Daily News

FLORENCE — Keiter Corp. will donate $25,000 to the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce for a promotion that will allow consumers to purchase a $25 Northampton gift card and receive $50 in actual spending power.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MP CPAs recently announced the promotion of Tony Trinchini to senior tax accountant at the firm. He works to provide quality tax services to a diverse group of clients, including individuals, trusts, corporations, and partnerships. He has a strong rapport with clients, working with many of them year-round.

Trinchini joined the firm in 2020. He holds a master of accounting degree from the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. He works to recruit potential interns and clients as a member of the college outreach and networking committees.

MP CPAs also announced the promotion of Katelyn Henderson to senior tax accountant at the firm. She works to provide quality tax services to a diverse group of clients, including individuals, estates, trusts, corporations, and partnerships. She has begun to develop relationships with clients and advisors, and has enjoyed gaining experience with high net-worth clients and businesses with multi-state filings.

Henderson joined the firm as an intern and started full-time in 2021. She holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance from Western New England University (WNE). She has taken a lead role this year in organizing firm-wide events and activities, and also works closely with colleagues from WNE to continue a mentoring and recruiting relationship with her alma mater.

Daily News

WEST SPRINGFIELD — Have you been sewing up a storm, creating other crafts, or discovering new, delicious recipes? The Creative Arts department at the Big E is looking for entries in a variety of categories for this year’s fair.

The Big E is seeking exhibitors, both youth and adults, to be featured in a diverse showcase. Fairgoers walk through the New England Center to admire the displays of exhibitors’ crafts from numerous departments, including quilting, photography, knitting, jewelry/beading, dolls, holiday ornaments, jellies, honey, homemade granola, baked pie, decorated fake cake, dried food (new for this year), scroll saw, and many more.

The deadline to enter for most departments is Monday, Aug. 14. To enter photography and fine arts, entries must be submitted online by Aug. 1. Entries must be dropped off or mailed in prior to the fair. Exhibitors have the chance to receive awards and ribbons. Entries will be on display for the duration of the fair, which runs Sept. 15 through Oct. 1.

More information regarding rules, department-specific guidelines, entry limits, fees, entry deadlines, receiving dates, and how to enter can be found at www.thebige.com/creativearts. Questions may be directed to [email protected] or (413) 205-5015.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — The fifteenth annual Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 26 at Twin Hills Country Club in Longmeadow.

Tom Cosenzi, successful businessman and father of four, succumbed to brain cancer in 2009 at the early age of 52. His vision was that no other family would experience the pain that he and his family endured. It was his wish that his family and friends continue to raise money for neuro-oncology research so the burden of cancer can be eliminated for patients and their families. In his memory, the Tom Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Charity Golf Tournament was formed.

All money raised will go directly to benefit the work of Dr. Patrick Wen and his team of researchers in the Center for Neuro-Oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in search for a cure. The tournament has raised more than $1,458,135 in its 14-year history.

Visit www.tomcosenzidrivingforthecure.com for registration, sponsorship opportunities, and more information. Questions may be directed to (413) 341-1917 or [email protected].

Cover Story

Vintage Years

Mary and Ed Hamel

Mary and Ed Hamel

Ed Hamel acknowledged that, while all entrepreneurial ventures start with an idea, most then follow a business plan that details how to take that idea and transform it into a successful, profitable operation.

It is with a large dose of … well, let’s call it pride, because that’s what it sounds like, that Hamel says he and his wife, Mary, essentially skipped that business-plan part.

“We’re just following where this thing takes us, and we’re having a lot of fun doing it,” he said, adding that this ‘thing’ is the Glendale Ridge Vineyard in Southampton, a concept that has grown into an intriguing and, yes, successful business.

Actually, three businesses, as Mary likes to say.

There’s the vineyard, where, at present, six main varieties of grapes are grown, from Reisling to Chardonnay to Cabernet Franc. There’s also a winery, where a broad mix of labels are made and bottled. And there’s a tasting room and what could be called an events division.

Indeed, the vineyard has been the site of a few weddings and regularly hosts retirement and birthday parties and many other types of functions, as well as concerts large and small — there’s an ABBA tribute band scheduled to play on Aug. 4, and Mary is expecting north of 400 people (much more on all that later).

All three of these businesses involved steep learning curves, said both Ed and Mary, who, in previous lives, worked as a general contractor and dental hygienist, respectively, before they purchased the Sankey dairy farm in 1992 with only some vague ideas about what they might do with it. And the learning process continues — on everything from which grapes to grow (and how) to which wines makes the best blends, to what kinds of music to book for the weekly Sunset Series, which is just what it sounds like: concerts as the sun goes down, with some drop-dead gorgeous views of the Holyoke Range and Mount Tom thrown in free of charge.

“We’re just following where this thing takes us, and we’re having a lot of fun doing it.”

Like the wines they make, the business itself has developed and matured, said the Hamels, noting that each aspect of the operation is growing and, by all accounts, improving and becoming more smooth and even bold, to borrow some terms from the industry.

There is a wine club that now boasts more than 350 members, the vineyard’s wines are now available in several area retail outlets and restaurants, and the farm itself has become a destination — for wine enthusiasts, music lovers, visitors from across the country who focus their travels on winery tours, a growing number of volunteers who help pick grapes each October, and more.

Moving forward, Mary and Ed say their obvious goal is to grow each of the three businesses within the operation, which currently relies on a small core of employees, as well as that growing army of volunteers who pick grapes.

And to keep having fun.

“People tend to think it’s a great job to have a vineyard, and it is, but let me tell you, it’s a lot of hard work,” Ed said. “It’s farming — I don’t need to say anything else — but there’s a lot of joy in it, too.”

This aerial view reveals the deep beauty of Glendale Ridge Vineyard and the surrounding mountains. Photo by Glenn T. Labay, Aerial Camera Services LLC

This aerial view reveals the deep beauty of Glendale Ridge Vineyard and the surrounding mountains. Photo by Glenn T. Labay, Aerial Camera Services LLC

For this issue, we learned a little about how to grow grapes, make wine, and fill a summer concert series. We learned a lot more about how a couple with an idea but no business plan — he says they still don’t have one; she believes they do — have shaped a dream into a growing business, in every sense of that phrase.


Grape Expectations

Ed told BusinessWest that Glendale Ridge grows only about a third of the grapes needed for its growing portfolio of wines. The rest are bought from other vineyards, mostly in Long Island and the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Each fall, he’ll rent a large truck and go on grape-buying treks, which, in the case of those Long Island vineyards, from which he’ll come back with three to six tons of product, can be a bit of an adventure. At least they were early on.

“People tend to think it’s a great job to have a vineyard, and it is, but let me tell you, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s farming — I don’t need to say anything else — but there’s a lot of joy in it, too.”

“Have you ever driven a large Penske truck onto the ferry?” Ed asked rhetorically, referring to the way most people get to Long Island. “It’s fun. It’s a little nerve-wracking at first; you see other large trucks, so you know it can be done, but it will test your nerves. Now, it’s old hat; I don’t think too much of it.”

Mastering the art of driving such a large vehicle onto the ferry serves as an effective metaphor for this operation, which, for the most part, has involved a whole lot of learning by doing and simply becoming better at … well, whatever it is you’re doing over time.

Our story begins in 1992, when Ed and Mary purchased the Sankey Farm with the goal of preserving the land through an active farming project.

18 different wines

Glendale Ridge now offers 18 different wines, and the portfolio continues to grow.

“I’ve always had this thought that I wanted to grow something,” said Ed, adding that his maternal grandfather operated a small farm in Vermont, where he spent a good deal of time in his youth. “Once we were on this farm, I thought we would do the organic thing — carrots, lettuce, tomatoes — but I couldn’t wrap my head around that.

“I started looking at value-added products, and grapes came onto the scene,” he went on, adding that the couple started in 2010 with 110 vines that were planted in what has come to be called the west block. They started with a trial vineyard with rows of Reisling, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and more. The initial thought was that they would make wine for themselves.

“People tend to think it’s a great job to have a vineyard, and it is, but let me tell you, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s farming — I don’t need to say anything else — but there’s a lot of joy in it, too.”

Initially, the Hamels partnered in this venture with Ian and Michelle Kersberger, who later started Black Birch Vineyard in Hatfield, a similar operation in many respects.

Today, there are three blocks and more than 3,000 vines at Glendale Ridge. The east block contains an acre of Cabernet Franc, while the Nonotuck block comprises three acres, with an acre each of Vidal, Traminette, and Corot Noir.

As he talked about growing grapes, Ed said there is lot of research and constant learning that goes into the equation, and plenty of information out there from others in the business who are willing to share what they know.

“People who are in this business are very cooperative; they’ll answer your questions honestly and give you advice,” he told BusinessWest, adding that there are a few vineyard operations in this region and many more in the winery regions of New York.

Tim Beaudry

Tim Beaudry, wine steward at Glendale Ridge, in his ‘office.’

Meanwhile, Cornell University has a strong viticulture and enology program that publishes a large amount of information, he noted, adding that it has become a great resource for him over the years.

The Cornell program has been involved in the creation of hybrid grapes, which is mostly what is grown at Glendale Ridge, he said, adding that current varieties — which involve mixes of “old-world European varieties” and grapes grown in the U.S. — include Vidal, Traminette, Carot Noir, Itasca, Cabernet Franc, and Aromella.

Harvest time is in October, he said, with the Cabernet Franc, a red grape, the last one to be picked.

“We like to let that hang as possible — typically, we’ll go to October 25 or October 28, depending on what the weather is like, before we pick those,” he explained, adding that harvesting time has become an intriguing tradition at the vineyard, one that attracts growing numbers of volunteers.

“It’s the most fun thing we do,” Mary said. “People do love it — we’ll get 35 people here.”


Heard It Through the Grapevine

These grapes and those sourced from other vineyards wind up on a crush pad, where they start to get processed into either crushed grapes, which go into red wine, or juice, which makes white wine.

There are a number of both among a growing number of labels, now featured in a retail area just off the tasting room. There is a solid mix of reds, whites, rosés, and dessert wines, everything from dry and medium-dry Rieslings to a Sauvignon Blanc; from a Merlot and a Malbec to a Cabernet Sauvignon.

The Glendale Ridge website includes colorful descriptions of each label, such as this one for a 2019 Malbec: “the nose is of dark fruit with a little smoke. Black cherry, strawberry, and cedar flavors shine with a beautiful acidity on the finish.” And this one for the 2021 Sauvignon Blanc: “You’ll find enticing scents of new-mown hay, elderflower, and honeysuckle. The palate offers assertive acidity and minerality with white grapefruit.”

Over the years, the number of individual labels has grown, and new offerings, such as a Traminette that has become a popular seller, are added regularly.

And while the vineyard and winery operations continue to grow and evolve, so too does the events and tasting-room side of the equation, said Mary, who leads that aspect of the operation.

In the tasting room, patrons can enjoy wine ‘flights,’ with three pours of wine, as well as wine for sale by the glass and the bottle, she said, adding that the vineyard has become a popular place to stop and unwind or pick up a bottle of wine or two.

picking of grapes

The picking of grapes has become an event at Glendale Ridge, one that draws a growing number of eager volunteers.

“People enjoy coming here and sitting and relaxing,” she said, noting that the vineyard, open Thursday through Sunday, sees a steady stream of visitors.

As for events, she noted that there are several weddings, small and large, at the vineyard each year, as well as many other types of events, from wedding and baby showers to rehearsal dinners and company outings; from family reunions to companies’ customer-appreciation gatherings.

“People enjoy each other’s company — and the wine,” she said.

On the Friday afternoon that BusinessWest visited earlier this month, preparations were being made for a surprise 60th birthday party and a retirement party, as well as the Sunset Series, all starting at 5 p.m.

“We have a lot going on Fridays,” Mary said, adding that, among her many responsibilities, she is charged with filling the calendar with events and gatherings, starting around Valentine’s Day and ending on New Year’s Day.

In addition to these private events, the vineyard now hosts a number of concerts, including the popular Sunset Series, which runs most Friday and Sunday evenings.

July’s series offerings are typical, Mary said, adding that a mix of music genres is preferred. On July 7, the Buddy McEarns Duo, described as ‘blue roots rock ‘n’ roll,’ and a regular at Glendale Ridge, performed. On July 9, guitarist and vocalist Dan Goldwaite visited the vineyard, and on July 14, the OverEast Jazz Band took the stage.

Beyond the Sunset Series, the vineyard hosts a number of larger concerts as well, Mary said, noting that, in addition to the ABBA tribute band, called Dancing Dream, the Wild Heart Tribute to Stevie Nicks & Fleetwood Mac is scheduled for September. She added that the vineyard, which many have praised not only only for its setting but its acoustics, has been described by some as a ‘mini-Tanglewood.’

In addition, the vineyard hosts food trucks a few days a week on average, as well as programs such as a bouquet class with Finch Flower Company and restorative yoga with the Traveling Yoga Company. Meanwhile, Tim Beaudry, the wine steward at Glenridge, will host programs on the various types of wines, what goes into making them, and how to pair them with food.

The vineyard is located near Northampton, Holyoke, Westfield, and Easthampton, Mary noted, making it central location in the region. Meanwhile, wine adds a different and appealing element to many different types of over-21 gatherings.


Vine and Dandy

“Every bottle tells a story.” That’s the marketing slogan for Glendale Ridge, or one of them, anyway.

Actually, each bottle tells several stories, but especially the one about the couple that skipped the business-plan part of the entrepreneurship process and, as Ed said, are “following where this thing takes us.”

It’s taken them in many different directions, but mostly, Glendale Ridge has become a true destination — a place where passions collide and you can view something special, no matter which way you happen to be looking.


Banking and Financial Services Community Spotlight Special Coverage

An Uphill Climb

Dan Moriarty was among the participants in the recent IRONMAN competition that wound its way through many Western Mass. communities.

The president and CEO of Monson Savings bank, Moriarty is also an avid biker, and decided to take things up a notch — or two, or three — with the IRONMAN, which featured a mile swim, downstream, in the Connecticut River; a 56-mile bike trek; and a half-marathon (13 miles and change).

Moriarty said his time — and he doesn’t like to talk about time — was roughly seven hours, and joked that that he believes he met what was his primary goal: “I wanted to come in first among all the local bank presidents.”

As things are turning out, the IRONMAN isn’t the only test of endurance he will face this year and next (yes, he’s already scheduled to take part again in 2024). He and all other banking leaders are facing another stern challenge, and where they finish on this one … well, there are several factors that will ultimately determine that, as we’ll see.

Indeed, the past year or so has been a long, mostly uphill, upstream stretch for banks, which are being severely tested by unprecedented interest rates hikes implemented by the Fed, which have a domino effect on banks — and their customers. For banks, these moves are squeezing margins that were already tight, with some margins off 50 basis points or more from last year. And for public banks, their stocks have, for the most part, been hammered.

This domino effect involves everything from the huge increase in interest paid to customers on their deposits to the manner in which those interest-rate hikes have brought the home-mortgage business to a virtual standstill.

To quantify that increase in interest paid to consumers, Tom Senecal, president and CEO of PeoplesBank, recalled a quote he read from the president of a large national bank that put things in their proper perspective.

“I won’t even call this a short-term problem anymore when it comes to profitability. It’s a medium-term problem that we’re all having to adjust to.”

“He said, ‘my raw-material costs have increased 600%,’” Senecal noted. “His raw materials are the funding for deposits for his wholesale assets, which have literally gone up 600%. If you look at any business and their profit margins — our raw materials have gone up 600%, so that squeezes our margins.”

Meanwhile, with interest rates more than double what they were a year or so ago, the refi market has obviously disappeared, said Kevin O’Connor, executive vice president of Westfield Bank, adding that, with home sales, those who might be thinking about trading up wouldn’t want to trade a 2% or 3% mortgage for one closer to 7% mortgage, so they’re taking what could be called a pause.

As is the Fed, which is taking a close look at the impact of its interest-rate hikes before deciding what to do next, although most experts expect at least one more rate hike this year.

And that will keep banks on this current treadmill, said Jeff Sullivan, president and CEO of Springfield-based New Valley Bank, adding that, while there has been talk that rates might start coming down this year, that likely won’t happen until at least early next year.

By then, the country may well be in recession, adding new levels of intrigue, said Moriarty, noting that the yield curve is currently inverted, a historically accurate predictor of recession.

“We’re going to eventually get into a recession in the third or fourth quarter of this year,” he said. “We were anticipating it might happen a little earlier with hopes that the Fed would have cut rates before of 2023, but now, we’re guessing that interest rates are going to be elevated another year out until they start cutting.”

Tom Senecal

Tom Senecal says unprecedented interest-rate hikes have put a great deal of pressure on banks large and small.

Overall, banks’ fortunes are tied, ironically enough, to how well the economy is doing, and they are in the unusual position of hoping that things cool off a little, said O’Connor, adding that, like the Fed itself, banks don’t want to see efforts to curb inflation throw the economy into reverse.

The biggest question, among many others, concerns when the pendulum might start swinging in the other direction and things will improve for banks. There is no consensus there — not with the economy still doing well, a presidential election looming in 2024, and other factors.

But the general feeling is that the uphill portion of this trek won’t be over soon.

“I won’t even call this a short-term problem anymore when it comes to profitability,” Sullivan said. “It’s a medium-term problem that we’re all having to adjust to.”

Moriarty agreed, noting that, while the first two quarters of 2023 has been a difficult year for most banks, the rest of this year and 2024 might be an even more of an uphill climb.


Points of Interest

Senecal told BusinessWest that, as he was heading home for the first weekend in March, he planned to take a break from his phone and spend a few days unplugged.

And he did … until news broke that Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) in California had failed after a bank run on its deposits.

So he started looking at his phone again. And he kept looking at it.

“The weekend that SVB failed, the four largest banks in the country took in roughly $140 billion in new deposits, and community banks, in general, lost $130 million in deposits. There was a huge move to larger institutions out of fear.”

Indeed, there were many discussions with other leaders of the bank about how to communicate with customers and convince them that their deposits were safe.

“That whole weekend, myself and our commercial team and our retail people were on the phone explaining what was going on, answering their questions, and putting their minds at ease,” he recalled. “And I talked to a number of my competitors, and they were doing the same thing.”

Such discussions were necessary, he said, because even though those deposits were becoming far more burdensome, cost-wise, as he noted earlier, all banks need them to have the money to grow their loans, and consumers were getting skittish.

Jeff Sullivan

Despite the interest-rate hikes, the economy is still humming in many respects, Jeff Sullivan says, meaning the Fed may still have some work to do to slow it down.

“The weekend that SVB failed, the four largest banks in the country took in roughly $140 billion in new deposits, and community banks, in general, lost $130 million in deposits,” he said, citing a combination of concern fueled by social media and the ease with which consumers can now move money electronically as the dominant causes. “There was a huge move to larger institutions out of fear.”

Overall, there was less fallout in this region, said O’Connor, another of those banking leaders who was the phone to customers assuring them that their assets were safe, adding that the failure of SVB and a few other banks this spring, and the resulting fallout from depositors, were just one of the many speedbumps encountered by banks in 2023.

Indeed, this was a year the industry knew would be challenging — or more challenging — going in, especially with regard to rising interest rates. Just not this challenging.

“Just a year ago, rates were quite low, and everyone thought rates were going up a point and a half, maybe 2%, something in that ballpark — that was the consensus prior to August of last year, when Chairman [Jerome] Powell said, ‘no, we’re really going to stomp on the brakes,’” Sullivan said. “Up to that point, we thought that rates would go up slightly, and we were modeling our projections on that; I don’t think there’s anyone who projected that rates would go up 5% in seven months — that’s unprecedented territory, and that’s what is causing the squeeze.”

O’Connor agreed. A year or so, banks were paying maybe a half-percent interest on deposits, he recalled, adding that most new CD products being advertised are featuring rates in the 4.5% to 4.9% range on the higher end, while rates on money-market accounts are coming up as well, numbers that reflect both the need to garner new deposits and growing competion for those assets.

“You have competition from other banks, internet-only banks, the security brokers — everyone is clamoring for those deposits,” O’Connor said. “And that certainly puts pressure on all banks, including community banks.”

Institutions are adjusting to this landscape, said those we spoke with, but it’s going to take some time to fully adjust because the rate hikes came so quickly and profoundly.

And such adjustments take several forms, they said, including efforts to trade fixed-rate assets for variable-rate assets, initiatives that take time and come with their own set of risks — indeed, rates could, that’s could, go down quickly.

Dan Moriarty

Dan Moriarty says many ominous signs point toward a recession, which could bring more challenges for banks and their customers.

On the mortgage side of the equation, there aren’t many options. Senecal said PeoplesBank has been working to acquire mortgages written in areas that are still relatively hot, such as Cape Cod. Meanwhile, O’Connor said Westfield Bank and institutions like it are pushing home-equity loans, and there is a good market for them as homeowners look to take that equity and put it back into their homes or make other large purchases.

“It certainly doesn’t make up for what we’re losing in mortgages and refis, but it does help,” O’Connor said. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in home-equity loans.”


No Margin for Error

While banks cope with the present, there is just as much discussion, if not more, concerning what will happen next and when conditions will improve for this sector.

And most of that discussion obviously involves the Fed and what will happen with interest rates, because it’s these rates that determine what happens with all those dominoes.

There is some general uncertainty about what the Fed will do, said those we spoke with, because the jury is still out, in some respects and at least in some quarters, on whether it has accomplished its mission when it comes to slowing down the economy and curbing inflation. This uncertainty led to intense discussion at the most recent Fed board meeting, Senecal said.

“There are two schools of thought on this. One is, ‘let’s wait and see what our rate increases are doing to the economy, because it’s like steering a battleship — it doesn’t happen right away,’” he told BusinessWest. “So the Fed took this pause trying to gauge what happened, and what happened? Inflation came down little bit; it was up to 6 or 7%, and now it’s 3.5% or 4%. But their goal is to get it to 2%. So do they continue to raise rates and wait to pause, or do they raise and do a long pause to see if inflation comes down to their target level of 2%?”

“I don’t think there’s anyone who projected that rates would go up 5% in seven months — that’s unprecedented territory, and that’s what is causing the squeeze.”

While inflation slowed in June — the consumer price index rose 0.2% last month and was up 3% from a year ago, the lowest level since March 2021 — core inflation is still running well above the Fed’s 2% target. And Moriarty is among those saying there is ample evidence that the Fed still has work to do to slow the economy and further decrease inflation.

“Employment numbers are surging, and that’s an indication the economy is still moving fast and hot,” he said. “My uneducated crystal ball is telling me we might see a few more interest-rate moves, which means it’s going to be more difficult for the economy to continue on this path.”

Many are saying that the probable course will be another rate increase and then that pause, he went on, adding that there is more conjecture about what will then happen. Will rates stay where they are, or will they start to come down and perhaps reverse the trends seen over the past year or so?

Kevin O’Connor

Kevin O’Connor says rising interest rates have slowed the mortgage business — and destroyed the refi business.

“The consensus is that the economy is starting to slow down — not quickly, but it’s starting to slow down — and that rate cuts will probably start to happen in 2024 because inflation and economic growth both show signs of slowing down,” Sullivan said. “When that happens, we can start to price the deposit costs down.

“We’re probably not going back to where we were before,” he went on, meaning rates near zero. “We’re going back to normal, or what could be a new normal — deposit rates in the 3% range. They’re not going to be zero, and they’re not going to be 5%; they’re probably going to be somewhere in the middle once all this settles out.”

When things will settle down is another question that is difficult to answer because the economy is still chugging along, and, with the notable exception of the mortgage market, consumers are still borrowing money.

“Borrowers have gotten used to paying loan rates in the 6s and 7s — they’re not happy about it, but it doesn’t seem to be stopping anyone’s appetite for acquiring assets and borrowing money,” Sullivan said. “There’s still plenty of business out there, and that would support what Powell has been saying — that they haven’t really slowed the economy yet; in fact, it’s pretty darned good. We’re taking applications every day, and we’re writing loans every day; we’re running our business as usual.”


Taking Account

Well … not quite usual at most institutions, especially with regard to mortgages and refis, a huge part of the success formula for the region’s community banks and credit unions.

In this environment, O’Connor said, Westfield Bank and institutions like it are putting even more emphasis on customer service, attracting new customers and retaining existing customers.

“We have to make sure that we’re the bank of choice and remain that,” he said. “We work hard at the commercial relationships, the consumer relationships … our branch teams, our cash-management teams, our lenders, everyone is out there being very available to our customers and working hard to attract new customers from other banks.”

Banks are always working hard on attracting and retaining customers, he said in conclusion, but this year, and in this climate, there is even more emphasis on such initiatives.

It’s all part of a broad response to something that is a little more than your typical economic cycle. It’s somewhat unprecedented, in fact … and certainly a long, uphill climb for most banks.


Creative Economy Special Coverage

Art and Soul

Double Edge Theatre isn’t the easiest organization to describe.

Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s not an entity that lends itself to one obvious description. And that’s a positive thing, said Adam Bright, the company’s producing executive director.

“If you ask a different Double Edge ensemble member or anyone who works here, they’ll have a slightly different answer, I would imagine,” Bright said. “But for me, it’s simply that we’re trying to live together with an understanding, with certain agreements, about how we want to leave the world after we’ve stepped through it.”

That said, “we’re definitely an arts organization first, and everybody here is extremely creatively minded,” he noted. “We all come from different educational backgrounds, different parts of the world, we all grew up in different places, but we’ve all been magnetized to this strange little place.

“Everything you’ll see here comes from that seed of creative thinking,” Bright went on. “The way we’ve renovated the buildings that could no longer be used for dairy farming and were repurposed. The way we create theater and art, and how we integrate that with our work with conservationists, the Native peoples of this area, and how they approach the land. It’s a holistic way of thinking and being.”

Double Edge was born in Boston in 1982 but moved to Ashfield, a bucolic Franklin County community, in 1997, repurposing, as Bright noted, a former dairy farm into a theater company that stages performances, including ‘spectacles’ the audience follows across the grounds (more on those later), but also hosts training programs, workshops, and much more.

It does so while centered on values that are painted in large letters on one of the property’s buildings.

“We’re trying to live together with an understanding, with certain agreements, about how we want to leave the world after we’ve stepped through it.”

“Our vision is to prioritize imagination in times of creative, emotional, spiritual, and political uncertainty,” the message reads. “Our mission is to pursue authenticity, interaction, and identity with whomever is seeking creative, emotional, spiritual, and political clarity. Our art is grounded in a rigorous ensemble aesthetic unfolded in dream, imagery, metaphor, mystery, and symbolism. Our work is created and sustained within an open, honest, meaningful, relevant shared experience. We call this ‘living culture.’”

And then: “Our dedication is to face isolation and erasure, to face despair and pain that can translate into personal incapacity and political paralysis. To uplift. We call this ‘art justice.’”

It’s a mouthful, and Bright knows it. But at its core is a reflection of life that many people in this modern world — especially post-pandemic — have gotten away from.

“I think we’ve isolated ourselves more and more. Even in neighborhoods that seem great, everyone goes to their little boxes, and then they’re isolated,” he explained. “I think what we’re creating here — or recreating, let’s say — is something closer to a village, and that feels healthy. On any given day, there will be 70 people working here, ages 18 to 70-something, from all over the world: different languages, different cultures, different music, all of these things in this little place.”

Adam Bright

Adam Bright says Double Edge is an arts organization first, but one that is always considering how it interacts with and impacts its community and its world.

As part of that philosophy, Double Edge has taken a keen interest over the years in the Indigenous history of Ashfield and its environs, specifically the Nipmuc Tribal Nation, which traces its lineage in the region back 12,000 years. The theater company has partnered with the Ohketeau Cultural Center in efforts to bring awareness to this heritage and support Native priorities today.

“Our interactions introduced us to the Indigenous peoples who still inhabit this land after millennia, even though their presence has been rendered invisible on the land we now occupy,” Double Edge notes in its literature. “Ashfield may never be ‘diverse’ within the currently circumscribed and restrictive use of the term. However, the mission, values, vision, and work of Double Edge will always reflect the larger population of our region, our state, and our country.”


Making a Spectacle of Themselves

Amid its cultural passions, this is, as Bright noted, primarily an arts organization, and its performances — both on site and touring — have become widely noted for their unique, eclectic, and interactive nature.

“The art is predominantly theater, although we touch all the mediums of art,” Bright said, noting that company members — some live on the grounds for extended stretches, while others commute — not only write and perform works, but build and paint sets; create costumes; handle lighting, sound, rigging, and other production aspects; and more,

The summer performances are called ‘spectacles,’ and it’s an apt term. “They move around this farm, so the whole farm turns into a theatrical stage, essentially,” Bright said. “We really interact with the outside world; there are giant puppets and fire.”

“Even in neighborhoods that seem great, everyone goes to their little boxes, and then they’re isolated. I think what we’re creating here — or recreating, let’s say — is something closer to a village, and that feels healthy.”

The audience — which is capped at 80 to 90 per night — follows the performance across the grounds, both inside and outside its buildings, and are often timed to begin in sunlight and end with dark skies, beside a small lagoon lit by fire and stage lights, lined with platforms in the trees, a trapeze, a trampoline, and more. It’s … well, a spectacle.

“We essentially guide everything, from parking the car through the final hurrah,” Bright explained. “There’s a whole journey that the audience follows, and whether you’re at the front or the back, you’ll experience the whole thing. You won’t miss out on anything, although each audience member experiences it differently.”

Double Edge creates ‘spectacles’

Double Edge creates ‘spectacles’ that move around the farm, so the whole property turns into a theatrical stage.
Photo by David Weiland

The spectacles have been a staple of Double Edge’s offerings for a couple decades. “Lots of people are involved; it could be painting giant murals or doing puppets, making costumes,” he said. “We also work with a bunch of contractors that come in to help us with some heavy lifting, certain set pieces. So, really, lots of people are involved before we even open the performance.”

The current spectacle, directed by Double Edge founder and Artistic Director Stacy Klein, is called The Hidden Territories of the Bacchae, and is “our response to Euripides’ Bacchae, in which women’s rites are no longer in hidden territories and women are freely able to express their deeply held desires,” according to the company’s description. It runs from July 19 through Aug. 6, and tickets are available at doubleedgetheatre.org.

“Then, other times of the year, we make other works that can go into regular-type theatres, and we tour,” Bright said. “We just got back from Europe for a couple of tours there. It’s still large-scale, but it becomes a little bit more intimate, and you can control more in the theatrical setting than outdoors. There are different limitations, I would say. But it’s still visually stunning, very physical, poetic … it’s definitely not your average Shakespeare recital.”

Meanwhile, Double Edge offers residencies and other cooperative oppportunities to like-minded companies across the U.S., he noted. “We come together once or twice a year, and we train together, and sometimes we present each other’s work. So it’s really a cool thing.”

Hannah Rechtschaffen, director of Greenfield Business Assoc., who recently came on board Double Edge as its team and relationships manager, called the organization one of the most well-organized and communicative companies she’s ever worked for.

The concepts of ‘living culture’ and ‘art justice’

The concepts of ‘living culture’ and ‘art justice’ are integral to the training and performance work going on at Double Edge.

“You don’t find that in a lot of arts organizations. Sometimes the art is taking over so much that the business side lacks a little, and I think one of the real strengths of Double Edge, and one of the reasons that we rise as a real leader and attract people from many sectors, not just the art sector, is because, though our message is really complex, it’s also very clear because it’s being rolled out in a way that a lot of different people can relate to.”


Living History

Klein founded Double Edge in 1982 as a feminist ensemble collective alongside co-founder and emerita ensemble member Carroll Durand and several other women, performing in six-week rentals of various Boston theaters.

In 1985, the ensemble located a parish hall in Allston, a long-unused building at the Episcopal Church of Saints Luke and Margaret. Following renovations, this was its home for the next 12 years. In 1994, the company located a new home in Ashfield, precipitated by the economic impossibility of paying exorbitant rent in the Boston area, and by the desire to house overseas guest artists for long periods.

After driving back and forth for a couple years, the Double Edge team opened their first performance space in Ashfield — in a converted barn — in 1997.

In addition to its spectacles, which launched in 2002, Klein and her team have created seven performance cycles, or series of plays, that have toured around the world, including:

• The Garden of Intimacy and Desire (2002-08), a cycle exploring distinctive visions of magic realism in Jewish and Hispanic culture;

• The Chagall Cycle (2010-15), which was imagined entirely from the visual art of Marc Chagall;

• The Latin American Cycle (2015-18), which began as an effort to come to artistic terms with Co-Artistic Director Carlos Uriona’s sociocultural and personal background; and

• The Surrealist Cycle (2017-present) three performances, loosely woven together, relating to the Latin American Cycle and research into surrealism.

In addition, the Ashfield Town Spectacle & Culture Fair (May 2017) and We the People (summer 2017 and 2018) were a duet and ode to the history of Ashfield and the surrounding hilltowns of Western Mass. Eighty local artists and groups participated in each two-day event, which took place throughout the entire town of Ashfield, ending in a 700-person parade and an aerial flight over the Ashfield Lake.

“There’s a whole journey that the audience follows, and whether you’re at the front or the back, you’ll experience the whole thing. You won’t miss out on anything, although each audience member experiences it differently.”

Clearly, a sense of place and culture is a constant theme here, and Double Edge itself is a model for a living community. About 10 years ago, the ensemble started thinking about ‘greening’ and the necessity of moving off the grid, “not only as giveback for what we receive from nature, but also as a model for theaters around the country and other organizations who are themselves modeling unsustainable building and operating practices,” the organization notes.

With that in mind, single-use plastic was banned from the farm for our students, audiences, and daily living, and the property has also started using solar energy and wants to replace all its heating systems, with the dream of building a solar farm and multi-acre apiary and wildflower sanctuary.

So, yes — this is a theater company with a lot on its mind, one that takes a holistic approach to art and life, striving to find the critical connections that often get lost in today’s world.

“I’m always in the intersection of economic development and the creative arts, and how those things come together,” Rechtschaffen said. “It’s a constant process of figuring out how to communicate that in a way that every sector can understand. I think that’s something that we do incredibly well and have an opportunity to do even more — to figure out how to grow that impact.”


Building Trades Special Coverage

Current Events

President Jeff Goodless

President Jeff Goodless

Early on, Jeff Goodless knew life wasn’t easy in the world of electrical contracting.

But he also knew his family had built a strong reputation in the field since 1945, so it was always on his mind to one day enter the family business.

“I went to Northeastern University for five years,” he said, studying electrical engineering and business management there in the 1970s and taking advantage of NU’s well-known co-op work programs. “Everybody said, ‘why did you go to the co-op school?’ But I wanted to go through the experience of actually working and doing real interviews, knowing I was coming here, just to have that experience.

“I came back here and thought I was going to take a month off, and my father said, ‘you can have a day off,’” he went on. “So I came right to work, right out of college.”

He knew that was a good decision and knows it even more now, almost a half-century later, with Goodless Electric marking 78 years in business, still serving clients in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, just like his father, Leon Goodless, and uncle, Irving Goodless, did from the start.

Irving launched the business behind his parents’ home in Springfield, and his brother Leon joined in 1957, when the firm took the name Goodless Brothers Electric Co.

They did quite a bit of moving in the first few decades, Jeff said, to Riverdale Road in West Springfield, Worthington Street and then Winter Street in Springfield, then to the current location at 100 Memorial Ave. in West Springfield, alongside the Route 5 rotary at the Memorial Bridge. Irving retired in 1977, Irving retired in 1977, around the time his nephew came on board part-time. Jeff moved into a full-time role around 1982 and eventually took over the firm’s leadership.

“Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

“Believe it or not, the type of work has stayed the same, although maybe on a larger scale later,” Jeff told BusinessWest. “But even way back when, they always did residential, industrial, and commercial work. They ran maybe three, four, six guys.”

At its heyday, Goodless said, the company was running about 90 workers, where now, it boasts about 20, keeping them busy with projects ranging from parking-lot maintenance and upgrades, generator services, and fire-alarm systems to lighting retrofits, swimming pools and hot tubs, and residential and commercial service upgrades, just to name a few.

“There’s a lot of jobs with UMass Amherst, a lot of state work, some city work, fire stations, DPW facilities, a little bit of everything. A lot of work for the housing authorities throughout the years, too,” he said. “We don’t do new homes, but I do additions and a lot of repair work. Out of our service department, we run about four vans, and we roll basically 24 hours a day.”

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020, a major milestone for any company.

As the firm celebrated 75 years in business in 2020, an emerging pandemic posed serious challenges, especially since it was performing work at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where COVID killed 84 residents.

“I couldn’t get my people to go up there, and I couldn’t really blame them,” Goodless recalled. “People didn’t want to work; people were scared. I had an outbreak in my office. It was challenging.”

What made a difference, he said, was the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which poured funds into businesses to keep their teams employed. “We took advantage of that; it was so helpful. We used it right. We used it responsibly. We kept guys going. In fact, we didn’t have to let anybody go through the pandemic at all.”

“I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.”

The economic ripple effects from the pandemic — particularly higher costs and supply-chain issues — still resonate, however. Goodless was able to stock up on things like 100-amp and 200-amp panels to keep housing projects moving, but said customers are still shocked to hear it might take nine to 10 months to get switchgear in.

“We say it over and over again: we’re not the chef; we’re the waiter. We don’t make the stuff,” he said. “It’s still a very difficult message to get through, though.”


The Next Generation

Goodless said the company’s reputation for fast response and competitive bids has helped it earn multiple awards for customer service.

At the same time, though, growth is challenging at a time when building trades of all kinds are beset with a talent drain.

“The workforce situation is awful,” he said. “You can get people, but it’s very hard to get good people in. But I’ve been pretty fortunate; I’ve been able to pick up a few people along the way during the past couple of years, and I’m working on a third one right now.”

Part of the issue has been the pipeline of new, young talent not keeping up with the pace of retirements, but Goodless said that might be changing.

Jeff Goodless’ first projects

This wall represents some of Jeff Goodless’ first projects for clients in the late ‘70s.

“Over the years, we noticed a huge decline in the electrical trade,” he said, referring to the programs young people were choosing to study. “Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

He’s gleaned as much through conversations with teachers at the trade schools in Springfield, Westfield, Holyoke, and others, who say students are more serious than before about entering the electrical field and other trades. Part of the reason may be the talk of graduates of four-year colleges entering the workforce with six-figure debt and a cloudy career path.

“A kid in a trade, they’ll pay their dues and go through the program, and at the end, you can make well over 100 grand a year. And you’re going to do your side jobs like everyone does and make another 25 grand,” he said. “I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.’”

And work hard Goodless has over the past four-plus decades, outlasting many former clients whose companies are no longer in business. And it’s work he relishes.

“Everybody will have something different to say,” he noted when asked what he enjoys about running this 78-year-old business. “I love going after a bid, going over the numbers, and winning the bid. That gives me a thrill. My second-biggest thrill is going out and doing the buys.”

He’s also got his eye on making sure Goodless Electric continues to be a force for many years to come, even after it moves past family ownership.

“I always think about what I’m going to do with this business as I’m getting older. My ultimate goal is to turn it over to the employees, or half to the employees and maybe sell the other half, something of that nature,” he said. “I just want to keep the business going, keep the name going.”

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Building Anxiety

Trulieve will soon be leaving the Massachusetts market

Trulieve will soon be leaving the Massachusetts market, and its property on Canal Street in Holyoke, leaving questions about the site’s future.

Aaron Vega calls it the ‘year of reckoning.’

And he’s not the only one who uses such language when talking about 2023 and the cannabis industry.

This has been a year when a confluence of forces has brought stern challenges to a sector that got off to a fast and hot start in this region. These forces, including mounting competition and falling prices, have prompted some players to exit the market — Truelieve was the latest to make that decision — and others to delay or cancel entry into it.

The impact of these rather sudden changes in the fortunes of the cannabis industry has changed the landscape in many different ways and in many different communities. But perhaps the greatest impact has been on the commercial real-estate market in the city that has most aggressively pursued this sector: Holyoke.

Indeed, a market that was once white-hot as Holyoke officials, led by former Mayor Alex Morse, rolled out the red carpet for cannabis has cooled off substantially, said Vega, director of the city’s Office of Planning and Economic Development, adding that this trend will likely continue as the cannabis sector continues adjusting and responding to the changing climate.

“We’re wondering … how does that property move? What does that company want to sell it for, and what is the acquisition cost going to be? It comes currently with a $300,000 tax bill; that’s a lot of money to keep a building empty. We’re hoping they’re able to move it or work with the city to find a public solution.”

A number of properties have been purchased or leased, and at prices that could not have imagined a decade ago. And as some cannabis businesses close or leave the market and others delay their plans to start, questions mount about all that real estate and what will happen with it.

“A lot of the buildings were locked up because they were purchased at a much higher price than they were probably worth, and now those companies are not going forward, or their timelines are stretched out,” he said. “Are they going to sell these buildings? Are they going to be able to maintain these buildings? They come with tax bills, and they come with maintenance; if you don’t have anything going on inside that you’re making money with, it becomes more of a struggle.”

The most visible manifestation of this changing landscape is the property at 56 Canal St., home (but not for much longer) to Trulieve’s 126,000-square-foot growing, processing, and testing facility, the former Conklin Office Furniture building. Truelieve poured tens of millions into purchasing, renovating, and retrofitting the former mill for cannabis-related uses, said Vega, who wondered out loud how the company could possibly recover that kind of investment given the current fortunes of the cannabis industry.

“We’re wondering … how does that property move? What does that company want to sell it for, and what is the acquisition cost going to be?” he asked. “It comes currently with a $300,000 tax bill; that’s a lot of money to keep a building empty. We’re hoping they’re able to move it or work with the city to find a public solution.”

While some ventures are slated to open in the coming weeks and months, Vega said, there are at least 20 properties for which special permits have been approved — for one or more of the several types of cannabis-related businesses — but where there has been little movement, if any, on site toward opening those businesses.

Vega said he was only half-kidding when he suggested that Trulieve donate its Canal Street property to the city and its redevelopment authority, which could then try to attract more and different kinds of indoor agriculture businesses. Among other things, the transformation of old mills across the city for cannabis-related uses has shown what can be done with those properties, he noted, adding that indoor agriculture could be a growth industry for the city — literally and figuratively — moving forward.

Meanwhile, another emerging model for these mills could be an incubator-like facility, such as the one taking shape at 1 Cabot St., another old mill, the former Riverside Paper Co. building, purchased by Tom and Karen Cusano in 2018.

1 Cabot St. will become an incubator of sorts

Tom Cusano says the property at 1 Cabot St. will become an incubator of sorts for several small, cannabis-related businesses, a model he believes has a great deal of promise.

There, several smaller companies, many of them social-equity ventures, are moving forward with plans, Tom said, adding that this is a different kind of model, and one he believes has some staying power.

“We have one operating tenant and four tenants who are in the licensing process, and we’re building out their space — they should be operational within 90 to 120 days,” he said, adding that this model calls for reasonable lease rates, most buildout handled by the owner, and opportunities to grow if and when the businesses do.

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, we take a look at what’s happening in Holyoke — and not happening, as the case may be — and what it all means moving forward.


Pot Luck

Vega told BusinessWest that the cannabis experience — and it is ongoing — has benefited Holyoke in a number of ways.

Beyond the hundreds of thousands of square feet of old mill space that has been absorbed and the jobs created, the arrival of this industry has given the city a tremendous amount of exposure locally, regionally, and even nationally and internationally, he said, adding that many people in business who didn’t know about the city’s assets and benefits, from available real estate to green, comparatively inexpensive energy, now do. And this bodes well moving forward.

For the immediate future, though, the relative strength and resilience of the local cannabis industry is the primary topic of conversation in this year of reckoning. At the very least, there are now real questions about whether this sector has already peaked, and if not, how much more it can grow.

To quantify and qualify the changes that have taken place, Vega talked about phone-call volume — as in calls from cannabis companies calling with questions about the city and opportunities to land there — and his overall workload when it comes to handling license applications and related matters.

“When I started in this job two and a half years ago, we were talking to companies once a week, and we had that peak of having 70 host agreements,” he noted. “Working with the City Council, we got 38 special permits approved; that’s a lot of work on a lot of people’s part.

“But now, I think we had two host-community agreements in the last three months, and two projects in front of the City Council and other departments for review,” he went on. “In two years, it’s changed quite a bit.”

Elaborating, he said many of the major players and ‘funders’ in this industry have already moved on to the next emerging markets in this industry, such as Connecticut and New York, with their attention also focused on federal legislation to legalize cannabis.

“With the cannabis industry, it was kind of predatory; everyone looked at it like it was the golden goose. If you had a building, you asked for four times what it was worth, and if you had space to lease, you asked the tenant to spend millions of dollars to fix up your run-down building.”

All of this is reflected in the commercial real-estate market, he said, referencing the large question marks now hanging over several of the properties acquired or leased — at high prices — with cannabis businesses in mind.

Cusano, who purchased his property not long after cannabis was legalized in this state, summed up the market frenzy, if that’s the right term, this way:

“With the cannabis industry, it was kind of predatory; everyone looked at it like it was the golden goose. If you had a building, you asked for four times what it was worth, and if you had space to lease, you asked the tenant to spend millions of dollars to fix up your run-down building. And, quite honestly, very few people could afford that.

“Some of the big, multi-state operators came in with deep pockets and dumped tons of money,” he went on. “And as we can see with Trulieve, that doesn’t seem to work.”

He’s taking a different approach, one he thinks will generate some long-term success.

Indeed, at the Cabot Street property, he’s drawing on 20 years of experience with renovating and then leasing out a former mill building to emerging small businesses in New Hampshire.

“We’re trying to help these small businesses get started; we’re doing the lion’s share of the renovation work and essentially giving them a turnkey operation except for fixtures and whatever they need to run their business, whether they’re doing cultivation, manufacturing, or processing,” he said. “We’ve talked with multiple tenants; we’ll have a retail dispensary in the front of the building that we’re working on.”

Elaborating, he said he and Karen purchased the building “for a song” and have invested far more than $1 million in it thus far. He said he’s had some experience with the cannabis industry in New Hampshire and Maine and understands its potential, both as a source of tenants and its importance to the community in question.

At present, there is one business operating at the property on Cabot Street, Mill Town, a cultivation and light-manufacturing operation, Cusano said, adding that several more are in the pipeline, ventures that will occupy 10,000- to 35,000-square-foot spaces.

He believes this model will fare better than some of the other strategies that have been tried — mostly companies overpaying to purchase or lease property, a situation that adds another layer of challenge to their ability to remain competitive in a rapidly changing market.

“People were overpaying, dumping a ton of money into these properties, and then the market collapsed because of oversupply, and they were upside-down,” he said. “We have a saying in the retail business — you can sell below cost and make up the difference with volume. But not for long.”


Bottom Line

Returning to his thoughts about indoor farming and how properties like the Trulieve facility might be turned over to such uses, Vega said such prospects represent just one of the ways the changing real-estate climate in Holyoke represents both challenge and opportunity.

“Let’s keep the cannabis industry, but let’s also help the local food economy,” he said. “Someone growing lettuce and micrograins can’t afford a $40 million building, but if the redevelopment authority can gain control of that building or sell it without needing to make a profit, and we can get a whole industry or a bunch of small businesses going, we can create a food economy, and that would be huge.”

He acknowledged, without actually saying so, that such plans represent a real long shot. The reality is that, rather than solutions, there might be more question marks for the buildings bought with designs on entering what looked at the time to be a lucrative cannabis sector.

And if things break the wrong way, Holyoke may wind up with what it had before it rolled out the red carpet for this industry — a large number of vacant and underutilized properties.