studio. Tenants will enjoy touches like the original, restored window trim and the original glass panes, all given a modern insulation seal — just one example of how “we’re trying to take this old building and bring it into this century,” Peake said.

Gene Borowski (left) and Phil Peake

Gene Borowski (left) and Phil Peake stand in one of the future living units in the Lambson building.

Borowski wants to rent the residential units for less than a typical rent in the district, as low as $900 a month, compared to a nearby building that was renting for $1,600 recently. The idea is to make the property as attractive as possible to residents, businesses, and hospitality entities alike as part of a revitalization of that stretch of Elm Street, across from the Olver Transit Pavilion and a plot of land the city plans to turn into an outdoor performance space.

“It is the intention of Lambson Square Properties to develop the shell of a building that was formerly the Lambson Furniture building into a vibrant, multi-use hub in a manner that we believe will catalyze the entire Elm Street business district,” Borowski and his partners wrote in their initial funding request from the city’s Community Preservation Commission.

“At present, there is limited foot traffic at Elm and Thomas streets in part due to the lack of compelling retail (and housing) options in the area,” they went on. “We believe the development Lambson Square will inspire redevelopment and spur occupancy rates throughout the Elm Street business district by re-establishing the Lambson Furniture building as a focal point for both attractive retail options and community housing.”


Historical Undertaking

Peake prepared a lengthy history of the Lambson property, which we’ll condense as much as possible.

The Lambson Furniture building was built at the corner of Elm and Thomas streets on a parcel of land that Clinton Lambson acquired from Reuben Noble, one of Westfield’s prominent early landowners and benefactor of what is now the Baystate Noble Hospital. Lambson had established the furniture company in 1860, began construction of the building in 1868, and occupied it for business in 1869.

In its early years, the building was the site of furniture manufacturing, and many would-be furniture makers traveled to Westfield to apprentice with Lambson and his partner, William Whitney. Over the years, the furnishings side of the business focused on the manufacture and sale of home-related items like baby carriages, bedding, and desk and parlor sets, all displayed on the expansive first-floor showroom of the building.

Also manufactured in the building were caskets, as Lambson also ran an undertaking business in the building. Historical records suggest that both the furniture and undertaking businesses were flourishing and highly competitive enterprises as industry — especially the whip industry — infiltrated Westfield in the late 1800s. The Lambson Furniture building continued to house the undertaking business until 1944.

second floor of the property

The second floor of the property is being envisioned as spaces for small businesses and/or co-working space.

“Back in those days, the furniture makers were also the undertakers. He also owned a piece of the cemetery,” Peake told BusinessWest. “He was a real entrepreneur.”

Around 1896, Lambson installed the hydraulic elevator, likely one of the first in operation in Massachusetts, and the first and only hydraulic elevator designed and manufactured at the Washburn Shops at WPI. The elevator was in continuous use until 1998.

Around 1910, a two-and-a-half-story warehouse was added to the rear of the building, probably serving as a shipping and storage facility for furniture that was shipped to the company. Finally, in 1924, a fourth story was added to the building.

After the furniture company closed in 2002, the building was purchased in 2004 by Brian Whitely, who operated Bentley Billiards on the first floor of the Lambson Building and the first and second floors of the adjoining building until it closed in 2007. During the 12 years that the property was unoccupied, Whitely upgraded many of the mechanical components of the main building.

In 2011, the city of Westfield purchased the rear warehouse, which had by then gone into disrepair, in an effort to develop increased public parking to support business in the Elm Street business district. Unfortunately, the demolition of the warehouse left the back wall of the main building physically scarred, while former egress points for the two buildings were eliminated, rendering the upper floors of the main building in code violation for occupancy. The access doorways were covered with plywood, and much of the brickwork on the rear of the building was damaged. In addition, both corners of the building suffered considerable damage. Finally, demolition of the rear warehouse removed the only directly accessible restroom facilities for the Lambson building.

“We are excited and already exploring design options that would allow us to use the space to support live music and arts events that are currently being initiated by other businesses in the Elm Street district.”

That exterior damage was repaired — and the aesthetics improved — with the help of that initial $350,000 grant, as well as investments by the Lambson Square Properties team. Besides Borowski, principal owner of Beyond Building Inc., and Peake, that team includes Eugene Borowski Sr., principal owner of Borowski Accounting Inc., and Tristram Metcalfe III, principal owner of Metcalfe Associates Architecture. Joining the Lambson Square Properties team for this project is Sidney Hubbell, construction manager with Jacobs Engineering Group.

Beyond the interior work, Borowski and the team see potential in developing the open space behind the building into a small public-park-like area that might be covered and provide public access to bench seating and perhaps some fixed-in-place board games.

One of the current tasks is modernizing the original, 126-year-old hydraulic elevator.

One of the current tasks is modernizing the original, 126-year-old hydraulic elevator.

“We see the back wall of the building as the least historically significant portion of the building, yet the part of the building that cries out most for creative planning and use,” the CPA funding application notes. “We are excited and already exploring design options that would allow us to use the space to support live music and arts events that are currently being initiated by other businesses in the Elm Street district.”


Spring Ahead

Before the pandemic, Borowski said, he had two restaurants lined up as first-floor tenants, but those plans later fell apart. He’s confident others will emerge, but at first, he might hire a general manager and open up a restaurant himself. “I know we would do well, and the city’s dying for some entertainment and good food.”

Meanwhile, professors from Westfield State University have visited, and ideas kicked around include a science museum or another educational project.

At any rate, if completion of the interior goes as planned, Borowski is looking at tenants moving in by the spring. “The sprinkler, electrical, water, sewer, all the infrastructure is done, and I can tell you, that’s the hardest thing.”

Borowski paused for a moment late in his tour of the buildings with BusinessWest and tried to capture what initially drew him to this investment.

“My father and I looked at this as a righteous project,” he said. “This is a Westfield jewel here. This is part of the community. I feel like we’re not the owners of this property; we’re simply the caretakers. And I am privileged to take care of it, to be able to do a project that means something, you know? There’s just something here.”

And soon, there will be much more.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]