Daily News

Natalia Blank

LONGMEADOW — Bay Path University announced that Natalia Blank has been elected to serve as vice president for Academic Affairs, which was effective Jan. 2. Blank will serve on the executive leadership team and work across all divisions at the university.

In her role, she will articulate a clear and compelling vision for the academic enterprise that builds on Bay Path’s innovative approach to higher education, marshals the collective talents of faculty and staff in an environment of collegiality and cooperation, and use data-driven decision making and strategic thinking to optimize the student experience, from access through successful completion, as well as the academic operations of the university.

After a national search, Blank comes to Bay Path from D’Youville University in Buffalo, N.Y., where she served as vice president for Academic Affairs. She joins the leadership team with nearly 20 years working in university administrative roles, including associate provost for Academic Affairs and Assessment at Norwich University in Vermont.

“Natalia has the experience and the ability to lead and envision innovative and results-oriented academic initiatives,” Bay Path President Sandra Doran said. “Her commitment to students, faculty, and staff is apparent, and she will be integral to our university’s work in diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.”

For more than 20 years, Blank has served in various roles on both the faculty and administrative side in education. As a teacher-scholar, she has been the author of numerous publications, earned several awards and honors for teaching excellence, and has received multiple grants in support of student and faculty research. She received her bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Nizhegorod State University in Nizhniy Novgorod, Russia, and went on to receive her doctorate in organic/organometallic chemistry from Dartmouth College.

“Immediately, upon meeting and speaking with members of the Bay Path community, I felt a connection to the mission and vision of the university,” Blank said. “I am excited to join President Doran, her leadership team, faculty, staff, board of trustees, and alumni in helping our students achieve their goals. I believe that innovative and entrepreneurial institutions like Bay Path will change higher education by becoming a model for responsive, successful learning experiences that will transform the futures of students.”

Daily News

AMHERST — Gabrielle Gould, executive director of the Amherst Business Improvement District (BID) and the Downtown Amherst Foundation (DAF), announced she will be stepping down from her position at the BID to form a consulting business. She will continue in a leadership capacity for the DAF and its management of the Drake, the live performance venue in downtown Amherst. Her final day at the BID will be Feb. 22.

“The BID board is forever indebted to Gabrielle for her ideas, energy, and integrity,” said Barry Roberts, board president of the BID. “She has changed the discussion about downtown, and her leadership has been a model for BID directors throughout the Commonwealth. We wish her well.”

Appointed executive director in August 2019, Gould’s four-plus years at the helm of the organization have been filled with notable successes, including strengthening the BID’s relationship with town government and institutional partners, teaming with the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce on COVID relief for small businesses, producing signature downtown events like the Sip & Shop Stroll and Makers Market holiday event and Fire & Ice, and conceiving and launching the Drake, the downtown’s first-ever live performance venue.

In recognition of their efforts, Gould and Claudia Pazmany, the chamber’s executive director, were named Difference Makers by BusinessWest in 2023.

“I’ve walked into the office each day with passion, excitement, and a million ideas on how to make downtown Amherst a vibrant, beautiful, and destination-worthy town for all to experience and enjoy,” Gould said. “The BID and downtown Amherst are in a great place, and I feel that now is the perfect time for me to transition to a new chapter in my career.”

A search for Gould’s successor will commence in the coming weeks, Roberts said.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Young Professional Society of Greater Springfield (YPS) will host its Third Thursday: Alumni Connections & Annual Showcase, a monthly networking event today, Jan. 18, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Springfield Country Club in West Springfield, while honoring and paying respects to longtime YPS member Jennifer Schimmel.

This Third Thursday event will feature a review of 2023 events, partnerships, and community investments, as well as an outlook for 2024. Highlights for 2023 include more than 25 events, 18 partnerships, and more than $18,000 in community investment, with plans to surpass those numbers in 2024.

YPS will also seek to partner with local colleges and universities and engage in more volunteer and community giving opportunities in the coming year. Existing members and other young professionals interested in membership will have the opportunity to network with board of directors alumni and learn more about how YPS helped with their professional development.

During the event, YPS will take a moment to honor and pay respects to Schimmel, who passed away on Jan. 7. Professionally, Jennifer dedicated her talents to nonprofit organizations, holding the position of executive director of Greater Springfield Habitat for Humanity from 2007 to 2019. She has held various support roles with organizations such as Hartford Seminary, Wadsworth Atheneum, and Shakespeare & Company.

Daily News

HADLEY — UMassFive College Federal Credit Union is always looking for opportunities to educate members and the local community on financial subjects. For more than a decade, UMassFive has offered free financial wellness workshops, where attendees gain insight into specific financial topics.

During the first four months of 2024, the following UMassFive financial wellness webinars will be offered: “Paying Down Debt,” “Reaching Your Financial Goals in 2024,” “Understanding Credit,” “Understand Your Money Personality,” “Budgeting 101,” and “Homebuying 101.”

Licensed CFS financial advisors will also present the following topics: “Understanding Social Security,” “Saving for Retirement: IRA Need-to-knows,” and “Retirement Plan Rollover Options.”

Specific financial wellness topics are typically offered multiple times per year to allow multiple opportunities for community members to be able to attend subjects that interest them. To view descriptions of all these financial-wellness webinars, including dates and times, and to register to attend, visit umassfive.coop/resources/workshops.

Cover Story Top Entrepreneur

A Hunger to Do More

The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts Dramatically Grows Its Operations


Executive Director Andrew Morehouse

Executive Director Andrew Morehouse


It’s long been a tenet among nonprofits — successful ones, anyway — that they need to think entrepreneurally in order to thrive and grow. To think, in other words, like successful for-profit businesses do, in terms of resource allocation, financial planning, workforce management, and day-to-day operations.

And no nonprofit has been more entrepreneurial — and more ambitious — over the past few years than the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, whose $30 million project to build a new, larger headquarters in Chicopee culminated not only in last month’s grand-opening ceremony, but in the dramatic expansion of its capacity to perform work it was already doing on a massive scale.

The project — and the accompanying campaign that raised about $15 million of that cost from private donors and $15 million from state and federal governments — started just before the pandemic and continued through those challenging years, making the successful conclusion especially gratifying to Executive Director Andrew Morehouse and his team, and earning the Food Bank recognition from BusinessWest as its Top Entrepreneur for 2023.

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ new, state-of-the-art facility will allow their dedicated team to provide greater access to healthy, nutritious foods to thousands more of our neighbors in need and expand service routes to partners throughout the area.”

“We have to be innovative. We have to be able to adapt to circumstances,” he said. “We have a strategic plan, and every year, we have specific objectives — and all that can go out the window if something happens, like a pandemic, and then we have to pivot.”

That applies to any entity — for-profit or nonprofit — of this size, Morehouse added, noting that the Food Bank has a $9 million annual operating budget, and the value of the food that comes through is about $18 million, so this is essentially a $27 million operation, with a staff of 67, and plans to hire another 14 by the end of 2024.

Andrew Morehouse addresses guests

Andrew Morehouse addresses guests at the Food Bank’s grand-opening ceremony last month.

“We acknowledge that it’s the dedication and talent of our staff that’s the source of our success,” he told BusinessWest. “That’s our ethos as a business — that we can succeed in our mission when we acknowledge and invest in our staff and the hard work that they’re doing.”

The new food-distribution center, located at 25 Carew St. in Chicopee, is twice the size of its previous Hatfield location, with an additional 18,000 square feet in the warehouse alone. Floor-to-ceiling warehouse racks and expanded refrigeration and freezer sections enhance efficiencies and enable the Food Bank to store and quickly distribute more healthy food than ever before to 175 member food pantries, meal sites, and emergency shelters across all four counties of Western Mass.

The new site also features a dedicated community space with a working kitchen for cooking and nutrition classes and other educational events. Other efficiencies include electric charging stations, an expanded member pick-up area, and plenty of parking for staff and volunteers. In 2024, the Food Bank will add a solar array on the roof and a canopy over part of its parking, along with backup battery storage that will fully support all electricity needs of the building.

“That will make it a greener building, so there are efficiencies to be gained,” Morehouse said. “We expect that building to be near-carbon-neutral and generate most of the electricity that we need.”

The investment in the relocation project and its capital campaign is already bringing palpable returns. In just the first three months since moving in, the Food Bank has already provided 25% more healthy food than the same period last year — the equivalent of more than a half-million meals. In all, the Food Bank provides a little more than 1 million pounds of food every month, or the equivalent of 850,000 meals.

“The more we thought about moving to Hampden County, the more we realized that was what we needed to do.”

“The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts’ new, state-of-the-art facility will allow their dedicated team to provide greater access to healthy, nutritious foods to thousands more of our neighbors in need and expand service routes to partners throughout the area,” U.S. Rep. Jim McGovern said at the grand opening. “I’m proud of the Food Bank’s 40 years of history serving our community and their continued leadership on the national stage in our movement to end hunger now.”


An Overstuffed Facility

The Food Bank, which traces its history back to 1981, expanded its facility in Hatfield just before the Great Recession, and then maxed it out as food-insecurity needs exploded during the ensuing years of difficult economic conditions.

“We had no available space, and we continued to see heightened demand, and that left no space at all for continued growth,” Morehouse said, noting that the Food Bank has grown its operations by about 6% annually between 2006 and last year.

The new Chicopee headquarters

The new Chicopee headquarters doubles the size of the former Hatfield site.

“We knew around 2016 that it was unsustainable, that we would need a larger space in order to continue to accommodate more food and to address increasing food insecurity whenever there was another adverse impact on the economy, whether it be a recession or … who would have known?”

Who, indeed. When COVID struck, the Food Bank had already been scoping out properties — and considering numerous options, such as a two-location model that was rejected because of its expense. But soon after, in 2020, the nonprofit found its ideal spot in Chicopee, launched the capital campaign in 2021, and started building in 2022.

The site had a couple of advantages, one being its proximity to two interstate highways, another being the county’s population and demographic makeup, Morehouse explained.

“The more we thought about moving to Hampden County, the more we realized that was what we needed to do — not only because of the proximity to the largest concentration of people who are faced with insecurity, but also because, quite frankly, it would enable us to strengthen our relationships with communities of color, which, unfortunately, face food insecurity disproportionately relative to the rest of society.”

As for the campaign, it drew the support of 246 individuals, businesses, and foundations — but there was some anxiety early on, especially since it was launching during a challenging economic time, year two of the pandemic.

“If we don’t acknowledge that the problem exists and we don’t, as a society, want to do something about it, we’re not going to make any progress.”

Morehouse credited the early, significant support by Big Y and MassMutual in “grounding” the campaign and lending confidence that it could succeed. After that, the entire banking community stepped in, as did and a host of other businesses, foundations, and individuals, including major contributions from the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation and C&S Wholesale Grocers.

“Before we had launched the campaign, there was a lot of internal discussion and planning, and I just had the faith that we could accomplish it and that the community would rally behind us, and they did,” he said. “Our board felt the same way, so we went public after we secured some of those large commitments. So we had something to start with, and then we were able to inspire and persuade the rest of the community to jump on board, and they did.”

One factor, he noted, was that the pandemic focused more attention nationally on the issue of food insecurity across the country — attention that was needed even before COVID, but was definitely in the public eye now.

announced large pledges to the Food Bank’s capital campaign in 2021

Andrew Morehouse (center) with Big Y President and CEO Charlie D’Amour (left) and Dennis Duquette, MassMutual Foundation president, when they announced large pledges to the Food Bank’s capital campaign in 2021.

“If we don’t acknowledge that the problem exists and we don’t, as a society, want to do something about it, we’re not going to make any progress,” he said. “So it was gratifying that the community rallied behind our campaign to help us to be successful. And now we have this facility, this community resource, that can make even greater impact in addressing food insecurity, but also to serve as a place for convening, for learning, for collaborating, for taking action.”

The ‘action’ part of that goal is clearly the most important.

“If we’re ever going to end hunger, we need to raise awareness, and that happens through education and dialogue, but also through the power of public policy and the changes that we can make to public policy and investments in people, families, and communities to ensure that everyone can lead a healthy and productive life,” Morehouse said.

“That means addressing not only the food assistance that people need today, but the underlying causes of hunger,” he went on. “Do people have access to affordable housing, childcare, transportation, education, jobs that pay a meaningful wage to support families? All of those are things we need to be looking at as a society.”

After 19 years in charge of the Food Bank, it’s a lesson that has grown clearer every year. “I’ve been in the nonprofit world for over 30 years,” he said, “and I’ve always enjoyed building things, building capacity, because that’s how, ultimately, I think you create social change and economic change for the better, for families and communities.”


In and Out

The Food Bank’s reach is impressive, serving as a clearinghouse of emergency food for the region, most distributed to local food pantries, meal sites, and shelters.

Much of the food the organization collects is purchased, using state and federal funds, from wholesalers, local supermarkets, and dozens of local farms; farmers also donate more than a half-million pounds of food each year.

“We then turn that food around — we store it here and distribute it through a vast network of about 175 food pantries, meal sites, and shelters across all four counties of Western Massachusetts,” Morehouse explained. “That’s how about 85% of the food that we receive flows through, ultimately to individuals in need of food assistance.”

In addition, the Food Bank operates a mobile food bank for direct-to-household distribution at 26 sites once or twice a month, plus a brown-bag program for elders that boasts 52 partners, mainly senior centers. The nonprofit also receives reimbursements to provide some individuals with supermarket gift cards, in addition to referring them to food-pantry meal sites.

And because food insecurity is often entangled with other economic and social needs, “we do refer individuals to some other nonprofit partners who can provide them with affordable-housing assistance, transportation, childcare, job training, things of that sort,” Morehouse added, noting that the Food Bank uses the 413Cares system to coordinate referrals with partners. “We’re all trying to figure it out and find a way to help people lead healthy, productive lives.”

Some of the Food Bank’s top supporters recognize the importance of those efforts.

“Our goal, our mission, is to feed families,” outgoing Big Y President and CEO Charlie D’Amour (see story on page 4) said when announcing financial support for the Food Bank early in the campaign. “We have people in our communities that are really struggling to get food on their table. The role of food banks serving local neighborhoods has never been more important.”

Country Bank President Paul Scully felt the same when announcing a large donation in 2021. “With everything we’re hearing these days about the shortage of food and the high expense of food … the need is real out there,” he said. “As a community partner, we care deeply about the sustainability of our communities and the people who live in them.”

What they were acknowledging was a nonprofit that has been entrepreneurial in its efforts to tackle a widening problem.

“We’re very much like a for-profit business to the extent that we have overhead, we have trucks, we have inventory, and we have staff,” Morehouse said, noting that the Food Bank doesn’t have customers, exactly, but it does have key stakeholders, from the households facing insecurity to the meal sites and shelters that receive 85% of those distributions, to the federal and state agencies that pay for the food. “We have an obligation to those agencies to ensure that we’re delivering on our agreement with them.”

In addition, the Food Bank maintains contracts with the Department of Transitional Assistance to provide SNAP assistance and with MassHealth to provide food assistance to individuals who have chronic illnesses and are referred from hospitals and community health centers.

While the Great Recession and the COVID pandemic marked times of spiking need, that need never goes away, although it does fluctuate, Morehouse said.

“Inflation is coming down, and that might help … but folks are still struggling,” he added. “And, you know, we’re here to help them, give them a hand up.”

And at a higher level than ever before, thanks to an ambitious goal, some very entrepreneurial thinking, and a lot of community support.

Features Special Coverage

Passing Thoughts


From left, Rick Bossie, Charlie D ‘Amour, Theresa Jasmin, and Michael D ‘Amour

From left, Rick Bossie, Charlie D ‘Amour, Theresa Jasmin, and Michael D ‘Amour

Charlie D’Amour says his father, Gerry, and uncle, Paul — the co-founders of Big Y Foods — had an outlook on work and business management that was typical of members of their generation.

“They came away with the notion that you died with your boots on — you just kept working until the end,” he said, adding that he is of a much different mindset, one of meticulously grooming the next generation of leadership, stepping back when the time is right and letting them take the reins, and … well, not working right to the very end.

And that’s exactly what’s been happening at Big Y over the past few years and especially the past several months, steps that ultimately led to the recent announcement that Charlie D’Amour would be assuming the role of executive chairman of the board and that his nephew, Michael D’Amour, would be taking the reins of president and CEO. Also, Richard Bossie, a 40-year-employee who is now senior vice president of Retail Operations and Customer Service, will be stepping into Michael D’Amour’s roles as executive vice president and COO. The moves are effective Jan. 21, and they are all significant in nature.

Indeed, Michael’s ascension to president and CEO represents a passing of the torch from the second generation of leadership to the third as the company approaches its 90th birthday (in 2026) and contemplates where it wants to be when it reaches 100. Meanwhile, Bossie becomes the first non-D’Amour family member to become COO, another significant step and poignant example of how the company is certainly bigger than the family and takes pride in putting people in jobs that can lead to careers, including those that involve the C-suite.

For Michael, the executive changes represent the continuation of a pattern set by his uncle Charlie and another uncle, Donald, before him — from humble beginnings working at one of the supermarkets (in Michael’s case, slicing cold meat in the deli) to a succession of leadership positions, and eventually to the corner office.

“I have an opportunity to stay somewhat connected with the business but also get out of the way. There is something unique about a family business; it’s hard to completely walk away from it. For so many years, and from a very young age, I’ve been involved with the company. I’m part of the company, and the company is part of me.”

He told BusinessWest that this is an important time for the company, not simply in terms of milestone celebrations and leadership changes, but also when it comes to challenges and opportunities for continued growth of a chain that now boasts more than 70 supermarkets as well as Table & Vine, which specializes in wines and liquors, and Big Y Express gas and convenience stores.

He said the company remains in a strong growth mode, and he can envison perhaps 100 or more stores by the time of the company’s centennial through a likely mix of organic growth and acquisition.

Bossie agreed, noting that, beyond continued growth, the company will have several other focal points in the years to come, especially in the broad realm of workforce.

The severe crunch that came in the wake of the pandemic when companies across all sectors, but especially this one, struggled to fill vacancies and fully staff stores is mostly in the rear-view mirror, but other challenges continue, including those involved with meeting the needs of a changing, more demanding workforce.

“There have been massive changes there since the pandemic, but even before then,” he explained. “There are greater expectations, and greater needs, now when it comes to the tools they need to do their jobs.”

As for Charlie D’Amour, 72, who had become the face of the company over the past several years, he said will step into what will mostly be an advisory role, one with a job description that he will write as he goes.

Michael D’Amour says he can envision 100 or more supermarkets

Michael D’Amour says he can envision 100 or more supermarkets by the time Big Y turns 100 in 2036.

“I have an opportunity to stay somewhat connected with the business but also get out of the way,” he said of this new role. “There is something unique about a family business; it’s hard to completely walk away from it. For so many years, and from a very young age, I’ve been involved with the company. I’m part of the company, and the company is part of me.”

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with senior management at Big Y about these changes in leadership and what will come next for the one of the region’s largest employers.


Produce Department

Michael D’Amour told BusinessWest that, while he — like other members of the second, third, and now fourth generations of the family — grew up in Big Y stores, handling a number of different assignments, he didn’t exactly set out to make this a career.

“In college, I was thinking about more about criminal psychology and things like that,” he said, adding that, when he returned home after graduating, he needed a job and, at his mother’s urging, took one working full-time in the deli department at the Big Y on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield.

After learning that side of the business, he moved on to other areas of supermarket operations and management, including the assumption of a lead role in creation of the food-services department that exists today, one that offers pizza, sandwiches, and many other options.

“We did business much the same way for decades, but over the past five years, the pace of change has greatly accelerated. We have to stay current, we have to stay educated, we have to stay knowledgeable, and we have to be able to share that wisdom and knowledge with our teams out in the stores.”

He would go on to open the company’s new store in South Windsor, Conn. in 2001, before moving on to other areas, including sales, produce, and fresh offerings, and eventually becoming vice president of Sales and Marketing and then COO in 2019. Since then, along with his uncle, Charlie, he has been a key face of the company and many of its recent initiatives..

Michael said he will bring to his new roles a leadership style he saw in his predecessors and is eager to emulate, one grounded in “listening more than we speak,” as he put it, giving employees at all levels the tools they need to succeed and focusing on teamwork.

As he talked, he made it a point to use ‘we,’ not ‘I’ when talking about leadership.

“We have an eye toward growth and innovation, not just with technology, but across the board,” he said. “We want to develop tools and processes to make our employees’ jobs easier and more effective, and also add to the customer experience.”

As for Bossie, he came to Big Y in 1986 after returning to the region after living in Alaska and working in a supermarket as a part-time service clerk.

He started working nights stocking shelves in the store in Great Barrington, and has since worked in all areas of store operations, including store director and, later, district director until his appointment as director of Operations in 2010.

In 2019, he was named senior vice president of Retail Operations and Customer Experience, where, in addition to his operations oversight, he also leads other retail banners such as Big Y Express gas and convenience and Table & Vine, along with teams for asset protection and continuous improvement.

He joins Michael D’Amour and Theresa Jasmin, the company’s chief financial officer, who joined Big Y nearly two decades ago and worked in a number of capacities before becoming CFO in 2020, as well as several of Michael’s siblings and cousins, as what would be considered the proverbial next generation of leadership at Big Y.

This new leadership group has come into place through careful consideration and a hard focus on succession planning, something that all ventures, and especially family businesses, need to make a priority, Charlie said.

The Big Y Express Market in downtown Springfield

The Big Y Express Market in downtown Springfield is one of the many additions to the company’s portfolio in recent years.

“We spend an awful lot of time across the organization looking at succession, planning for it, and making sure we’re thoughtful about it — and working at all levels of the team to get ready for this particular point,” he told BusinessWest.

“There are not a lot of companies that can brag about passing the reins on to the next generation,” he went on. “And I’m very excited that we’ve been able to do that. The second generation has been involved in it, we didn’t screw things up too, too badly, and now the third generation can step in and continue the growth that we’ve enjoyed.”


What’s in Store?

As he talked about what comes next, for the new leadership and the company as a whole, those we spoke with said the company has achieved a strong pattern of growth, and the goal will be to continue this ‘little run,’ as Charlie D’Amour called it.

In addition, Michael D’Amour said he wants the company to build on its reputation as a great place to work, efforts that have culminated in awards such as listing by Forbes as a ‘Best-in-state Employer’ in Massachusetts and Connecticut and recognition from Newsweek as one of ‘America’s Greatest Workplaces for Diversity and Women.’

“It’s becoming harder and harder, given the environment in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to get development of new sites going. As the development costs continue to increase, increase, increase, we’ve had to walk away from some locations because it didn’t make any financial sense anymore.”

“We’ve made a lot of progress over the past few years, but we still have a long way to go, and for us this is a never-ending journey,” he said. “It’s a point of focus for us along with innovation and growth. We do a lot to educate and grow our employees — it’s turned out to be a great strength of ours, to be transparent with information as best we can and to help them grow, as employees but also as individuals.”

Bossie agreed, noting that, as the workplace evolves and the workforce becomes increasingly dominated by the younger generations, companies must responsive to their employees’ needs and expectations if they want to be successful.

“We have to be focused on the things they like to do and want to do, more so than me working night crew in 1986,” he said. “That kind of work might not be appealing to this latest generation of employees that we have, so we have to manage our business differently; we have to employ different tools and strategies and continue to ask, ‘what makes our workforce most satisfied and most engaged, and how can they serve our customers the best?’

“We did business much the same way for decades, but over the past five years, the pace of change has greatly accelerated,” he went on. “We have to stay current, we have to stay educated, we have to stay knowledgeable, and we have to be able to share that wisdom and knowledge with our teams out in the stores.”

As for growth of the company’s portfolio of supermarkets and other facilities, there will opportunities for organic growth and acquisition, and especially the later, said Michael D’Amour, adding that the company has already seen some of these opportunities, and there will be more in the years to come.

“There are some companies that don’t have succession plans, and others that have been struggling since the pandemic,” he noted, adding that there are independent stores and several smaller chains of stores that could become acquisition targets in the near future. “We’ve seen some opportunities already, and we’re going to continue to look at them and vet them fully; we think that’s going to be a big part of our growth over the next few years.

“We’re not going to buy Kroger tomorrow,” he went on, referring to the Ohio-based supermarket giant. “But something digestible, anything between one store and 25 to 30 stores tops, and it has to be contiguous to our marketplace; we’re not going to leapfrog into Minnesota or Florida. We’re going to be very opportunistic with our vehicles for growth.”

Jasmin agreed, noting that the company has always taken a calculated, thoughtful approach to growth — not growing for growth’s sake — and that this mindset will continue moving forward.

Charlie D’Amour concurred, noting that acquisition will almost certainly be the preferred path to continued growth, given the mounting challenges to finding sites for new stores and then clearing all the hurdles on the way to cutting a grand-opening ribbon.

To make his point, he cited the chain’s store in Clinton, Conn., a facility that took six years to open from start to finish, more than double the time it would have taken maybe a decade or so ago.

“It’s becoming harder and harder, given the environment in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to get development of new sites going,” he said. “As the development costs continue to increase, increase, increase, we’ve had to walk away from some locations because it didn’t make any financial sense anymore.”

Banking and Financial Services Special Coverage

Moving North

President Dave Glidden


Dave Glidden has long referred to it as the “I-91 corridor strategy.”

This is the growth plan for Middletown, Conn.-based Liberty Bank, one that, as the name suggests, focuses on the I-91 corridor, which stretches from New Haven into Southern Vermont.

The bank has followed that strategy, increasing its presence in Southern Conn., and now Western Mass. as well, taking another important step in what could be called its northward advance with the opening last month of its first branch in this region — on Shaker Road in East Longmeadow, just a few miles from the state line.

The facility, a former United Cooperative and then PeoplesUnited branch, was home to a commercial loan-production office that Liberty opened in 2021 and eventually moved to the 23rd floor of Monarch Place in downtown Springfield — after that LPO gave Liberty a foothold of sorts and convinced Glidden, the bank’s president, and other members of his leadership team that it was time to open a full-service branch in the 413.

“We generated a lot of volume and a lot of new customers out of there, and some good deposits,” he said. “When it got to that point, I said, ‘OK … we’ve proven that there’s space and a place for us in this market,’ and that’s when I decided to move the commercial-lending team and their support staff to Monarch Place and tear down the sheetrock and outfit a nice branch on Shaker Road.”

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next. We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.”

With that move, the logical questions — and Glidden was ready for them — is where will the bank go next within the 413, and when?

“We are selectively and cautiously considering where to go next,” he told BusinessWest. “We don’t have to be in a rush, but I can see a total of maybe three to six branches over the next few years — if the right opportunities present themselves.

“I wouldn’t force the issue,” he went on, saying there is no firm timetable and no specific number of locations as a firm goal. “Maybe three to six branches, strategically located, with drive-thrus, with the focus on catering to small to medium-sized business owners. That’s our future plan.”

How this plan shakes out remains to be seen, obviously, and we’ll delve more into where the Liberty name and logo might appear next. For now, the bank wants to continue solidifying its beachhead and take the I-91 corridor strategy to different corners of the 413.

For this issue and its focus on banking and financial services, BusinessWest talked with Glidden about the next possible steps with this strategy and how the drive north will unfold.


Points of Interest

Glidden laughed when he noted that, when people tell him they see the bank’s TV commercials — “the ones with the emu and that guy with the mustache” — he no longer makes the effort to correct them and inform them that those are for the insurance giant Liberty Mutual.

“Why bother — what am I fighting it for?” he asked rhetorically, adding quickly that the last four words of each of those frequently, as in frequently, aired spots — ‘Liberty, Liberty, Liberty … Liberty’ — constitute solid name recognition that he doesn’t have to pay for. “Every time I see that commercial, I’m cheering; people come up to me and say, ‘I saw your commercial.’ I just say, ‘thank you; let me open a checking account for you.’”

Bank employees and elected officials

Bank employees and elected officials cut the ceremonial ribbon last month on Liberty Bank’s East Longmeadow branch.

This form of free advertising, if you will, is just one of many things that have gone well for Liberty over the past several years. In fact, Glidden said 2023 may be the bank’s third straight year of record profits, though the final numbers are not yet in.

But even if it’s not a record, the bank is maintaining a strong upward trajectory, which it owes to several factors, but especially its aggressive I-91 corridor strategy and the qualities needed to carry it out and gain market share across that wide area.

Elaborating, Glidden said the bank has several advantages, from a name that resonates and crosses state lines easily to a broad portfolio of products on both the commercial and consumer sides of the ledger; from a commitment to the latest digital technology to an attractive size.

Indeed, with more than $7 billion in assets and 56 locations in Connecticut and two in the Bay State, Liberty, the oldest mutual bank in the country, can “out-local the national banks and out-national the local banks,” said Glidden, a native of Holyoke who is well-known in this region and has long considered Western Mass. the next logical area of expansion for the bank.

“We can deliver a balance sheet that’s going to be large enough for 99.9% of the companies up there to grow to whatever they want to be,” he said, adding that this size, coupled with lenders who know and hail from Western Mass., has enabled Liberty to make solid inroads in the local market and presents opportunities to gain market share in this region.

And many changes to the banking landscape, but especially the advent and continued evolution of digital platforms and mobile apps, make it easier to cross state lines, he went on.

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago.”

“The habits of consumers and small businesses, what they’re looking for from a bank, are not the same as they were 15 years ago,” Glidden explained. “Do they want to know that their bank has a branch so that, if there’s an issue, they can go in and sit with someone and get advice? Yes. But, across the board, transactions and visitations to branches continue to decline, and that decline is not projected to slow down any time soon.

“And that kind of changes the playing field in the sense of being able to go over the line with maybe a toe in the market,” he continued. “If this was 10 to 15 years ago, and I made the decision that I wanted Liberty to go into Western Massachusetts and compete, I probably would have looked to do it through an acquisition strategy. That doesn’t mean that acquisition strategies are off the table, but you don’t have to do that now with digital and mobile apps.”


By All Accounts

As for the growth strategy in the 413, Glidden said that, as with the initial thrust into the region in East Longmeadow, the focus — the ‘macro strategy for this market,” as he called it — is an emphasis on small business and commercial lending, realms that build customers, relationships, deposits, and more, and cement the need for additional branches.

This was the strategy followed in New Haven, where the bank established an LPO, and again in Hartford. And it is the same strategy being deployed north of the border in Greater Springfield.

As he scans the Western Mass. landscape — and, again, he knows it well from his years as regional president at TD Bank — Glidden acknowledged that Western Mass., is, by and large, a no-growth area. And most of its communities — and East Longmeadow is squarely in this category — are considered overbanked.

But there are opportunities, he noted, adding that his team is looking at maps and crunching numbers as they consider where to go next.

There are what would be considered obvious landing spots, he said, mentioning larger population and commercial centers such as West Springfield, Holyoke, Chicopee, and Westfield, and these may well be the next push pins on the wall map.

“The analytics you use on this stuff gets so complicated … sometimes you need to just take a step back and say, ‘where are all the people, and where are all the businesses?’” he said. “And just put them there.”

‘There’ probably doesn’t mean Hampshire County, at least not at this time, he went on, adding quickly that he certainly wouldn’t rule out putting a branch in a community like South Hadley, which borders Holyoke, Chicopee, and Amherst, and is another of those ‘overbanked’ communities in Western Mass.

“Right now, we’ve had success on the commercial and small-business side; let’s look at Greater Springfield and the surrounding communities,” he told BusinessWest. “If Springfield is the hub, then look at the spokes around there and find the right places to sprinkle a few more branches to service our growing customer base there.”

As he looks ahead, Glidden isn’t expecting another record year when it comes to profitability for Liberty Bank.

Indeed, while 2023 was a very strong year, the pace of growth started to slow during the third and fourth quarters, and this trend will, in all likelihood, continue in the year ahead.

But what will also continue is implementation of the bank’s I-91 corridor strategy, one that has seen Liberty makes its first moves in the Western Mass. market and establish a foothold.

The goal for 2024 and the years to follow will be to strengthen that hold and take the brand to different communities across the region. Just where, when, and how the next steps will take place remain to be seen, but one thing is clear: Liberty’s march north is just getting started.

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Suspense Is Building

Evan Plotkin shows off the new offices

Evan Plotkin shows off the new offices of the Department of Children and Families, one of several new tenants at 1350 Main St. in Springfield.

Evan Plotkin can look out the windows of his offices on the 14th floor at 1350 Main St. and see many signs of progress, and momentum, in downtown Springfield.

Across neighboring Court Square, the renovated hotel at 31 Elm St. that had been vacant and deteriorating for years is getting set to welcome its first residential tenants. Meanwhile, the park itself is undergoing a much-anticipated, $6 million facelift.

Further south on Main Street, Plotkin, president of the real-estate company NAI Plotkin, referenced the so-called Clocktower Building and, behind it, the Colonial Block, two more mostly vacant, underutilized properties that are being targeted, like the former Court Square Hotel, for market-rate housing that is expected to bring more people, vibrancy, and opportunities for retail and hospitality businesses to the downtown.

Gesturing in a different direction, he referenced the new parking garage rapidly taking shape where the dilapidated Civic Center garage once stood. That garage and accompanying facilities are expected to provide another jolt of energy downtown, he noted, and be much more than a place to park cars.

“There’s new energy coming into the city,” he said, noting that he met with the Chicago-based group named the preferred developer of the Clocktower Building and Colonial Block project, and came away impressed with their enthusiasm for doing something in Springfield. “I think we’re really turning a corner; I think we’re at a tipping point.”

“There’s new energy coming into the city. I think we’re really turning a corner; I think we’re at a tipping point.”

For other signs of progress, momentum, and turning the proverbial corner, Plotkin doesn’t have to look outside his windows. Instead, he can get in the elevator outside his suite of offices and ride in either direction.

Going down a few floors, he can point out the new offices of the Department of Children and Families (DCF), which now occupies the seventh and eighth floors, which had long been vacant. Going down to the sixth floor, he can show off the new digs of the Committee for Public Counsel Services.

And by pushing the button for the lobby, Plotkin can show off many intriguing new developments, including Keezer’s Classic Clothing, the oldest second-hand fashion store in the country. The store, which opened in late November, is one of several new women- and Latino-owned incubator businesses now located in former bank offices transformed into what’s known as 1350 Market, a program oversen by the Latino Economic Development Corp. He also pointed to what had been a Santander Bank branch at the front of the property facing Main Street, space now being considered for a new restaurant. There’s even a new gym on the ninth floor.

Plotkin pushed all those buttons during a recent tour of 1350 Main, a building that has had several vacant or mostly vacant floors in recent years but is rapidly filling in those spaces, with the promise of more. Indeed, he said a party has expressed strong interest in the top two floors of the property, once the corporate headquarters for Bank of Boston.

These developments obviously bode well for this office tower, he noted, adding that he and his business partners recently acquired the first five floors from its previous owners and now own the entire property.

Wenting Jia, left, has partnered with Dick Robasson

Wenting Jia, left, has partnered with Dick Robasson, owner of two Keezer’s locations in Cambridge, to bring the concept to Springfield.

But they also bode well for the downtown area, he said, noting that the new tenants mentioned earlier bring a combined 400 or so workers to the central business district on a daily basis, providing a boost for restaurants and other businesses.

They also help what has been a somewhat sluggish office market in the downtown, Plotkin explained, noting that these new leases take space off the market, creating better demand for existing vacant space and potentially higher lease rates, even as questions linger concerning the long-range impacts of remote work and hybrid schedules on the overall office market.

“To have that kind of absorption in the downtown office market helps everyone in the downtown,” he said. “It’s all about supply and demand; there’s been a lot of vacancy in the downtown, and when there’s vacancy, we have to be very cost-effective and competitive in our pricing; when there’s that much space in the market, there’s downward pressure on lease rates.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, we talked at length with Plotkin, who played multiple roles on this day, from tour guide to analyst, addressing what all these developments mean and what might come next because of them.


Dressed for Success

As the tour stopped at Keezer’s, Plotkin first pointed out artwork crafted from recycled plastic and took a moment to look over a table loaded with vintage sweaters, a small part of a much larger collection that also includes shirts, suits and sport jackets, overcoats, shoes, designer jeans, and more.

He said his sons tell him these threads are trendy and in-demand, and he’s seen some evidence that they are correct in that assessment.

“They have one-of-a-kind items you can’t find anywhere else,” he said. “And I didn’t realize the draw of that kind of retail, but according to my kids, who are in their 20s and 30s, that’s what they love, because it is one of a kind; you can find something there that no one else has. So it’s a big draw for young people.”

The arrival of Keezer’s — this is the third store for the Cambridge-based retailer — and the other businesses in the incubator, which range from a nail salon to a business specializing in cryotherapy, is just one of many developments that have brought new vibrancy to 1350 Main, a property that has been lagging other office towers in the downtown when it comes to occupancy rates.

1350 Main

A pending deal could bring 1350 Main to 80% occupancy.

But those numbers are much improved through the absorption of more than 60,000 square feet of space, most of it through the arrival of those two state agencies mentioned above.

DCF, formerly located on High Street in the former Wesson Hospital, now occupies two full floors, seven and eight (last occupied by Unicare and vacant for more than 15 years) and a large part of the 13th floor as well.

Meanwhile, the Committee for Public Counsel Services and its Public Defender division, Children and Family Law unit, and Youth Advocacy division now occupy the entire sixth floor, space that had not been occupied since 2012.

Overall, Plotkin and his partners invested nearly $4 million to renovate those spaces and turn the lights back on, he said, adding that these investments have paid off in long-term leases (10 years in each case) from both of those agencies.

Their arrival brings overall occupancy in the building to roughly 70%, a nearly 20% jump, he said, adding that the number could go higher still if a promising lead to lease the top two floors, 16 and 17, comes to fruition.

“Arguably, it’s the nicest space in the city,” he told BusinessWest. “There are outdoor balconies — you can see Hartford from there — and it’s all furnished; there’s even a separate elevator for those two floors and a winding staircase that connects the two floors.

“And we have a very interested party that we’re talking to now that wants the entire two floors; that’s another 30,000 square feet,” he said, adding that the space was most recently occupied by Disability Management Services, which left to take a smaller footprint in Tower Square in 2022. “I have a very good feeling that this is going to work.”


Space Exploration

If the deal comes to fruition, that will bring the building to 80% occupancy and take 90,000 square feet of class-A space off the market in roughly a year, both impressive developments at a time when the office market has been struggling and there has been speculation, from Plotkin and others, about whether some office facilities could or should be retrofitted for other uses.

“Everyone’s looking at how you reposition office properties when you have so much vacancy coming on the market,” he said. “So these have been very important and meaningful steps for this market.”

“To have that kind of absorption in the downtown office market helps everyone in the downtown. It’s all about supply and demand; there’s been a lot of vacancy in the downtown, and when there’s vacancy, we have to be very cost-effective and competitive in our pricing; when there’s that much space in the market, there’s downward pressure on lease rates.”

And he projects that the overall commercial real-estate market will continue to fare well in 2024. Indeed, he said the market is showing positive signs in most major categories, including office, retail, and industrial.

The recent new additions at 1350 — and the promise of more — inspired Plotkin and his partners to bring valet parking back to the property.

It was initiated several years ago but rendered unnecessary at the height of COVID because few were to coming to the building — or any of the surrounding properties, for that matter.

The return of the valet service was made more necessary, he noted, by the demolition of the Civic Center parking garage, which made it necessary for tenants of 1350 Main, new and old, to park in lots further from the property.

When the new garage is open, the valet service will continue, he went on, adding that it will benefit not only his property, but others around it, including City Hall, Court Square, the MassMutual Center, and others.

Likewise, the new employees now coming to the building every day, as well as the agencies’ clients and customers of establishments like Keezer’s, should help existing and potential new businesses in the downtown, he noted, adding that the developments at 1350 Main are just part of a surge in momentum he’s seeing downtown.

Elaborating, Plotkin, who has worked downtown for more than 40 years and has long been a champion of the city and its central business district, said the needed ingredients for a successful downtown are coming into focus. These include people, places to live, things to do, and hospitality-related businesses such as restaurants and clubs.

People are perhaps the biggest ingredient, he said, adding that this means residents, workers, and visitors. Workers have been in shorter supply since COVID, he noted, and downtown businesses have certainly felt the pinch.

“That’s why what’s happening here at 1350 Main is so exciting to me,” he said. “All those new employees will patronize restaurants, businesses, banks, and stores. It’s an opportunity for a lot of good things to happen.”

Or more good things, to be specific.

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

Kathy DeVarennes

Kathy DeVarennes says there is a downside to Lee’s white-hot housing market: a shortage of affordable homes for working-class families.


Chris Brittain says the report wasn’t exactly surprising, but it was still quite eye-opening.

Indeed, by the time the Boston Business Journal listed Lee as one of the three hottest housing markets in the Bay State last August — along with Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard and the gateway city of Lowell — most in this community didn’t need to be told just how hot things were in town.

They already had plenty of direct or anecdotal evidence to that effect.

“People have been buying homes for well above the asking price,” said Brittain, Lee’s town administrator, noting that the median home value in Lee was $256,000 five years ago, $370,000 a little more than a year ago, and nearly $400,000 last June, one of the largest upward swings in the state over that time.

He said the surging prices are in part a reflection of the run-up in value of vacation and second homes, but also the product of supply and demand; there is limited supply, and demand has been soaring, in Lee and most other Berkshires communities, in the wake of COVID and the growing popularity of remote work. He speculates that Lee appears at the very top of the list because home values are generally lower — although the gap is certainly closing — than in neighboring communities such as Lenox and Stockbridge, which are also hot markets.

Surging home prices are not the only intriguing development in Lee, said Brittain, noting some real headway in the long-anticipated, scaled-down project known as Eagle Mill, which involves new construction and conversion of some of the town’s many former paper mills into a mixed-use development featuring housing, retail, and a restaurant.

There’s also movement with plans to create a new public-safety facility downtown, on the site formerly occupied by the Department of Public Works, which is moving to a commercial property on Route 202 that the town has acquired. The price tag for the various phases of the initiative is roughly $37 million, he said, adding that the DPW will likely be moved in the spring, with demolition of those properties to follow, and construction of the new public-safety facility to likely commence in the spring of 2025.

“We started to see people wanting to move to move rural areas. During COVID and right after it, I knew of people who would put their house up for sale, and by the end of the day, they had five offers over what they were asking, and people hadn’t even come to look at the house; they just wanted to get out of the city.”

Meanwhile, there was more talk about how to celebrate the town’s 250th birthday, coming up in 2027.

And there is continued bounceback from the difficult COVID years, with travel to Lee and other Berkshires communities returning, and many different types of hospitality-related businesses doing as well as, if not even better than, they were before the pandemic, said Kathy DeVarennes, director of the Lee Chamber of Commerce, which recently celebrated its own milestone — 100 years in operation.

She said the business community in Lee is large, diverse, and resilient, with ventures ranging from Prime Outlets Lee, just off the Mass Pike exit into town, to High Lawn Farm, a third-generation dairy farm and creamery approaching its own centennial that has become a real destination for visitors, to an eclectic mix of businesses along Main Street that give it a unique flavor.

Businesses like the Starving Artist Café & Creperie, which offers organic, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free menu options for breakfast and lunch.

Owner Emmy Davis, who opened the café in 2012, said one of its traditions, and main attractions, is a Sunday brunch served all day. During this time of year, there are some travelers coming to brunch, as well as some with second homes in town coming in for the weekend, but it’s mostly locals.

“During the summer, though, it’s crazy; on Sundays in the summer, there’s often a line out the door,” she said, adding that visitors will stop in on their way to one of the many attractions only a few miles away, from Jacob’s Pillow in Becket to Tanglewood in Lenox. “There’s a lot going on constantly, so there’s a lot more people.”

Lee’s iconic downtown

Lee’s iconic downtown, which boasts an eclectic mix of stores and restaurants, continues its comeback from COVID.

And brunch at the Starving Artist provides an effective snapshot of what businesses generally see and when they see it, she said, adding that travelers pass through or stay at some of the many inns and hotels in the community all year round, but summer and fall are obviously the busiest times.

For this latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how all of these factors are coming together to create even greater vibrancy in the community known as the Gateway to the Berkshires.


Staying Power

When Bob Healey and his wife, Olia, started talking about buying the historic bed and breakfast on Main Street in Lee, the one created from a schoolhouse built in 1885, some thought they were … well, “crazy,” Bob said.

After all, they were both just 23 years old. Meanwhile, the year was 2009, and the region was still trying to dig out from what became known as the Great Recession.

“It certainly wasn’t the best time to be thinking about doing something like this,” he said, adding quickly that he and Olia believed in the property — and they believed in themselves. And they found a lending institution, Lee Bank, to believe in them as well.

As a result, they’ve been able to write more history for a property that was barely saved from the wrecking ball and then successfully moved one block — a feat many didn’t believe was possible — and is now an important part of Lee’s iconic downtown.

They call it the Chambery Inn, named after the town in France from which five nuns were sent to staff the school, and it has become a fixture, with 10 rooms, many featuring original blackboards from its days as a school.

“We have these city people coming in and paying cash for homes that used to be the homes of working-class families that sent children to our schools. Prices have skyrocketed, and that makes it more difficult for young families to find affordable housing to purchase.”

Healey, like Davis, said downtown is thriving at present, making an almost full recovery from the traumatic COVID years.

“We have an absolutely amazing Main Street,” he said. “It’s a town of 6,000 people, and we have more than 60 eateries. As the Gateway to the Berkshires, the location is really key, and it’s kind of an iconic American Main Street.

The comeback, and continued evolution, of Main Street is one of the major developing stories in Lee, with the other being the housing market, which might have cooled off a little, but still remains quite hot.

“COVID had a lot to do with it,” said Brittain, who had served the town in several different capacities over the years, including stints as moderator and town clerk, before becoming interim town administrator in 2021 and then losing the interim tag. “That’s when we started to see people wanting to move to move rural areas. During COVID and right after it, I knew of people who would put their house up for sale, and by the end of the day, they had five offers over what they were asking, and people hadn’t even come to look at the house; they just wanted to get out of the city.”

The surge, which is still ongoing, has been good for sellers, but there is certainly a downside to Lee’s housing boom, said both Brittain and DeVarennes, noting that it’s now much harder to find something that would be considered affordable in town.

A recently retired school teacher, DeVarennes said the lack of affordable housing can be seen in decreasing enrollment in the community’s schools.

“We have these city people coming in and paying cash for homes that used to be the homes of working-class families that sent children to our schools,” she said. “Prices have skyrocketed, and that makes it more difficult for young families to find affordable housing to purchase.”

The Eagle Mill project will create 128 units of market-rate housing, but there is a definite need for more housing, especially in the affordable category.

Lee at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1777
Population: 5,788
Area: 27 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $11.83
Commercial Tax Rate: $11.83
Median Household Income: $41,566
Median Family Income: $49,630
Type of Government: Representative Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Lee Premium Outlets; Onyx Specialty Papers; the Landing at Laurel Lake; Oak n’ Spruce Resort in the Berkshires; Big Y
* Latest information available

“It’s a subject that comes up a lot in town,” said Brittain, noting that many of the younger professionals and blue-collar workers in Lee are increasingly finding themselves priced out and with limited options if they desire to stay in this community.


Getting Down to Business

But while it’s becoming more difficult to live in Lee, the growing number and variety of businesses — and that includes a new Starbucks in the site of a former Friendly’s near the turnpike exit — make it an ever-more inviting place to visit, said those we spoke with.

Foot traffic may not have fully rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, said DeVarennes, but the community, with its location just off exit 10, certainly lives up to the Gateway nickname. Indeed, people pass through on their way to better-known destinations like Stockbridge and Lenox, but they also often stop and stay — for a few hours or a few days.

And there is plenty to see and do, such as High Lawn Farm, where families can see a dairy farm in operation and also get ice cream and buy butter, cheeses, and other products.

“If you go on a weekend during the summer, it’s packed,” DeVarennes said. “It’s a wonderful place and a real destination.”

Meanwhile, the town’s iconic downtown continues to thrive, she added, noting that it has a deep mix of stores and is easily walkable.

“There are quite a few good restaurants and businesses,” she said, adding that there is great stability — many businesses have been there for decades — but also a fairly steady stream of new and intriguing businesses.

That includes a new yoga studio that will soon open its doors and a comic-book store recently opened by Davis’s husband, Ryan.

“Since we’ve opened, a lot of people have been psyched because there’s nothing in the Berkshires like it — you have to go to Northampton to find something like this,” she said, adding that the store, like many of the businesses on Main Street, appeals to local residents, but becomes part of the draw for visitors.

Healey agreed.

“It’s a very nice Main Street to walk, but it’s also a Main Street where you won’t find a lot of franchises and such,” he said. “It’s really mom-and-pops with a lot of character.”

Added Davis, “we have a great little community of downtown businesses — everyone supports one another. And the more the merrier in downtown; more businesses bring more people to the area to hang out.”

Over the years, Lee has seen a steady source of reasons to come and hang out. And live, year-round or during the summer and on weekends. And tackle remote work. And start a business.

All of that makes it a draw — and, now, one of the hottest real-estate markets in the state.