Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Tonight, Oct. 26, BusinessWest and the Healthcare News will honor nine individuals as 2023 Healthcare Heroes at a celebration dinner at Marriott Springfield Downtown. The event is sold out.

The Healthcare Heroes class of 2023 was announced and profiled in the Sept. 18 issue of BusinessWest and at businesswest.com. Honorees include Jody O’Brien of the Urology Group of Western New England (Lifetime Achievement), Cindy Senk of Movement for All (Community Health), Ashley LeBlanc of Mercy Medical Center (Emerging Leader), Ellen Ingraham-Shaw of Baystate Medical Center (Emerging Leader), Dr. Mark Kenton of Mercy Medical Center (Healthcare Administration), Kristina Hallett of Bay Path University (Health Education), Gabriel Mokwuah and Joel Brito of Holyoke Medical Center (Innovation in Healthcare), and Julie Lefer Quick of the VA Central Western Massachusetts Healthcare System (Healthcare Provider).

Event sponsors include presenting sponsors Elms College and Baystate Health/Health New England, and partner sponsors Holyoke Medical Center, Mercy Medical Center/Trinity Health, and the Elaine Marieb Center for Nursing and Engineering Innovation and the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — MGM Springfield will pay more than $6.8 million in restitution and penalties for wage-and-hour law violations at its downtown casino, according to New England Public Media. The settlement comes after a multi-year investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.

“MGM Springfield’s failure to provide its employees, especially service workers earning an hourly wage and relying on tips, with their full wages and benefits made it more difficult for these employees to take care of themselves and their families,” Attorney General Andrea Campbell said in a statement.

More than 2,000 employees were impacted, the AG’s office said, from table game dealers to kitchen staff. About $460,000 of the settlement will go back to employees as restitution, but most of the settlement money — nearly $6.4 million — will be paid to the state as a fine. The settlement covers violations between August 2018 and the end of 2019.

MGM “neither admits nor denies the allegations” in the settlement agreement. “We take our compliance obligations seriously and have made proactive updates since 2019 to address this issue,” MGM Resorts spokesperson Dara Cohen said in a statement. “We will continue to invest in training and regular reviews of our policies and procedures to ensure ongoing compliance.”

Daily News

SUFFIELD, Conn. — Campiti Ventures welcomed visitors from across the region in its opening weekend at the Great Halloween Drive-Thru. A one-of-a-kind, kid-friendly, family experience full of holograms, projection technology, and spooky scenes, the drive-thru event will close out its season tonight through Sunday, Oct. 26-29, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at Sunrise Park in Suffield, Conn. Tickets cost $30 per car (cash only) paid at the entrance. The Great Halloween Drive-Thru draws visitors from across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and beyond.

This is the third annual Halloween event at Sunrise Park. The half-mile journey through the park will take families on a spooky, family, and kid-friendly route with no live actors and no jump scares. Visitors will travel in their vehicles and wind through a ‘haunted forest’ filled with friendly ghosts, grinning pumpkins, mischievous witches, and special effects with whimsical creatures that come to life in the dark. With captivating hologram shows, dazzling visuals, and a touch of magic, the Great Halloween Drive-Thru is the perfect way for families to enjoy the spirit of the season in a safe and memorable way.

“We are so thrilled to be welcomed back for another year of spooky fun,” creator Frank Campiti said. “People come from all over Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York to experience this event. Parents and grandparents are always looking for fun things to do with their kids, and this is an experience the whole family can enjoy together. Kids really love the magic of the holograms and projection shows — adults do, too! We have families coming back multiple nights, friends looking for something festive and fun to do together, couples on date night — this is the kind of event people of all ages enjoy.”

A portion of each admission will be used to fund the town’s 2024 Suffield Summer Fair and Fireworks. The Great Halloween Drive-Thru and the Suffield Summer Fair Fireworks are sponsored by Artioli Dodge Chrysler Ram and Amp Electrical Inc. For information on the Great Halloween Drive-Thru, visit thegreathalloweendrivethru.com.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — Throughout the months of July and August, Freedom Credit Union raised more than $2,700 through its annual summer food drive for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. In addition to cash donations, Freedom also collected non-perishable food items.

“Thanks to the generosity of our members and staff, we were able to make a substantial donation of both money and non-perishable food for the Food Bank,” Freedom Credit Union President Glenn Welch said. “Every donation makes a difference, and we are proud to help erase food insecurity in our community.”

Since 1982, the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts has helped provide much-needed food to area residents in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. It sources its products from donations, which it distributes to participating pantries, meal sites, and shelters throughout the region.

“We’re grateful for the ongoing support of Freedom Credit Union,” Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Executive Director Andrew Morehouse said. “With a food assistance network of 172 local food pantries in all four counties of Western Massachusetts, we will certainly put these dollars and food donations to good use.”

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

It’s Business, Not Nostalgia


Jeb Balise, left, and Jack Dill

Jeb Balise, left, and Jack Dill


Jack Dill likes to say he’s been involved with the building at 1441 Main St. in Springfield since “before it was a hole in the ground.”

Indeed, Dill, now a principal with Colebrook Realty Services, was an employee at Colebrook back in the late 70s, when it was the real-estate arm of Springfield Institution for Savings (SIS), and was assigned to take the plans for building the bank a new headquarters at that address — plans that had been on the drawing board for some time but unable to move forward — and make something happen.

Dill looks back at that assignment, given to him by the bank’s then-President and CEO John Collins, with fondness, pride, and a large amount of self-deprecating humor.

“I don’t know how they ever let me do this,” he recalled. “John said, ‘look, we’ve spent a lot of money on this; we don’t think it’s going to work. We’re not paying you very much; take six months … before we throw the plans away, see what you can do.”

Long story short, he made it all work.

Dill recalls that the city of Springfield wanted some retail at that location (that sector was still a huge force in the downtown at the time, although not for much longer, as we’ll see), and the bank, as noted, wanted a headquarters building. He conceived something that served both masters.

And with the help of a $4 million Urban Development Action Grant from the Carter administration, the $20 million project did move off the drawing board. When finished, the complex boasted several stores and a few restaurants. Meanwhile, SIS had a large presence, and there were dozens of other business tenants in the office ‘tower.’

“I don’t know how they ever let me do this. John said, ‘look, we’ve spent a lot of money on this; we don’t think it’s going to work. We’re not paying you very much; take six months … before we throw the plans away, see what you can do.’”

Dill, as a principal at Colebrook, which became a private company in 1999, would go on to manage and lease the property for decades, steering it through changes in the business and commercial real-estate landscapes. And today, he does largely the same, but through a different lens and with a much-different title: co-owner.

Dill, his partners at Colebrook (Mitch Bolotin and Kevin Morin), and Jeb Balise, president of Balise Motor Sales (soon to be based in Springfield, on the third floor at 1441 Main St.) partnered to acquire the 12-story office building in early 2022.

The ‘birdcage,’ erected in 1986 to camouflage closed retail at 1441 Main St.

The ‘birdcage,’ erected in 1986 to camouflage closed retail at 1441 Main St., will soon be coming down, one of many changes coming to the downtown office complex.

They came together, they said, to bring the property under local ownership and make some changes to bring more vibrancy. The fact that Balise’s company has a new home for much of its operation (and roughly 55 employees) was always on the table, he said, but not a deciding factor in his participation in this venture.

“I went in with an open mind, and it was enticing, but I really had to do my homework, and one of the things I did was move my own office here and do a test drive,” he said, borrowing a term from his industry. “And what we found is that the location is incredibly convenient to all the places we go, between banks, attorneys, accountants, architects, and engineers that we deal with locally.”

That convenience extends all the way to Riverdale Street in West Springfield, where Balise has a handful of dealerships, he went on, noting that, because Riverdale is a divided street, employees can get to many of those dealerships from 1441 Main St. as quickly as they could from the current headquarters at Doty Circle, just off Riverdale.

Since taking ownership, the partners have undertaken several initiatives, including improvements to the elevators and recruitment of a new restaurant — Mykonos, one of the displaced tenants in the Eastfield Mall — with more in the planning stages, including replacement of an escalator (a remnant of sorts from the building’s retail roots) and extensive renovations to the mezzanine level, specifically the removal of its wooden façade and what Dill not-so-affectionately refers to as the ‘birdcage’ (more on that later).

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Dill and Balise about their acquisition of this downtown stalwart and what will likely come next for the property.


Building Momentum

Dill recalls with some fondness, and more of that humor, the first time he met Jeb Balise.

It was in 1976. Dill was 24 and looking for a new car, specifically a Camaro, a four-speed with a V8 engine. Balise was 17 and in his second year working as a salesman at the family’s Chevy dealership on East Columbus Avenue.

Dill liked the car, and the car liked him, but the sticker price was beyond his means at the time. So he stayed in his Volkswagen, the one with 112,000 miles on it and no heater.

Four and a half decades later, he did buy a car from Balise — a Volkswagen GTI, one of the few cars still on the market with a manual transmission, he noted. (Jeb stayed on the sidelines for that transaction.)

Over the years, Balise Motor Sales has been a client of the Colebrook company, and the parties have worked together on several projects. Meanwhile, at 1441 Main St., a succession of banks that had come into ownership had looked into selling the building, but ultimately decided not to, said Dill, because of the relatively low cost of owner occupancy; in short, being in that building was cheaper per employee than leasing space elsewhere.

But ultimately, TD Bank decided to sell what was the last building it owned, said Dill, adding that it went on the market in the spring of 2021. Soon thereafter, a unique and decidedly local buying group came together.

“Jack and his team approached me and said, ‘TD is probably going to put the building on the market, and we think it’s a great opportunity,’” Balise recalled. “I remember them being specific: Jack’s vision was, ‘we’d like to see it be Springfield-owned, and we’d like you to be a part of it.’”

It was at that point, he went on, that he first learned the story of how Dill had been involved in the building of SIS’s new home as a young employee of the bank.

“It was a great history lesson for me, and a fun history lesson, because I was reliving where I was at that time, and where Springfield was,” he went on. “So the way I would sum it up is … Jack, as the consummate sales pro, romantically lured me into wanting to be Colebrook’s partner.

“Jack and his team approached me and said, ‘TD is probably going to put the building on the market, and we think it’s a great opportunity. I remember them being specific: Jack’s vision was, ‘we’d like to see it be Springfield-owned, and we’d like you to be a part of it.’”

“I think it’s a timeless, beautiful building,” Balise added, “and I loved the notion of keeping it locally owned and jointly doing our part to help Springfield grow and prosper.”

Dill agreed, and stressed repeatedly that, despite his long history with the building, nostalgia was not a factor in this decision. Ultimately, this was a business deal.

“Obviously I’ve been involved with the building for a very long time, but we tried not to have an emotional decision,” he recalled. “We thought that having a good and reliable partner was a real plus; we’ve been in business a long time, and we’re friends; he’s a great partner.”

Elaborating, he said those at Colebrook and Balise were of one mind with regard to the property — that this would not be a buy-to-flip scenario, and that they were in it for the long haul, with Jeb Balise providing an invaluable “new set of eyes,” as Dill put it.


Signs of the Times

As he looked back on those 45 years of involvement with the property at 1441 Main, Dill jokes that there have been many times when he wished that he was in the sign business.

Indeed, the name over the front entrance and high on the façade has changed many times, usually taking on the name of the bank that owned the property. And that’s a long list, courtesy of a continuing wave of mergers and acquisitions in the financial-services industry that started in the early ’90s.

“I’m pretty sure we’ve had at least five or six signs on this building,” he said, listing Family Bank, First Massachusetts Bank, Banknorth, TD Banknorth, and then TD Bank. He admitted that it was hard to keep track, even for someone who managed the property.

But the letters on the building are not the only thing to have changed over the years.

Indeed, the retail component of the building collapsed, as it did across the street at Tower Square, a byproduct of the malls, especially the one at Ingleside in Holyoke, said Dill. The property’s owners adjusted, converting a mezzanine that was retail into back-office space for the bank and erecting, in 1986, the ‘birdcage’ — a wooden façade that looks like … well, a birdcage — as “camouflage, so it wouldn’t look like closed retail,” he explained.

A framed portrait of John Collins

A framed portrait of John Collins, the man who gave Jack Dill the assignment of making 1441 Main St. a reality, is now displayed in the lobby of the building.

The Colebrook team answered an RFP, and the property eventually became the home of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) soon after it was created in 1996. Meanwhile, space formerly devoted to retail — a Falcetti Music store and a CVS, among others — was soon occupied by several agencies, ranging from the Springfield Regional Chamber to the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau to the entity now known as MassHire Hampden County Workforce Board.

Over the years, it also became home to several prominent nonprofits, including the United Way of Pioneer Valley and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra.

The office tower, meanwhile, has become home to several federal and state agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Office of the Attorney General, and others.

When the Colebrook/Balise partnership acquired the property, the occupancy rate was roughly 85%, said Dill, adding that it is now closer to 90%, with additions including a temporary office for Daniel O’Connell’s Sons, the general contractor for construction of the parking garage taking shape across Harrison Avenue.

That number won’t change when Balise moves its headquarters to the property early next year, but the number of people working in the building will, Dill said, noting that the 55 or so employees from Balise will bring more vibrancy to the property and more foot traffic to downtown service businesses, bars, and restaurants.

That includes Mykonos, which will occupy space on the first floor, Dill noted, adding that additional restaurants are certainly possible.

Meanwhile, on the second floor, to attract more office tenants, the new owners are opening up the back of the space, which faces the park where the Steiger’s department store once stood, by putting in a bank of large windows. There are also plans to remove the ‘birdcage’ and take out the escalator and replace it with a new staircase.

“With these new windows and the removal of the birdcage, we’ll have a lot more natural light on the second floor and first floor,” he said. “And we have some other ideas on new design and a new visual identity for those two floors.”

Looking long-term, both Balise and Dill believe they can retain current office tenants and add new ones, even at a time when work is in flux and the future of office buildings is more clouded than at any time in recent memory.

“Work is a social activity, and we’re seeing a lot of companies bringing people back,” said Dill. “Maybe not five days a week, 40 hours, but they’re coming back to the office, because work is a social activity.”


Bottom Line

Not long after the acquisition of 1441 Main St., Dill placed two portraits on easels in the building’s lobby, one of Richard Booth, another former president and CEO of SIS, and the other of John Collins; he considers both mentors and major influences in his life and career.

It was Collins who handed Dill the assignment to build a new headquarters building all those years ago. It led to what amounts to a lifetime of work stewarding the building through decades of change and positioning it for the decades to come.

Now, this work takes on new meaning and new urgency, because he has ownership of the matter — both literally and figuratively.


Features Special Coverage

In Good Company

Jeff St. Jean, left, and John DeVoie, co-founders of Easy Company Brewing

Jeff St. Jean, left, and John DeVoie, co-founders of Easy Company Brewing

It will be called ‘Brécourt.’

And like the beers that came before it — and the ones that will likely come after it — this one celebrates a chapter in the powerful story of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, known simply as Easy Company. This was the ‘band of brothers’ whose exploits during World War II are famously chronicled in the Stephen Ambrose book and HBO miniseries that both took that name.

Brécourt Manor is a town about three miles southwest of Utah Beach in Normandy, France. It was the location of a German artillery battery that was disrupting landing forces of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division on D-Day. Easy Company’s assault on the Brécourt Manor, led by First Lt. Richard Winters, is one of the unit’s more noted accomplishments, and there were many.

“They charged that gun nest and took all four guns out, saving countless lives,” said John DeVoie, co-founder of the growing Hot Table chain of panini restaurants, who has long been entranced by the story of Easy Company. So much that, when he and his longtime best friend and fellow veteran Jeff St. Jean — they both served with the 104th Tactical Fighter Group at Barnes Airport, and St. Jean still does — decided to create a beer label and donate all the profits from the sale of those products to agencies that assist fellow veterans, the name came easily — although not much else has, as we’ll see.

Easy Company Brewing, branded simply as ‘E,’ plans to introduce Brécourt, what’s known as a keeping ale, in the coming months. It will join two labels already available in many liquor stores, bars, and restaurants: Currahee American Lager, named in honor of the hill the men of Easy Company had to run up daily while in training in Toccoa, Ga., and Ald-Borne, a new English IPA, named after Aldbourne, the tiny village in the south of England where the unit would begin the preparations for D-Day.

“We thought, ‘why don’t we just give it all back?’ We’d model it after Newman’s Own and give 100% of the profits to charities that support veterans.”

DeVoie and St. Jean, both beer lovers themselves, could hardly contain their excitement as they pondered what might come next for beers as their venture continues to follow the story of Easy Company as the war progressed. Indeed, the unit took part in the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in the Netherlands, famous for its beer, and also in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium, equally famous for its beer, then were in several operations in Germany, including occupation duty at Berchtesgaden, home to Hitler’s famous Eagle’s Nest, at the German-Austrian border.

the brewery’s offerings follow the story of Easy Company

Starting with American and English ales, the brewery’s offerings follow the story of Easy Company through World War II, with beers from France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany to come next.

“The next stop is Holland … and these guys captured Eagle’s Nest, so we may use that name when we get to making a German beer — or not; there are plenty of options from Germany,” DeVoie said, noting that, in honor of Dick Winters, famously a teetotaler, they may make a non-alcoholic beer.

But the two are even more excited about where this venture could go in terms of what it can do for veterans.

Launched just before Memorial Day in 2022, Easy Company Brewing did not turn a profit its first year due to the high operational costs involved with getting the venture off the ground, but the two partners wrote checks anyway to several well-vetted nonprofits that assist veterans, including Operation Second Chance, the Special Operations Warriors Foundation, and the Tunnel to Towers Foundation.

The brewery is expected to turn a small profit this year, and there is considerable optimism about where all this might be down the road.

In a word, the story of Easy Company Brewing and its mission “resonates,” said St. Jean, adding that most all those who hear the story, or just see the name, want to know more and support the effort in some way.

That goes for everyone from the thousands who sampled the Easy Company’s offerings at the Big E to Donnie Wahlberg, who played First Lt. Clifford Carwood Lipton in the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers — and who, upon becoming acquainted with the venture and its mission when St. Jean and DeVoie met him briefly at Foxwoods at the opening of a new Wahlburgers restaurant, posted on Instagram a picture of himself with a large class of their brew and the words “my new favorite beer!”

Donnie Wahlberg, who played one of the men of Easy Company

Donnie Wahlberg, who played one of the men of Easy Company in the Band of Brothers miniseries, shows his support for the venture in an Instagram post.

For this issue, and with Veterans Day approaching, BusinessWest talked with DeVoie and St. Jean about their venture, the veterans (and especially the members of Easy Company) who inspired it, and how they intend to make what is now a local story into a national phenomenon.


Lager Than Life

As they talked with BusinessWest earlier this month, St. Jean and DeVoie were making plans to head to Newport, R.I. the following weekend for a reunion involving descendents of the men of Easy Company.

There are no living members of that unit, but the reunions, which started in 1946, the year after the war ended, have continued, said DeVoie, adding that he met the granddaughter of William ‘Wild Bill’ Guarnere, a staff sergeant in Easy Company, recently, and she invited the partners to this year’s gathering.

“We’re going there almost with reverence — we’re going to share our beer with them and tell our story,” he went on, adding that, given their mission and the way it honors those in Easy Company, they were to be “guests of honor” at the event in some ways.

In most all other ways, the two consider themselves merely stewards of the Easy Company name, and they have made it their mission to use it to both honor those men and to help those who have served their country — as they have themselves.

Indeed, they served together as mechanics in the 104th’s engine shop, servicing the A-10 Thunderbolts that flew over Barnes — and served in tip-of-the-spear operations in many parts of the world, including both Gulf wars. Nicknamed the Warthog, the plane was not pretty to look at, but, then again, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

St. Jean, still serving in an administrative role with the 104th, likes the A-10 much more than the F-15s currently flown by that unit, and DeVoie said simply, “everybody thought it was ugly; I thought it was beautiful.”

DeVoie left the 104th after 11 years, but he and St. Jean have remained good friends, getting together often. One of their favorite spots is the Student Prince in downtown Springfield, and it was there that the story of Easy Company Brewing began.

Indeed, while enjoying a few Spatens at the bar there in 2018, and thinking about all the beer-making countries where the men of Easy Company had been, that they started discussing the notion of creating a beer label that would pay homage to that unit.

They quickly decided that, while this was a good concept, they could not, in good conscience, profit off the names of the men of Easy Company, many of whom died in combat.

So they shelved the concept, only to revisit it later and ultimately decided to honor those from Easy Company and … not profit. To be more specific, they would profit, but then turn those profits over to select organizations assisting veterans.

“We decided that we were going to try to do it on our own; I just read anything and everything I could about brewing, I bought books, read articles, watched a ton of videos, and just started experimenting.”

“We thought, ‘why don’t we just give it all back?’” said DeVoie. “We’d model it after Newman’s Own and give 100% of the profits to charities that support veterans.”

Elaborating, St. Jean said that, as good stewards of the Easy Company name, the brewery and the foundation created to distribute its profits are very selective when it comes to the nonprofits they support.

“We reached out to several charities, but we decided we would only reach out to those charities that gave more than 85 cents on the dollar back to veterans,” he said, adding that they have found several that met this standard.

a location at the recent Big E.

Easy Company Brewing has maintained a consistent presence in the region, including a location at the recent Big E.

While the partners knew they had a good idea, and also knew a lot about business — Hot Table will soon be opening its 12th, 13th, and 14th locations — as well as the story of Easy Company, they didn’t know a lot about brewing or the growing, immensely competitive brewing industry.

So they, and especially St. Jean, set about learning.

“We tried to think of ways we could work with an established brewer to develop recipes, but there are a lot of barriers to entry there,” he said. “So we decided that we were going to try to do it on our own; I just read anything and everything I could about brewing, I bought books, read articles, watched a ton of videos, and just started experimenting.

“I brewed a ton of recipes in my basement, and we enlisted the help of some friends in the area and in the industry to help us taste the beer, develop the flavor profiles, and give us feedback, essentially, until we settled on what we thought we wanted to brew,” he went on, adding that the partners brought the recipes to a contract brewer, Brewmasters Brewing Services of Williamsburg, which scaled them up commercially.

The partners started where Easy Company started, with an American Lager named Currahee, and officially launched, with ceremonies at the Fort, in May 2022. Since then, the learning curve — involving everything from brewing to distribution to marketing — has continued, and they’ve been climbing their own steep hill to profitability.


Mission Focused

The Tunnel to Towers Foundation was launched to honor the life and work of New York firefighter Stephen Siller. He had just finished his shift on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, and was on his way to play golf with his brothers when he got word over his scanner of a plane hitting the North Tower of the World Trade Center. He abandoned his golf plans and returned to Brooklyn’s Squad 1 to get his gear.

He drove his truck to the entrance of the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and, upon finding it closed to vehicular traffic for security reasons, ran the full length of the tunnel with 60 pounds of equipment on his back. He reached the Twin Towers, where he died while trying to save others.

Today, the foundation carries on a number of programs, including the Smart Home initiative, which builds mortgage-free smart homes for catastrophically injured veterans and first responders, and the Gold Star Family Home Program, which honors the legacy of fallen veterans by providing mortgage-free homes to surviving spouses with young children.

That mission certainly resounded with St. Jean and DeVoie, who have made the foundation one of five charities to which the Easy Company foundation will distribute profits from the brewing operation.

The profits are expected to grow as the venture continues to scale up and expand, geographically and otherwise. There are still some considerable hurdles to clear — it’s costly and difficult to expand into new markets in this state, let alone into other states and other regions — and there is immense competition.

“We can throw a rock and hit Connecticut from here, but we haven’t been picked up by a distributor yet,” said DeVoie. “Each state is different, all the laws are different … it’s very complicated.”

But the partners have two big things working for them — the name Easy Company and the mission they have taken on. As noted earlier, both resonate with constituencies ranging from beer drinkers to veterans groups to the business community.

This was made clear to the partners — not that they really needed more affirmation — at the Big E, where they had a presence at the Local Brewers Showcase and other locations where their beer was sold. And it’s been made clear in the feedback and offers of support they’ve received, not just locally, but nationally and even internationally.

“Quite often, people from across the country and even around the world, particularly Europe, will inquire about us and our beer. People will say, ‘hey, can we get your beer in the UK?’ And we hear that in Ohio and California and all over.”

“We don’t see this is as just another local brewery — there are so many great breweries in every city and town now,” said DeVoie. “We see this as really a national brand.

“When we tell people this story, they get excited about it,” he went on, adding quickly that the story has spread rapidly with the help of social media. “Quite often, people from across the country and even around the world, particularly Europe, will inquire about us and our beer. People will say, ‘hey, can we get your beer in the UK?’ And we hear that in Ohio and California and all over.”

Right now, they can’t get the beer, but they can buy swag, in the form of Easy Company Brewing T-shirts, hoodies, hats, koozies, and other items, which are selling well and raising some revenue, said St. Jean, adding quickly that the beer is the heart of this operation, and the obvious long-term goal is to sell it in more places and to more people.

Already, Easy Company’s beers are in many liquor stores and several taverns and restaurants, including the Student Prince and those at MGM Springfield, and its reach has extended across this region and into Central Mass. thanks to a partnership with distributor Quality Beverage. The goal is to continually add more distribution points and eventually expand well beyond the current markets.

DeVoie summed it up poignantly by saying their mission now is to “sell a lot of beer and give away a lot of money.”


Easy Going

Getting back to Brécourt, the new label that will be coming out soon, St. Jean and DeVoie acknowledged that, while the French are known mostly for the production of fine wine, champagne, and cognac, they said they also make some very good beers.

And so do the Dutch, the Belgians, the Germans, and the Austrians.

Which is why the partners are looking ahead with such enthusiasm to how they will continue to tell the story of Easy Company through beers that reflect the countries where the band of brothers made history together.

But more than that, they’re looking forward to making that mission much broader and more impactful.

Creative Economy Special Coverage

Merry, Scary, and Coming Soon

Producer and director Joany Kane.

Producer and director Joany Kane.

Will Barratt, cinematographer

Will Barratt, cinematographer for A Merry Scary Christmas Tale.

If you enjoy all those Christmas movies the Hallmark Channel cranks out every holiday season, you can thank Joany Kane for her part in that.

That’s because she wrote the first one, The Christmas Card, which broke cable-TV ratings records when it aired in 2006 and garnered an Emmy nomination for its star, Ed Asner — to date, Hallmark’s only Emmy nod.

It also helped kick-start a holiday-movie craze on Hallmark that Kane, a Western Mass. native, appreciates — not only because she’s written and produced about a dozen of them, but because she loves them.

“There was no Hallmark Channel, no Christmas movies on TV” before she started writing The Christmas Card, Kane noted. “You had to go to a theater to see a Christmas movie, and even those were scarce. I wanted to see more Christmas content.”

So she did something about that, and she still is — in fact, her next effort, A Merry Scary Christmas Tale, will shoot in Western Mass. next spring, with plans for a fall 2024 release. Not only is it Kane’s directorial debut, it’s her first foray into a hybrid holiday flick, with one foot planted in the Christmas tradition, and the other in Halloween.

“On Christmas Eve at a remote Massachusetts B&B, a disenchanted candlemaker must survive an evening of sinister merriment in order to find her missing artist aunt,” the film’s pitch reads. Kane said it will be “atmospheric, mischievous, and eerie,” a gothic fable that melds the spirits of Tim Burton and Guillermo del Toro.

“In the fall of 2024, we’d like to do a limited-release run, especially in Massachusetts; we can target local theaters and use the screenings for fundraisers for local nonprofits, so we can help the community as well.”

“It’s got Hallmark moments and Conjuring moments,” she said, the latter a reference to the popular horror-film franchise. She stressed, though, that her movie won’t be too scary. “We’ll have jump scares, but also Christmas carols. It’s great fun.”

But amid the fun comes a lot of work, planning, and raising funds.

“Our goal is to raise some local financing and have some investors come in,” Kane said, explaining that the firm has a high-end budget of $811,000 (which does not reflect 25% tax incentives from the Commonwealth), but could be made for half that if necessary. “If we raise at least $300,000 to $400,000 locally, we can bring in a distribution company from Hollywood who will finance the rest for us. They’ll only do movies over $700,000 on the lower end.”

Joany Kane says her directorial debut

Joany Kane says her directorial debut will have “jump scares, but also Christmas carols.”

Anyone who invests gets an executive-producer credit, and is also promised their money back plus a 20% return on investment, and also potential profit sharing, not only from the initial run, but in future years.

“It’s a quick turnaround to return their initial investment; then, after that, it’s like getting residuals every time the movie plays somewhere or plays on a streamer or DVD or downloads, depending on how much they’ve invested,” she explained.

Once the movie is filmed in the spring, it will be edited through the summer, with plans to hit the fall convention circuit — Comic Cons and other conventions that cater to genre content, she added.

“We’ll start building a buzz, and then, in the fall of 2024, we’d like to do a limited-release run, especially in Massachusetts; we can target local theaters and use the screenings for fundraisers for local nonprofits, so we can help the community as well.”

That would be followed by a short video-on-demand period in early November and then a premiere on a channel or streamer Thanksgiving weekend, then screening events during December.

All the while, she said, the team would maintain an active social-media presence, airing shorts on TikTok about some of the legends touched on in the script, from Krampus to Pukwudgie, a Native American legend Kane believes will become a popular character due to her movie.

In addition, she’s planning for ‘online happy hours’ building up to the premiere, where she’ll host interviews with cast and crew as well as featuring guests speaking from the holiday or paranormal perspective — or both. She’s also looking to film a ghost-hunting documentary at one or more of the film’s allegedly haunted locations, as well as selling merchandise.

The ongoing actors’ strike could alter some actors’ schedules, but as an independent production, Kane has applied for a waiver that would at least allow the production to proceed — once she gets 50% of the financing in place.

Right now, the confirmed cast included Amanda Wyss and Julie McNiven, along with tentatively planned appearances from Boston-based actor Paul Solet, as well as David Dean Bottrell, Michael Hargrove, Lance Henriksen, Cooper Andrews, and Dee Wallace.

In addition, Jeff Belanger is on board to play himself in the movie, sharing creepy and legends with guests at the film’s Harkness Manor. Belanger is the lead writer on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and a celebrity in the paranormal world, Kane noted, and his song “My Christmas Tree Is Haunted” will be included on the soundtrack.


Local Promise

That’s a lot — cast, crew, financing, filming, and marketing — to juggle, especially for someone sitting in the director’s chair for the first time.

Which is an important milestone for Kane, a 1983 graduate of Northampton High School who got her start in filmmaking during the 1990s, working for the documentary production company Florentine Films (co-founded by Ken Burns) and serving as associate producer on several Emmy-winning PBS documentaries.

“I want to make sure we use as many Massachusetts locations, and place as many Massachusetts products, as we can. It’s sort of a love letter to my history and my home neighborhoods.”

Her first completed screenplay was an office comedy, not unlike Horrible Bosses more than two decades later, that drew interest from some Hollywood players, including Bette Midler, who offered Kane “sage advice,” she recalled. To pay her bills around this time, during the late ’90s, she was also working for Lashway Law in Williamsburg.

Kane’s breakthrough success in Hollywood soon followed, as she finished the script for The Christmas Card in 1999 and optioned it to a producer in 2003, who brought it to Hallmark, where it “launched the current Christmas-movie craze we now have,” she told BusinessWest.

Since her success with The Christmas Card, she has optioned or sold more than two dozen screenplays and has had more than a dozen movies made. In 2013, she came up with a streaming service dedicated to turning romance novels into movies and series; she coined the name Passionflix, purchased the domain, and in 2016 formed a partnership to launch the streamer. Passionflix debuted in September 2017.

She’s excited to shoot A Merry Scary Christmas Tale in Western Mass., hoping to get started in early spring, when the exteriors can still be made to look Christmas-y, but the night shoots won’t make the cast and crew freeze.

Movie and TV veteran Amanda Wyss

Movie and TV veteran Amanda Wyss will play one of the leads in A Merry Scary Christmas Tale.

“We’re doing it independently so we have complete control over quality and creation, and I want to make sure we use as many Massachusetts locations, and place as many Massachusetts products, as we can. It’s sort of a love letter to my history and my home neighborhoods.”

Will Barratt, the film’s cinematographer, is best-known for shooting and producing the Hatchet films, including Frozen, Spiral, Chillerama, and Digging Up The Marrow. He won two Emmy awards in 2002 and was nominated for the 2014 BloodGuts UK Horror Award for Digging Up the Marrow.

Co-producer and co-director Mary Fry specializes in producing feature films and series for an international market, Kane said. Fry has worked on more than 60 feature films and 12 series with award-winning actors such as Kate Hudson, Michael Shannon, Joaquin Phoenix, John Travolta, Snoop Dogg, and Danny Glover; collaborated with Russell Carpenter, who won a Best Cinematography Oscar for Titanic; and produced romantic comedies for Passionflix, Nasser Entertainment, and Caliwood Pictures.

She shares Kane’s vision for a scary Christmas movie — an idea that used to be more common than it is now.

“Telling scary stories by the fireside was at one time a cherished Christmas tradition. That’s how the world got A Christmas Carol. Scary stories at Christmas were as treasured as Hallmark Christmas movies are today,” Kane said, noting that Charles Dickens wrote his classic tale for a Victorian audience that liked to be scared at Christmas. “The cinematic holiday content we enjoy today started with a ghost story.”

With A Merry Scary Christmas Tale, Kane is hoping to revive the once-beloved tradition of telling scary stories at Christmastime — and hopes that, like A Christmas Carol, her film becomes a classic that’s rewatched each holiday season, generating profits to pour into more movies.

“Hopefully this will become like Paranormal Activity or the Conjuring series — a little movie that does insanely well. Then we can have a base in Western Mass., a production company to crank out a lot of fun content that honors the area and its communities.”


Looking Ahead

Kane’s affection for Halloween fare is reflected in other ways; she recently launched Coven Cons with the goal of hosting conventions that celebrate the witch in pop culture.

And her love for her home state is even more deeply ingrained.

“Massachusetts is such a magical state — so much beauty, history, and a lot of cool legends. The people are fun to hang out with, and there’s a lot of great ingenuity in Massachusetts.

“So it’s great to bring all that together and make really cool movies,” she went on, adding that she’s interested in drawing on Massachusetts-based writers who have penned scary stories, including greats like Edith Wharton. “We’d love to turn those into movies. My goal is to focus on stories that would be great to premiere any time from September to December.”

Viewers will have that experience as soon as next fall — that is, if the coming year’s efforts prove more merry than scary to Kane and her team. Anyone interested in investing in the project should email [email protected].

Special Coverage Super 60

Reconfigured Program Recognizes Businesses, Nonprofits in Five Categories

After almost 40 years, Super 60 was in need of a change. This year, it got one.

The Springfield Regional Chamber revamped its popular business-recognition program in 2023 to honor companies and organizations across five categories, not merely the traditional ‘Revenue’ and ‘Growth.’

The new categories are ‘Start-Up,’ ‘Give Back,’ and ‘Non-Profit.’ The Start-Up category recognizes businesses that have achieved remarkable success during their early years of operation, the Give Back category recognizes businesses that made significant contributions to local communities and organizations, and the Non-Profit category recognizes organizations that have displayed selfless dedication to serving the community through exceptional programming and support.

These additions have successfully invited many new businesses to the podium for the awards ceremony, to be held on Nov. 9 at the MassMutual Center, said chamber President Diana Szynal.

“What we want to accomplish with these new categories is recognition that there are different measures of success,” she told BusinessWest. “And it’s a way to award more members across various sectors for their success.”

This year’s winners represent numerous communities across many industries, including dining, automotive, manufacturing, finance, sports, and many more.

“We are thrilled to celebrate the incredible diversity and innovation within our business community through this year’s Super 60 program,” Szynal said. “Small businesses are the heart and soul of our region, and we’re excited to celebrate so many nonprofits that make a difference in our community. As we continue to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic, it’s more important than ever to shine a light on the accomplishments and unwavering resilience of our local businesses and nonprofits.”

Save the Date

The awards program — sponsored by Health New England, WWLP-22 News, bankESB, Stand Out Truck, Marketing and Cupcakes, the Republican, and Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. — will feature keynote speaker Ashley Kohl, president and founder of Ohana School of Performing Arts, and emcee Rich Tettemer, WWLP anchor.

Tickets for the event — $60 for chamber members and $75 for non-members — can be purchased at springfieldregionalchamber.com. Tables of eight and 10 can also be reserved.

The event attracts more than 500 business leaders each year. The honorees, 12 per category, are:


Whalley Computer Associates Inc.
Mercedes Benz of Springfield
Tighe & Bond Inc.
Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.
American Environmental Inc.
Baltazar Contractors Inc.
Baystate Blasting Inc.
Braman Chemical Enterprises Inc.
Freedom Credit Union
Golden Years Homecare Services
Keiter Corp.
L&C Prescriptions Inc.


Springfield Hockey LLC
The Coating House Inc.
Link to VR
Ace Asphalt Maintenance Inc. 
Court Square Group Inc.
Jack Goncalves & Sons Inc. 
Monty’s Motorsports LLC 
Tobiko Sushi 
Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc./Villa Rose
Vanguard Dental LLC 
Vanished Valley Inc. 
Yellow Ribbon Trucking Inc.  


Monsoon Roastery LLC
Something Royal Party Co.
Mango Fish Art / Proud of U Jewelry
Ludlow Animal Clinic Inc.
Western Mass Heating, Cooling & Plumbing Inc.
Link to VR
Upscale Socks
Rozki Rides
1636 North
Colorful Resilience
Bridge2Homecare LLC
Feel Good, Shop Local 

Give Back:

Anderson Cleaning
Appleton Corp.
Focus Springfield Community TV
Gary Rome Hyundai Inc.
Keiter Corp.
Mercedes Benz of Springfield
MGM Springfield
Pioneer Valley Financial Group
Polish National Credit Union
Springfield Hockey LLC
Stand Out Truck
Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc./Villa Rose  


Springfield Partners for Community Action Inc.
Valley Opportunity Council Inc.
413 Elite Foundation
Second Chance Animal Services Community Veterinary Hospital
The Horace Smith Fund
Hampden County Career
Center Inc.
Caring Health Center
WestMass ElderCare Inc.
Springfield Rescue Mission
Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts
Revitalize Community Development Corp.
Clinical & Support Options Inc.

REVENUE Category

Whalley Computer Associates Inc.

One Whalley Way, Southwick, MA 01077

(413) 596-4200


Michael Sheil, President

Whalley Computer Associates offers data-center services, cloud backup, managed services, training, desktop services, network services, and staff-augmentation services. The company focuses its work in the corporate, finance, healthcare, K-12, higher education, retail, and SMB industries.

Mercedes-Benz of Springfield

295 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA 01020

(413) 624-4100


Peter and Michelle Wirth, Owners

Mercedes-Benz of Springfield serves the Springfield area from its Chicopee facility filled with the latest Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The dealership also includes an expert service center, parts center, and tires center. Factory-certified experts offer professional service, maintenance, and repairs, including one-hour express service.

Tighe & Bond Inc.

53 Southampton Road, Westfield, MA 01085

(413) 562-1600


Robert Belitz, President and CEO

Tighe & Bond offers engineering, design, planning, and environmental-consulting services, with focuses in building, transportation, water and wastewater engineering, coastal and waterfront solutions, environmental consulting, GIS and asset management, landscape architecture and urban design, civil engineering, and site planning.

Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding Inc.

160 Old Lyman Road, South Hadley, MA 01075

(413) 536-5955


Adam Quenneville, CEO

Adam Quenneville Roofing & Siding offers a wide range of residential and commercial services, including new roofs, retrofitting, roof repair, roof cleaning, vinyl siding, replacement windows, and the no-clog Gutter Shutter system. The company has earned the BBB Torch Award for trust, performance, and integrity.

American Environmental Inc.

18 Canal St., Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 322-7190


Charles Hughes, President

American Environmental is a family-owned business providing services like asbestos abatement, structural demolition, boiler removal, commercial lead abatement, concrete cutting, floor preparation, interior demolition, water-jet blasting, roll-off service, and shot blasting. It has worked with property managers, schools, universities, hospitals, churches, stores, industrial sites, and public facilities.

Baltazar Contractors Inc.

83 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 583-6160


Paulo Baltazar, President

Baltazar Contractors is a heavy civil construction company with services in utility construction, roadway construction, site work and development, culvert and bridge construction, earth support and shoring, and trenchless technology. The company has remained family-owned over three decades in business.

Baystate Blasting Inc.

36 Carmelinas Circle, Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 583-4440


Dinis Baltazar, President and CEO

Baystate Blasting offers services in ledge and rock removal, rock blasting, and rock crushing. It performs large and small construction-site preparation, road and highway work, line drilling and trench work, quarry shots, and residential work such as foundations and in-ground pools. It is federally licensed as both a dealer and user of explosive materials.

Braman Chemical Enterprises Inc.

147 Almgren Dr., Agawam 01001

(413) 732-9009


Gerald Lazarus, President

Braman has been serving New England since 1890, using state-of-the-art pest-elimination procedures for commercial and residential customers, and offering humane removal of birds, bats, and other nuisances through its wildlife division. The company has offices in Agawam, Worcester, and Lee, as well as Hartford and New Haven, Conn.

Freedom Credit Union

1976 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 739-6961


Glenn Welch, President and CEO

Freedom Credit Union is a credit union that offers banking and loan services to businesses, the cannabis industry, and individuals. It also offers insurance plans for individuals and an investment-services division. The institution celebrated its centennial in 2022 and regularly involves customers and the community in philanthropic outreach.

Golden Years Homecare Services

16 Shaker Road, East Longmeadow, MA 01028

(413) 209-8208


Cesar Ruiz Jr., President and CEO

Golden Years Homecare is dedicated to providing exceptional, in-home care to clients, offering peace of mind, dignity, and comfort. Comprehensive and personalized care meets the needs of clients and their families through the careful matching of client and caregiver. Golden Years offers programs including aroma, music, and laughter therapies, as well as specialized veteran and dementia care.

Keiter Corp.

35 Main St., Florence, MA 01062

(413) 586-8600


Scott Keiter, President

Keiter Corp. is a construction-services company working with clients on residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional projects of all sizes. The firm is divided into four divisions: Keiter Builders (commercial and institutional construction), Keiter Homes (residential construction), Hatfield Construction (excavation, site work, and structural concrete), and Keiter Properties (real estate and rental).

L&C Prescriptions Inc.

155 Brookdale Dr., Springfield, MA 01104

(413) 781-2996


Dr. Kara James, President

L&C Prescriptions, the parent company for Louis & Clark Pharmacy, provides medication solutions to individuals, healthcare providers, and assisted-living, independent-living, and memory-care communities, and offers online prescription refills, MediBubble pre-packaged pills, blister packs to manage daily medications, vial synchronization, consultations with registered pharmacists, and a delivery service.

 Growth Category

Springfield Hockey LLC

1 Monarch Place, Springfield, MA 02110

(413) 746-4100


Nathan Costa, President

Springfield Hockey LLC, better known as the Springfield Thunderbirds, is the local affiliate of the St. Louis Blues and and the American Hockey League’s 2021-22 Eastern Conference champion. Playing its home games at the MassMutual Center since its inception in 2016, the team gives back to the community in multiple ways, like the Thunderbirds Foundation, Stick to Reading school programs, Hometown Salute, Frontline Fridays, and more.

The Coating House Inc.

15 Benton Dr., Suite 14, East Longmeadow, MA 01028

(877) 987-3100


Kim Casineau, President

The Coating House is a fastener and hardware supplier and authorized Loctite service center, allowing it the ability to serve customers in a wide range of industries. The company has been sealing and locking fasteners, fittings, and bolts since 1980 and is a woman-owned company and a pioneer in the pre-applied process.

Link to VR

501 Boylston St., 10th Floor, Boston, MA 02116

(617) 588-2109


Edward Zemba, CEO

Link to VR is an XR media agency that helps organizations implement growth-based solutions using the VR/AR platform. It offers in-house development and partnership opportunities to enterprise customers ready to leverage the transformative technology of spatial computing. Whether it’s on-boarding leadership teams or designing custom XR solutions, it strategically positions clients to realize the full potential of this computing platform.

Ace Asphalt Maintenance Inc.

63 Doyle Ave., Springfield, MA 01104

(413) 537-6156


James Gordon, Owner

For more than 20 years, Ace Asphalt Maintenance has been a premier paving company serving Western Mass. and Northern Conn., offering a one-year warranty on all driveway installations. Services include asphalt driveways, commercial sealcoating, commercial paving, crack filling, patching, and asphalt milling.

Court Square Group Inc.

1350 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 746-0054


Keith Parent, CEO

Court Square Group is a leading managed-service technology company with a focus exclusively on life science. Its business-focused approach has supported many life-science startups as well as some of the largest life-science companies. The team’s expertise provides technical, compliance, and audit-readiness support.

Jack Goncalves & Sons Inc.

172 Munsing St., Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 583-8782

Joquin Goncalves, President and Treasurer

Jack Goncalves & Sons primarily operates in the excavation and grading and building construction industry, and has been in business for more than a half-century.


Monty’s Motorsport LLC

1 Arch Road, Westfield, MA 01085

(413) 642-8199


Monty Geer, Owner

Monty’s Motorsport is a parts, sales, service, and gear store for motorsport vehicles, such as four-wheelers, dirt bikes, motorcycles, electric bikes, street bikes, and more. It offers new and used vehicles, with financing options available, as well as services such as winterization, battery inspections, accessory installations, chain adjustments, oil and filter changes, and full engine rebuilds.

Tobiko Sushi

110 Airport Road, Westfield, MA 01085

(413) 642-8155


Sokharun Yim, Owner

Located in the terminal building at Westfield-Barnes Airport, this eatery opened as Papps Bar & Grill in 2014. A change in ownership brought a new focus, and Tobiko Sushi now specializes in sushi, ramen, and hibachi. Taking advantage of its close-up airport location, large windows offer views of the Barnes complex and the landscape beyond.

Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc./Villa Rose

1428 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 547-6667


Tony Tavares, Owner

Tavares and Branco Enterprises owns and operates the Villa Rose Restaurant, lounge, and banquet hall, specializing in Portuguese and American cuisine. With a capacity of 150, the facility caters for parties, funerals, and weddings of 30 people or more. Villa Rose also offers breakfast and brunch for those who are looking to book a shower, seminar, business meeting, corporate functions, and more.

Vanguard Dental LLC

1876 Boston Road, Wilbraham, MA 01095

(413) 543-2555


Dr. Yogita Kanorwalla, Owner

Yogita Kanorwalla, DMD, has more than 15 years of experience in dentistry. She utilizes the latest technology and techniques, with services including dentures, cosmetic dentistry, root-canal therapy and endodontics, extractions, same-day crowns, restorative dentistry, sedation dentistry, periodontics, dental implants and restorations, teeth whitening, Invisalign, sports guards, dry-mouth therapy, patient forms, and laser snoring treatment.

Vanished Valley Inc.

782 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 610-1572


Mike Rodrigues, Restaurant Owner;

Josh Britton, Brewery Owner

Vanished Valley Inc. is a small-batch brewery that is family- and pet-friendly and holds events in its taproom and beer garden. The restaurant menu includes appetizers, pizzas, burgers, sandwiches, and barbeque. On tap, the brewery offers IPAs, seltzers, lagers, ales, and stouts, as well as wine and spirits.

Yellow Ribbon Trucking Inc.

265 Bay Road, Hadley, MA 01035

(413) 320-2644


Chris Omasta, Owner

Yellow Ribbon Trucking was established to fill the need of large trucks and heavy hauling services for local construction. It specializes in assisting general contractors and paving companies in facilitating the transportation of materials to and from job sites. It offers trucking, light excavations, landscaping, and snow-removal services, and works with homeowners, businesses, and contractors on the state and federal levels.


Monsoon Roastery LLC

250 Albany St., Springfield, MA 01105

(413) 366-1123


Tim Monson, Owner

Monsoon is an environmentally conscious community coffee roaster with the goal of helping people drink better coffee both at home and on the go. It offers a walk-up, espresso bar where customers can order coffee drinks to enjoy on an outdoor patio, or coffee cans to take home. It also offers an array of local treats from neighboring businesses.

Something Royal Party Co.

Agawam, MA

(413) 334-2548


Alexandria Holbrook, Owner

Something Royal Party Company was established in 2021, aiming to bring joy and magic to even the smallest of events. This party company specializes in live character interactions, including additional add-on services to customize an event to bring a child’s dream to life. Something Royal provides high-quality costumes, wigs, and other materials, and its characters look and act as if they walked directly out of their movies and storybooks.

Mango Fish Art / Proud of U Jewelry

Easthampton, MA

(833) 446-2646


Lori Novis, Founder

By weaving creativity with social responsibility, Mango Fish aims to empower and address women living in poverty through employment opportunities and mentoring. Founder Lori Novis later realized that the jewelry business she started while living in the Caribbean could be scaled up to showcase and highlight the official colors of educational institutions and sororities, and created the Proud of U. gift collection.

Ludlow Animal Clinic Inc.

200 Center St., #13, Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 583-4222

Dr. Eva Rodriguez, Owner

Ludlow Animal Clinic offers a variety of services to dogs and cats. It provides on-site dental treatment, vaccinations, parasite prevention, surgery, radiology, geriatric medicine, hematology laboratory services, and end-of-life counseling. Dr. Eva Rodriguez has an interest in general wellness, preventive medicine, internal medicine, and dermatology.

Western Mass Heating, Cooling & Plumbing Inc.

4 South Main St., Suite K, Haydenville, MA 01039

(413) 268-7777


Scott Cernak, CEO

For more than two decades, the team behind Western Mass Heating & Cooling serviced the residential market in Western Mass. under M.J. Moran. Spun off as a separate company in early 2020, the company has a wealth of experience in the residential HVAC and plumbing sectors. Services include indoor air quality, heating systems, cooling systems, and plumbing services.

Link to VR

501 Boylston St., 10th Floor, Boston, MA 02116

(617) 588-2109


Edward Zemba, CEO

Link to VR is an XR media agency that helps organizations implement growth-based solutions using the VR/AR platform. It offers in-house development and partnership opportunities to enterprise customers ready to leverage the transformative technology of spatial computing. Whether it’s on-boarding leadership teams or designing custom XR solutions, it strategically positions clients to realize the full potential of this computing platform.


Upscale Socks

Springfield, MA

(413) 219-3088


Lenny Underwood, Owner

Upscale’s collection of socks includes colorful, vibrant, fun, and meaningful styles for the entire family. The socks are made from 80% combed cotton, 17% spandex, and 3% nylon. Since its inception, it has supported local nonprofit organizations and schools with its Suit Your Soles campaign, matching a sock donation for every purchase. Upscale has also given away college scholarships to a deserving scholars.

Rozki Rides

Springfield, MA

(413) 314-3154


Jessica Rozki, Owner

Rozki Rides provides professional, reliable transportation services for children and teens. With door-to-door service along a diverse range of locations ranging from school to virtual learning facilitation programs to grandma’s house, Rozki gets children safely to their destination. The company also offers charter services for trips and transportation to wedding parties, showers, and other special events.

1636 North

220 Worthington St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 785-4025


Julie Molinary, Owner

Touting ‘elevated dining,’ 1636 North offers on-site dining (including outdoor seating) as well as catering services. Reflecting a variety of culinary influences, entrees range from herb-crusted New Zealand lamb chops to blackened lemon pepper salmon to Caribbean jerk chicken.

Colorful Resilience

201 Park Ave., Suite 9, West Springfield, MA 01089

(413) 213-2979


Mayrena Guerrero, CEO

Colorful Resilience is an outpatient mental-health services office that provides therapy (primarily, but not exclusively) to BIPOC, LGBTQ+, first-generation, and immigrant individuals. Due to a lack of clinical representation and cultural competency in the mental-health field, these communities have historically been underserved, and Colorful Resilience hopes to remedy such disparity.

Bridge2Homecare LLC

120 Maple St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 285-7755


Jessica Dennis, Owner

Bridge2Homecare is a healthcare agency specializing in a wide range of skilled-nursing services. Its goal is to help patients overcome an illness or injury and regain independence and self-sufficiency. It offers services for individuals who need assistance with skilled-nursing services, memory care (for those with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease), orthopedic recovery care, post-surgery recovery care, and more.

Feel Good, Shop Local


Michelle Wirth, Founder

Fueled by the COVID-19 crisis, Michelle Wirth founded Feel Good Shop Local in 2020 to ensure that local small businesses would not be left out of the online shopping and discovery experience. Focused on selling consumer lifestyle goods and services, it has brought local small businesses and artisans of Western Mass. and Northern Conn. to one online marketplace for customers to discover, shop, and have items shipped to their door.


Anderson Cleaning

103 Wayside Ave., West Springfield, MA 01089

(413) 306-5053


Anderson Gomes, President and CEO

Anderson Cleaning’s commercial services include office cleaning, healthcare cleaning, janitorial cleaning, supply management, day porter services, post-mortem cleaning, consulting services, biohazard remediation, and green cleaning. Its portfolio includes healthcare facilities, offices, retail stores, and industrial businesses. It earned Green Seal Certification, emphasizing its dedication to eco-friendly cleaning.

Appleton Corp.

800 Kelly Way, Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 536-8048


Matt Flink, President

Appleton Corp., a division of the O’Connell Companies, provides property, facilities, and asset-management services, along with accounting and financial services, to managers and owners of commercial and residential properties across New England. Its services include transportation management, real-estate services for nonprofits, troubled-asset and repositioning services, and development analysis.

Focus Springfield Community TV

1200 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 241-7500


Stephen Cary, Interim Executive Director

The mission of Focus Springfield is to improve quality of life for Springfield residents by stimulating economic development, community building, education, training, and promoting the benefits of living, learning, and working in the city. The station showcases the cultural and educational achievements of local citizens and provides training to encourage individual and community-based programming.

Gary Rome Hyundai Inc.

150 Whiting Farms Road, Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 536-4328


Gary Rome, President

In its 26 years of operation, Gary Rome Hyundai, offering new and used vehicle sales, service, and parts, has become one of the most successful Hyundai dealerships in the U.S., and was named TIME magazine’s Dealer of the Year for 2023. Recognized in many ways for his dealership’s community involvement and support of local organizations, Gary Rome was also named a Difference Maker by BusinessWest earlier this year.

Keiter Corp.

35 Main St., Florence, MA 01062

(413) 586-8600


Scott Keiter, President

Keiter Corp. is a construction-services company working with clients on residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional projects of all sizes. The firm is divided into four divisions: Keiter Builders (commercial and institutional construction), Keiter Homes (residential construction), Hatfield Construction (excavation, site work, and structural concrete), and Keiter Properties (real estate and rental).

Mercedes-Benz of Springfield

295 Burnett Road, Chicopee, MA 01020

(413) 624-4100


Peter and Michelle Wirth, Owners

Mercedes-Benz of Springfield serves the Springfield area from its Chicopee facility filled with the latest Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The dealership also includes an expert service center, parts center, and tires center. Factory-certified experts offer professional service, maintenance, and repairs, including one-hour express service.


MGM Springfield

One MGM Way, Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 273-5000


Chris Kelley, President and COO

MGM Springfield recently celebrated five years of operation in downtown Springfield, offering a host of slot machines and table games, numerous restaurants, a hotel, and entertainment at Symphony Hall, Roar! Comedy Club, ARIA Ballroom, the MassMutual Center, and an outdoor plaza.

Pioneer Valley Financial Group

535 East St., Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 589-1500


Charles Meyers, Edward Sokolowski, and Joseph Leonczyk, Founding Partners

Pioneer Valley Financial Group is a financial-planning service, offering services in retirement planning, business planning, asset growth, college funding, estate planning, tax planning, and risk management. It serves retirees, professionals, service members, young adults, and small and medium-sized businesses.

Polish National Credit Union

46 Main St., Chicopee, MA 01020

(413) 592-9495


James Kelly, President and CEO

Since its inception in 1921, Polish National Credit Union has grown to meet the needs of its communities, offering personal, business, insurance, and investment services. As a full-service community credit union, it now boasts eight branches located in Chicopee, Granby, Westfield, Southampton, Hampden, and Wilbraham.

Springfield Hockey LLC

1 Monarch Place

Springfield, MA 02110

(413) 746-4100


Nathan Costa, President

Springfield Hockey LLC, better known as the Springfield Thunderbirds, is the local affiliate of the St. Louis Blues and and the American Hockey League’s 2021-22 Eastern Conference champion. Playing its home games at the MassMutual Center since its inception in 2016, the team gives back to the community in multiple ways, like the Thunderbirds Foundation, Stick to Reading school programs, Hometown Salute, Frontline Fridays, and more.

Stand Out Truck

98 Lower Westfield Road, Suite 120, Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 356-0820


Mychal Connolly, President and CEO

Stand Out Truck is an advertising company with a marketing mindset and a love for traffic. Its digital mobile billboard trucks spread clients’ messages to commuters and at events. Mobile ads on the truck launch businesses, share creative projects, and tell businesses’ professional stories, and the impact is significant; vehicle advertising can generate up to 70,000 daily impressions.

Tavares and Branco Enterprises Inc./Villa Rose

1428 Center St., Ludlow, MA 01056

(413) 547-6667


Tony Tavares, Owner

Tavares and Branco Enterprises owns and operates the Villa Rose Restaurant, lounge, and banquet hall, specializing in Portuguese and American cuisine. With a capacity of 150, the facility caters for parties, funerals, and weddings of 30 people or more. Villa Rose also offers breakfast and brunch for those who are looking to book a shower, seminar, business meeting, corporate functions, and more.


Springfield Partners for Community Action Inc.

721 State St, Springfield, MA 01109

(413) 263-6500


Paul Bailey, Executive Director

Springfield Partners for Community Action’s mission is to utilize and provide resources that assist people in need to obtain economic stability, ultimately creating a better way of life. It does so through home and energy services, income-tax assistance services, money-management services, transportation services, veterans’ services, and youth and family services.

Valley Opportunity Council Inc.

35 Mount Carmel Ave., Chicopee, MA 01013

(413) 552-1554


Stephen Huntley, Executive Director

The Valley Opportunity Council (VOC) is the largest and most diverse community-action agency in the region. It offers a network of support and collaborative services that include energy assistance, nutrition, early education and childcare, adult education, senior services, housing, money management, and transporation.

413 Elite Foundation

393 Belmont Ave., Springfield, MA 01108

(413) 354-8326


SirCharles Evans, Owner

The 413 Elite Foundation’s mission is to create a winning community through the game of basketball. Its purpose is to provide mentorship, education, and coaching for a broad community where children and young adults can develop life and leadership skills, and it does so by nurturing endowment, encouraging philanthropy, and promoting efficiency in the management of funds.

Second Chance Animal Services Community Veterinary Hospital

67 Mulberry St., Springfield, MA 01105

(413) 739-2343


Sheryl Blancato, CEO

Second Chance Animal Services is a nonprofit animal welfare organization that operates community veterinary hospitals in Springfield, North Brookfield, Southbridge, and Worcester; subsidized rates are provided to underserved communities. Last year, Second Chance helped more than 44,000 pets through full-service veterinary care, spay/neuter services, adoption services, community and educational outreach programs, training, and a pet-food pantry.

The Horace Smith Fund

16 Union Ave., Suite 2K, Westfield, MA 01085

(413) 739-4222


Josephine Sarnilli, Executive Director

For more than a century, the Horace Smith Fund has helped Hampden County students finance their dreams of higher education. Award opportunities are available to residents of Hampden County who have graduated from eligible local secondary or private schools. This year, the fund awarded a total of $316,000 to local students in scholarships and fellowships.

Hampden County Career Center Inc.

850 High St., Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 532-4900


David Gadaire, President and CEO

Since 1996, Hampden County Career Center Inc., now doing business as MassHire Holyoke Career Center, has been serving the workforce and economic-development needs of individual job seekers, social-service agencies, and the business community throughout Hampden County and beyond, offering a seamless service-delivery system for job seeking, career training, and employer services.


Caring Health Center

1049 Main St., Springfield, MA 01103

(413) 739-1100


Tania Barber, President and CEO

The mission of Caring Health Center is to eliminate health disparities and achieve health equity by providing accessible, value-driven healthcare for diverse, multi-ethnic communities in Western Mass. The organization provides a wide range of health services at eight locations in and around Springfield.

WestMass ElderCare Inc.

4 Valley Mill Road, Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 538-9020


Roseann Martoccia, Executive Director

This agency’s mission is to preserve the dignity, independence, and quality of life of elders and disabled persons desiring to remain within their own community. It offers services for elders, their families and caregivers, and people with disabilities. Programs and services include supportive housing, home care, options counseling, adult family care, nutrition programs, elder mental health, family caregiver support, and health-insurance counseling.

Springfield Rescue Mission

10 Mill St., Springfield, MA 01108

(413) 732-0808


Kevin Ramsdell, Executive Director and CEO

The Springfield Rescue Mission is a leader in meeting the needs of the poor and homeless in Greater Springfield. As an emergency shelter, mobile feeding program, rehabilitation and transformation center, and transitional living facility, it provides food, shelter, clothing, medical attention, Christian counseling, literacy training, and advocacy, free of charge.

Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts

1160 Dickinson St., Springfield, MA 01108

(413) 737-4313


Nora Gorenstein, CEO

The Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts cares for Jews in need and creates vibrant Jewish life in Western Mass., Israel, and around the globe. Through its community-building and fundraising efforts, the federation supports vital educational and social-service programs locally and globally.

Revitalize Community Development Corp.

240 Cadwell Dr., Springfield, MA 01104

(413) 788-0014


Colleen Loveless, President and CEO

Revitalize CDC performs critical repairs on homes of low-income families with children, the elderly, military veterans, and people with special needs. It improves community health by addressing poor housing conditions, performing assessments and interventions for adults and children with asthma, making home improvements that allow seniors to safely remain in their homes, and working with healthcare partners to address food insecurity and chronic health conditions.

Clinical & Support Options Inc.

8 Atwood Dr., Suite 301, Northampton, MA 01060

(413) 773-1314


Karin Jeffers, President and CEO

CSO’s mission is to provide responsive and effective interventions and services to support individual adults, children, and families in their quest for stability, growth, and a positive quality of life. Services include crisis and emergency services; outpatient mental health; family-support programs; community-based programs; and shelter, housing, and homelessness efforts.

Cannabis Special Coverage

The Constant Disconnect




Scott Blumsack is a general manager of Society Cannabis Co., a licensed retailer, wholesaler, and producer of cannabis products in Massachusetts. He oversees 16 full-time employees and directly serves cannabis products to customers.

He filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, which enables individuals with regular income to develop a plan to repay all or part of their debts over time. But the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts denied his repayment plan and dismissed his bankruptcy case.

Why? Because, while Massachusetts law permits the retail distribution of marijuana, it’s still a Schedule I controlled substance, illegal to manufacture, dispense, or possess under federal law. And when Blumsack petitioned for bankruptcy under Chapter 13, he sought to fund his plan with income from his $75,000-a-year job with Society.

Judge Elizabeth Katz agreed with the Bankruptcy Court that, because he is employed in a federally illegal activity, Blumsack could not access Chapter 13 to restructure his finances.

“This banking act has been proposed by bipartisan senators for the last six, seven, eight years, and this is the first year it made it through committee; it’s supposed to get a vote on the Senate floor.”

“There’s just an enormous disconnect between what’s allowed under Massachusetts law and what’s allowed under federal law, and the Blumsack case is a perfect example of this,” said attorney Steven Weiss, a shareholder with Shatz, Schwartz and Fentin in Springfield.

“He was dealing with a controlled substance; that’s where his income was coming from,” he went on. “This guy is doing something that’s perfectly legal in Massachusetts, and yet he’s barred from being entitled to federal bankruptcy relief.”

Steven Weiss

Steven Weiss says he’s surprised lawmakers haven’t moved more quickly toward decriminalizing cannabis on the federal level.

Weiss said Katz, who had taken an oath to uphold federal law, essentially found no way around this nagging disconnect between state and federal law. The case, which has made waves nationally, is being appealed.

This disconnect has thrown a number of wrenches into cannabis businesses, which, among other hurdles, grapple with an onerous tax burden since they can’t write off many of the costs other businesses can. Or, a driver with federal Department of Transportation certification could conceivably lose that license if he transports products across state lines. And attorneys have worried about taking on clients in the cannabis sector, as they are technically advising clients to break federal law.

“Even for me, as a bankruptcy trustee, what would happen if someone suggested I should be appointed trustee or receiver of a marijuana-based business? I don’t know if I could do that, even though it’s legal under Massachusetts law,” Weiss said. “If there’s a change in the presidential administration and someone decides they’re going to enforce the marijuana laws, and there’s a five-year statute of limitations on selling marijuana, am I now a dealer?”

Then there’s banking; most cannabis companies have been all-cash businesses because banks operate under federal statutes.

“The vast majority of Americans live in states with laws that depart from federal law on this issue and where thousands of regulated Main Street businesses are serving the legal cannabis market safely and responsibly.”

But that’s one area that could be changing.

Last month, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee approved the Safe and Secure Enforcement and Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act. The legislation (see story on page 40) would allow financial institutions to do business with the legal cannabis industry without fear of crossing federal banking regulations.

“This banking act has been proposed by bipartisan senators for the last six, seven, eight years, and this is the first year it made it through committee; it’s supposed to get a vote on the Senate floor,” said attorney Scott Foster, a partner with Bulkley Richardson in Springfield. “It’s not law yet, and it may not even get through the House, but you’re definitely seeing little steps moving this forward.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently issued an official recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Administration calling for marijuana to be moved from Schedule I to Schedule III status in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

A Schedule I classification is reserved for substances with no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, while a Schedule III classification is reserved for substances having a legitimate medical use and a moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence.

Despite this difference, cannabis would still be considered a controlled substance, illegal without a valid prescription, so a reclassification wouldn’t change the law around adult-use cannabis — but it would be a small move in that direction.

Scott Foster

Scott Foster says the disconnect between federal and state laws have contributed to making cannabis “a challenging place to be. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

“Moving cannabis to Schedule III could have some limited benefit, but does nothing to align federal law with the 38 U.S. states which have already effectively regulated cannabis for medical or adult use,” said Aaron Smith, CEO of the National Cannabis Industry Assoc. “The only way to fully resolve the myriad issues stemming from the federal conflict with state law is to remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate the product in a manner similar to alcohol.”

Will the federal government ever do that? Stay tuned.


Green Wave

Laws to make cannabis legal for adults have passed in 23 states as well as the District of Columbia, and 38 states have laws regulating medical cannabis. Almost 80% of Americans live in a state where the substance is legal in some form.

“The vast majority of Americans live in states with laws that depart from federal law on this issue and where thousands of regulated Main Street businesses are serving the legal cannabis market safely and responsibly,” Smith said. “It’s long past time for Congress to truly harmonize federal policy with those states.”

And there has been some thawing around the edges of the state-federal disconnect. For one thing, more banks, and larger ones, are edging into the cannabis sector.

For example, calling it an underserved industry, Berkshire Bank recently launched a cannabis banking unit that provides tailored banking solutions for businesses. In a partnership with Green Check Verified, a cannabis compliance software company, Berkshire is promising clients a seamless integrated platform that includes an application process, transaction monitoring, compliance, and funds movement.

Foster said he spoke with an executive at Berkshire Bank only 18 months ago who doubted such a move could happen. “They went from ‘absolutely not’ to ‘our doors are open to cannabis.’ That’s a huge shift for a major bank in the region.”

And as more states come around to legalizing cannabis within their borders, there might eventually come a tipping point that lawmakers in Washington, D.C. can’t ignore.

Foster happened to be on a plane recently with a state senator from South Carolina, and they struck up a conversation about their respective jobs.

“He said, ‘we’re considering legalizing medical cannabis in January. Don’t you see a lot of crime?’ I said, ‘No.’ ‘Homelessness around dispensaries?’ ‘No. Quite the contrary.’

“I told him, ‘you’ve got people in your state right now who are growing cannabis. They’re very good at it. They know their stuff. They know the different strains. In my state, those people are employed at cannabis dispensaries. They have respectable jobs, they’re not underground, there’s no risk of them going to jail. In your state, they still can.’”

Weiss told BusinessWest he’s surprised at the lack of movement on decriminalizing cannabis at the federal level, if only because there’s so much money to be made by banks and other businesses that typically have the ear of lawmakers.

“It’s legal in 38 states. Even small banks are looking at opportunities to make loans or investments in the marijuana business,” he said. “And when Wall Street can make money on something, the law will change. That may be a cynical view of the world, but I’m sort of surprised that marijuana hasn’t become at least quasi-legal federally right now. Right now, the way the industry is operating, the government just turns a blind eye to it.”

Until someone like Blumsack gets caught in the crossfire, or until cannabis business struggle under the weight of much higher business costs and much greater challenges than other sectors when it comes to real estate, transportation, security, or any number of other factors.

“I don’t know all the ways that’s going to shake out,” Weiss said. “That inconsistency is a problem for everybody. If somebody wants to change the law, that’s up to Congress.”

A Congress that, if anyone hasn’t noticed, doesn’t like working in a bipartisan way on very much these days.


The Next Generation

The landscape on some of these matters may still shift. Foster cited a recent decision from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California in which a cannabis business, the Hacienda Co. LLC, was able to obtain bankruptcy protection, but only after transferring its cannabis assets to a third party. “The decision by the court could be seen as a roadmap for other companies seeking bankruptcy protection,” he noted, “but only for a complete liquidation, not a restructuring.”

Meanwhile, Foster believes federal decriminalization is coming … eventually.

“We still have octogenarians running parts of the government, and they grew up with ‘drugs are bad,’ and that’s something that’s difficult to overcome,” he told BusinessWest. “Twenty, 25 years from now, it will probably be legal, and everyone will look back and say, ‘that was kind of silly.’ But right now, people have ideas deeply ingrained in them by their church, society, family, personal experience, and they’re not going to get over that. They’re just not.”

Until they are — or a new generation of leaders emerges — the juxtaposition between state and federal law will continue to cause problems in this still-nascent industry.

“It’s still a challenging place to be,” Foster said. “It’s not for the faint of heart.”

Insurance Special Coverage

Selling Peace of Mind


Rewarding Insurance Agency owners

Rewarding Insurance Agency owners Lidia Rodríguez and Miguel Rivera.




While their insurance agency has been serving clients in Greater Holyoke for the past several years, Miguel Rivera and Lidia Rodríguez’s story in this sector goes back further than that.

“We started in the insurance business in 2009 in Puerto Rico,” Rivera said. “My wife and I were both insurance agents on the island. I used to sell cars, but I was tired of working six to seven days a week. So I found the insurance industry, and we fell in love with it.”

Their main focus — life and health insurance, mainly for an older clientele — was born from tragedy.

Back in 2009, “we were having a difficult time because my uncle died with cancer. And my aunt died with kidney failure two years later,” Rivera explained. “And I realized that I wasn’t doing my job, because my cousins ended up living in three different places because they didn’t have life insurance.”

So the couple became students of life insurance, and when they moved to Massachusetts, they started selling it in 2016, and it became a key niche when they launched Rewarding Insurance Agency in 2018.

They had no business office at first, and in late 2019, they began renting space at the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce. But that was never going to be a long-term solution, especially as the agency grew to more than 1,000 clients.

“We want to be the most complete Latino-owned life, health, auto, home, and business insurance agency in the region; that’s what will make us a unique agency.”

So, earlier this month, Rivera and Rodríguez celebrated another milestone, opening their own office and storefront on Maple Street in downtown Holyoke, which the chamber marked with a ribbon-cutting event.

“It is so incredible to have seen the growth from Miguel and Lidia since they began working in our office,” said Jordan Hart, the chamber’s executive director. “Being the only bilingual insurance agency in downtown, where many residents are native Spanish speakers and live nearby, they recognized the need to accommodate their growing elder Latino customers with life insurance, notarizations, and health insurance, and completely pivoted their business, and now we can welcome them at their own space.”

Rewarding Insurance has its own downtown office

After more than three years sharing office space with the Greater Holyoke Chamber of Commerce, Rewarding Insurance has its own downtown office and storefront.

Indeed, Rivera said, “first, we started selling life insurance, and then we added Medicare Advantage, which is health insurance for seniors. And we are planning to add auto, home, and business insurance in January.”

Rivera said Rewarding is a relatively unique agency in that it serves mostly Hispanic seniors, which he feels has been an underserved population.

“We love our community. Our goal is to educate them in a way that they can understand what it means to have life insurance, because there is a lot of misunderstanding out there; they feel comfortable coming here and asking questions. And we also go to their house or their apartment to orient them about the insurance,” Rodríguez added. “And if something happens to them, the beneficiary can come here and ask questions. We don’t leave them alone in the process. We are with the family during the whole process.”


Planning for a Crisis

Rodríguez noted that ‘final expenses’ insurance, as it’s known, is an affordable type of life insurance that many people aren’t aware of.

“A funeral is really expensive; we’re talking $12,000 to $15,000. So how do they find that kind of money?”

Rivera agreed. “We encourage people to have life insurance so the family doesn’t have to collect donations and or do GoFundMe or things like that,” he said, adding that anyone can qualify for final-expense insurance. “People think that if they are too old, they don’t qualify for life insurance, but they do qualify for final expenses.”

That’s important during times of crisis, Rodríguez said. “It gives them peace of mind so that, ‘OK, I can focus now on healing because I have the financial cover. Let the insurance company cover all this for me.’”

On both the life- and health-insurance side, Rewarding Insurance has established contracts with leading insurance carriers to provide a diverse range of options, Rivera said. “When we meet with a client, we find the best plan for them.”

The agency’s focus on older clients came about organically, he added, based on the needs of the community.

“It was word of mouth; people want to do their life insurance and health insurance in the same place, so we’re trying to make it simple for our clients. And with the health-insurance plans, we give them access to services that help them have a better quality of life — access to durable equipment, food, over-the-counter medications. We help them save money on co-payments and deductibles. We find transportation for them.

“People love to come here and find the best health insurance plan that they can qualify for,” he went on. “We have access to CCA, Fallon Health, UnitedHealth, Health New England, Aetna, all those plans that are the top carriers here in Massachusetts. And depending on the doctor’s network and depending on their Medicare status, we find the best plan for them. We make sure their doctors take the plan they’re enrolled in. That’s the main focus.”

The agency also offers critical-illness insurance, a supplemental product that puts money in one’s pocket in case of an illness or an accident.

“So we are protecting families in case of illness or death or an accident,” Rivera said, adding that Rewarding also does 401(k)-to-IRA rollovers and helps clients make retirement-planning decisions around that savings vehicle. “So we help them protect their families financially with health, life, critical illness, and also their assets with IRAs.”

Jordan Hart

Jordan Hart

“It is so incredible to have seen the growth from Miguel and Lidia since they began working in our office.”

Those services, as noted earlier, will expand further with the addition of home, auto, and business insurance to the practice at the start of 2024.

“We want to be the most complete Latino-owned life, health, auto, home, and business insurance agency in the region; that’s what will make us a unique agency,” Rivera noted. “We will be a one-stop shop for all your insurance needs.”


Community Focused

Having grown into a new space and with new services on the horizon, Rodríguez said she expects more growth and a bigger agency in the future. And the couple both said their niche serving the area’s Hispanic community has been personally fulfilling.

“Holyoke is about 50% Hispanic, and about 90% of our clients are Hispanic — not because that’s what we wanted it to be, but that’s how it ended up being,” Rivera said, noting that Rewarding Insurance serves English- and Spanish-speaking clients with equal effectiveness.

“The Latino community feels very comfortable coming here,” he added. “English-speaking people have many insurance agencies to go to, but Latinos don’t have too many places here in this region where they can go and feel comfortable. We take time with them, explaining to them how everything works.

“We love it here. This is is the space we were looking for,” he added. “We can have meetings and workshops here. We have all the resources we need here. And the people feel comfortable coming here. They don’t want to leave.”

That was one of the goals, Rodríguez added: to create a comfortable, home-like environment for talking about critical issues of insurance and life planning.

“This is for them. This is their place where they can come and ask questions. We answer the phone, and now they know where to find us, too,” she told BusinessWest. “And we love our senior community, but we want to serve their families, too. We know that, once the family knows what we do, they’re going to do other kinds of life insurance with us. That’s what we want to do — not only serve them, but serve their sons, their granddaughters, everyone in the house.”

Rivera said it’s gratifying to get positive feedback in the community.

“My wife was at the supermarket the other day, and a client said, ‘hey, tell your husband I’m thankful because we’re saving money in co-payments and deductibles.’ So people are thankful, and we are glad.

“We just want to thank the community for their support,” he added. “Holyoke has been very welcoming. People say stuff about Holyoke, and Holyoke is not perfect, but we feel welcome here. We love the diversity here in Holyoke, and we are glad that we are in a good position and expanding here.”

Rodríguez agreed. “It’s satisfying when families come here and say, ‘thank you for everything you do.’ That is our goal: to continue to provide services that our community needs.”

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

Robin Grimm says Sturbridge appealed to her for many reasons

Robin Grimm says Sturbridge appealed to her for many reasons, from its beauty to its sense of history to its enthusiastic celebration of that history.

Officials in many different communities like to say they’re ‘at the crossroads’ — of their region or even New England.

In Sturbridge … they mean it.

Indeed, this community of just under 10,000 people sits at the intersection of the Mass. Pike and I-84, which begins in the town and winds its way southwest through Hartford and into New York and Pennsylvania. Meanwhile, Route 20, a state highway, and the main east-west corridor before the Pike was built, runs through the town and forms its main commercial artery.

Most area cities and towns also like to say that they have ‘something for everyone.’

In Sturbridge … they mean it.

There are hotels, restaurants, and taverns, as well as campgrounds, hiking trails, and kayaking on the Quaboag River. There’s shopping and antiques (Brimfield is right next door, and there are many shops in Sturbridge itself). There are a few brewpubs, a distillery, and even axe throwing. There’s foliage (many tours of New England’s fall colors end here) and the famous shrine at St. Anne and St. Patrick Parish.

“If you were the Mass. association of anything, Sturbridge is ideal, because we’re dead center — it’s equidistant from the Berkshires to Hyannis. And it’s less expensive than Marlboro or going even closer to Boston.”

Between the accessibility and the all the things to do — and the two qualities are obviously very much related — there are always considerably more than 10,000 people in Sturbridge at any given time.

Some visitors get off those aforementioned roads on their way to somewhere else and often shop, eat, or both. But, more importantly for the town, the region, and the businesses within, many stay for a night or two … or three.

They come for business meetings and conventions; to look at foliage; to camp or park RVs at the two RV parks; to take in the three Brimfield Flea Markets in May, June, and September; for the annual Harvest Festival, staged earlier this month; and to converge for the Pan-Mass Challenge, the bike ride to raise money for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, which features a route that starts in Sturbridge and winds 109 miles southeast to Bourne.

Terry Masterson says Sturbridge’s trails, campgrounds

Terry Masterson says Sturbridge’s trails, campgrounds, and RV parks are an often-overlooked but important element in the town’s status as a true destination.

And they come for weddings.

Neither Town Administrator Robin Grimm nor Terry Masterson, the town’s Economic Development and Tourism coordinator, know exactly how many, but they know it’s a big number.

“Weddings are a cottage industry here,” said Grimm, noting that a combination of venues (such as the Publick House Historic Inn and Country Lodge and the Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center), beauty, and position in the middle of the state (and the middle of New England, for that matter) make Sturbridge a popular wedding location.

Alexandra McNitt, director of the Chamber of Central Mass South for the past 17 years, agreed. She told BusinessWest that the community’s location, in the very middle of the state and on major highways, makes it a logical choice for meetings and conventions involving state associations, business groups, and families planning reunions and other types of get-togethers.

“If you were the Mass. association of anything, Sturbridge is ideal, because we’re dead center — it’s equidistant from the Berkshires to Hyannis,” she said. “And it’s less expensive than Marlboro or going even closer to Boston.

“And with families and friends getting together … I can’t tell you how many times we get people who call us and say, ‘I live in Maine, I have some friends coming up from New York or Pennsylvania, and they’re coming to Sturbridge because it’s halfway for both of them,’” she went on. “It happens all the time. So we benefit from this location on the personal level, with small-meeting groups and any kind of state clubs or associations.”

Overall, between the hotels, RV parks, Old Sturbridge Village, the Brimfield antique shows, and the weddings, events, and meetings, Sturbridge draws more than a half-million visitors a year.

And those who find the town will now be able to more easily find out about all there is to do there, and in the surrounding region, with the opening of a new home for the chamber, one that includes a visitors center on River Road, just off exit 5 of I-84 (more on that later).

Meanwhile, there is another potential new draw for this already-popular destination with the planned opening of a combination truck stop and what’s being called an ‘electric-vehicle discovery center,’ said Masterson, where motorists can learn about EV ownership and potentially test-drive vehicles from various manufacturers.

For this installment of its ongoing Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Sturbridge and how it takes full advantage of its accessibility, beauty, and increasingly diverse business community.


Staying Power

Grimm, formerly a town administrator in Stoughton, just south of Boston, and administrator or assistant administrator in several communities in Rhode Island, where she grew up, told BusinessWest that she wasn’t exactly looking for a job when Sturbridge posted for a town administrator early in 2022. But there were many things about the position that appealed to her, from its beauty to its sense of history to its enthusiastic celebration of that history.

“Sturbridge has always been a favorite community for me — there isn’t a kid in Rhode Island who doesn’t take a visit to Old Sturbridge Village,” she said. “I love rural communities, and when an opportunity to work in this part of Massachusetts came up, my ears perked up.

“Sturbridge is particularly unique,” she went on, “because it’s an unusual combination of the beautiful, rural, foothill feel that you get as you start moving west in Massachusetts, and what happens when you have the reality of the intersection of two major highways.”

Masterson, who came to Sturbridge in 2020, has a somewhat similar story. Formerly an Economic Development administrator in Northampton, he said he came to Sturbridge and a similar post there because of that same blend of history and business development. “I enjoy history, so the job posting piqued my interest, and I came and interviewed.”

Masterson said the importance of tourism, hospitality, meetings, and conventions to Sturbridge, and the manner in which all this dominates the local economy, becomes clear as he breaks down the tourism business base, which includes nearly 100 businesses of all sizes.

Visitors to Sturbridge

Visitors to Sturbridge will find information on the community’s many attractions and tourism-related businesses at the new visitors center.

Indeed, there are 11 hotels located in the community, which together boast roughly 1,000 rooms, he said. There are 24 ‘eating establishments,’ three coffee and tea houses, six dessert or ice-cream shops, six brew pubs, five wineries, three orchards, three wedding venues, 17 specialty shops, four RV parks and campsites, five nature trails covering 35 miles, and two golf courses.

All this explains why Sturbridge, which boasts a rich history — Grimm says the Revolutionary War is still a big part of the town’s “culture” — has become such a destination.

Masterson noted that its popularity as a stop, for a few hours or a few days, is made clear in statistics regarding spending on meals; the town has been averaging $63 million annually since 2017, with a high of $72 million in 2022. By comparison, Northampton, a community well known for its stable of fine restaurants, averages $93 million annually.

The hotels have high occupancy rates in spring, summer, and fall, said McNitt, adding that they, and the restaurants, get a huge boost from the Brimfield antiques shows, the first of which, in May, is the unofficial start to the busy season. “That first May show is a huge shot in the arm for the hotels and restaurants; that kicks off the season, and then we’ll be flying until Thanksgiving.”

These numbers, and those regarding overall visitorship, obviously make Sturbridge a popular landing spot for tourism- and hospitality-related businesses, said Masterson, adding that there has been a steady stream of new arrivals in recent years, including several this year.

“Sturbridge is particularly unique, because it’s an unusual combination of the beautiful, rural, foothill feel that you get as you start moving west in Massachusetts, and what happens when you have the reality of the intersection of two major highways.”

They include everything from Wicked Licks, an ice-cream shop that opened on Route 20 near the entrance to Old Sturbridge Village; Tutt Quanti, an Italian restaurant; Heal and Local Roots, two cannabis dispensaries along Route 20; D’Errico’s, an upper-end meat purveyor taking space in the Local Roots facility; and Teddy G’s Pub & Grille, which is occupying the former Friendly’s location on Route 20.


Meeting Expectations

In addition to its meeting, convention, and wedding business, Sturbridge and the surrounding area boasts a number of historical and cultural attractions, parks, orchards, trails, golf courses, and other forms of recreation.

Topping that impressive list, of course, is Old Sturbridge Village, one of the nation’s oldest and largest living-history museums, with 40 restored antique buildings, a working farm, two covered bridges, and much more. OSV draws 250,000 visitors a year and hosts hundreds of school field trips, as it has for decades.

There’s also Sturbridge Common, the picturesque town founded in the 1730s, which was, during the Revolutionary War, the site of militia drills and the collection of military supplies, as well as St. Anne Shrine, which has been welcoming pilgrims praying for physical and spiritual healing since 1888.

Sturbridge at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1738
Population: 9,867
Area: 39.0 square miles
County: Worcester
Residential Tax Rate: $18.07
Commercial Tax Rate: $18.07
Median Household Income: $56,519
Family Household Income: $64,455
Type of government: Town Administrator, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: OFS Optics, Old Sturbridge Village, Arland Tool & Manufacturing Inc., Sturbridge Host Hotel & Conference Center
* Latest information available

Perhaps less well-known, but increasingly popular — and important to the business community — are the trails, campgrounds, RV parks, and open spaces in Sturbridge.

“We have more than 450 RV pads, which I conservatively estimate will draw more than 100,000 people a year between April and October,” said Masterson, adding that the RV parks, as well as the trails and campgrounds, enabled Sturbridge to continue to draw large numbers of visitors during COVID.

The new chamber office and visitors’ center will help provide more information to those who come to Sturbridge for all those reasons listed above, said McNitt, adding that the town had such a facility years ago, saw it close, but recognized the need to resurrect it.

And many of the businesses and venues that it spotlights helped make this move possible, including the donation of a building for the facility.

“The community has really come together to support this initiative,” McNitt noted, adding that a painting-business owner has volunteered time and talent to paint the facility, while the Publick House donated landscaping, and other businesses have chipped in as well. “It’s definitely been a community effort; they wanted this to come back.”

As for the planned service center and EV discovery center now nearing the finish line, it is one of several such facilities being developed by partners Michael Frisbie and Abdul Tammo, co-owners of Hartford-based Noble Gas Inc. The two partners are building what they tout as a new generation of larger service centers, complete with high-speed electric-vehicle charging stations and a host of other amenities, including an ice-cream shop and outdoor picnic areas.

“If you have an electric vehicle, it’s not like filling your gas tank,” said McNitt, explaining the concept as she understands it. “It doesn’t happen in three minutes; even with a high-speed charger, it takes 20 to 30 minutes, so they’re trying to create an environment that’s friendly toward that.”

It’s just one more way Sturbridge is creating an environment friendly to all kinds of recreation seekers who arrive here at the crossroads.