Daily News

GREENFIELD — Greenfield Cooperative Bank announced that Chelsea Depault, vice president of Commercial and Municipal Lending, has been named the recipient of the prestigious Emerging Leader Award from the Massachusetts Bankers Assoc.

This award recognizes outstanding individuals in the Massachusetts banking industry who demonstrate exceptional leadership potential and a commitment to serving their communities.

“Chelsea’s dedication to our customers, colleagues, and community is truly inspiring,” said Tony Worden, president and CEO of Greenfield Cooperative Bank. “Her leadership during the critical Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) rollout and her commitment to financial-literacy programs exemplify the spirit of this award. We are fortunate to have Chelsea on our team, and we congratulate her on this well-deserved recognition.”

During the PPP rollout, Depault played a pivotal role in ensuring the bank could effectively serve clients. Her quick thinking and willingness to go the extra mile, including working evenings and weekends, helped secure vital funding for many local businesses.

“Chelsea truly exemplifies the qualities of an emerging leader,” Worden added. “She consistently demonstrates initiative, strategic thinking, and the ability to inspire others.”

Committed to continuous learning, she completed the ABA Stonier Graduate School of Banking program and earned a Wharton leadership certificate. Additionally, she actively seeks out professional-development opportunities through courses offered by the Massachusetts Bankers Assoc. and the Center for Financial Training.

Depault’s impact extends beyond the bank. She also volunteers with the VITA program, serves on committees, and holds treasurer positions with local organizations, as well as dedicating her time to youth sports programs.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — TommyCar Auto Group announced that its annual scholarship for high-school students, the Tom Cosenzi Scholarship, now extends its reach to include Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties. The initiative aims to support and honor students who exhibit academic excellence, leadership qualities, and a dedication to community service.

In a significant expansion, the scholarship program will select two high-school students from the three-county area. Each of the two selected recipients will be granted $2,500 toward their college tuition, chosen through a rigorous application process involving academic records, essays, and recommendation letters.

“We firmly believe in the transformative power of education for our youth and the profound impact it has on our community’s future,” said Carla Cosenzi, president of TommyCar. “Expanding our scholarship program to encompass Franklin, Hampden, and Hampshire counties aligns with our commitment to nurturing the academic aspirations of deserving students and fostering positive change within our broader community. We eagerly anticipate receiving a diverse array of applications and selecting deserving candidates who embody our values.”

To qualify for the scholarship, applicants must be graduating seniors from one of the participating high schools. The application window is currently open and closes on May 31.

For further details regarding the scholarship program, visit www.tomcosenzischolarship.com.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds announced a donation of $40,000 to Rays of Hope thanks to proceeds from the live jersey auction during the T-Birds’ seventh annual Pink in the Rink game on March 9.

Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa and Vice President of Sales & Strategy Todd McDonald presented a check to Rays of Hope earlier this spring inside the MassMutual Center. This year’s Pink in the Rink game, as has become tradition, set new records for total funds generated, and fans at the MassMutual Center came out in full force with a seventh straight Pink in the Rink sellout crowd of 6,793.

“We are so appreciative of our partnership with the Rays of Hope and equally overwhelmed by the support of our fanbase every year for Pink in the Rink,” Costa said. “The visuals of this event elicit so much inspiration, and we are privileged to celebrate these brave fighters whose strength and perseverance are unmatched. We cannot wait for next year’s event to break even more records, and furthermore, we long for the day a cure is discovered.”

Established in T-Birds’ inaugural season in 2016-17, Pink in the Rink celebrates the commencement of Rays of Hope fundraising efforts each March to shine a light on breast-cancer awareness outside the traditional October awareness month. Every year, the fundraising efforts culminate in the annual Rays of Hope Walk & Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer in October in Springfield. Since the establishment of this staple night, the Thunderbirds have generated more than $140,000 for the Rays of Hope Foundation, all of which stays local in Western Mass. in pursuit of a cure.

“The generosity and enthusiasm of the Springfield Thunderbirds players, staff, and fans have made a significant impact on Rays of Hope’s mission to support those affected by breast cancer here in Western Massachusetts,” said Michelle Graci, manager of Events for the Baystate Health Foundation. “They are champions both on and off the ice, and we are honored to be partnered with them. This year’s Pink in the Rink was an incredible evening of hope and strength, and the compassion of our Thunderbirds family proved yet again that no one faces breast cancer alone.”

Since its inception in 1994, Rays of Hope has raised more than $17.2 million to support women and men living in Western Mass. touched by breast cancer. Funds also support vital research at the Rays of Hope Center for Breast Cancer Research. This year’s Rays of Hope Walk & Run Toward the Cure of Breast Cancer will be held on Sunday, Oct. 27.

“We are profoundly grateful to the Thunderbirds for their unwavering support and dedication to Rays of Hope,” said John and Sandy Maybury, 2024-25 Rays of Hope co-chairs. “Their generosity and community spirit have made a significant impact in our fight against breast cancer. The funds they have helped raise will go a long way in supporting research, providing patient care, and raising awareness. As co-chairs of Rays of Hope, and on behalf of the countless individuals and families they have touched, we want to say ‘thank you’ to the entire T-Birds organization for skating alongside us in this crucial journey.”

The T-Birds Foundation was established in 2018 with a mission of serving the Springfield community and the Pioneer Valley beyond every win and loss through a focus on providing and supporting initiatives in the areas of health and wellness, youth enrichment, and civil service. During the 2023-24 season, the T-Birds Foundation raised more than $128,000 for charitable causes in Western Mass.

Daily News

BOSTON — Former Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer was among those honored by the Massachusetts Housing & Shelter Alliance (MHSA) at its annual Home for Good fundraiser and award ceremony on May 16 at WBUR CitySpace in Boston. Tyer, along with Quincy Mayor Thomas Koch and Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan, received the prestigious Canon Brian S. Kelley Public Service Award from MHSA, which recognizes individuals who are steadfast in their commitment to ending homelessness.

Inaugurated as the mayor of Pittsfield for a second four-year term in January 2020, Tyer holds the distinction of being the first mayor in Pittsfield’s history to be elected to a four-year term. This past January, Tyer stepped down from office and now serves as executive director of Workforce Development and Community Education at Berkshire Community College.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, Tyer assembled the city of Pittsfield’s COVID-19 Task Force. For more than a year, a team comprised of city and school officials, law enforcement, first responders, leadership from the Sheriff’s Office, Berkshire Medical Center, and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency worked to ensure that the Pittsfield community had what it needed to remain safe during this unprecedented public-health crisis.

“Mayor Tyer ably handled all the challenges associated with governing during the pandemic with skill and great sensitivity. She fully supported, embraced, and promoted the ‘housing first’ model for those experiencing chronic homelessness,” said Joyce Tavon, CEO of MHSA. “Mayor Tyer has worked to find housing solutions for those living in outdoor encampments as well as the wraparound services they need to address their healthcare needs and provide much-needed stability.”

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Molly Keegan

Molly Keegan says the Route 9 project is just one of many ongoing issues in Hadley.

 

There is no official countdown clock on the massive project to widen and reconstruct roughly 2.5 miles of Route 9 in Hadley.

But there might as well be.

Indeed, many business owners and residents alike are counting down the months, weeks, and days until this important undertaking, launched in 2021, is in the books; April 2026 is the projected date. Everyone agrees that, when finished, the project will be well worth the trouble and inconvenience it is creating. But getting there … well, that is an ongoing challenge and topic of frustration for many.

“Yes, it’s a disruption, especially for some of the businesses along Route 9 that have had more disruption to date than others,” said Molly Keegan, a principal with Curran & Keegan Financial, a Select Board member in town and one of the driving forces behind the creation of the Hadley Business Council. “But, ultimately, I think it’s really going to serve the business community well once it’s completed.”

The Route 9 project is one of many ongoing issues in this community of just over 5,000 people, said Keegan and Town Administrator Carolyn Brennan. Others include a growing need for a full-time planner, the advancement of plans for a new Department of Public Works facility, and ongoing work to maintain the town’s dikes, a costly but necessary initiative.

But it’s a housing problem — which mirrors what’s happening in many other communities but is perhaps more acute because of the surging cost of real estate in Hadley — that has perhaps taken center stage, Brennan said.

“Ultimately, I think it’s really going to serve the business community well once it’s completed.”

As in many other communities, she noted, a shortage of affordable housing is certainly impacting seniors and young families. The former want to stay in town but don’t have any place to go except the large homes they no longer want or need, and the latter are finding it increasingly difficult to come to Hadley because there is very little that they can afford.

“If you do any search on housing in Hadley, at any given time, there’s maybe five or six houses, and they’re extremely expensive,” Brennan said. “There are a lot of parents who have raised their kids here — and those kids can’t afford to raise their own children here.”

Keegan agreed. “It’s very difficult for people on either end of the spectrum to buy in,” she said. “If you look right now and see what’s for sale in Hadley, you’ll find houses for $900,000 to $1 million. Young people looking to start a family are not going to be able to afford that.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Hadley, a community known for its asparagus, but also a lively, diverse business community that continues to take advantage of the town’s unique spot on the map.

 

Location, Location, Location

As she relayed the story of how Curran & Keegan relocated from Northampton to Middle Street in Hadley, in the center of town, in 2021, Keegan explained, rather succinctly and effectively, why this community has become such a popular mailing address for businesses of all kinds.

In short, it’s that oldest and most absolute of commercial real-estate values: location, location, location, in this case between two college towns and two of the most popular destinations in the region — Amherst and Northampton — a spot that has made Hadley a destination itself.

Carolyn Brennan

“If you do any search on housing in Hadley, at any given time, there’s maybe five or six houses, and they’re extremely expensive. There are a lot of parents who have raised their kids here — and those kids can’t afford to raise their own children here.”

“We had been renting and were looking for a property to purchase,” she explained. “This particular property we’re in had been a residential property, but given its proximity to Route 9, it happened to be zoned commercial. We fell in love with it; it’s a wonderful location for our clients on both sides of the river, and also those coming down from Franklin County. We’re in the perfect spot at the crossroads of Route 47 and Route 9.”

Business owners in virtually every sector can say essentially the same thing, which is why Hadley, and especially that Route 9 corridor, is home to everything from hotels and restaurants to big-box retail stores; from car dealerships to cannabis dispensaries; from tech companies to the world headquarters for V-One Vodka.

All or most of them are taking full advantage of the 100,000 or so cars that pass along Route 9 every day, although there are certainly fewer these days as the construction project continues and many bypass the thoroughfare — if they can. And those that are on it are moving more slowly because of that work.

Hadley at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1661
Population: 5,325
Area: 24.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $11.39
Commercial Tax Rate: $11.39
Median Household Income: $51,851
Median Family Income: $61,897
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting, Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Super Stop & Shop; Evaluation Systems Group Pearson; Elaine Center at Hadley; Home Depot; Lowe’s Home Improvement
* Latest information available

But, by and large, businesses along the road are getting by, said Keegan, adding that project was one of the motivations for creation of the Hadley Business Council, and it has certainly become a priority for the agency, which meets on the last Friday of each month.

The council has helped generate ongoing communication among the business community, the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and Baltazar Contractors, the general contractor handling the Route 9 project, which has in some ways eased the disruption.

“They recognize the negative impact on businesses, and they’ve been doing everything they can to make sure that there’s signage to indicate that businesses are still open and that they’re not blocking people from entering those businesses,” Keegan said. “So we’ve established a good working relationship.

“That said, there has been an impact on certain businesses,” she said, listing ventures ranging from Hillside Pizza to Wanczyk Nurseries to Exotic Auto, which had to be relocated to another spot on Route 9 because of the project.

As noted, the road work is one of the main focal points at present for the business council, which was formed, she explained, to improve communication between the town and its business community — “in both directions.”

One of the council’s priorities is educational opportunities, she said, adding that the town’s building inspector has appeared before the group to talk about the permitting process. Meanwhile, the council serves as a voice for the business community if it wants to bring something to the attention of town leaders, such as the need for specific bylaws and zoning on food trucks.

“I think we’ve done remarkably well for a long time, but there is so much out there in terms of grant opportunities, especially around housing — the state is really promoting housing construction — and it’s difficult to take advantage of those opportunities when you don’t have someone focused on it on a full-time basis.”

One of the issues moving forward is a heavy reliance on volunteer board members, said Keegan, adding that, for some time, the town has looked at hiring a full-time planner but hasn’t been able to fit such a position into the budget. Money remains tight, but the need for a planner continues to grow, she told BusinessWest.

“I think we’ve done remarkably well for a long time, but there is so much out there in terms of grant opportunities, especially around housing — the state is really promoting housing construction — and it’s difficult to take advantage of those opportunities when you don’t have someone focused on it on a full-time basis,” she explained. “So that’s something we will continue to take a look at; ultimately, a position that like that will pay for itself over time.”

 

Housing, Housing, Housing

As she talked about Hadley’s housing challenges, Brennan referenced a recent project undertaken by students in the architecture and landscape architecture programs at UMass Amherst.

As part of a studio course, the students were asked to develop potential plans for re-envisioning the Hampshire Mall, a 33-acre property on Route 9 that, like many malls, has suffered from the growing popularity of online shopping and other sea changes in retail and has lost of many businesses.

The course, “Reimagining the Hampshire Mall: Exploring Opportunities for Intergenerational Housing and Community Development,” yielded a proposal to convert the space into 40 rowhouses and 150 apartments with recreational areas.

“It was really fascinating; we sat and listened to the students, who showed us the design and engineering of what the mall could look like by bringing housing and commercial together, and that was very interesting,” said Brennan, noting that the audience included many from the business community and Hadley’s Economic Development Committee, as well as representatives of the mall. “There is definitely some potential for something like this in Hadley.”

While she acknowledged that this was a course project and such an initiative is a long way from reality, Brennan said it will require some real imagination and, most likely, creative reuse of properties like the mall to ease the town’s housing shortage.

“It was a good visual for people on those committees to see what the opportunities are in Hadley,” she said, adding that, like other cities and towns in the region, Hadley is finding it challenging to interest the development community in affordable-housing initiatives, which is the type of project most needed at the moment.

Indeed, Keegan noted that the town’s senior population continues to grow each year, and there is a huge shortage of housing for that constituency.

She offered hope that town officials might be able to take advantage of state Chapter 40R, which encourages the creation of dense residential or mixed-use smart-growth zoning districts, including a high percentage of affordable-housing units, to ease the crunch.

“40R could go a long way toward helping us increase the housing stock,” she said. “But like anything, whatever changes are made are done thoughtfully and over some period of time.”

Housing is one option being considered for the iconic, 129-year-old Russell School, said Brennan, noting that the landmark has been vacant since 2015. A reuse study has identified several alternatives, including keeping the property as a municipal building and renovating it and creating a public-private partnership, she noted.

“The study is going to determine what the market might be for various uses and what it would cost to renovate the Russell School,” she said, adding that housing is certainly a consideration. “We’re hoping that we’re going to get some options to put in front of the voters to see how they would like to proceed with the school.”

Banking and Financial Services

Doubling Down

Community Bank’s branch inside Tower Square

Community Bank’s branch inside Tower Square will be complemented later this year by a second Springfield location on Boston Road.

 

 

 

When Community Bank expanded in 2017 with the acquisition of Merchants Bank, it gained a large network of branches in Vermont … and one in Massachusetts.

That office is located in Tower Square in downtown Springfield and had been NUVO Bank before hanging the Merchants banner. Located far from any other Community location — the organization has a strong presence in Pennsylvania and New York as well as its newer footprint in Vermont — it wouldn’t have been surprising had Community shed it altogether. But the bank saw value in a Springfield presence.

And now, seven years later, it’s doubling down, planning to open a second Springfield location on Boston Road later this year.

“It’s a market that’s not too far from Albany, but far enough where it’s a very distinct market by itself. And because it’s one branch, it’s been a little bit under the radar,” President and CEO Dimitar Karaivanov said. “But it’s a good market with good opportunities, and we have a really good team in the market, and the level of energy and activity in Springfield has been very hot.

“So almost a year ago, we decided we hadn’t given Springfield its rightful chance to succeed,” he went on. “We’re just one branch and have a good team, but we’re somewhat limited by the fact that it’s only one branch downtown. So we decided to kind of invest in the team and the opportunities that we have in the market, and we’re going to double our presence.”

The bank is doing so, he said, in locations that make strategic sense, and also, in some cases, investing in lower-income areas. “We’re looking at communities that offer opportunity from an economic perspective, but we also consider it our responsibility to invest in communities and bring them along in terms of growth. That’s how we’ve been selecting some areas that we’re going into.”

While Greater Springfield has been called overbanked, Karaivanov said Community Bank sees plenty of potential in expanding.

“We’re just one branch and have a good team, but we’re somewhat limited by the fact that it’s only one branch downtown. So we decided to kind of invest in the team and the opportunities that we have in the market, and we’re going to double our presence.”

“There’s no lack of competition in Springfield — there are a lot of banks, a lot of mutuals, a lot of credit unions,” he said. “But the reason that we feel like we can be successful is our team. So we’re really investing in our team. That’s how we look at expansion; it’s really people-based. Obviously, the market needs to be sizable enough for another entrant, but we feel like we’ve got a team that we have basically under-leveraged over the past several years. And now we’re trying to give them more runway and opportunity to be successful.”

 

Branching Out

As Community Bank expands in Springfield and other markets, it’s doing so, the organization explains, by reimagining the in-branch experience with clean, modern designs that encourage customer and banker collaboration, local community tie-ins, and staff that can handle a wide array of financial needs.

“Branches are still pretty important, and I think they will continue to be important,” Karaivanov said. “If you look at where most accounts, especially new accounts, are opened, it is still predominantly in the branch. People still get their mortgages predominantly in the branch. That initial contact with a financial institution is mostly in the branch.

“Now, when you open your second account, or if you are already a customer of a bank, you might go online to apply for a mortgage and other things. But to get into the ecosystem, usually the average person still starts in the branch.”

He cited the example of JPMorgan Chase launching an online-only bank six years ago, “and no one’s heard of it since,” he noted. “Instead, you’re seeing JPMorgan open branches all over the place. It’s hard to be just online. You need both parts.”

To that end, modern branch designs are different than the old, traditional model of counters and lines, he added.

“Today, the branch is really more advisory and consultative than transaction-based because transactions are easy to do on your phone, and you don’t need to go into the branch for a specific transaction anymore. But people do go to the branch for advice and for questions and when they have a problem. So spaces in the branch are designed in a much different way.”

Dimitar Karaivanov

Dimitar Karaivanov

“Transactions are easy to do on your phone, and you don’t need to go into the branch for a specific transaction anymore. But people do go to the branch for advice and for questions and when they have a problem.”

Community Bank currently boasts 28 branches in New England, all but one of them in Vermont, and its current expansion plans include the first New Hampshire branch in addition to the second Springfield location.

“Community Bank is not just expanding, but deepening our roots in New England,” said Matthew Durkee, regional president for New England. “Our branches are the cornerstone of our retail business, and each one allows us to support the community and deepen our relationships with our customers as we partner together throughout their financial journey.”

Those community relationships involve philanthropy and volunteerism in communities where the bank has a presence, Karaivanov added.

“We do a lot of that, led by our branch staff most of the time,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s in our name, right? So we live by it. Our people are involved, they’re on boards, they’re in the Rotary Clubs, they know their neighbors, they’re supporting the local schools, teams, and everything else. It’s how we distinguish ourselves. Those are our neighbors, they’re our friends, and being part of the community is just as important as being a financial institution.”

With its commitment to Springfield affirmed, he added that Community Bank could look to expand further in Massachusetts where it makes sense.

“Hopefully, as we are successful in this expansion, we would like to do more. I’m a big believer in getting behind your success. So if we continue to be successful in Springfield, we’re going to continue to grow.

“Again, this has been a little bit of an outpost for us. Meanwhile, the team’s been doing a great job. And now is the time for us to empower them to do even more.”

 

One-stop Shop

Earlier this month, Community Bank System Inc. — which encompasses four key businesses: banking, benefits administration, insurance, and wealth management — changed its name to Community Financial System Inc. to better reflect the company’s reach.

“The new name allows us to emphasize the evolution of our capabilities, solutions, and focus,” Karaivanov said. “In aggregate, over 39% of our revenue is comprised of diversified fee-income businesses, well over twice that of industry peers. Bringing all of that under the new name, Community Financial System, underscores our mission and drives our inclusiveness as one company.”

It’s a different model, he said, than financial-services organizations in which banking is 90% of the pie.

“We’re a bit of a unicorn because we have four different businesses, and the way we run the company, the bank is our largest business, but it’s not the whole business. With our benefits business, we help people with their 401(k) plans; we administer those all over the country. Or, if you’re an individual and you’re coming for a mortgage from us, we can directly give you a quote for the homeowners’ insurance as well.”

Meanwhile “if you have amounts in your banking accounts that clearly can be invested in better outcomes for you, we’ve got the wealth-management side of the house, or the trust capability. And on the commercial side, especially for small to mid-sized businesses, we can provide everything from capital to insurance to managing their benefit plans, actually helping them with HR consulting.

“It gives us a real leg up when we talk to customers because we’re not just a one-widget shop,” Karaivanov added. “We can provide comprehensive solutions.”

Restaurants

Yes They Can

 

From left, Vanished Valley principals Joshua Britton, Michael Rodrigues, and Manny Vital

From left, Vanished Valley principals Joshua Britton, Michael Rodrigues, and Manny Vital.

 

Josh Britton remembers the early, heady days of Vanished Valley Brewing Co. — and the challenging ones that followed.

He had started brewing beer in his garage around 2015 when he met Michael Rodrigues, owner of Europa Black Rock Bar & Grille in Ludlow, and Manny Vital, who owned Europa’s building on Route 21. Vital retrofitted a building out back that became the first Vanished Valley brewery; the name was chosen to honor the drowned Quabbin Reservoir towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott.

“We started that process in 2016, but the licensure took nine months for approvals at the state level. Then we started hammering it out in 2017,” Britton said. Within a year or two, the brewery was rated third-best in Massachusetts by BeerAdvocate.

“We had lines out the door,” he added. “We were only producing like 10 barrels at a time, which for that space is a lot of barrelage; it’s pretty tight in there. We were selling cans in a tent next to the building and doing well. And we were fueling Europa with our kegs. We had people show up and ask, ‘oh, where’s your taproom?’ And they found out it was just a small, 20-by-20 space.”

Rodrigues decided to retire the Europa brand early in 2019 when he saw an opportunity to expand Vanished Valley with expanded production space and a food operation, and the three principals started gutting and updating the building, and also putting up an addition.

“Mike stayed up nights smoking meat — night after night after night, just to meet demand. So we were delivering barbecue and beer to door to door, and it stuck.”

“We wanted to add the food element in a bigger retail space, so it made sense, obviously, to do it right there,” Britton said. “We worked on it all throughout 2019 while still producing beer, and then we were ready to go in January 2020.”

Everyone knows what happened next.

“We had just opened our doors, and then a couple months later, it came to a halt because of COVID,” he said. “It was an interesting time. It forced us to kind of relook at the brand and pivot and decide what fell within the guidelines of what we could and couldn’t do.”

The pivots they came up with not only kept the business afloat during the pandemic, they may have actually raised its profile.

“No place could open and serve food, but we were allowed to deliver food — and beer, for the first time in Massachusets. So we started doing takeout. We didn’t have barbecue as a food option at the time, and Mike came up with the great idea to say, ‘hey, how cool would it be to have fresh barbecue and beer delivered to your door?’

“So we added that as a takeout option, and it was the most popular one we had,” Britton continued. “Mike stayed up nights smoking meat — night after night after night, just to meet demand. So we were delivering barbecue and beer to door to door, and it stuck. We still have great barbecue today; we kept it on the menu.”

Murals in Vanished Valley’s lower level reflect the theme of the drowned Quabbin towns.

Murals in Vanished Valley’s lower level reflect the theme of the drowned Quabbin towns.

Between the successful delivery operation, as well as two Paycheck Protection Program loans and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan, the team was able to keep the operation running. “It was a stressful year, but we made it. Once we were allowed to open the doors, we took all the necessary precautions with social distancing and things like that. It kept the lights on, and it kept the brand alive.”

 

Beneath the Surface

Some of the brewery’s beer selections — 1939 Amber Ale, Cellar Hole Series, Lost Town Stout, etc. — pay homage to the history of the Quabbin.

“The name itself, Vanished Valley, is the tip of the cap to the Quabbin Reservoir and the people that sacrificed for the benefit of others,” Britton said. “We try to keep the names of the beers as Quabbin-esque as possible. Sometimes it’s hard to do, and we just come up with other ideas. But the brand itself commemorates the Quabbin area.”

At any given time, Vanished Valley makes, pours, and distributes — to liquor stores and other restaurants across Massachusetts, from New York to Cape Cod — an array of IPAs, ales, stouts, and more, he added.

“We are very IPA-heavy, but that’s not to say that we don’t appreciate and still produce the classic brands, like a good lager or a pilsner. Some of our bestsellers in-house are actually our light beers. But when we distribute, the more popular ones are the IPAs.”

Britton explained that Vanished Valley straddles two different models.

“When you’re thinking about a brewery, you can be one of three different types of breweries. You can be a contract brewer, where you hire someone to brew your beer for you, and they send it out, and that’s it. Look at Jim Koch’s story with Sam Adams; that’s how he started. Then there’s a straight manufacturing-like brewery, where all you’re doing is pumping liquid out the back door and putting it on the shelf in the store.

“Then there’s us. We’re a brewpub,” he went on. “We wanted to have the food element, but we didn’t want to give up on the opportunity for mass distribution. So we built the brewery to be a distribution model, but the retail side of the house is a straight brewpub. So I don’t need to produce a ton of beer for here, but I need to produce a ton of beer for the market. We wanted to go at it from both angles.”

As for the food element, Vanished Valley serves a broad menu of appetizers, soups and salads, wood-fired pizza, burgers and other handhelds, and, of course, barbecue platters featuring pulled pork, brisket, chicken, and St. Louis-style ribs. Dinner hours are more crowded than lunch, and Thursday through Sunday draw the biggest crowds.

“We have a beer garden out there in the warmer weather, with a massive tent,” Britton said, adding that Vanished Valley now allows groups to rent the space for weddings and large parties. “We have music out there; Manny built an amazing stage for our bands. We have a firepit … all the stuff that makes for a better environment.”

Inside, the brewery has also hosted events from a murder mystery dinner to a bonsai tree event to charcuterie board design, as well as events featuring outside vendors, like a chili cookoff.

“We wanted to have the food element, but we didn’t want to give up on the opportunity for mass distribution. So we built the brewery to be a distribution model, but the retail side of the house is a straight brewpub.”

“We rent this for smaller parties, too: birthday parties, anniversaries, retirement parties, stuff like that. We try to be a one-stop shop for as much as possible,” Britton said. “It’s hard to do sometimes, but compared to other brewpubs and breweries in the region, we are very, very diverse.

“I think we’re doing really well compared to a lot of other breweries in the industry,” he went on. “There have been some closures in the state, and we’re not going to be one of them. But you constantly have to tailor things to the customer, and that’s a constantly moving target. So one of the bigger challenges is staying fresh.”

 

Lager Than Life

Despite some shifts in the market, Britton said, Vanished Valley is doing well on both the brewpub and distribution sides.

“Our first struggle was dealing with the holy-grail beers — you know, what’s the next best thing? That’s what the craft-beer fanatics want — the search for the white whale, or whatever they want to call it. We were one of those whales initially, and we gained a lot of loyal customers, but there were some falloffs of people that wanted to find the next best thing.”

Another challenge has been the rise of ready-to-drink cocktails. “That sector of the industry is really doing a number on craft beers,” he said. “And now you have CBD-infused seltzers and stuff like that. So our distribution has gone down a little bit because of that.

“But our overall growth in sales has continued every year because of what we do here in the retail area with the restaurant,” Britton added. “If we were a straight production brewery, we probably wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. But on the restaurant side, the amazing customers we get here — from a local standpoint and people from out of state — have helped us stay afloat as a small, local business. We’re still very young. We’ve been going at it since 2017, but we’re still young.”

Vanished Valley also makes an effort to give back to the community, such as a beer produced to honor veterans every November, with proceeds donated to veteran organizations. The brewery also sponsors golf tournaments and gets involved with events like Ride to Remember, which honors fallen heroes.

“This is our backyard,” Britton said. “We all grew up here, and we’ve got to take care of it.”

Despite the challenges throughout the years, he added, Vanished Valley has continued to grow — from three employees just a few years ago to more than 30 today.

“We’ve done really well for ourselves. We’ve made a home for a lot of great customers that we appreciate so much. And the town has been nice to work with; they appreciate what we’re doing here from an economic standpoint. It’s just been a fun ride.”

Education

Giving a Hand Up

 

On April 30, representatives from Holyoke Community College and the Springfield-based nonprofit I Found Light Against All Odds agreed to work closely to increase educational and workforce training opportunities for young women at risk for homelessness. 

HCC President George Timmons and Stefan Davis, CEO, president, and founder of the Springfield-based I Found Light Against All Odds, met at the college to sign a memorandum of understanding outlining the terms of the agreement.  

I Found Light Against All Odds provides support services for young women to help address social and economic issues that can lead to poverty and homelessness. Specifically, by signing this memorandum, HCC and the foundation agree to broaden support services for area women, ages 18-20, to help them obtain safe housing and career opportunities through education and training. 

“This agreement is firmly in line with HCC’s mission and vision to remove barriers to student success, to break cycles of poverty, and provide opportunities for education and training that will allow more young women to be successful, earn a livable wage, and enjoy all that life has to offer,” Timmons said.

According to statistics cited in the memorandum of understanding, Hampden County has a poverty rate of 16.9%, which is higher than the national average of 11.5%. Meanwhile, the poverty rates in Springfield and Holyoke are even higher at 25.5% and 26%, respectively. 

“This agreement is firmly in line with HCC’s mission and vision to remove barriers to student success, to break cycles of poverty, and provide opportunities for education and training that will allow more young women to be successful, earn a livable wage, and enjoy all that life has to offer.”

“At the same time, research shows that many community-college students in Massachusetts experience hunger and/or homelessness, as well as other types of basic needs insecurity that can serve as barriers to degree completion and thereby limit economic sustainability and mobility,” the memorandum states.

Davis thanked Timmons and HCC faculty for the partnership. “We look forward to working with you and your staff to help these young women that are in darkness, searching for light and education. These women have dealt with a lot of trauma throughout their lives and are looking for ways to end the cycle of poverty. This collaboration proves that we care about them and that they have our support.”

Through the agreement, the foundation is looking to connect with HCC’s existing academic support services, such as admissions and financial-aid counseling, as well as career and transfer advising and more. 

“It’s a natural fit between an agency that works to support young women and a college, HCC, which is known for its wraparound support model,” said Jeff Hayden, HCC’s vice president of Business and Community Services.

Before the signing, Davis introduced a video about I Found Light Against All Odds that featured interviews from two of its consumers. One of them was Alisandra Pantoja from Springfield, who attended the April 30 event. 

Pantoja also stood beside Davis as he put pen to paper. She will be taking advantage of all the opportunities outlined in the agreement as a student at HCC starting in September, and plans to major in human services. “I like working with people,” she said.

Education

Expanded Opportunity

 

On May 6, Senate leaders unveiled MassEducate, a proposal for tuition-free, universal community college for all Massachusetts residents, aimed at boosting the state’s workforce and expanding opportunity for students and families in every part of the Commonwealth.

The announcement was made during an event at Middlesex Community College in Lowell, where Senate President Karen Spilka, Senate Ways & Means Chair Michael Rodrigues, and Senate Higher Education Chair Jo Comerford gathered with members of the Senate, presidents of the Commonwealth’s 15 community colleges, business leaders, students, and advocates.

“Today, we shift conversations about college from ‘I wish’ to ‘I will’ for thousands of students and families in Massachusetts,” Spilka said. “We are investing in talent that is right here at home and opening the workforce floodgates to employers who are starved for graduates, so Massachusetts keeps the competitive edge that we pride ourselves in.”

MassEducate would invest $75.5 million in new spending to cover tuition and fees for all residents, as well as up to $1,200 for books, supplies, and other costs to students who make up to 125% of median income in the state. Pell-eligible students already eligible for a books stipend through state financial aid would also be eligible for a stipend for books, supplies, and costs of attendance, for a combined amount of up to $2,400 per year.

“Today, we shift conversations about college from ‘I wish’ to ‘I will’ for thousands of students and families in Massachusetts.”

“With the historic investments announced today, ushering in universally free community college and more, the Senate doubles down on our commitment to build back the power and promise of public higher education,” Comerford said. “The Senate investments will propel the Commonwealth forward toward greater social equity and greater economic competitiveness.”

The Senate’s plan, which will be included in the chamber’s FY 2025 budget, would continue to invest in programs created in the FY 2024 budget, including $18 million in free nursing programs at community colleges and $24 million in free community college for residents over age 25.

Students would be eligible for free tuition, fees, and the stipend in the fall 2025 semester if the proposal is included in the Commonwealth’s final FY 2025 budget.

To support students whose education paths can be jeopardized by unanticipated life events, Senate leaders announced the creation of the Student Persistence Fund, a $10 million investment that would go directly toward aiding community colleges and state universities in supporting low-income students with such costs that are shown to put someone’s chance of finishing school at risk, such as transportation, childcare, or food insecurity.

Understanding that retention and graduation is directly tied to support systems like advising and career planning, the Senate also proposed an $18.3 investment in the Supporting Urgent Community College Equity through Student Services (SUCCESS) program, which is designed for community colleges to invest in wraparound supports and services using models proven to strengthen outcomes for students facing systemic barriers, especially for colleges’ most underserved populations.

To ensure the long-term fiscal sustainability of the program, the Senate’s proposal would institute annual tuition-increase caps at community colleges set at an inflation index. And to hold community colleges accountable for producing positive outcomes, the proposal creates a working group to re-evaluate community-college performance funding, aimed at better aligning state funding with key metrics such as student success and workforce alignment.

Recognizing that many Massachusetts students opt directly for four-year universities, the budget makes a $105 million investment in the Massachusetts financial-assistance program MassGrant Plus, which keeps college costs low for students at all public colleges in the Commonwealth. This increased investment builds on recent investments that have allowed all Pell-eligible students in Massachusetts to go to a community college, state university, or UMass campus without paying tuition or fees.

The proposal additionally includes policy directives to study future paths to success for the Commonwealth’s students. It directs the Department of Higher Education to improve the credit transfer pathway between two- and four-year institutions so students can easily transfer to a public four-year institution. It also creates a new commission to evaluate current state financial assistance for students to attend state universities and UMass and evaluate ways to further ensure accessibility and affordability of an education at these institutions.

Technology

The Science of Naps

A UMass Amherst sleep scientist, funded with $6.7 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has launched two unprecedented studies that will track over time the brain development of infants and preschoolers to confirm the role of napping in early life and to identify the bioregulatory mechanisms involved.

Rebecca Spencer, a professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences who is well-known for her groundbreaking research into napping, is testing her theories about what’s happening in the hippocampus — the short-term-memory area of the brain — as babies and young children undergo nap transitions.

This new research is expected to become the gold standard of scientific evidence that emphasizes the importance of healthy sleep for young children as their brains develop. The findings will help inform nap policies for preschool and pre-kindergarten and be useful to teachers and parents of both neurotypical and neurodiverse children.

“The work we’ve been doing has always pointed to this interaction of sleep and brain development,” said Spencer, who carries out research in her Somneurolab at UMass Amherst. “We think that kids get ready to transition out of naps when the brain is big enough to hold all the information of the day until nighttime sleep.”

The study involving preschoolers is a collaboration between Spencer at UMass Amherst; Tracy Riggins, a developmental psychologist specializing in memory development at the University of Maryland (UMD); and Gregory Hancock, a UMD professor of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology. Previous research by Spencer and Riggins showed differences in the hippocampi of kids who nap compared to those who have transitioned out of naps.

“The work we’ve been doing has always pointed to this interaction of sleep and brain development. We think that kids get ready to transition out of naps when the brain is big enough to hold all the information of the day until nighttime sleep.”

“So far, we’ve used cross-sectional approaches,” said Spencer, referring to research that analyzes data at one point in time, as opposed to longitudinal studies that involve repeated observation over time. “We really need to show longitudinally within a child that the point when they transition out of naps is predicted by a transition in the development of their hippocampus.”

The hippocampus is the short-term location for memories before they move to the cortex for long-term storage. Naps allow children with an immature hippocampus to process memories. Young children give up their afternoon nap, not based on their age, but their brain development, Spencer hypothesized.

“Naps are beneficial to everybody. Naps protect memory for everybody, no matter what age. Kids who are habitual nappers really need the nap. If they don’t nap, they get catastrophic forgetting. That’s the difference between habitual and non-habitual nappers — not how good is the nap, but how bad is staying awake,” she explained.

Added Riggins, “in the end, being able to tell parents that those little deviations from routine that keep their children from napping might not have these huge implications for a neurotypical child in the long run would be great. And the more we know about how the brain works in a typically developing child during this nap transition, the more we will be able to know about where we could possibly intervene to help neurodiverse children — like children with autism and ADHD, whose sleep patterns tend to be disrupted — since we will have some sort of scientific basis.”

 

Go to Sleep

The research team is recruiting 180 children, ages 3 to 5. The researchers will track their brain development, memory performance, and nap status over the course of one year at three checkpoints. During the first and second sessions, the children will wear activity-tracking watches and EEG equipment to record naps and overnight sleep. They will also play memory games before and after naps. The children will undergo an MRI brain scan during the third session.

Monica and David Dumlao signed up their son Miles, 4, for the preschool study after watching the Netflix documentary series Babies, which features Spencer in the episode about sleep. “We like learning about the neuroscience behind brain development,” Monica Dumlao said at a recent study session in Spencer’s lab. “We thought this was a good opportunity to contribute to the science about the importance of naps.”

In the three-part infant study on nap transitions and memory, Spencer is studying the period before and after babies transition from two naps — one in the morning and one in the afternoon — to one, richer afternoon nap. She is recruiting 140 infants 7 to 9 months old. The babies will play a memory game before and after their naps. Their brain activity will be recorded during their naps using a non-invasive electrode cap. The sessions will take place at 9, 12, and 15 months.

“We think as they are getting ready to drop the morning nap, staying awake in that morning interval will be less and less damaging to their memory,” Spencer said. “But we don’t think that’s going to happen with the afternoon nap at this age. We think the afternoon nap stays superimportant.”