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Health Care

Out of the Darkness

In 2020, suicide took 45,979 lives in the U.S. — one death every 11 minutes, and twice the number of homicides.

Many factors enter into someone’s decision to end their life, which can often seem like the best decision to make the pain go away; these factors include, but are not limited to, mental and physical health conditions; stress from harassment, divorce, financial crisis, or other life transitions; loss, abuse, neglect, and/or trauma; or family history of suicide.

Even though suicide rates actually dropped 5% from 2019 to 2020, the isolation during the pandemic caused more mental-health issues; in fact, one in five adults dealt with a mental-health issue in 2020. And isolation is the number-one symptom of suicidal ideation, according to behavioral-health professionals who spoke with BusinessWest.

“The isolation may have been comforting to people. They don’t have to leave the house. Then that may have been comforting, not having to face different outside factors,” explained Elizabeth Therian, program director for Behavioral Health Network (BHN). “But on the flip side, the pandemic also increased a lot of the risk factors, such as domestic-violence situations, and increased anxiety for a lot of people, like this big fear of the unknown virus that there wasn’t much known about.”

Cristina Rivera, director of Outpatient Services at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center, agreed and added that increased substance use was another factor during the pandemic because of the lack of support for many people. Other common symptoms include, but are not limited to:

• Talking about wanting to die, great guilt or shame, or being a burden to others;

• Feeling empty, hopeless, trapped, extremely sad or anxious, or unbearable emotional or physical pain;

• Changed behavior, such as making a plan or researching ways to die, taking dangerous risks (including driving fast or recklessly), displaying extreme mood swings, or eating or sleeping more or less; and

• Saying goodbye or giving away important things.

One symptom that can be overlooked is anger and agitation, a state often not associated with depression.

“Most people don’t really express depression or being sad in a typical way, like isolating or not talking to anybody or withdrawing themselves,” said René Piñero, vice president of Behavioral Health and Clinical Operations at the Mental Health Assoc. (MHA). “But a lot of times, if you see somebody who is more irritated or gets angry more easily than usual, then those are typically signs that somebody might be going through something and they just haven’t talked about it with somebody.”

Mental health and suicidal ideation often causes a person to feel some sort of guilt or shame, and they repress the feelings, causing them to isolate from friends and family even more.

The stigma is especially high among men and the elderly. Males make up 49% of the population, but nearly 80% of suicides, and people over age 85 have the highest rates of suicide among all age categories (20.86 per 100,000 individuals).

Mental health for older generations has been seen as taboo and a topic that shouldn’t be discussed; it is often looked down upon negatively. And displaying emotions of sadness or asking for help is often seen as a weakness amongst men.

But in order to combat the mental-health epidemic that was worsened by the pandemic, a more positive light needs to be shined on the importance of getting help and treatment when necessary. And that starts with a conversation.


It’s OK to Ask for Help

The first step to destigmatizing suicide and suicidal ideation is to talk about it.

“Often you’ll hear people say, ‘I have asthma,’ or ‘I have diabetes.’ And it’s not anything that people would think twice about sharing,” Rivera said. “But someone struggling with severe depression or anxiety or maybe bipolar schizophrenia, those are things that are a little bit more difficult to speak about. The more people normalize and talk about their diagnosis, the more welcoming as a community we will become.”

“A lot of times, if you see somebody who is more irritated or gets angry more easily than usual, then those are typically signs that somebody might be going through something and they just haven’t talked about it with somebody.”

René Piñero

René Piñero

One positive from the pandemic was the rise of telehealth communication, allowing people to talk to a licensed therapist or behavioral-health specialist over video-chat platforms. It allowed them to connect from the comfort of their homes, making it easier to talk about what they’re going through.

Another option is the Behavioral Health Help Line created this year through the state Department of Mental Health and operated by the Massachusetts Behavioral Health Partnership. Meanwhile, Community Behavioral Health Centers offer immediate care for mental-health and substance-use needs, both in crisis situations and more routine settings. Crisis services are available around the clock for anyone in Massachusetts experiencing a potential mental-health emergency and are entirely insurance-blind, meaning anyone can access services, regardless of insurance coverage.

If therapy, medications, and traditional services aren’t working, people have the chance to participate in outpatient and inpatient treatment programs.

Outpatient programs are structured, non-residential, psychological day programs that address mental-health disorders and substance-use disorders that do not require detoxification through a combination of group-based psychotherapy, individual psychotherapy, family counseling, educational groups, and strategies for encouraging motivation and engagement in treatment.

MHA, BHN, and MiraVista all offer outpatient treatment programs; BHN and MiraVista specialize in adolescent mental-health programs as well.

“It is very important from a young age to speak about feelings and how we cope with them. Giving people different tools to be able to cope with those feelings is important,” Rivera explained. “There is such a need in this area, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to open that unit.”

Inpatient treatment programs are the most intensive level of treatment for individuals suffering from mental health and addictive disorders. It offers 24-hour care in a safe and secure facility, making it best for patients with severe mental-health or substance-abuse issues who require constant monitoring. The highly structured inpatient environment emphasizes understanding the signs of psychiatric illness, rapid stabilization, developing strategies to avoid rehospitalization, and discharge planning. Patients in inpatient care programs can work on rebuilding life skills without exposure to negative influences that fuel the urge to continue destructive behaviors.

MiraVista offers inpatient treatment to youth (ages 13-18) and adults who need the extra care. Dr. Negar Beheshti, chief medical officer for MiraVista and TaraVista behavioral health centers, told BusinessWest that patients stay five to seven days, on average, at its inpatient facilities in Holyoke and Devens.

“Usually, when people get to a point where they need inpatient psychiatric care, they are at a point where they are not going to be safe in the community, meaning that they have extensive or significant unsafe thoughts of self-harm or harm to others, or they’re so compromised by their psychiatric symptoms that they’re really unable to function out in the community, and do need that level of care in an inpatient unit,” she added.

Behavioral-health practitioners and nurses are able to provide education around diagnosis, symptoms, coping strategies, and medication while a patient is under MiraVista’s care. Patients are also given one-on-one check-ins with therapists and psychiatrists to discuss their feelings, medications, and concerns.

Beheshti said this setting is also an opportunity for patients to share their experiences with others in the program, and they can learn from one another about different strategies that may or may not work.


Reap What You Sow

Gould Farm in Monterey, in the Southern Berkshires, is a twist on inpatient treatment programs, but on a more long-term scale.

Founded in 1913, Gould Farm became the first residential therapeutic community in the nation dedicated to helping adults with mental health and related challenges move toward recovery and independence through community living, meaningful work, and clinical care.

In a community of about 90 people, ‘guests,’ as residents are called, stay from nine to 12 months to help them get re-accustomed to life.

“People, prior to coming here, kind of lose relationships with themselves and others. And this is a way to step back into that and return to relationships with other people and with themselves,” explained Tamara McKernan, Admissions director and clinician on the farm. “There’s a level of trust here, where people stepping out of the hospital have kind of had everything taken away, and need to step back into feeling trusted and able to do things.”

During their stay, guests have a structured schedule; they do many of the same things they would in any inpatient program, like check-ins with therapists and clinicians, group work, and activities that ground them, but they also have jobs on the farm: working in the dairy barn or making cheese; tending the gardens, forestry, and grounds; working in the kitchen; and more.

Gould Farm reflects a more holistic approach to mental-health issues, in which people develop purpose and learn transferable skills to become more independent.

McKernan told BusinessWest that guests are often referred to Gould Farm if outpatient and/or inpatient treatments, therapy, and medications aren’t working anymore. The sense of community and responsibility helps guests take the next step of gaining control of their life.

In order to destigmatize mental health on the farm, everyone works closely together — even the faculty and staff helping to run the farm. Their families grow up around the guests to make the experience seem more normal.


Words Matter

When it comes to mental illnesses or suicidal ideation, part of breaking the stigma is being aware of the words we use.

“Oftentimes, we’ll hear people say, ‘I’m bipolar.’ But it’s not who you are,” Therian said, noting that ‘I am a person that has bipolar disorder’ is more accurate. “It’s similar to the way we wouldn’t say, ‘I’m high blood pressure.’ It flips that a little bit when you look at it that way.”

Piñero agreed, adding that the work “crazy” is often used when talking about mental-health services, especially inpatient and outpatient treatments.

“It’s about letting people know that there’s no such thing. It’s just people dealing with stressors or dealing with medical conditions that are based on mental health or behavioral health. And that what we’re here to do, to provide assistance, provide help,” he said. “All of us, at some point or another, could be dealing with some type of issue, and all of us could benefit from these types of services. So it’s just making it something that’s more normal and general to everybody.”

One of the best ways to help a loved one in crisis is asking them if they’re all right. The professionals who spoke with BusinessWest expressed that people may feel they will offend someone, or they’re scared of the answer, or feel like it might give someone the idea of suicide, but it just opens the conversation for that person to be vulnerable and honest. If a friend or loved one shows a worrisome change in behavior, one shouldn’t hesitate to ask and get help for that person if they’re willing to accept it.

McKernan added that helping someone look for moments of joy and using grounding techniques can also help them through the moment.

Mental-health healing is not linear, he and others stressed, and some days will be more difficult than others. Being educated on the warning signs and symptoms of suicide and suicidal ideation can help save the life of a loved one.

At the same time, no one who has lost someone to suicide should feel it’s their fault — even though avoiding guilt is easier said than done.

The bottom line is, untreated mental illness can lead to suicide, and speaking up is the first step to getting help. “The brain is like any other organ,” Beheshti said, “and we really need to honor it and respect it like any other organ.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or ideations, call or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org for more information.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Julie Thompson and Tim Johnson

Julie Thompson and Tim Johnson say the Smith Botanical Garden is a way for the college to connect with the community.

Northampton has always been the place to be when it comes to good eats, arts, and entertainment. The city boasts more than 100 shops, about 20 restaurants, and multiple music venues for locals and visitors to enjoy year-round.

And it is because its economy is based largely on tourism and hospitality that Northampton suffered as few area communities did during the pandemic, and also why it is still, in many ways, finding its way all the way back from that greatly disruptive time.

The good news, according to those we spoke with, and especially Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra, is that the city is moving in the right direction, in part by providing things for people to do and reasons to venture out.

“We’re just trying to encourage people every way we can, and every time that we’ve created opportunities for people to come out and be together, like we brought back the Taste of Northampton … people really, really enjoy them,” she said. “And it’s just getting people to take that step, too, to come out.”

Vince Jackson, executive director of the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce, agreed, noting that, historically, Northampton has attracted large numbers of visitors, and for a variety of reasons.

Jackson said the chamber has heard from several business owners that they have reached or exceeded their 2019, pre-pandemic, sales levels, and business activity continues to improve. Some people travel 75 miles or more just for the music entertainment the city has to offer; even with the Iron Horse Music Group venues largely shuttered in recent years, multiple smaller venues have filled the gap.

The city is a place for both adults and kids to have a good time; whether they love the art scene or an independent bookstore, there is something for everyone when they make the trip.

“With all the more serious, sad realities of today, it’s so important that we counter that with opportunities for joy and opportunities for celebration and opportunities for those lighter, happier emotions in life.”

One bookstore that survived and is thriving as it enters the post-pandemic years is High Five Books. It started in 2019 and worked through the pandemic with curbside pickup and individual shopping trips for families.

“I just really wanted a space for families like mine to go and hang out and connect around books and create a community around the reading experience and the book-loving experience; I wanted to have a place for families to connect around reading and stories,” owner Lexi Walters-Wright said. “I also recognized how many authors and illustrators we have living right here in the Valley, and I wanted to be able to showcase their incredible work and also have young people see how work is created and get excited about that for themselves.”

The Bloomery Art Gallery is another thriving local business. It was created by Luc Abbott, who realized how critical it is for people to come together and celebrate one another in a safe space.

“It’s about celebration,” they said. “With all the more serious, sad realities of today, it’s so important that we counter that with opportunities for joy and opportunities for celebration and opportunities for those lighter, happier emotions in life and really create a space that’s dedicated to those moments that feels really pivotal right now.”

Coming together — and the desire to see more of that — is the main goal of Northampton’s business owners and city leaders alike, who see continued progress in the weeks and months ahead as Northampton battles its way back from COVID.

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Northampton and some of the businesses that contribute to its eclectic character.


Buy the Book

High Five Books is located right along a bike path and is accessible for kids to walk or bike from school. Parents bring in their younger children after dropping their older ones off at school, or just pass time there during the day, Walters-Wright said.

The space on North Main Street in Florence is shared with Art Always, owned and operated by Lindsey Fogg-Willits, who provides art classes and activities for families in the area that are usually filled after school hours with little creators.

Lexi Walters-Wright says High Five Books

Lexi Walters-Wright says High Five Books is a space for families to connect around reading and stories.

The bookstore portion is filled with shelves of books for all ages. It succeeds because it provides reasons for people to visit — and stay.

“It was always clear from the very beginning that there had to be something very experiential to make it worthwhile for a family to leave the house and not just push ‘add to cart’ on Amazon, but actually put on clothing and drag your family to a space,” she told BusinessWest. “You have to have a reason to do that.”

To keep local kids and families interested, the store and art shop had to be creative, from design/build at-home art kits to events around the area.

At the end of January, High Five Books and Art collaborated with a hair salon and dance studio to host a Sparkle Party, giving families an option to celebrate the creative expression and “awesomeness” of families, Walters-Wright said.

Coming up, High Five Books is also sponsoring the release of Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s new graphic memoir at the Academy of Music in April. As a lover of graphic novels, Walters-Wright is excited to host the book event and even said it was a dream to be at the Academy of Music for it. Krosoczka will bring his new book to life with an unabridged performance for families to enjoy.

Many of the books sold at High Five Books center on social-justice and LGBTQIA+ themes “that just honor the incredible spirit of these young people,” she added. “We’re a community bookstore, and to us, what that means is we are listening directly to the families who come in through our doors and hear what it is they’re looking for so that their kid and their family can feel seen and valued.

“We think that books can be windows and mirrors and sliding glass doors for kids to experience the world that they see and the world that they want to see,” she continued. “And that is something that we don’t take for granted. Being able to provide young readers with books that help them feel seen is a way of encouraging them to be their very best selves in this world and to shape the world in the way that I think we all want to see it, which is wholeheartedly.”

“We think that books can be windows and mirrors and sliding glass doors for kids to experience the world that they see and the world that they want to see.”

Abbott, meanwhile, is looking to accomplish much the same things through the arts.

Besides owning and curating the Bloomery Art Gallery and meeting space, they also run a communications-consulting and marketing-support business called Bloom Local, which helps small businesses and organizations that are mission-driven. It exists as a digital and in-person platform in order to breed connections.

The gallery is open to the public during the Arts Night Out event that Northampton holds the second Friday of each month. Local art lovers are encouraged to walk around the city and see the different art galleries that Northampton has to offer. Abbott said it was a “great discovery channel” for the gallery since it is so new and small. People who don’t know about the Bloomery have the chance to see local art from local artists in the LGBTQIA+ community.

They recalled one show in October that drove the point home. “I was standing in a group of folks in this room, and we all looked around, and somebody said, ‘I’ve never seen so many trans and non-binary people in one room together.’ And my heart just exploded with happiness because that was what I had been craving for a long time,” he explained.

“I just didn’t feel like I had kind of hit that point or found that right community space that felt comfy for me,” they added. “What’s also really beautiful is having folks who aren’t necessarily part of the queer community come in and see the smiles on their faces because they are experiencing something that’s new to them, something that reminds them, maybe, of someone they love.”

Northampton at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1883
Population: 29,571
Area: 35.8 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential tax rate: $15.84
Commercial tax rate: $15.84
Median Household Income: $56,999
Median Family Income: $80,179
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Cooley Dickinson Hospital; ServiceNet Inc.; Smith College; L-3 KEO
* Latest information available

Abbott told BusinessWest that the community was craving more connections after the pandemic, and Arts Night Out allows people to congregate and do the things they loved again.

“We’re coming into a new place here and kind of coming into a new time where we want different things for ourselves as artists,” they said. “We want to thrive more as small-business owners; we want our communities and the thriving of our businesses to ripple out into our communities.”


Green Growth

Smith Botanical Garden is like the Bloomery — it allows students the feedback and community needed to expand on their artwork.

“It’s a really magical thing to see the interactions with students and the general public,” said Tim Johnson, director of the garden, noting that the institution has been around for 130 years, and its purpose has changed dramatically over time from its initial use as a potting room for the college.

“In a lot of ways, I see the botanical garden and the programming we get to do as a love letter to the community,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to provide a lens into an institution that — unless you’re a student at the college or you’re a staff member — it’s really hard to see.

“We’re one of the places on the campus that is quite oriented toward the public,” he went on, “and we can provide a corridor where our students, our faculty, our scholars, and our researchers get to interact with the public and see how their work is received, what makes sense and what doesn’t.”

The Botanical Garden features rotating exhibits throughout the year that guests can enjoy. The garden is ever-changing because of the cycles of the plants stored in the greenhouses. Currently, it is showcasing “Into the Glass House,” and students have work on display in the Lyman Plant House that was inspired by some of the plants at the gardens.

One anticipated event coming back is the Spring Bulb Show, slated for March 4-19. “It’s like a piece of spring when we’re still in the middle of winter,” said Julie Thompson, Communications coordinator for Smith Botanical Gardens. More than 8,000 bulbs are set to bloom this year. Another highly anticipated event, a 100-year-old Smith tradition, is the Fall Mum Show set for November.

Johnson told BusinessWest that the Botanical Gardens allows humans to reconnect with nature. “It’s pretty easy to forget that — we have cell phones; we have airplanes and space travel,” he said. “But everything that we do is utterly dependent on plants, and our relationship and realization of that really has a lot to do with how we approach our world, our natural resources, and each other.”

Clearly, community is important to the city of Northampton as a whole. It allows locals and tourists to reconnect and enjoy the things they love in spaces that were inaccessible for the past few years.

As COVID evolves into a seasonal sickness, Northampton is planning many events in the coming year, from the Back Porch Festival on March 3-5 to the Northampton Jazz Festival in the fall. Overall, there will be many opportunities for people to come into the city and enjoy all it is has to offer.

“I feel like, when people do kind of take that step out of their living room and away from their TVs, they remember just what it’s like to be in an experience and how you can’t get that anywhere else,” Sciarra said. “That’s such a unique experience that can’t be recreated.”

Construction Special Coverage

Building on a Strong Foundation

Jonathan Wright (left) and Seth Lawrence-Slavas

Jonathan Wright (left) and Seth Lawrence-Slavas, the previous and current owners of Wright Builders.

Seth Lawrence-Slavas isn’t looking to change the mission of Wright Builders all that much. After all, it was designed to be sustainable.

“Whether it’s residential, commercial, or institutional, the first keyword is a resilient building,” he said, noting that the Northampton-based contractor has been at the forefront of innovation, energy efficiency, and sustainable, high-performance construction since it began. “We create resiliency in terms of how long the building lasts.”

In December, Lawrence-Slavas bought Wright Builders from founder Jonathan Wright after he decided to retire. Wright and Mark Ledwell, then co-owner, welcomed Lawrence-Slavas as a project development engineer in 2019 after he graduated from UMass Amherst with a master’s degree in building and construction technologies. At UMass, he contributed to groundbreaking research on local forest-product utilization for cross-laminated timber as part of carbon reduction and advancing economic development for rural New England.

Lawrence-Slavas told BusinessWest that his goal after college was to own his own company after joining a company like Suffolk, Consigli, Turner, or another “huge place” that would teach him more about project management.

“The more I found out about those platforms to those companies, the more I didn’t want to do it. So, by the time I graduated, I had figured that out; I didn’t want to be in a company like that,” he said.

As it turns out, Wright Builders was a much better fit. “I really appreciated the way that Jonathan looked from a business sense at this. He is absolutely a holistic man, but he’s a businessman at the end of the day. And that rang true to me. I felt like there is a responsibility of a company for their employees, for the greater good of the community.”

Even though Wright Builders works on all construction fronts — residential, institutional, and commercial — Lawrence-Slavas was drawn to its small-business, family feel. That’s another reason why he chose the company as a place to grow his success — and why he’s excited to be its leader today.


Working His Way Up

Lawrence-Slavas grew up in a trades household; his father was a chemist and engineer by day, but a post-and-beam builder on nights and weekends. With an old-school approach, his father would only use hand tools, milling and block planing the wood himself. This work ethic was entrenched in him and his brother from the start.

“Whether it’s residential, commercial, or institutional, the first keyword is a resilient building. We create resiliency in terms of how long the building lasts.”

By age 16, Lawrence-Slavas had been working for a few years helping his father until his dad decided he was going to be more conscious about what projects he could take on, both physically and time-wise.

“At that point, I started branching myself off and looking,” he recalled. “I know I loved the trades. I loved working with my hands, and I didn’t have a lot of experience other than post-and-beam building. I started to get more of a feeling for the commercial work in that time of my life, understanding more about the owner dynamic. And that part of it kind of intrigued me.”

Seth Lawrence-Slavas says he found in Wright Builders a company that shares his values and ethos.

Seth Lawrence-Slavas says he found in Wright Builders a company that shares his values and ethos.

He packed his bags after graduating high school and moved to Colorado to work in the trades. When he got there, he had to work on things “you don’t necessarily want to do to make it work.”

He told BusinessWest that experience taught him a lot about resilience, self-motivation, responsibility, and the need to network. “I didn’t have the option to look at my feet when I talked out there. I really had to be engaging and build myself.”

Still, as he progressed in Colorado, he felt the work was not where he wanted to be, and that he was having a “midlife crisis at 25 years old.”

He was building gorgeous homes, he explained, but they were being used only for a short amount of time during the year, and most of them were energy-inefficient. With internal conflict growing, he questioned whether what he was doing was something he felt good about, and that was the catalyst for creating a new goal. So he decided to move back to New England, where he met his wife, who pushed him to go back to school.

Lawrence-Slavas attended UMass Amherst for his bachelor’s degree, and the university offered him a master’s track in building and construction technology, in which he worked with the school on creating local initiatives to increase financial gain in the region by using low-value wood, like white pine and hemlock.

Once he started looking for work outside of UMass, Lawrence-Slavas had a chance meeting with Wright.

“I want this company to start off what Jonathan has created and to push it well beyond where he ever thought it could go.”

“We just talked, and it became apparent that we had a lot of the same ethos to the way we live life,” he explained. “I’m a very different person than he is, but we had the same underlying principles to the way we work and the way we see things.”

As noted earlier, he started at Wright Builders as a project-development engineer, but Wright noticed that “it wasn’t my passion at all,” Lawrence-Slavas said.

He added that he’s always been able to manage people because he can connect with them well and feed off their energy. Wright recognized that and soon moved him into a managerial role, allowing Lawrence-Slavas to grow his knowledge for the business.

At the time, Ledwell was looking to retire, so the founders started to groom him for the president’s position. It was important, Lawrence-Slavas said, for them to have a clear and concise way to transfer ownership of the business. He eventually gained half-ownership of the firm and worked alongside Wright until he decided to retire as well.


Low Impact, High Performance

Wright Builders was started 45 years ago, with the goal of building high-efficiency, high-performance buildings that emphasize sustainability and energy efficiency.

For commercial projects, Lawrence-Slavas explained, the builder typically gets to choose its products, but it can be a little more difficult when it comes to building residential homes.

“We are not somebody who goes and builds a code-minimum commercial building. And for the most part, people know that about us. It limits us a bit on the commercial side, but a lot of these new energy codes for commercial buildings are where we’ve been for the last 20 years in those buildings already.”

Wright Builders tries to use products that will leave as little carbon impact as possible, as well as materials that will be less harmful to occupants and the people making the products. For example, instead of using steel and plastic materials, the company tries to use wood and natural materials, and as few off-gassing materials as possible.

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is a good example of a green building, a niche Wright Builders specializes in.

River Valley Co-op in Easthampton is a good example of a green building, a niche Wright Builders specializes in.

“There’s too many stories about saving costs on the backs of working people, and that’s really a standard that we’re not willing to ever have. We care about it,” Lawrence-Slavas said.

He went on to explain that sustainability and low impact used to be a niche market, but now it is being brought to the masses, and Wright Builders is in a good position because it has specialized in that for a long time. The firm knows how to construct a net-zero building — which is a building that produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy-consumption requirements — and is now focused on the microeconomics of those efforts.

“How can we make sure that rk MILES stays in business? How can we make sure that Greenfield Glass is still creating glass? These things are really important aspects of what we do,” Lawrence-Slavas said. “And, looking from a microeconomic scale, we really look in this radius to our suppliers, to our subcontractors, to everything.”

But if materials have to be bought in from a farther distance, he said Wright Builders wants it to come by rail or other means of efficient transportation and not through “a bunch of small trucks that move stuff around.”

Indeed, because efficiency matters to the company, it focuses on transportation and embodied carbon — the greenhouse-gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials.

The innovation at Wright Builders is currently stepping “way beyond the operational efficiency of buildings,” Lawrence-Slavas said, and thinking harder about conception. That’s innovative in the industry, he added, because the field is typically driven by money, and the way to enforce change in construction is through code mandates — and that’s what sets Wright Builders apart.

He told BusinessWest that he is trying to take what the company already knows about sustainability and carbon goals and bring it into the next generation. “I want this company to start off what Jonathan has created and to push it well beyond where he ever thought it could go. And one of the areas that we’ve always struggled in is affordable housing for people.”

Which is why that’s a key part of where the company is going. In the past year and a half, Lawrence-Slavas has worked with entities that can provide the backing for affordable home ownership and understand the pathways to the funding sources.

“I came from a background where I did not grow up in a million-dollar house with these extravagant things,” he said. “And when I look at some of the houses we build, as much as I feel good about what we’re doing, the people that need them the most are still the people that have the hardest time acquiring them.”

It’s just the latest societal concern that’s making its way into the operating philosophy of Wright Builders under its new generation of leadership.


Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Michael Bolton

Michael Bolton said Chicopee’s airparks provide a lot of jobs for those in the region, especially Springfield.

The “crossroads of New England” has long been Chicopee’s unofficial nickname, and with good reason: four interstate highways run through its boundaries, including I-90, I-91, I-291, and I-391, as well as state routes such as 33, 116, and 141.

These roads have certainly played a role in the continued development and growth of a business community steeped in history — everything from swords to tires were once produced here — and defined by both national corporations and small, local ventures.

It is this mix, this balance, that gives the community its character, while also providing thousands of jobs and making this city a true destination, drawing residents from across the region.

“I call this the biggest small town in Massachusetts — 55,000 people that are all connected in some way, which is really something special. And I think that the people who live here recognize that,” said Mayor John Vieau, adding that the community is continuing to grow in what town officials call the ‘post-pandemic years.’

Indeed, along Memorial Drive, or ‘the Drive,’ as some call it, the main retail corridor of the community, there are some new faces, as well as a new ‘old’ face. Hot Table, the Springfield-based panini maker, is adding its first standalone storefront to the busy strip. Meanwhile, Hannoush Jewelers, which had a presence in the city for years at the former Fairfield Mall, is staging a return; it is converting an old auto shop by the Stop & Shop into a new storefront.

Meanwhile, work continues on a new headquarters building for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts on Carew Street. The $26.3 million facility, slated to open in September, will help the nonprofit respond to rising rates of food insecurity in the region.

“I call this the biggest small town in Massachusetts — 55,000 people that are all connected in some way, which is really something special. And I think that the people who live here recognize that.”

These additions will bring even more diversity to a business community that boasts a strong blend of retail, manufacturing, distribution facilities, service businesses, nonprofits, and even McKinstry Farm and Market Garden, a home-grown business (pun intended) that is, through the efforts of the seventh and eighth generation of the McKinstry family, continuing a tradition that started in 1908 (more on that later).

This diversity builds strength and resiliency, said the mayor and others we spoke with, noting that the city has never been dependent on one business or one sector, and that trend continues today and is reflected in the membership of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce, a clear indicator of its ability to provide needed services and resources.

“I think the fact that multiple-size businesses engage with the chamber and stay connected with the chamber is a sign that we are providing those resources across the board,” said Melissa Breor, the chamber’s executive director. “Take the example of Walmart engaging with the chamber; I see them joining as a way to connect with their community, to be able to figure out who are the small businesses and nonprofits that they can work with and support.”

For this latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Chicopee and how it continues to grow and diversify its business community.


Making More History

As noted earlier, Chicopee has been home to many large-scale businesses since the 19th century. The city was home to the first American producer of friction matches as well as a variety of other industries, including Ames Manufacturing Co., an early pioneer in machining lathes, building upon the work of Springfield’s Thomas Blanchard, and the largest producer of swords and cutlasses for the Union Army during the Civil War.

By the start of the 20th century, the city was home to a number of large manufacturers, including Fisk Tire Co., one of the largest tire makers of that time, and some of the earliest sporting-goods factories of A.G. Spalding.

Today, this tradition of manufacturing continues, especially in the industrial parks run by Westover Metropolitan Development Corp. (WMDC), which are also home to a number of distribution facilities.

WMDC is a quasi-public development corporation formed in 1974 to convert military property in the vicinity of Westover Air Force base to productive civilian uses, and has developed more than 1,300 acres of land in the area and currently operates the Westover Civilian Airport and three industrial parks, commonly referred to as ‘airparks,’ located in Chicopee and Ludlow.

Will McKinstry

Will McKinstry is an eighth-generation farmer in his family business.

According to a UMass Donahue Institute report released in 2021, the more than 100 tenants in the three Westover parks — East, North, and West — provide the city and region with more than 4,000 jobs and support a total of $2.2 billion in economic output and roughly 8,500 jobs across Massachusetts annually.

Those numbers will move even higher with the addition of Universal Forest Products, a lumber company originally based in Michigan that purchased the former Leoni Wire building and intends to move in later this year.

“I think we knew the impact was impressive, but didn’t really know until we quantified it last year or so … we were pretty shocked that it’s $2.2 billion between the three industrial parks,” said Michael Bolton, WMDC president and CEO. “A lot of people from Springfield work here in different businesses. So it really benefited the community.”

Chicopee at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1848
Population: 55,560
Area: 23.9 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $15.15
Commercial Tax Rate: $32.83
Median Household Income: $35,672
Median Family Income: $44,136
Type of Government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: Westover Air Reserve Base; J. Polep Distribution Services; Callaway Golf Ball Operations; Dielectrics; MicroTek
* Latest information available

Vieau agreed. “I look at an engineering company [Universal Forest Products] as living-wage jobs, professional jobs, and obviously contributing to our tax base,” the mayor said. “So I’m excited about that. Those warehouses are providing jobs and obviously paying taxes, so it’s really helped us to provide wonderful services.”

But just like the industrial parks create jobs for the city of Chicopee, so do the myriad small businesses that call the city home.

The past 18 months has been about “rebirth,” said Mim Zayas, chair of the board of the Greater Chicopee Chamber of Commerce.

“I’m always impressed with Chicopee; when you look at the city itself and the community, it continues to grow,” she said. “Chicopee seems to continue to be a place where businesses want to be, which is great for us.”

Town officials told BusinessWest that many businesses, especially those in the broad service and hospitality sectors, struggled during COVID, but the city was able to help many small businesses, whether financially or with other assistance, to help pivot and change the dynamic of their business. The Community Development office was able to help sustain some of the small businesses, and Vieau said the city is certainly benefiting from those efforts.

“To know you have a new group of young guys who are in the family who want to take over — and to see the ideas coming out of them and the energy that comes out of them — that’s amazing.”

He acknowledged that bringing in large chain stores that want to be in high-volume locations such as Memorial Drive — an important component of the city’s economic-development strategy — certainly impacts small, locally owned businesses. But promoting the small-business community and letting people know that they can get great service and great products from small-business owners is important as well.

“Some of them are specialty businesses that really need consumers to buy their goods and services, and without that, the chains are going to put them out of business,” he explained, stressing the need for area residents to support local businesses.

Anchors like the Munich Haus, the Red Fez, and GroundWorks Coffee help Chicopee keep consumers’ dollars in this region, and they support the local community.


Growing Ventures

Lee Pouliot, director of the city’s Planning and Development department, told BusinessWest that there is a strong small-business community in the city, with many of these ventures family owned and operated.

That list includes McKinstry Farm, which has been a Chicopee staple since 1908, when Willard McKinstry opened up a roadside market wagon and started selling fruits and vegetables.

The farm, now currently being operated by the seventh and eighth generations of the McKinstry family, has evolved steadily over time.

“My grandfather switched over to vegetables in 1908; his brother took over the chicken part of it,” said Bill McKinstry, sixth-generation farmer and co-owner of McKinstry Farm and Market Garden, adding that the farm moved to its current location on McKinstry Road in 1938 due to repeated flooding.

McKinstry Farm and Market Garden has grown from a roadside fruit and vegetable stand to a robust market since the start of the pandemic. It sells a variety of fruits and vegetables — blueberries, strawberries, beans, bell peppers, onions, tomatoes, watermelon, lettuce, pumpkins, and more — and recently added homemade ice cream, dill pickles, and donuts to the list of options. The market also sells fresh produce by local farmers of all kinds, like fresh eggs, honey, plants, fresh baked goods, and cheese.

But the McKinstrys are best known for their corn; they harvest 40 to 50 different varieties, including all-yellow, all-white, and mostly yellow and white.

Despite the economy, COVID, and other challenges, the operation is thriving, said Nicole McKinstry, co-owner of the farm and market, adding that succession planning — having the next generations on board — provides needed stability.

“The exciting part about having a family business is that, when you have someone that’s interested as much as Bill and I have been in this business for many years … it’s scary,” she said. “But to know you have a new group of young guys who are in the family who want to take over — and to see the ideas coming out of them and the energy that comes out of them — that’s amazing.”

Will and Warren McKinstry, the sons of Bill and Nicole, are key contributors to the recent growth of the family business. They are actively in the process of taking over — they became co-owners over the past year — and are striving to take the business to the next level.

After discussing the business plan and how the business will operate, the family decided to add the roadside market. Will and Bill tend the 250-acre farm, and Warren and Nicole manage the store.

Amid rising inflation and soaring costs of doing business, Nicole told BusinessWest that her youngest son, Warren, tries “very hard” to keep prices at the market as low as possible. But it’s not always easy, especially for off-season products, and with the price of fuel constantly fluctuating.

Bill McKinstry put the farm’s operating philosophy and its reason for being in perspective, noting that “we’re not in this business to get rich — we never were. But the satisfaction you get from putting out a good product is more rewarding to me than money.”


Bottom Line

All those we spoke with said Chicopee is an ideal community to run a small business; the residents and municipal leaders are supportive and want to see the proverbial ‘small guys’ thriving like they were before the pandemic.

The city’s business community showed continued resilience and strength in 2022, and there is a sense of momentum heading into the new year.

“I tell many people this … you can invest in the stock market, or you can invest in something real like the city of Chicopee,” Vieau said. “If you want an opportunity to see dividends on your money, the city of Chicopee is the place to be.”


Change in the Making

President Ed Wingenbach

President Ed Wingenbach says he is hopeful for the future of Hampshire College.

A few years after it almost merged with another institution, President Ed Wingenbach understands that Hampshire College isn’t out of the woods yet. But he believes the fight to rebuild the college’s brand and attract more students to the school is worth it, because he believes in Hampshire’s unique model.

“People care deeply about Hampshire and didn’t want to see it become sold off to somebody else that surely wouldn’t let Hampshire do what Hampshire does,” he said. “We’re getting more and more creative ways of connecting students with urgent challenges in ways that I think are really transformative for them.”

In 2019, Hampshire’s budget was “out of alignment,” Wingenbach explained, because enrollment was declining after a boom period from 2008 to 2013. The school had bumped up its budget to align with previous enrollment numbers, but soon was facing financial struggles when that enrollment wasn’t maintained.

With a structural deficit, Wingenbach’s predecessor, Miriam Nelson, decided a merger would be the best answer. During that period of time, she decided not to accept an entering class for the fall of 2019; only 13 new students enrolled that fall. Students staged a 75-day sit-in in her office when the merger plans were announced.

“That created a significant enrollment problem, because that goes for several years,” Wingenbach said. “So we’ve been rebuilding the enrollment and have adjusted all of our operating expenses to the point where, as we recover enrollment, we will eventually reach financial sustainability.”

Hampshire College currently has more than 500 students, and once the number is back at 1,100 to 1,200 students in a couple of years, Wingenbach said, enrollment revenues will match expenses. Until it reaches that point of sustainability, the college is spending more than it’s bringing in to provide the environment and resources students need.

That was the impetus behind launching Change in the Making, a five-year capital campaign to raise $60 million for operating support. Wingenbach told BusinessWest that higher-education campaigns are often aimed at building endowments, restricting the funds to particular purposes.

“We’re getting more and more creative ways of connecting students with urgent challenges in ways that I think are really transformative for them.”

“This is a campaign for operating support,” he went on. “We’re saying to people, ‘what we’re doing matters — you care about Hampshire College, you want to support the experiments that we engage in, you want to support the students that we have, you want us to be an independent institution, so what we need right now is direct support to our operating budget. So help us get to that point.’”


What Is Hampshire College?

Hampshire College was founded by its four sister colleges — UMass Amherst, Amherst College, Smith College, and Mount Holyoke College — to be an experimenting institution. The idea was to figure out what higher education should be trying to do to make learning and work student-centered.

The college allows students to design their own curriculum; that means there are no standard majors or programs. The students decide what they want to study and how they want to study it by putting together a set of classes that will best fit their goal. There are also no grades given, just narrative evaluations.

Wingenbach equated the student evaluation to an employee evaluation on the job. It is a detailed narrative of what they did well, where the student needs to improve, and what the next steps should be for their education.

“Our mission is to transform higher education, to always try to figure out what people should be doing at other colleges, to adopt bits and pieces of that.”

Recently, that has meant shifting the way course work is offered so that students build their course of study around four “distinct, urgent challenges,” Wingenbach explained. Specifically, faculty teach half of each course around one of four shared questions the college has chosen to focus on:

• What is our responsibility in the face of a changing climate?

• How do we understand truth in a post-truth era?

• How can creative processes address trauma, whether historical, collective, or contemporary?

• How can we disrupt and dismantle white supremacy?

These questions serve as organizing principles for the curriculum in which students build their own course of study. Each one of the questions is cross-disciplinary, meaning one question can apply to many fields of study.

Wingenbach believes the point of a liberal-arts education is to prepare a student for a world in which they can’t know what’s coming.

“I mean, the jobs the students graduating next year are most interested in didn’t exist 10 years ago, 15 years ago. That will be true 10 years from now,” he said. “So to give students the experience of working with ambiguity and building and making sense of things while they’re students, rather than having a path laid out for them, part of the job is making sure they think like an entrepreneur.”

And that’s where the Change in the Making campaign comes in.

When Wingenbach stepped into the role of president in the summer of 2019, he knew the brand and identity of Hampshire College needed to be re-established.

It needed to grow enrollment, but also to inspire people who care about the college to support and nurture its role as an innovator in higher education. And both efforts have found success; enrollment has been growing dramatically with each entering class, and so have the donations and gifts sponsors are giving to the college.

The campaign has taken in $39 million in pledges and payments, and Wingenbach said that’s right on track to hit the $60 million goal. That includes several seven-figure gifts, including a recent gift from alumnus Gary Hirshberg, CEO of Stonyfield Farm. With the campaign seeing plenty of success with a large base of small donors, too, Wingenbach is confident in the model set up to get Hampshire College to the $60 million mark in the next two years.

“Part of what will help us is that success breeds success, so as we continue to attract large-figure donations as we have over the last couple of years, other people who are engaged with Hampshire look at that and think, ‘OK, this is worth supporting, and we’re getting farther away from the events of 2019. It’s looking like this is actually working.’”

He hopes that, following the example of a “savvy entrepreneur” like Hirshberg, others will donate and support the future success of the college. And he was proud to note that almost all of the $39 million has been raised remotely.

“We’re not out of COVID, but we’re coming out of people’s reluctance to meet in person. Now I’ve got this time to start doing more in-person fundraising, and I think that’s going to help as well.”


Invested in Success

Wingenbach believes students go to college for two reasons: to prepare for a successful life after college and because they want to engage in meaningful work.

The best way to prepare for meaningful work, he noted, is to engage in it during the undergraduate years, and to organize the college experience around collecting the tools, resources, and knowledge a student will need to face those challenges after graduation.

“When students direct their own education, they are more deeply invested in it, and they know why they’re doing it, so they tend to do better, higher-quality work,” he explained. “We know from research into how students learn and what’s most effective that the more engaged a student is, and the more control they have over what they’re doing while they’re in college, the more successful they are. To turn all of that responsibility and opportunity over to the student, it makes for a much more powerful education.”


Collaborating for the Community


Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis (far left) and her team work to break systemic and racial barriers for local families.

Anne Kandilis likes to say Springfield WORKS serves as “a platform for change, innovation, and collaboration.”

Elaborating, she said those three ingredients, and many others, are needed to address a number of issues challenging this region, but especially the need to connect area residents with job opportunities and enable them to thrive in the workplace and outside it, and also assist employers as they contend with an ongoing workforce crisis.

“Our vision is to have thriving communities where economic opportunity, growth, and resilience is possible for all,” said Kandilis, director of Springfield WORKS, a program of the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council. “Right now, not everyone is able to access the resources they need to thrive; employers are not finding the workers they need, so there’s a disconnect.”

This disconnect becomes apparent with a look at some statistics she provided to make her point: the average hourly wage in 1998 was $17 per hour; adjusted for inflation, that would equal about $30 per hour today, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That means wages have effectively declined in the past 20 years, she said, while the cost of goods and services has increased, making it more difficult for working families to make ends meet.

Meanwhile, the median income of Hispanic households in Springfield is roughly half that of White households, which is also true of the metropolitan region and for Massachusetts as a whole.

To address these disparities, Springfield WORKS, a community-wide initiative, is collaborating with about 40 area organizations to remove systemic and racial barriers and create pathways to real economic opportunity and family well-being.

“The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

As she spoke about Springfield WORKS and its broad mission, Kandilis characterized this area as being “rich in programs and poor in systems.” The main goal is to build such systems through those traits she mentioned earlier — especially innovation and collaboration.

Partners include organizations from the community, including Holyoke Community College, Head Start, Square One, Home City Development, Springfield and Holyoke public schools, and employers such as Baystate Health and Big Y, as well as larger national organizations like the Aspen Institute and the National Fund for Workforce Solutions.

Over the past few years, Kandilis and her team have been working with these organizations to start programs like the Whole Family/Two Generation model, the Western Mass Anchor Collaborative; the Ready, Willing and Able model; and efforts to counter the so-called ‘cliff effect’ (more on these later). Experience has shown that these groups can do more working together than they can individually.

“You think about the scarcity of resources, but over time, what our partners have committed to is what we’ve shown: this is not a zero-sum game. Just because you get funds doesn’t mean I won’t get funds; what we’ve done is bring more funds into the region through our collaborative work,” Kandilis said. “The changes that we make need to be scalable and sustainable so that all of our neighbors thrive and our businesses thrive.”

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest talked at length with Kandilis about Springfield WORKS and its collaborative approach to creating opportunities, putting people to work, and enabling them to advance in their chosen field.


Work in Progress

Partner organizations allow Springfield WORKS to work directly with not only employers, but the people who need the resources and help the most: families and residents of Western Mass., said Kandilis, noting that the first step was to partner with 413Cares, a website for people in the 413, to increase the visibility and access to programs and services offered in the area.

The online tool allows individuals to search through lists of organizations to find the resources they need, like housing, job skills, early education, healthcare, and more. Its main goal is for everyone, no matter which door they come from, to be able to access a resource.

“We wanted to make it [our partnership] tighter so we’re actually working with them directly to create a Springfield WORKS component where we have our direct partners and our resource partners in a space that we call Ready, Willing and Able,” she explained.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work. So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility?”

Anne Kandilis

Anne Kandilis

The Ready, Willing and Able model was created to allow Springfield WORKS and other organizations to learn how to better support local families, a need evidenced by statistics showing that 40% of them didn’t know where, or to whom, to turn for resources, whether for job searching, housing and food insecurity, healthcare, or other needs.

The individual is asked a series of questions to see if they are ready, willing, and able, said Kandilis. These include: do you have the resources in place that will support your success? Do you have a reliable childcare plan? Is your transportation such that you can get to training and work now and later, not just for today, but over the long haul?

This approach allows Springfield WORKS and its employer partners to meet individuals where they are instead of having them find the resources themselves.

“Families are receiving resources, but no one partner can provide all the resources a family might need in order to set up the worker for success,” she explained. “The second step, which is what we’re doing now, is to work directly with residents and families collaboratively to see what those system silos look like and break down those silos.”

While working in a collaborative fashion, Springfield WORKS and its partners will work with 160 individuals to see what this program looks like in practice. The hope for the Ready, Willing and Able model is to promote the systems in place and create needed change in how they serve individuals and families collaboratively, trying to keep families at the center of the equation.

This model is part of the list of strategies that goes into the Whole Family/Two Generation approach to careers — a model in which children’s and parents’ needs are addressed together.

“Oftentimes, there’s programming for parents and programming for children, but parents can’t focus on making the most of their education or job-training opportunities without early education or a safe place for their children,” said Kandilis, adding that partners for this model are mostly education institutions, such as Holyoke Community College, Tech Foundry, Head Start, Square One, the Department of Transitional Assistance, Springfield Partners for Community Action, the United Way of Pioneer Valley, Springfield public schools, and Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, which delivers a career-readiness program called Foot in the Door.

Through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant, $400,000 was dedicated to helping facilitate systemic socioeconomic changes in the city of Springfield; the main goal is to mitigate the negative impacts of incarceration by identifying those most at-risk individuals at a younger age.

Nearly half of people with criminal backgrounds, nationally, are still jobless a year after leaving prison, and a criminal record can reduce the chances of a second interview by 50%, said Kandilis, adding that the unemployment rate among formerly incarcerated people in the U.S. (27%) is higher than at any other point in the nation’s history.

“We realized that there just wasn’t any data in the system about the barriers for after incarceration or the families that are connected to somebody who is connected to the justice system,” she noted. “The issue is not only inside, but outside of the justice system within the families. So when we started the project a year ago, Springfield WORKS administered a survey directly to those connected to the system through their partners.”

Roughly 200 people answered that survey — 51.7% of local adult respondents were formerly incarcerated, while 90.8% have family members who have been incarcerated — indicating exactly what they needed to move forward, and Kandilis said she certainly wasn’t surprised by the two biggest needs identified: employment and housing.

Springfield WORKS came up with the solution of creating programs that kept the family at the center, addressing the needs of both the parents and children.

“It can start with being parent-focused first and then the child, or child-focused first and then the parent,” Kandilis said, “so if we work with Springfield public schools or Head Start, they’re working with the child, but they also have family engagement, so now we can connect — we are connected — to those organizations so that we’re not increasing the burden of work in those institutions.”


Stepping Away from the Ledge

This past year, Springfield WORKS and its partners were given another $500,000 through the Community Empowerment and Reinvestment Grant so it can expand on these two strategies and build onto it with the Anchor Collaborative, which is a way for employers to look at their policies related to investing in upward mobility.

“A lot of people can’t afford to go to school and not work,” Kandilis said. “So what are some of the policies employers can put forth to support workers and upward mobility? How do I get a better job in the company I’m already working for? That’s a win-win for employers because they’re looking for retention.”

This reality motivates the employer to invest in its own workforce, not leaving it completely up to those outside of the system, whether it’s the workforce board or the state or other resources, she added.

When partners can collaborate, it allows for the families to be at the center, holistically. Using the Whole Family/Two Generation model, institutions are working together to relieve the burden on individuals navigating complex systems, instead shifting the navigation to the partners.

Meanwhile, the Anchor Collaborative blends workforce dollars, training dollars, and resources to support workers and worker access to opportunities. This is just one of the ways to help break the ‘cliff effect.’

In Springfield WORKS’ early days, Kandilis and her team learned that the benefit system can be a disincentive to work. The cliff effect is a phrase used to describe what happens when someone is receiving benefits — housing subsidies, food support with SNAP, childcare support — and they are working either part-time or full-time, but are doing just enough to still receive the benefits they need to make ends meet. They go over the cliff when they earn too much to qualify for such benefits, or receive a reduced amount, thereby creating a disincentive to work and advance.

“Many of the systems aren’t connected, so there is a lot of complexity in those systems; housing systems are not connected to the SNAP program, so the more money you make, the less benefits you get,” she explained. “So there is a point in time, and it happens very quickly, where, if you’re making a certain amount of money and you’re receiving a certain level of support to pay your basic needs, just a dollar more [per hour] might gain you $3,000 or $4,000 in income, but you might lose $1,200 in benefits.”

Springfield WORKS and its collaborators successfully proposed legislation to create a pilot that asks what would it look like if the government paid an individual what amounts to an earned- income tax credit or another kind of payment, “so that they’re no worse off as they start moving up the income scale beyond the cliff.”

This would give individuals and families the comfort and support they need to move from an $18-per-hour job to a $30-per-hour job over time and get them beyond that so-called cliff.

If the cliff problem isn’t solved, Kandilis added, people are going to keep being stuck in what is called the ‘benefits plateau,’ making enough money and working enough hours to be able to pay their bills, but also still receive their benefits.

Overall, Springfield WORKS is dedicated to serving families and individuals who need it most. In this economy, it’s not always easy to build oneself up when the price of everything is also going up. Meanwhile, employers continue to struggle with finding enough qualified help to fill open positions and keep their operations humming.

“What we’re doing is bringing resources to support the rest of the family,” Kandikis said in summarizing the ongoing efforts at Springfield WORKS. “That’s how we create the best families and prosperity.”

Building Trades Cover Story

Yes, They Can


Women Trade workers

From left, Charlene Metcalf, Kailee Grigas, Tracy Routhiee, Lia Oliveira, Jes Thayer, and Liz Wambui


The construction trades employed an estimated 1,241,000 women in 2021. While that may seem like a high number, it represents only 11% of all construction trade workers in the U.S. But that percentage includes those working in administrative and office positions; when it comes to tradeswomen working in the field, on job sites, the percentage falls to 4%.

But times are changing, to an extent. Since 2016, there has been a 32% increase in women working in the trades — and a decrease in folks who don’t think they can do the job.

“Every once in a while, I still get that, but for the most part, people are pretty receptive to it,” said Abby Sullivan, who has owned a waste-management business for 11 years. “The biggest part is, I get on the phone talking to people and assuring them that, yes, this girl in the office can talk trash, literally. I never thought that was something I could do. And it’s kind of empowering to be able to be in this industry and be respected for my knowledge and my ability.”

Sullivan started as a school bus driver, but later realized that she wanted to do something on her own. Her CDL license proved to be a natural entry point into starting Affordable Waste Solutions. She started as the main driver and got the same question every woman BusinessWest talked to has heard: ‘you know what you’re doing?’

And the answers are always the same: ‘yes, I do know what I’m doing.’

“It’s not something that most girls do or are into — and at the the beginning, it was a little harder to be taken seriously,” Sullivan said.

But in an industry — actually, a related collection of industries — that desperately need a pipeline of new talent, more women than ever are realizing they can have well-paying, satisfying work in the construction trades, often without taking on the debt of many four-year colleges.

“It’s not something that most girls do or are into — and at the the beginning, it was a little harder to be taken seriously.”

For this issue’s focus on building trades, we spoke to several women in the field — and the teachers and employers who have encouraged them — and heard one resounding message many times over: you have to start somewhere, and confidence is key.


Reaching Them Early

Over the past decade, it’s become more natural to see women on job sites, but all those careers started somewhere. In Chicopee, Carl Ingram is starting at the middle-school level to get girls interested in the vocational programs offered at Chicopee Comprehensive High School. Seventh-graders attend a Career and Technical Education (CTE) fair to gauge what the shops are like, and eighth-graders hear more detailed presentations from each shop teacher about what their shops offer.

“We talk a lot about certifications, we talk about credentialing, we also talk about the CTE areas and the exploratory process, because we feel like the exploratory process is something every kid in Chicopee should do,” Ingram said.


Pat Sweitzer says girls need confidence to work in the construction trades.

As the CTE director for the city, he went on to explain that freshmen go through a 12-week process where they explore each shop class for a week and later have to pick their top two to choose from later in the second semester. Students not only learn academically in the ‘theory rooms,’ as they’re called, but they also gain hands-on experience in whatever shop they want to participate in: carpentry, metal fabrication, welding, electrical, automotive, advanced manufacturing, and more.

Lia Oliveira, a pipefitter for Adam’s Plumbing and Heating, told BusinessWest a similar story. “I went to Smith Voc in Northampton for high school. I didn’t want plumbing, but we tried every shop for a day, and then you pick your top four for a week, and plumbing was the one. I was like, ‘I can actually learn something new.’ That’s how I got into it. And then, in my junior year of high school, Adams hired me.”

However, not all the women we spoke with knew that early that they would end up in the construction trades. Jes Thayer started out with an art degree and traveled as an artist before the pandemic dried up opportunities. She decided to fall back on the fact that she was once a mechanic and liked to work with her hands.

“Whenever I have issues, my boss says, ‘whenever you have an issue, you come straight to me,’ and she handles it from the top all the way down.”

“I kind of knew that I wanted to be an electrician just because of dealing with cars and the electrical stuff in that, but it was great to get a foundation in all of the building trades through Community Works,” she explained. “They are the ones that helped me find Wayne J. Griffin Electrical, who’s been wonderful to me ever since.”

As a current apprentice, Thayer has gained the ability to feel more confident in her role, explaining that she feels more comfortable in the electrical trade than she did in many automotive shops.

“People tried to take tools right out of my hands, which is a big pet peeve. But here, I think being on the team that I have, they’re giving me the tools, and they’re asking me to show people that are younger than me. It’s about experience and taking leadership opportunities,” she said. “It’s really great to have my company do that, and since I’ve been on the site, we have great morale and have really got each others’ backs.”

Girls from Chicopee Comp

Girls from Chicopee Comp were able to attend a trades event to learn more and network.

Women face many challenges when it comes to working in a male-dominated industry — particularly women of color, who say they have faced discrimination in hiring and employment and experience sexual harassment and gender or racial bias on the job.

But with the increasing number of women on job sites, there’s a stronger sense of community when it comes to these issues, especially sexual harassment.

“Whenever I have issues, my boss says, ‘whenever you have an issue, you come straight to me,’ and she handles it from the top all the way down,” Oliveira said. “It’s a lot easier to deal with that stuff. I know a lot of women get scared coming into construction, thinking that they’re going to have to deal with it, but we don’t have to deal with it. They take care of it.”

Tracy Routhiee, a senior project manager for Fontaine Brothers, added that it’s important to have a support system that has everyone’s back and strengthens the entire team by cultivating camaraderie and standing up for what’s right.

However, it’s also important to begin with a measure of a confidence, said Pat Sweitzer, operations manager for Sweitzer Construction, who told BusinessWest that as long as women carry themselves with confidence and respect the work, men will respect them in turn.

“It’s cool to be wiring up the auditorium and realizing that those lights are going to be shining down on those kids someday that are going to be playing in their first concert or basketball game. It’s kind of neat to know that.”

“I did have one case where that did not occur,” she recalled. “I found that, as long as I stood up for myself, the dynamic changed, and the respect was then forthcoming to me on that particular project. It was an interesting experience for me to have that happen and then realize, ‘wait a minute, I know what I’m doing, and I know how to do this.’”


Building a Future

Liz Wambui, director of Diversity and Community Impact for Fontaine Brothers, added that stepping into a new environment, especially one where people may not take a woman seriously, can cause something like imposter syndrome. She said women in construction may have moments where they question if they’re good enough or doing the right thing, but the solution begins with reframing one’s mind and not taking no for an answer.

Most of the women we spoke with explained that, once they get out of their own way, the doors and opportunities are endless, and the feeling of success after completing a project is one of the most satisfying experiences in this industry.

Charlene Metcalf, accountant for Fontaine Brothers, said that, even though she’s not directly on the sites, she is proud to drive by different places that Fontaine Brothers has built and can’t help but share with others that she was a part of that.

A Chicopee Comp student

A Chicopee Comp student said the recent trades event helped her step out of her comfort zone.

Kailee Grigas, a laborer at the firm, agreed. “That’s exactly what happened when I was at MGM. I said, ‘oh, I was there working on that building.’”

Currently, Fontaine Brothers and subcontractors are rebuilding and joining DeBerry and Homer elementary schools in Springfield. The new DeBerry Homer Elementary School will be a state-of-the-art, three-story, 155,000-square-foot school that will serve approximately 920 students from pre-K to grade 6. Both elementary schools will be consolidated into this one building, but each school will maintain its individual identity. Shared spaces and resources include the gym, library, and cafeteria, but the schools will have separate academic and support spaces required to maintain independent schools.

Thayer couldn’t help but share her excitement about the new school with BusinessWest. “To build a school, a lot of things have to come together, but it’s also really exciting. I came from building an Amazon building before this, and it’s kind of like, eh, we’re being pushed to do this really fast, and everyone’s kind of got their own agenda. But here, it’s where kids are going to be learning. It’s cool to be wiring up the auditorium and realizing that those lights are going to be shining down on those kids someday that are going to be playing in their first concert or basketball game. It’s kind of neat to know that.”

Routhiee agreed, adding that, when she’s worked as a project manager for other schools that Fontaine has built, the teachers and principals are always full of gratitude.

And that sense of gratification at finished projects is a real, tangible benefit of being in this field, along with others the women who spoke with BusinessWest mentioned, including good wages and benefits, networking, travel, and more.

Speaking of networking and travel, one of the biggest conferences for women in the trades — Tradeswomen Build Nations — is held in Las Vegas. Closer to home, Girls in Trade is a state-sponsored event that was held at Dean Tech High School in Holyoke this year. Girls in the CTE programs at Chicopee Comp were able to attend with Amber Patruno, the CTE Inclusion teacher. Patruno explained that the girls listened to a lecture on the benefits of being in a trade, but also tested their soft skills with a scavenger hunt throughout the networking portion.

“Within the scavenger hunt, there were certain questions to ask the representatives and certain things to look for within their display, which I thought was phenomenal because it really intrigued the girls to not just walk past the booth,” she added. “It’s like, ‘hey, I want to ask you this question,’ which got them information, but also got them more interested in what each trade had to offer at that point.”

One student who went on the field trip said it was more useful than a college fair because the tradeswomen were able to answer whatever questions she and her peers had about the building trades.

“When you’re in an atmosphere like that with a lot of people, especially for me, it was like, ‘woah, OK,’ she said. “I had to take a step back and tell myself, ‘OK, let’s do this; calm down, one step at a time,’ and I got through it. And I realized, maybe this isn’t all that bad. It might look scary at first, but once you slowly test the waters, you’re good.”


Show Them Who’s Boss

That’s how all girls interested in the trades should approach the situation at hand, the student added.

“We’re all equal. I don’t really care who you are; we’re all human beings,” she said. “With that being said, if a man can do something, who says that a woman can’t do the same job? I believe that if you put your head to it, you put your heart to it, you put your mind to it, you can do it.”

Women have always been able to get their hands dirty, but in the construction trades, there’s certainly evidence they’re doing so at a higher rate, although the gender gap remains wide.

To further close that gap will take more education about what these careers offer — and the confidence to say, ‘yes, we can.’

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

The Deerfield Inn

The Deerfield Inn was built in 1884 and is still in use.

This year, the town of Deerfield, though incorporated in 1677, will mark its 350th anniversary since the first English settlers called the upper Pioneer Valley their home in 1673. Since the beginning, a lot has changed, but the town has tried to keep some aspects the same.

“It was a farming community,” Town Administrator Kayce Warren said. “If you’re going to Historic Deerfield, you’re going to see a lot of agricultural land. Most of it is preserved; most of it is still used for agricultural purposes. That was an element for many, many years that probably goes back to incorporating the town because of where we are; we had a great ability to grow things.”

Jessye Deane, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, said the town, while maintaining that agricultural focus, has also become a true tourist destination. In fact, tourism contributes about $79 million to Franklin County’s economy, and Deerfield is one of the driving forces behind those numbers.

“We’re seeing just about 27,000 visitors to Yankee Candle each year, and Historic Deerfield has just under 14,000,” Deane told BusinessWest. “These are people that are driving more than 50 miles to reach these destinations. In a lot of cases, these people are staying over at Champney’s and the Deerfield Inn. They’re taking in the sights, and they’re hopefully enjoying all of what Franklin County has to offer.”


Celebrating the Old

Historic Deerfield — an open-air destination that boasts a history museum, an art museum, and several historic house museums, as well as the Deerfield Inn and its historic restaurant, Champney’s — certainly reflects those roots. As one of the best-preserved collections of original historic houses in New England, Old Main Street, or simply “the Street,” as Historic Deerfield President John Davis called it, is lined with 40 houses that predate the Civil War.

As a frontier settlement, Deerfield regularly suffered from attack. The village was abandoned during King Philip’s War after the 1675 attack at Bloody Brook and resettled in 1682, only to face several more raids in the 1690s and into the early 1700s.

Today, the 18th- and 19th-century houses of the village center, many on their original sites and filled with antique furnishings, reveal the lifestyles of Deerfielders from the time of the first English settlement to the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century. The village has been on the National Register of Historic Landmarks since 1962.

“You get an amazing look at how the Puritans designed their towns and those houses along the street; 12 of them are museum houses that our visitors can go into,” Davis said.

Over the past year, Historic Deerfield has “really emerged from the pandemic” and is close to being back to where it used to be, recording its second-best month in its existing 75 years this past October, he added.

Because it was already engaged in virtual programming, he explained, the museums were able to hit the ground running faster than some of the larger museums when it came to using Zoom for digital content — and they’re continuing to do so. And when restrictions were lifted, the houses reopened for people to come see the 32,000-piece collection and the 12 homes open to tour.

“Being able to bring all of those back has really encouraged folks to visit us again in person, and there are a number of seasonal educational programs that are also big drivers for us,” Davis said. “One of the most popular of those is our open-hearth cooking program where you can actually see a meal being prepared in the old-fashioned way, over an open fire, and it’s not an experience that you can get in many other places.”

“You get an amazing look at how the Puritans designed their towns and those houses along the street; 12 of them are museum houses that our visitors can go into.”

John Davis

John Davis

Another program that brings locals and visitors as far as Boston and New York City to ‘the Street’ is the Sheep on the Street program in May, which attracts hundreds of people to look at the historic trades associated with wool. Flocks of heritage-breed sheep walk the streets like they would have in the 18th and 19th centuries, and visitors enjoy sheepdog and shearing demonstrations as well.

Davis said that the town and Historic Deerfield have a close relationship and like to function as “the town’s museum,” with Deerfield residents getting into the sites for free. But he wants to rekindle the museum’s relationships with schools, not only in the surrounding areas, but as far south as Springfield and Holyoke. Schools stopped having field trips because of COVID, and now that they’ve returned, he wants to make welcoming students a bigger priority in 2023.

Historic Deerfield

Historic Deerfield features 12 historic homes that visitors are able to tour.

“Western Massachusetts is a fascinating region, both for its history and its contemporary beauty,” he noted. “And this is one of the most magical places — this mile street that you can turn off of Route 5, and it’s like you’re going into a different century. I think that that is a part of the story of our region here in Western Mass. that is really interesting to folks who may not otherwise think of this as a destination area.”


Embracing the New

One of the more recent and frequently visited attractions is Tree House Brewing Company. Originally established in Brimfield, the brewing company now occupies the old Channing Bete headquarters on Route 5 and is celebrating its one-year anniversary in town.

Deerfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1677
Population: 5,090
Area: 33.4 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential Tax Rate: $14.97
Commercial Tax Rate: $14.97
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available

The craft-beverage scene in Franklin County was “alive and well” before Tree House Brewing Company joined the long list of local breweries, Deane said, but Tree House certainly helped introduce Deerfield and Franklin County to a larger craft fanbase.

Warren added that the taproom at Tree House Brewing Company is “really fun,” and several of her colleagues meet there to socialize and catch up after work.

“Tree House has really good beer, and they have really good pizza. You can bring your own food in, but once again, it’s nice to have options, so it’s not just Yankee Candle,” said Denise Mason, chair of the town’s Connecting Community Initiative. “We have Tree House, which is an anchor, and we have everything else — we want to connect all of it to give people choices.”

She went on to say that Yankee Candle offers pizza, but if someone wants another food option, they don’t always know what’s available in Deerfield. To create opportunities for diners and restaurant owners alike means making the town more accessible.

Warren added that the piece that really leads to economic development is getting people off the highway into the town center so they can shop, eat, get their hair done, and engage with the many wellness-focused enterprises. “We want to be able to get people back and get people into the center of town.”

Moving forward, Deerfield officials hope to improve the municipal parking lot, known as the Leary Lot, to create a more direct pathway to the main streets in the center of town. Berkshire Brewing Company wants to expand, “and that’s a good place for them to do it because there is parking and accessibility right next to the lot,” Warren noted. “But there’s also this concept of creating small spaces for people to eat, to gather, that are pretty and accessible and inviting.”

Fixing up the Leary Lot helps businesses around the center because it gives them some parking access and resources to other parts of town. With four other restaurants on Elm Street and another restaurant, Wolfie’s, on South Main Street, parking in the center of town is a massive need.

“If there’s no parking, people won’t shop or stop, especially older individuals,” Mason said. “If they don’t have easy parking, they just go somewhere else.”

The goal, of course, is to keep them in Deerfield, a town that has seen plenty of change over the course of 350 years and is looking toward a positive future while celebrating its rich past.

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

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Bill Sapelli

Bill Sapelli says Agawam has seen consistent growth in his five years as mayor.

The town of Agawam sits on the banks of the Connecticut River, a prime location for its original inhabitants, the Agawam native tribe, and later William Pynchon and other settlers who bought the land in 1636.

Centuries later, the town that sits by the river retains a rural character, at least outside its main business arteries, surrounded by larger cities like Westfield, West Springfield, Chicopee, and Springfield.

Now that the Morgan Bridge construction is finally complete, new businesses and developments are making their way into town to call it home.

“The bridge slowed development because no one was going to try to develop on the land across from it and try to get people to come if they couldn’t get over the bridge. So we’re looking forward to a lot of the development that’s planned,” Agawam Mayor Bill Sapelli said.

Unlike other cities, Agawam doesn’t have many big-box stores or chain establishments. Yes, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Stop & Shop, and Rocky’s Ace Hardware have a presence here — as does one of the country’s top theme parks, Six Flags New England — but the town is mostly made up of small, local businesses and some manufacturing.

Many of the businesses in town have been thriving in Agawam for a long time, surviving through challenges ranging from the Great Recession to COVID, Planning Director Pam Kerr said.

“The bridge slowed development because no one was going to try to develop on the land across from it and try to get people to come if they couldn’t get over the bridge. So we’re looking forward to a lot of the development that’s planned.”

One of those businesses that has thrived and is now expanding is Hood Milk, originally founded in Charlestown in 1846 and later opening its largest plant in Agawam in 1960.

“Hood purchased the old Southworth Paper Company adjacent to them. That’s a big, big building, and they just did a complete renovation of their existing building, a facelift that really looks good,” Sapelli said. “So they’re a very good neighbor to Agawam. They’ve been here for a very long time, and they’re expanding, which is great news.”

He and Robin Wozniak, director of the West of the River Chamber of Commerce, agreed that renovations and redevelopment spur growth in the town’s overall economy, helping Agawam businesses prosper and stay in town.

Another local staple in Agawam is Cooper’s Commons, located on the “most traveled road in town,” Route 159. It is a marketplace with a variety of specialty shops, services, and offices where locals and travelers can eat, drink, shop, work, and more.

Sapelli explained that the Commons are important to Agawam for many reasons, including the ones mentioned above, but most importantly to bring new businesses and residents into town.

“When you talk about Cooper’s Commons and places like that, anytime we have a specific destination for somebody to come, like Cooper’s, especially this time of year, it brings people into town, and it benefits the town in many ways,” he said. “Businesses like that just foster more businesses and more residents by attracting people to come into town to begin with.”


Harvest of Success

In the coming year, both Kerr and the mayor said they were excited for the businesses coming into the area.

Even though a few businesses were lost during the pandemic, Sapelli told BusinessWest, small business in the town is growing; for example, two new realty companies set up shop in the past year, along with multiple restaurants.

In October, Autumn Mist Farm and its farm-to-table restaurant opened its doors, replacing the old 911 Burgers and Dogs restaurant. Derrick Turnbull has been raising beef cattle since he was 11 years old on his parents’ farm. With the family business having played a vital role in his life, he’s now teaching it to his daughters.

“All of this shows that Agawam is really taking steps necessary to help the small businesses grow, flourish, prosper, and stay in Agawam.”

Robin Wozniak

Robin Wozniak

On his website, Turnbull says he is “blessed to walk out the door and go to work with all active family members in the business.” And locals feel the same way.

“The Autumn Mist farm-to-table restaurant is on the same street that the farm is on, where the animals are raised. And people really like the idea of that, knowing that they’re getting fresh and local meat,” Kerr said.

Keeping the environment in mind, selling locally reduces the carbon footprint that the beef industry creates, he noted. The farm’s customers are restaurants and college dining facilities interested in serving fresh and local food. The Turnbull family also has a beef contract with Big Y, a chain that has focused on buying local for many years.

Wozniak explained that the mission of the chamber is to help support these small businesses through the challenging times and get their faces out there, working closely with the mayor and municipal leaders.

Agawam at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1636
Population: 28,692
Area: 24.2 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $15.78
Commercial Tax Rate: $30.19
Median Household Income: $49,390
Family Household Income: $59,088
Type of government: Mayor; City Council
Largest Employers: OMG Inc., Agawam Public Schools, Six Flags New England, Whalley Computer Associates
* Latest information available

“Bringing in businesses into those empty storefronts, those little mini-plazas that do have some empty storefronts, keeping those filled and keeping people coming within Agawam and from outside of Agawam to purchase their goods and services. that’s obviously just going to help Agawam in the long run,” she said. “So ensuring that the businesses stay in business is the chamber’s mission, and also helping the new businesses come in with ease and helping them showcase who they are.”

She explained that bigger, more well-established businesses can roll with the challenges created by the pandemic, the changing economy, and the workforce crunch. But the town’s job is to be “that middleman” to ensure its part of Western Mass. grows with a focus on helping small businesses become bigger ones.


Culture of Support

Not only are town officials helping small businesses thrive, businesses are helping each other, like Six Flags aiding the Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

On Dec. 17, the amusement park donated its parking lots and staff to assist with parking almost 4,000 cars for Wreaths Across America, the annual event to remember and honor veterans through the laying of remembrance wreaths on graves and saying the name of every veteran aloud. King Gray Coach Lines also donated its bigger buses to shuttle people to and from the Six Flags lots to the cemetery.

“All of this shows that Agawam is really taking steps necessary to help the small businesses grow, flourish, prosper, and stay in Agawam,” Wozniak said. “The mayor and the council being transparent and helping the businesses get anything they need to enhance their business, and the ease of that, makes it very enticing for new businesses to come to Agawam.”

Special Coverage Technology

Securing a Workforce

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Tech Foundry helps people find jobs in the IT workforce.

Tech Foundry helps people find jobs in the IT workforce.


The information technology (IT) field in the U.S. is crying out for new talent, with hundreds of thousands of job openings and average salaries ranging from $86,000 to over $163,000. So why aren’t more people entering the field? A look at the local landscape sheds some light.

“Even prior to the pandemic, employers were having trouble filling their open positions, and that certainly has been exacerbated since,” Tricia Canavan said. “We saw from the early days, and continuing to the present, that available workers are not filling the numbers of the jobs that are available.”

For every two job openings, one person is applying to be part of this rapidly growing workforce, said Canavan, CEO of Tech Foundry in Springfield, an IT-focused workforce and economic-development organization that connects people to training support and career opportunities in the IT field, while also working with employers around the region, from nonprofits and higher education to medical organizations and corporations.

She explained that a lot of workforce-development organizations are not seeing quite as many people engaged in training as they’d hoped for.

Tech Foundry offers about 50 open slots with everything included: a laptop, one-on-one mentoring, internships, and more. Canavan thinks people don’t necessarily see themselves in the IT field, with the exception of those who have a love for video games and technology. But her organization’s mission is to connect people to living-wage jobs in IT; increasing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the IT sector for underrepresented and underserved people; while also helping companies thrive by being part of their talent solutions.

“Everybody in the world is completely and totally integrated with computers, and everybody’s work is supported by technology. So, regardless of the organization, you have a need for IT support staff or IT support functions specifically.”

Tricia Canavan

Tricia Canavan

“Everybody in the world is completely and totally integrated with computers, and everybody’s work is supported by technology,” she told BusinessWest. “So, regardless of the organization, you have a need for IT support staff or IT support functions specifically.”

Matthew Smith, director of Cybersecurity Graduate Studies at Bay Path University, agreed, noting that IT is one of those unique arenas that touches every industry: technology, financial services, healthcare, education, law enforcement, and more. And he stressed that cybersecurity is one of the most important sectors of IT at the moment.

“There’s not one industry that’s not touched by technology or cybersecurity,” Smith said. “And if you think you’re not, you’re fooling yourself because you’re just one intrusion of your company away from going down. Everybody is getting attacked.”

IT still grapples with a significant gender gap, with girls tending to lose interest, compared to boys, around middle school, though Bay Path, as a women-only college on the undergraduate level, is working to change that trend locally.

In Bay Path’s graduate studies, men and women are able to learn from both teachers and IT professionals about the technical world around them.

Smith explained that, in technology, especially in cybersecurity, the information changes rapidly, so before running each course, and even during the semester, he and his colleagues look at the content and tweak or change it to what’s currently relevant.

Just like Tech Foundry, Bay Path is preparing students for the workforce, providing internship opportunities for real-world experience. And any experience is important, as many corporations are requiring a bachelor’s or master’s degree to even get an interview, or requiring two to five years of experience for those who don’t have a degree. So a degree alongside actual workplace experience is a definite leg up.

For the past 25 to 30 years, there has been an ongoing debate over whether certifications or a degree is better for the IT industry. But certifications only cover certain niches. Smith explained that someone who secures a Microsoft certification and works for someone that uses Microsoft is in good shape. But if they apply for a job that uses strictly Apple sources, they may be out of luck.

“It’s kind of like you’re hanging all of your hats on one cert, but if you get your degree, it’s more broad, more spectrum … and then you can jump into that specific corporation, and they train you internally on what they’re using and what they can embed in,” he said.

Smith went on to tell BusinessWest that knowledge and experience outweigh everything. For example, in 30 years, an expert with only a high-school education is still an expert, but times have changed; people changing careers to secure opportunities in the IT workforce have to know more than people did 30 years ago.

And times certainly are changing in other ways. After the pandemic, more companies are relying on hybrid work models, allowing their employees to work more from home. But this creates a whole new set of issues.


Serve and Protect

The emergence of COVID-19 early in 2020 brought sudden demand for remote access. Fortunately, advancing technology made it easier to access a corporation’s network from any device at home or even on the go.

“Prior to that, I think people were a lot more resistant to remote workers. And it seems to be hanging on,” said Charlie Christianson, president of CMD Technology Group in East Longmeadow. “I think that, for a lot of our clients, the concept of a hybrid environment is where it’s going to settle out.”

Sean Hogan, president of Hogan Technology in Westfield, agreed. He told BusinessWest that he allowed remote work “before it was cool,” and that working for a smaller IT-support business in Western Mass. allows flexibility for his employees because of how often they are on the computer. As long as they have good security and bandwidth, they can work from anywhere.

“I’m a firm believer that, as a small business, we can grow in a down economy. In fact, over the years, every time we’ve seen a major downturn in the economy, we’ve come out of it very well.”

Charlie Christianson

Charlie Christianson

“On the flip side, though, with clientele, now we’re expected to support everybody’s house and laptops, so that’s a little bit more challenging because it’s a non-controlled environment, quite often, where folks are working,” he said.

Christianson added that he has to help clients understand the implications of letting someone use a home computer to access a corporate network as opposed to providing them a computer, or, in many cases, using a personal cell phone on a corporate network.

Over the past several years, CMD has spent a lot more time working with clients on the importance of cybersecurity. Recently, the company has observed a drive to adopt better practices, especially in the insurance sector. Many clients approach Christianson and his team with questionnaires provided by insurance agents to create better security measures in case of a data breach or hack.

Smith said a lot of companies have outdated security plans, some being 10 to 20 years old without any updates on the current technology available. Other businesses don’t have security plans in place at all.

Cybersecurity can be expensive, he noted, and a lot of companies feel like they can’t afford it. For small to medium-sized businesses, it’s tough to allocate money they need to direct to sales and marketing to drive their product, so cybersecurity often falls by the wayside — until a hack or attack happens. Then they recognize the importance of a proactive investment.

“If an incident were to occur, that can bankrupt your organization. You can be offline for 48 hours,” Smith said. “And by the time you pay that ransom — or you don’t, and you don’t have the specific backups to recover from — then you’re out of luck.”

Bay Path graduate students are trained to understand what to look for and how to rebuild that specific security incident plan to today’s standards, so they can incorporate that knowledge and bring it into a profession where they help protect individuals and businesses.

But companies, like CMD and Hogan, that help those businesses succeed are also focused on a threat of another kind: talent recruitment and retention.

“I think IT as a whole has a challenge for retention because you get a certain talent and a certain personality, and they’re always looking for bigger, better, smarter, faster,” Hogan said. “What happens is a lot of the folks that you bring in are looking to work in corporate America, and they want an enterprise-level job, and they want a big budget. They want to work at a big business. So you lose some folks to that.”

Even at a time when many IT professionals can work remotely, he noted, the key to retaining employees is hiring the right personality, and among the key traits is accountability to oneself. He also said new employees should pass the “beer test,” especially if they’re spending more time at work than with family at times.

“We’re looking for the person that wants to work in a flexible environment that has the right culture. In an interview, I really try to understand if they’re going to fit into our culture or not,” Hogan said. “Are they going to play well with the team? Are they a good fit? Do I want to go out on Thursday afternoon and have a beer with that guy or gal? That’s important to us because we work a lot.”


Progress Report

Among those hundreds of thousands of IT job openings in the U.S., employers are trying to fill about 675 vacancies in Springfield alone.

But despite that national challenge of hiring and retaining staff, both Christianson and Hogan reported a successful year.

In the past couple of years, Hogan told BusinessWest, one could hear a pin drop in his office in the last two weeks of December. This year, however, he’s been busy onboarding clients, closing deals, and seeing lead generations popping up left and right.

Christianson added that he had increased staff considerably this past year and plans to continue to do so in 2023.

“I’m a firm believer that, as a small business, we can grow in a down economy,” he explained. In fact, over the years, every time we’ve seen a major downturn in the economy, we’ve come out of it very well.

“I think, as small business owners, we just have to put our blinders on and not listen to the news and not get caught up in the hysteria around the economy and go out and do what we do every day. If you do that, you’ll be just fine,” Christianson added. “And the same applies to our industry. If you go out and work hard and treat your customers right and do the right things, you’ll grow.”

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight


Enfield officials have been running surveys

Town officials have been running surveys to determine how to improve business and quality of life.

Even though the worst of the pandemic is over, businesses are still struggling to get their footing. But now, through Connecticut’s Community Development Block Grant Program, Enfield business owners can take a leap of faith into a new future.

“We’re trying to piece things together, but meanwhile we just try to work with the applicants as best we can,” said Laurie Whitten, director of Development Services for the town just over the Massachusetts border from Longmeadow. “We’ll work with everybody and anybody to make sure that we get the things that the community needs.”

She went on to say the Planning and Zoning board has “actually modified regulations because some of the setbacks were a little onerous.” And in order to bring in more businesses, changes had to be made.

Meanwhile, development is moving forward on numerous projects, from an almost-completed assisted-living and memory-care facility on Hazard Avenue to the transformation of the former Community Health Center facility into a mixed-use space, including TrackStar Nutrition of Springfield and Magic Salon & Barber Shop.

Town officials have been working with businesses owners on initiatives that will make Enfield more inviting.

“We’ll work with everybody and anybody to make sure that we get the things that the community needs.”

“The Town Council approved $450,000 of our ARPA federal funding assistance for a small-business program and a nonprofit grant program in early October,” said Nelson Tereso, director of Economic & Community Development. His department, with the help of the Economic Development Commission — made up of local business owners, community members, and people involved in other commissions who have an understanding of what the community needs — are currently reviewing and scoring the applications.

“I know that a lot of other communities throughout the United States used a lot of the ARPA money to provide recovery assistance, either with utilities or payrolls, things of that nature,” he added. “We are doing something completely outside of the box.”

Meanwhile, through a transit-oriented development initiative, there has been talk to expand and build on the current Thompsonville center, with the goal of making it the town center again.

In short, Enfield is not only looking to weather the post-pandemic era, but thrive and grow.


Connecting Points

Tereso explained that Enfield is on the Hartford transit line that connects to Springfield Union Station and New Haven Union Station, with a total of 13 stops between those cities. But Enfield isn’t one of them — yet.

“Enfield is on the Hartford transit line, the last stop in Connecticut heading north. We currently do not have a stop here in Enfield,” he said. “There was once a train station here in Enfield. We are proposing to build a new station through the Connecticut Department of Transportation.”

The town announced a $13.8 million federal grant for the funding of the construction of the station in June, with a ribbon cutting by Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney. State Bond Commission grant dollars are also being appropriated for the project. The town is currently working outside the parameters of the site to infill the development around the station.

Asnuntuck’s behavioral-health center.

Michelle Coach (third from left) cuts the ribbon on Asnuntuck’s behavioral-health center.

One of the areas needing the most redevelopment is Enfield Square, where the Target and largely vacant mall sits. The site’s current owner, Namdar Realty Group of New York, and the town are doing what they can to bring in new businesses.

“It’s the home of the former Macy’s, JCPenney, and Sears. Unfortunately, those three businesses are no longer in the Enfield Square mall. The town realizes the importance of trying to redevelop that mall area,” Tereso said. “In order to assist Namdar with potential tenants down the road, we have engaged our Capitol Region Council of Governments to work with the town and are sponsoring an Enfield Square mall area traffic-impact study.”

The purpose of the study is to improve operating conditions and maximize the capacity along the Route 190 (Hazard Avenue) and Route 220 (Elm Street) corridors and assess development scenarios for the underutilized mall and the potential impact on the roadway system — not just on the roadway itself for traffic, but also improving other means of infrastructure, in terms of bike, pedestrian, and transit stops in and around the mall.

Enfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1683
Population: 42,141
Area: 34.2 square miles
County: Hartford
Residential Tax Rate: $27.89
Commercial Tax Rate: $27.89
Median Household Income: $67,402
Median Family Income: $77,554
Type of Government: Town Council, Town Manager
Largest Employers: Lego Systems Inc., MassMutual, Retail Brand Alliance, Enfield Distribution Center
* Latest information available

To those ends, Namdar and town officials have listening to the needs of the community. A market study was also conducted in town to understand what people want to see and do with the underdeveloped or vacant plots of land in the Enfield Square area.

Tereso told BusinessWest there have been a lot of suggestions for entertainment uses, mixed spaces for retail and housing, and even a walkable outlet setting similar to Evergreen Walk in South Windsor. One thing the study made clear is that business owners no longer want to lease their spaces, but prefer to own them.

“Ultimately, the town was able to subdivide the mall parcels from eight or nine to 16 parcels, and they have already implemented the sale of two or three of them,” Tereso said, adding that Namdar is trying to break off some of the parcels and sell them off individually. “They also sold the Target to Target, so they’re trying to break up the mall to not only help with the redevelopment, but also bring in smaller businesses, especially along the Route 190 and 220 corridors.”


Town and Gown

Considering the push for new businesses and attendant workforce-training needs, Asnuntuck Community College has been holding training sessions and using its facility to help local businesses, Whitten said.

“Enfield Social Services and other departments will work with Asnuntuck on programs for training on machinery or car repair, or anything like that. They try to work with them to promote the trades,” she explained. “Having a school in town is a great asset, and we try to work with them as best we can. They’re very willing to work with the town to come up with programs for local businesses to train people.”

Asnuntuck CEO Michelle Coach said many local businesses serve in an advisory capacity to the college. For example, through a Business in Industry program, Asnuntuck allows companies to come in and deliver training resources.

“A lot of the time, and more recently, it’s soft skills because people have been online for so long. So they don’t know how to talk to someone and look at them,” Coach said. “They’re afraid and used to the screen. We’re trying to talk about body language and interactions, and that’s something that’s been brought to the forefront a lot.”

After learning remotely during the pandemic, students are hungry for interaction. In the past year, enrollment has increased 7.8%, and students are asking for more opportunities to engage with one another.

Starting in the fall of 2023, through the Pledge to Advance CT (PACT) program, Connecticut residents and high-school graduates can receive a free community-college education if they are registering and attending college for the first time. Funding covers the gap between federal and state grants received and the college’s tuition and mandatory fees. Entry into the program will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis.

“Having a school in town is a great asset, and we try to work with them as best we can. They’re very willing to work with the town to come up with programs for local businesses to train people.”

“A high-school graduate can come and get a free education and then transfer to their four-year school if they need to transfer. It’s a great opportunity,” Coach said. “Our average age has gone down to 26 years old because of that program; it was at 27.5 to 28 depending on the semester.”

One program that has also taken off since its start seven years ago is the Second Chance Pell program in local prisons. When COVID hit, visitors were restricted from entering prisons, but within the last semester, Asnuntuck has been able to reach 145 students in that setting.

“We’re looking at expanding next semester,” Coach said. “We have a new project that’s coming with them, and it’s focusing on some manufacturing classes … looking at blueprint readings, looking at some manufacturing math. And then there’s money that’s been dedicated to a project called Vocational Village. That will potentially bring some opportunities into the prisons to do some hands-on work.”

Asnuntuck has been part of Enfield for the past 50 years and is looking forward to celebrating that milestone during the 2023 graduation. Reminiscing on the past, Coach told BusinessWest a story of how the then-president received the memo that the college was moving to its current location on 170 Elm St.

“He said, ‘if you hear me running and shouting down the hallways, it’s because we got the approval.’” And the rest is history — literally. The school is looking forward to the vignettes and memories that will be shared among alumni and faculty emeriti.

“Things like that are what we want to embrace and enjoy with our campus community,” she added. “We’re small; we all know each other. We don’t live in silos. We really have a good, close community here — a close family feel.”


Bottom Line

With a population just over 42,000, Enfield might be a large town, but the community is close and tight-knit, Whitten said. And officials are looking forward to a new year of growth and community.

“We just work the best we can with all developments,” she said, “whether it be the small mom-and-pop or the developer of Enfield Square.” u


Kailey Houle can be reached at
[email protected]

Travel and Tourism

Selling the Whole Package


Mary Kay Wydra confirms that an Ironman marathon

Mary Kay Wydra confirms that an Ironman marathon is coming to the Springfield area in the summer of 2023.

In the years just prior to the pandemic, Mary Kay Wydra said, Western Mass. was building considerable momentum as a location for meetings and conventions.

Indeed, a region long considered to be third-tier for conventions due to its size and facilities, but second-tier because of the many amenities it offered, was becoming increasingly popular with groups ranging from gymnastics leagues to religious groups; sporting-event organizers to trade associations, said Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB). And with the arrival of MGM Springfield in late 2018, the region had another box it could check and more facilities to add to its portfolio.

Obviously, the pandemic put a huge dent in this business and brought the pace of progress to a standstill, said Wydra, noting that things are starting to pick up again as groups of all kinds put more events on the calendar. The region is looking to pick up where it left off and raise the bar even higher, she told BusinessWest, adding that there are many reasons for optimism on this front.

“I’m really lucky because there’s not a lot of people like me in the country that has a great convention center, meeting hotel space, and then the fairgrounds less than two miles from downtown.”

That’s because of all that the region can offer, and at a price that’s well below the tier-1 and tier-2 cities and regions.

“We offer tremendous value, and we offer the planner the ability to really be a big fish in a little pond with their group,” said Wydra as she summed up the region’s primary selling points, listing everything from the Basketball Hall of Fame to the Dr. Seuss Museum. “That’s why it’s easy to sell this region.

“When conventions come in, they’re coming here for a purpose,” she went on. “They often want to get out of the convention center or the hotel that they’re meeting in and visit another attraction during their down time or even have a planned activity.”

Another reason for optimism, and a solid 2022, is the work that the GSCVB, working in concert with those operating area attractions, put in during the pandemic.

Indeed, while convention goers might have been pushed to the sidelines, those planning events, and those hoping to attract them to their regions, kept working.

The work was somewhat different, as we’ll see, but it laid the groundwork for the momentum currently being seen and anticipation for more gatherings in the years to come.


Back in Business

The GSCVB covers the region from Connecticut’s northern border to Vermont’s southern border, a wide area that offers a wide array of attractions and opportunites for attendees of gatherings. It’s an area that also boasts a diverse portfolio of meeting spaces and facilities for events and conventions, from the convention center in downtown Springfield to the array of buildings at the Big E to the various facilities at area colleges.

Attending a ribbon cutting for the Yankee Security convention

Attending a ribbon cutting for the Yankee Security convention are, from left, Jim Boucher and Chris Kelley of MGM Springfield, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno, and DJ Dabenigno of Yankee Security.

“A lot of convention activity happens here in the lower valley in Springfield because we have the MassMutual center; they’re a very close partner, and we work with them. The Marriott, the Sheraton, MGM all have meeting space within their hotels, too,” said Alicia Szenda, vice president of Sales at the GSCVB. “I’m really lucky because there’s not a lot of people like me in the country that has a great convention center, meeting hotel space, and then the fairgrounds less than two miles from downtown. It’s nice for me to have that variety of straight meeting space versus some fairgrounds and some open space so close to the hotels in Springfield, West Springfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke.”

When COVID hit in March of 2020, however, the convention business “fell off a cliff,” said Szenda, adding said that some groups opted to meet virtually but there was no travel, to Greater Springfield or anywhere else.

This was a time to continue meeting with event planners (virtually in most all cases), continue the work of selling the region, and create some momentum for when groups would be ready to travel and stay again.

“When you’re selling the region … yes, they need a place to gather, but you sell more than just a building. You’re selling the whole package, and we’re really optimistic that our convention-center business will pick up.”

Szenda joked that the only part of her job that she couldn’t do was site visits — pretty much the majority of what her job entails. She and other team members had to put together Zoom presentations and virtual site visits to generate new business as well as repeat business.

“We did those for folks who were possibly booked and maybe had to cancel and needed a refresher during the rebooking,” she explained. “We also reached out to everyone in our database and invited them to different events because they may not have had a chance before to come visit the area in person. But meeting planners had a lot of time on their hands, so it gave them an opportunity to educate themselves on destinations they hadn’t been to before or maybe hadn’t been to in a while.”

For example, those at the GSCVB staged a Zoom meeting — attended by several event planners — with officials at the Basketball Hall of Fame, who talked about the various kinds of spaces available at the Hall for meetings and events, but also about how the Hall was just one part of the broader picture in Western Mass. Hall of Famer Grant Hill joined the call and answered questions from some of the event planners about his life, his career, and the Hall itself.

That’s just one example of how those at the GSCVB managed to keep the region front and center during the pandemic, work that is starting to pay off as events start happening again and more are put on the calendar for 2023 and well beyond.

Overall, tourism rebounded in 2022, said Wydra and Szenda, but group business, meaning meetings and conventions, is still off from pre-pandemic levels.

According to U.S. Travel, the numbers in October 2022 were off about 3% from those in October 2019. But Wydra is optimistic about the years to become — for several reasons, but especially Szenda’s “conversion rate.”

“Alicia has a really high conversion rate,” she explained. “When she’s able to bring a planner or two — or sometimes it’s a committee — into the region and she shows them what we’re offering them, they often will book their business, and it converts into a contract.”

Szenda agreed and told BusinessWest that some of the groups that had canceled events to be staged in 2020 and 2021 were willing to renew their contract and rebook for the next few years. Several groups and events are making their return to the area, like the Ironman marathon, Red Sox Winter Weekend, the Massachusetts Teachers Assoc., and Hooplandia.


The Place to Be

Wydra noted that people don’t just come to the region for the conventions and events, but for the attractions and the area itself. Western Mass. has a broad, diverse of museums, parks, sports activities, the Thunderbirds, MGM, and more to offer those visiting.

“All of that is part of a package. When you’re selling the region … yes, they need a place to gather, but you sell more than just a building,” she told BusinessWest. “You’re selling the whole package, and we’re really optimistic that our convention-center business will pick up.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Business of Aging

Home-field Advantage

Brenda Bronner says the Mental Health Outreach Team is more important now than ever.

Brenda Bronner says the Mental Health Outreach Team is more important now than ever.

Adults age 65 and older make up almost 17% of the U.S. population, and nearly one in four older adults has a mental-health condition. Those with anxiety disorders and depression, which in many cases emerged or worsened amid the isolation of the pandemic, are often undiagnosed and go untreated, leading to severe complications, such as hospitalizations and ‘silent suicides,’ which account for 18% of all suicide deaths.

WestMass ElderCare (WMEC) is partnering with local senior centers and Councils on Aging (COAs) to help fight this ongoing and worsening epidemic.

“A lot of older adults were very isolated during COVID, and I think they were, out of all the age groups, more hesitant to leave their home and even have people come into their home,” said Brenda Bronner, director of Home Care Programs at WMEC. “They know how to manage their basic needs, but the depression and anxiety that we saw with a lot of younger people was also true of some of the older adults that we see.”

Through state and federal funding, as well as grants to support older adults and persons with disabilities, the organzation’s new Elder Mental Health Outreach Team is meant to address older adults’ behavioral-health needs that are typically not met through more traditional resources.

Older adults living in the community face added challenges in accessing behavioral-health services, including transportation, social isolation, financial burdens, fewer mental-health professionals with expertise treating older adults, and complications of co-morbid cognitive and medical-health illnesses.

Through a referral system and a grant provided by the Massachusetts Assoc. for Mental Health, Bronner explained, a licensed clinical social worker and geriatric nurse practitioner will provide care without the need for insurance, using a model that isn’t used through traditional insurance or counseling agencies: offering mental-health support to older adults in their homes or at community sites.

“A lot of older adults were very isolated during COVID, and I think they were, out of all the age groups, more hesitant to leave their home and even have people come into their home. They know how to manage their basic needs, but the depression and anxiety that we saw with a lot of younger people was also true of some of the older adults that we see.”

“They would meet at the senior center or in a person’s home or at a family member’s — wherever the older person feels most comfortable is where we would kind of base our support. The biggest problem, I think, for older adults is that they often have complex physical health conditions.”

Indeed, older adults may experience reduced mobility, chronic pain, frailty, or other health problems, for which they require some form of long-term care. In addition, older people are more likely to experience events such as bereavement or a drop in socioeconomic status with retirement. All of these stressors can result in isolation, loneliness, or psychological distress in older people, making it critical to meet their needs where they live.


House Calls

Despite the availability of safe and effective treatments, late-life mood disorders remain a large problem. A reason for this may be that the public sees depression and suicide as normal aspects of aging. A sizable portion of the population views youth suicide as a greater tragedy than late-life suicide.

This way of thinking works against effective outreach to the elderly and efforts to understand and treat their conditions. The healthcare system is not meeting the needs of many elderly individuals, and discriminatory coverage and reimbursement policies for mental healthcare are significant barriers to treatment.

This age group also often grapples with stigma around mental health and seeking necessary care.

“They aren’t as open to therapy as the younger generations are. Everyone’s very into talking to a counselor, but I think that generation is less open to it,” Bronner said. “I think having the clinician go to the person versus someone having to go into a doctor’s office is just less threatening all around. We’re really excited about being able to provide the in-home component to people and meet them where they’re at.”

WMEC will partner with the Belchertown, Chicopee, Hadley, South Hadley, and Ware COAs on this project, noting that COAs are ideal community-based service providers to coordinate prevention efforts, identification of signs and symptoms, referral, and collaboration with treatment providers. The five Councils on Aging represent urban areas with a significant Latinx population as well as rural communities.

“I think having the clinician go to the person versus someone having to go into a doctor’s office is just less threatening all around.”

The project will aim to identify individuals who are living at home and in need of mental-health interventions. Referrals to the program can be made by anyone concerned about an older adult who lives in Belchertown, Chicopee, Granby, Hadley, Holyoke, Ludlow, South Hadley, or Ware by contacting WMEC’s Information and Referral department or by visiting www.wmeldercare.org/mental-health-outreach-referral-form to make a referral.

Bronner said the licenced clinician will not only be able to work collaboratively with the geriatric nurse practitioner, but could possibly conduct a medication reconciliation or make recommendations for further treatment, as well as working with that senior’s case manager to get additional in-home support if they need and want it.

Trust and support is the main goal when working with seniors in this position. Trusting a stranger to come to one’s home can feel threatening, she added.

“I think once they [the social worker and nurse practitioner] get in and meet with them and they see it’s going well, they’re more receptive to accepting support. I think that starts with meeting with them in their own homes because of transportation and complex medical needs, sometimes. And also, again, if we make a connection with one of the team members and an older adult, they’re more receptive to accepting support.”


View to the Future

As of now, WMEC is just getting the ball rolling on the Elder Mental Health Outreach Team project, but referrals are pouring in. While the organization isn’t looking to expand the effort yet, expansion is inevitable, Bronner explained.

WMEC is still looking for a licensed clinical social worker, as that specialty is facing a shortage, and talent is hard to come by. Training is also needed for staff before they’re able to visit seniors in their homes.

“We anticipate getting referrals from the senior centers,” she explained. “Maybe they’re going to the meal program or activities there, or maybe they volunteer there. But they could have some kind of depression and anxiety, or maybe there’s a life change — there’s a spouse that is having a change in cognition, and they just need to talk to someone about it. It wouldn’t really change their routine because they’re going there every day already.”

Bronner went on to say that area fire and police departments send in a lot of referrals as well because of the amount of calls they receive. As the eyes and ears of the community, they often get called to homes for issues like falls and well-being checks.

Bronner urges anyone who needs help — or knows someone who needs help — to call WMEC for support, because it’s important they know they’re never alone.

“If people aren’t sure how to get support, they can call WMEC or their local senior center, and we’ll get the person connected. You don’t have to remember a phone number or whatever — just reach out, and we’ll connect you to the right person.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Armata’s will eventually move back into a rebuilt plaza

Armata’s rebuilt plaza (rendering).

Armata’s plaza

After being ravaged by a fire, Armata’s will eventually move back into a rebuilt plaza (rendering above).

Longmeadow is a quintessential small town, veined by Route 5 and a few other arteries and lined with historical homes dating back to before the Revolutionary War. But with a much higher percentage of residential properties than businesses, townspeople have long rallied around the town’s small commercial sectors.

“Our economic development is not so much what you would see in some of the larger cities around us, but Longmeadow has held pretty strong, certainly, over the past three or four years now,” said Lyn Simmons, town manager. “We did not have as much of an impact from COVID as some of those other larger communities that have large retail sectors … but this past year has been pretty good. I think a lot of them are trying to get back to whatever this new normal looks like for us.”

Coming out of the pandemic, the small clusters of business in town have kept residents engaged, said Grace Barone, executive director of East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce, adding that the Longmeadow Shops have “done a wonderful job” with their ‘Stroll the Shops’ initiative and creating activities to keep town residents involved.

“It brings business in, they’ve got shops, they’ve got dining there, and then, across the street, you have more shopping. Wonderful things are happening there.”

“There are a lot of flashbacks that come to my head around this time, and Longmeadow was right there from the get-go. From the moment the fire happened, they were there with us every step of the way, and we’re just very lucky.”

Residents and folks from out of town can stop at Alex’s Bagel Shop as they get off the I-91 exit onto Longmeadow Street or stop at the Shops for retail therapy and a bite to eat.

The Maple Center shopping plaza, which was ravaged by a fire a little over a year ago, has long been an attraction as well. Students and their families from Bay Path University frequent the stores, adding to the impact of the economic development.

Bay Path, in fact, is closely identified with Longmeadow, drawing faculty, staff, and students into town from the surrounding areas of Northern Conn. and Western Mass. Barone explained that, even though the college has been in business for 150 years, its “bones and integrity” are still very present.

“What you loved about it 30 years ago is still what you love about it; it still has those great bones, and that’s so important because sometimes, as communities or businesses grow, they grow so much that they lose sight of who they are and what their mission is. I feel [Bay Path] managed to hold onto that really well in Longmeadow.”


Out with the Old

Despite the tragic loss of Armata’s Market and a few other shops in Maple Center, store owner Alexis Vallides is looking forward to a fresh start.

Armata’s Market was founded in 1963 by the Armata family and purchased by the Vallides family in the early 2000s. Vallides told BusinessWest that she knew running a business was something she always wanted to do.

“It’s in my blood. I’m fourth generation in my family business,” she said, noting that her great-grandfather immigrated from Greece and launched a career in the food industry. “After I graduated from college, I took a bigger role, and there’s just an opportunity to kind of slide in there.”

The small grocery store had expanded over the decade she had run it; it wasn’t just known for its meats anymore, but also deli foods, prepared hot and cold meals, and a from-scratch bakery.

“We were in a pretty good groove at that point, and people had caught on,” Vallides said. “And we had become pretty well-known. Anytime you would pull into our parking lot, you’d see half Connecticut plates and half Massachusetts plates. So I know we had a good following, and I feel like we definitely did impact the town of Longmeadow economically.”

The fire that tore through the plaza the Tuesday before Thanksgiving in 2021 completely decimated Armata’s, the Bottle Shop, and Iron Chef. A hair and nail salon were also displaced after the tragedy. The fire’s origin is still listed as undetermined, and no report has been released by the state fire marshal’s office. The lead investigator has retired, and the town is still looking for a replacement.

Longmeadow at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1783
Population: 15,853
Area: 9.7 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $24.64
Commercial Tax Rate: $24.64
Median Household Income: $109,586
Median Family Income: $115,578
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting; Town Manager; Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Bay Path University; JGS Lifecare; Glenmeadow
* Latest information available

“It had a massive impact on those neighborhoods there,” Simmons said. “Those people that just ran out to grab some milk or order dinner and pick it up quickly … we saw a big impact just from people’s day-to-day lives, with the convenience of having those offerings there. And certainly there’s the impact to the people that worked in all of those businesses, especially at that time of year. It was really hard.”

However, through tragedy came resiliency and determination. Vallides and her team continued to provide turkey dinners, deliveries, and from-scratch baked goods that holiday season. The people of Longmeadow rallied around them and are excited for their eventual return.

“There are a lot of flashbacks that come to my head around this time, and Longmeadow was right there from the get-go,” she said. “From the moment the fire happened, they were there with us every step of the way, and we’re just very lucky.”


In with the New

As the town gears up for 2023, there is plenty of anticipation about when Maple Center will be rebuilt. The town is currently working with the owners of the property on their rebuilding plans and are going through the hearing process soon, hopefully starting construction within the next few months.

Vallides told BusinessWest she has signed an intent to return with the landlord, but not an official lease yet. At the moment, the new floor plan for Armata’s is expected to be 3,000 feet larger than it was previously.

Right now, she is hard at work with her team as they move into Village Food Mart in Hampden. A second location was always a possibility, but the opportunity had to be right before jumping in.

“They’re very much aware that when your small business does well, it gives back to the community, and then the needs of the community are met. That’s the beauty of small towns.”

“The fire isn’t the only reason we went to Hampden. I would like to believe that, if we still had Armata’s standing today, we still would have taken up the opportunity,” she said. “I think Hampden Village Food Mart resonates a lot with me because it is very similar to Armata’s in many ways, so that’s the kind of opportunity that I was looking for — I didn’t want to just take the first opportunity that came to me. It had to be something that was going to align with what we had built for the brand of Armata’s.”

Barone agreed. If it wasn’t for the support of locals and outside shoppers, there wouldn’t be such a push for the small market to come back.

“They’re very much aware that when your small business does well, it gives back to the community, and then the needs of the community are met. That’s the beauty of small towns. It speaks volumes for Armata’s, and it speaks volumes for the people in the town of Longmeadow,” Barone said. “Everybody longs for them to come back. So instead of going to that little corner, we have to go up the street to the Longmeadow Shops, and there’s some great restaurants there. It’s a change in routine. We just have to wait and see what’s to come in the new phase.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


Music Heals the Soul

Vanessa Ford (left) said CMSS provides more than just singing

Vanessa Ford (left) said CMSS provides more than just singing opportunities to students, but life skills as well.

After the pandemic, one in 10 people under the age of 18 experienced a mental-health condition, and one in five young people reported that the pandemic had a significant negative impact on their mental health.

Research dating back to ancient Greece has demonstrated that music and the arts can have valuable benefits in reducing distress and mental-health concerns, and Community Music School of Springfield (CMSS) is doing everything it can to provide that safe space for youth.

“We love the idea of the beloved community. It was Dr. Martin Luther King who talked about that, but we really want to be the embodiment of the beloved community that helps Springfield and the community support each other and itself and sort of uplift our city in a way that’s not gentrification, but through the arts,” said Sierra Simmons, associate director of CMSS.

She went on to explain that the school and its staff have always been dedicated to access and inclusion when it comes to musical and artistic opportunities, as well as improving the well-being of the community by bringing people together.

“We have classical, contemporary, pop music, hip-hop, gospel, jazz … it pretty much runs the gamut. We try to be really inclusive and relevant to the culture of people that are in our community.”

CMSS was founded in 1983 as a nonprofit and still operates as one today. Around the end of 1999, it moved to its current location, a 1933 Art Deco building in the heart of downtown Springfield, comprising more than 33,000 square feet of studios, classrooms, offices, and performance areas across five floors.

While touring the space with BusinessWest, Rachel Rivard, director of Faculty and Education at CMSS, noted that the performance hall is her favorite area in the building. The Robyn Newhouse Concert Hall used to house a bank, and it’s still adorned with old teller boxes and deposit-slip tables. On the wall hangs an original 1933 mural of the American urban landscape by Carroll Bill.

Today, the building serves more than 2,000 students annually. The music school provides a variety of programs, including music therapy, a preschool of the arts, a children’s chorus, and more. Among the private lessons and ensembles, students have the capability of learning almost 33 different instruments.

“Pretty much any instrument you can think of, we have someone who can teach it. We have a staff of about 84, and about 65 of those people are musicians,” Simmons said. “And we teach all different sorts of genres. We try to honestly include everything you can think of. We have classical, contemporary, pop music, hip-hop, gospel, jazz … it pretty much runs the gamut. We try to be really inclusive and relevant to the culture of people that are in our community.”

One of the programs offered through CMSS is the Sonido Musica program, back in 31 different Springfield and Holyoke public schools this year to support musical learning, social-emotional growth, and leadership development for youth. Students participate in weekly ensemble music classes during school, led by CMSS faculty. This opportunity is available to students in grades K-12, at any experience level, in schools that have agreed to partner with CMSS. Sonido Musica provides instruction and an instrument to each student at no cost to their family.

Rachel Rivard

Rachel Rivard was hired through the Sonido Musica program before moving to CMSS.

When the program was created in 2014, Julie Jaron, director of Visual and Performing Arts for Springfield Public Schools, connected with CMSS Executive Director Eileen McCaffrey, sharing the problem that there wasn’t an unbroken continuum of music education in the school system leading from elementary school all the way through high school.

“The idea was that we would provide teaching artists through state funding, and we would provide music instruction for schools that didn’t have music in their school, with the agreement with the principal that, at the end of three years, they would hire at least a part-time music teacher,” explained Rivard, who was hired as a teacher through the Sonido Musica program before making her way to CMSS. “So that started creating this snowball effect where more and more people were wanting music in their schools; we expanded Sonido to more schools throughout the years, and now, at the end of that, principals are starting to hire music teachers.”

In fact, Rivard noted, in 2019, the Springfield School Committee decided to require at least a part-time music and art teacher in every school throughout the city.

During the pandemic, the Sonido Musica program was made virtual to adapt to the changing world. As students were able to congregate in classes again, the music program was needed more than ever, said Vanessa Ford, vocal faculty member and director of the Trust Transfer Project and the Culture RX program (more on those later).

“When you have an opportunity to share music in the lives of kids, that’s the motivation to get them to even come to school sometimes,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s not like they’re super motivated to go to school right now, especially after the pandemic. Where do you fit in? How do you fit in? What do you do? How do you complete your day? If there’s music involved, most of the time, that’s the motivation to get the kids to show up. And showing up is all we need sometimes.”


Music, Mental Health, and Extra Needs

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), bringing out emotions and thoughts through methods of verbal and non-verbal expression and exploration — such as dance and body movement, music, art, and expressive writing — may deactivate the avoidance mechanism and enable the elaboration of emotions and distress. CMSS has created programs to offer just that to its students, including representation in correctional facilities and special-needs classrooms.

The Adaptive Music Program (AMP) connects music education and special education to improve students’ lives, impacting their social/emotional, academic, and artistic development.

The Prelude Preschool

The Prelude Preschool offers music and arts throughout the day as well as the regular school routine.

More than 20% of the student population in Springfield is identified as having disabilities that impact their learning. Music is a proven and effective tool to unlock learning potential in students with disabilities, yet the majority of these students have historically not had access to music instruction adapted to their needs. AMP partners with 14 public schools and education centers throughout the Pioneer Valley, providing adaptive music classes for youth in preschool through high school in their typical classroom setting during the school day.

Another program CMSS offers is the Culture RX program, funded through the Mass Cultural Council, to link partnerships between a cultural organization, like CMSS, and a health clinic or other partner in the Springfield community. Baystate Health and Behavioral Health Network (BHN) have partnered with the school and have prescribed their clients ‘social-healing sessions’ that steer away from, or at least complement, the traditional model of prescribing medication.

“It’s primarily focused on giving the patient an opportunity to be prescribed something that gives them hope and healing, energy, social activity, togetherness — bringing them out of their homes from isolation into really stepping forward into places where they can connect with people on a very human level to do something fun,” Ford explained.

“You talk to doctors, lawyers, scientists, people involved in very, very difficult, challenging work. Rocket scientists, when they’re not working, are involved in some type of music experience.”

Meanwhile, the school’s Trust Transfer Project mobilizes youth, artists, faith leaders, educators, health professionals, and other community influencers to create works of artistic messaging that lead to improved public-health outcomes. This project leverages Springfield’s cultural assets to increase access to evidence-based public-health information (particularly around COVID-19 and vaccines), promote positive health choices, and foster hope and healing.

Ford told BusinessWest that the pandemic has made many groups rethink what works and what doesn’t. In the case of CMSS, it is exploring more holistic and interactive ways of dealing with mental health. Ford explained that “it’s a whole new mindset,” and the music school is doing things that haven’t been done before.

Not only was the pandemic isolating, but the world was watching racial injustice happen in real time, through constant television coverage and instant access on social media. When serving a community of mostly Black and Brown people, CMSS took the time to pause and focus on the structures and systems in place in the organization.

“Our enrollment did take a little dip, and it gave us time to think so we can try to be as equitable and inclusive and accessible as possible to our community,” Rivard said. “So we are recovering, absolutely, but I think we’re recovering so strongly because we had a chance to really examine the system that exists here and build it with community members involved in the process, so that it’s moving forward in a way that’s healing and caring rather than ‘let’s just hop right in and jump higher and move faster.’

NAMI research shows that music is influential in a person’s life

NAMI research shows that music is influential in a person’s life, regardless of age and demographics.

“We’ve really listened to ourselves, to the faculty here working with us who live in this community, and to the people within our community that see changes that need to be made,” she added, “and I think that’s why we’re recovering so well — because we use that as an opportunity to listen and to come back to the ground.”

Ford agreed. She used the metaphor of a bus, and “everybody comes out at different stops.” The spillover and residual effects of COVID have shown that music may not be the most important thing in someone’s life, but it can be among the most powerful.

Youth mental health is a main focus for the music school this year, and the staff are doing everything they can to support their students socially and emotionally. And for good reason — according to research by NAMI, patients diagnosed with mental disorders such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia have shown a visible improvement in their mental health after general music and music-therapy interventions. Moreover, studies have demonstrated other benefits of music and music therapy, including improved heart rate and motor skills, stimulation of the brain, and enhancement of the immune system.


Learning for Life

Simmons called social-emotional learning an important part of the educational programs at CMSS.

“It’s huge in Sonido Musica,” she said. “It’s all about gaining skills and competencies for kids that sort of helps them succeed socially, academically, and even onward into their careers and their lives. These are skills like self-regulation, community collaboration, working together for a common goal, confidence, agency, resiliency — skills that really help them everywhere they go.”

Ford added that learning music and arts early in life make young people better readers and strengthens their reading-comprehension skills, math aptitude, and more.

“You talk to doctors, lawyers, scientists, people involved in very, very difficult, challenging work. Rocket scientists, when they’re not working, are involved in some type of music experience,” she said. “Whether they love listening to music or love actually playing music or singing, or they studied a whole life of music and then ended up doing these extraordinary, really difficult careers, music is the backdrop. So when we see the potential for music to really calm and be a stepping stone to positions like being president of the United States, you’re like, ‘OK, we just need it.’”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

The late Gregory Krupczak’s family say he played a significant role at Echo Hill Orchards and Winery.

The late Gregory Krupczak’s family say he played a significant role at Echo Hill Orchards and Winery.

In many ways, Monson is a sleepy New England town with a small Main Street lined with shops, as well as small and medium-sized businesses located throughout the town, in many different industries.

But years ago, Monson was a big mill town known for its granite quarries. As mill owners sought employees, the population grew. And it’s been a resilient community through decades of change, from the decline of the quarries to a tornado that cut through the center of town 2011, causing almost $12 million in property damage.

So, even though the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out plenty of businesses worldwide, Monson was “more resilient than other places that are more dependent on business,” said Andrew Surprise, CEO of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce.

“They have a captive audience. Monson isn’t really close to a lot of businesses; I think the closest and primary shopping area would be Palmer and maybe Wilbraham, or Springfield on Boston Road. Other than that, if you need something specific … there’s an optical business. So if you need eyeglasses, you’re gonna go to the eyeglass place downtown; it makes sense. If you need to run to the pharmacy, there’s one downtown. The supermarket? Downtown. So the businesses there really serve the members that are there in the community.”

Because of the size of Monson, with just over 8,000 residents, Surprise told BusinessWest that it’s all about making the region as a whole more marketable, modeling a tourism guide off of the Newport, R.I. guide.

It includes maps and “more touristy things … like a lot of businesses and organizations that have joined the chamber, wineries, breweries,” and others that will attract tourists, he explained. And because the surrounding region is made up of smaller towns like Belchertown, Spencer, Palmer, Brimfield, and Ware, Surprise said most people don’t come to the area just for one event.

“If we market as a region, there’s more reason to come to the region because you’re not just going for one thing in one town.”

“What we find is, if we market as a region, there’s more reason to come to the region because you’re not just going for one thing in one town. You’re going, ‘OK, I can go to the Keep Homestead Museum in Monson, but I can also stop at the Brimfield Antique Fair, or I can go over here to this brewery for lunch,” Surprise said.

The thrice-yearly antique fair is an example of one attraction that raises the profile of the entire region, including Monson. “We like to draw them out into the Quaboag region because there are a lot of people that go to those shows. It’s estimated to be about 250,000 people per year.”

With the help of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce and the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Monson was given $75,000 in grant funding for a variety of projects, including wayfinding signage for the downtown area to point out points of interest and historical sites, as well as $15,000 for events, which primarily run through the chamber in coordination with the town.

On top of the grants provided by state funding, Surprise is working with groups of businesses as well as chamber members and the town of Monson to revamp and create a Monson Business and Civic Assoc., which is essentially part of the chamber, but focused solely on Monson businesses and their marketing.

He went on to explain that this helps businesses with marketing and to create events that will attract people to their location and the downtown business corridor. The grants also allow businesses to incorporate more outdoor seating, places where people can congregate in the downtown area.


Family Fun

State Sen. Ryan Fattman worked closely with the chamber to put funding into the state budget, as well as into the economic-development package that just passed, providing $130,000 for agri-tourism businesses. One of the businesses that has received grant money is Echo Hill Orchards and Winery.

“We were planning on building a pavilion with it; it should actually be starting this month. And since we’re seasonal, we don’t have a whole lot of covered outdoor space, so the pavilion will allow us to have more room for people to sit outside so we don’t run out of space,” said Ashley Krupczak, manager of the winery/distillery and the second-oldest of the business’ second generation.

Echo Hill Orchards and Winery was just an apple orchard and fruit farm when the Krupczak family purchased it 25 years ago. Over the years, especially in the past decade, they’ve grown the farm into “more of a destination for families.”

They make wines, spirits, whiskeys, and moonshines out of their apples, as well as a pick-your-own orchard for families with kids of all ages. Visitors can pick pumpkins, pears, sunflowers, and peaches during their respective seasons.

But being part of Monson means working with other vendors throughout the town. During the busy harvest seasons, food-truck vendors from Monson have been invited to the orchards the past couple of years.

“It’s just such a comforting and fun thing to do to be involved with your community and have something to offer the town and have something to offer friends and family to come do at our own place,” Krupczak told BusinessWest. “Having one of the agricultural businesses in Monson means that we are taking a step in sustaining agriculture in a small town. And what means a real lot to us, but other people, too, is protecting the land that the orchards give us.”

Despite their apple crop depleting sooner than they’d hoped this year, the winery/distillery has brought more traffic to the orchards. Krupczak said pleasant weather was a driving factor in how well the business did. “We had great customers this year; a lot of memories were made.”

Echo Hill Orchards and Winery is completely family-owned and managed, she added. “My mom is down in the store, my sister and I work in the bar, and in the offseason, we have to prune all of the apple trees. So there’s a lot of work to be done. That’s also when we make all of our wine and our moonshine because we don’t have time in the fall season. It’s a lot of off time, but we’re still working hard, just on other things.”

Just like the Krupczak family, Monson Savings Bank President Dan Moriarty and his team like to stay involved with his community. He said many of his employees are involved with outside organizations and charities. For example, Moriarty and Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Mike Rouette coached youth sports for many years in town.

“Having one of the agricultural businesses in Monson means that we are taking a step in sustaining agriculture in a small town.”

“Whether it’s the arts or sports and recreation, whether it’s seniors, whether it’s education, we just try, and it’s been like that for 150 years,” Moriarty said, noting this year’s anniversary celebration of the bank’s history. “I think the bank has always wanted to be a good civic partner with the organizations in town.”

The bank currently services 429 businesses that call Monson home, from mom-and-pop shops to larger companies that employ quite a few people from in town and outside it.

“I think, and I hope, the perception of MSB is that we’re trying to work with every business in town. The one thing that we pride ourselves on is trying to give honest, prudent business advice, whether we can do a loan for a business or not,” he said. “We always try to help a customer get to a place where we can put them in a position to expand their business.”

Moriarty went on to explain that 2021 and 2022 were the bank’s historic best years from a growth perspective, and he’s confident that, despite an economy that may be heading into a recession, both consumers and businesses have been resilient coming out of the pandemic. “I would describe 2023 as an environment of uncertainty, but with the potential to have some optimism.”


Honoring Tradition

Krupczak agreed. Even though this year was solid, business-wise, the family is hoping for a better year in 2023, even after the loss of their oldest brother, Gregory.

“He was great at woodworking and built benches for the orchard; he’d help us make and bottle the wine and whiskeys,” she recalled. “Chris, Gregory, Mia, and I would all bottle wine together each summer. That was a big part of spending time together and making the wines; we will miss that time spent together greatly this coming year.”

She added that the family appreciates the support of everyone in Monson, especially through the hard time they’re facing. “It just showed us so much. It keeps us going.”

But, in some ways, that support isn’t surprising, Krupczak added.

“It has something to do with keeping the town small and keeping traditions alive, like the families that lived in Monson and grown up here way before we owned this.” u


Kailey Houle can be reached at
[email protected]

Commercial Real Estate

Remaking History

The Franklin Community Co-op (FCC) announced on Nov. 16 that the former Wilson’s Department Store will be home to 65 mixed-income rental units and an expansion of the Green Field Market food store on the first floor and in the basement, under a plan announced last week by the city of Greenfield, MassDevelopment, and the Community Builders (TCB).

Mayor Roxann Wedegartner said that housing and maintaining a strong retail presence on Main Street have always been among her top goals since she took office.

The residential redevelopment of the historic property will be financed in part by a combination of federal and state low-income housing tax credits, new-market tax credits, and historic tax credits, pending approvals from relevant state agencies.

The city of Greenfield is also investing $300,000 in funds that must be used to create affordable housing. Wedegartner said the money comes from the city’s sale of the lease on another downtown housing development, the Mill House Apartments.

“Mixed-use buildings featuring housing and retail are a main ingredient for creating vibrant, walkable downtown neighborhoods.”

“Mixed-use buildings featuring housing and retail are a main ingredient for creating vibrant, walkable downtown neighborhoods,” added Housing and Economic Development Secretary Mike Kennealy, who serves as chair of MassDevelopment’s board of directors, in a news release.

The new placement of the retail store allows for new, full-service bakery, deli, meat, and seafood departments, as well as a large, on-site community room for public use and reservations for community gatherings, workshops, and events.

The co-op supports more than 220 local suppliers, including 40 local farms, producing $2.6 million in local sales in 2021 with two locations: Green Fields in Greenfield and McCusker’s Market in Shelburne Falls.

The 65 mixed-income rental homes for families will be one-, two- and three-bedroom units with a blend of workforce and income-adjusted units. Residents will be close not only to the co-op’s grocery store, but to healthcare, a pharmacy, the YMCA, the public library, and open green space.

“In addition to creating much-needed, high-quality housing in Greenfield, relocating and expanding Green Fields Market will provide the community with access to healthy food in an area of Greenfield currently without a full-service grocery store,” said Rachana Crowley, director of Real Estate Development at TCB. “We’re proud to be a part of this team which will create new housing, employment opportunities, and invest in a strong and robust Main Street in Greenfield.”

Wilson’s had long been an anchor downtown. The historical Wilson’s building was built in 1882 and was one of the last independent, family-owned department stores in the country before closing in January 2020. The building had supported businesses for 137 years before the closure.

“We’re thrilled we’ll remain a downtown anchor business,” said KC Ceccarossi, Franklin County Co-op board vice president. “We’ve been here for the last three decades, and it’s a critical part of our identity. We see this as such an important moment for the city. There aren’t a lot of towns that can boast a community-owned, full-service grocery store on Main Street.”

Owners of three businesses currently leasing space in the building were informed on Nov. 16 of the sale and told they needed to vacate by next spring, creating mixed emotions.

Kelly Archer, who has owned Lucky Bird on Main Street for five years, said she wasn’t sure yet what her next move was. “My time here has been awesome,” she said, but added that she needed time to process the information she’d been given earlier in the day.

Wedegartner said that the city and its partners will work with the businesses through the transition.

“We want them to stay in Greenfield,” the mayor said. “All of them — they’re all really important to downtown Greenfield. I’m hoping we will find each and every one of them the spot they want on Main Street to continue the business that they have.”

MJ Adams. Greenfield’s director of Community and Economic Development, said she was glad that, after a year of working out the details, the city was able to reveal the partnership, adding that “it’s going to be transformational to our downtown.”

Construction on the co-op is expected in 2023 and 2024, and the residential construction by 2025 and 2026.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


Secure Solutions

Joel Mollison says Northeast IT

Joel Mollison says Northeast IT’s services have become more critical to businesses since the pandemic.

In a post-pandemic, technological world, one pocked with data-security threats, companies need a recovery plan more than ever. And Northeast IT is doing what it can to support small businesses during this time.

“Security is coming back into focus again,” said Joel Mollison, the company’s co-founder and president. “So we’re dealing a lot with that, making sure the people have adequate backup disaster-recovery plans. They’re able to recover the data, and their operations will be in better shape because we have certain preliminary pieces in place to protect their networks. And we’re expanding our offerings in the security sector as well, to kind of cover that.”

Northeast’s focus is on growth — steady, but controlled — in a world of change. But Mollison is no stranger to that, since he walked into college as an engineering student, but quickly realized higher-end math wasn’t his cup of tea.

“I was actually working in a computer lab at the time, and I had a personal computer at my house so I could do some of the high-end design work, and then it broke,” he recalled. “I had a Staples warranty, and it took forever for me to have someone come out to the house. In fact, it took weeks for them to come out, and then they didn’t fix it. Then I had to send it out to Worcester. And it became a huge rigmarole. And I was like, ‘wow, this is really terrible.’”

So he took it upon himself to fix the computer and, in so doing, found his love for hardware and IT. He changed his degree and graduated after the dot-com bust, at a time when jobs weren’t easily available for folks who hadn’t been in the field for a decade. So Mollison started his own firm under his name, fixing things for family, friends, and small businesses.

“I think one of the differences for us is that our growth is controlled. We’re taking on the right types of clients that really value our services, and we’re creating long-term relationships with those clients.”

“I was under that name for a long period of time, and then it transformed over time,” he said. “People thought we were too small, so I couldn’t get contracts. I ended up taking on a business partner, Brian Sullivan, in 2010, and we ended up rebranding as Northeast IT. It was all the same; it was just rebranded, and we started taking on more business clients.”

Today, Northeast IT is a managed service provider. Essentially, it acts as the outsourced IT department for companies that don’t have their own internal force, or want to augment their capabilities by doing a co-managed solution — they have a basic IT tech, but Northeast IT does the ‘heavy lifting,’ such as managing the network server, security, and more. Northeast also provides clients with backup, disaster-recovery, and cloud services.

These days, Mollison and his crew serve a broad gamut of industries, anything from financial institutions and medical agencies to engineering and municipalities.


Securing the Home Field

Before COVID-19, business was steadily growing. Named a Super 60 honoree in 2018 by the Springfield Regional Chamber, Mollison told BusinessWest that business was “just kind of flying” — and then the pandemic hit early in 2020.

“I wouldn’t say things stalled completely, but there was definitely a huge pivot. All of those major projects we had in the queue, people kind of panicked, and they pulled the plug. So we went from having a lot of projects and support work to a lot of support work, and then pivoting to moving people to the remote workforce,” Mollison said. “So we spent a good period of time, I would say from March through probably June, trying to transition a lot of managed clients into that remote workforce completely and cloud services.”

Because it has municipal clients, Northeast IT was an essential business during the pandemic and never stopped operating, though it did transition the way its work was done. Social-distancing practices were established, and some employees who weren’t needed in the office worked remotely for almost a year and a half. Mollison didn’t see some of his staff for six to eight months, but they were constantly out there.

With smaller providers not being able to provide services and others closing their doors, Northeast saw an influx of work and new clients, and the continuous growth hasn’t ended. If anything, the pandemic created many wins for Northeast IT.

“I think there was a shift prior to the pandemic, and now it’s starting again because there is a renewed focus on security,” he explained. “There’s a false sense of security, and there’s a million preventable measures. When you go into more of the small-business market, the data and operations of the organization require your IT infrastructure to be completely functional and your data to be protected.

“In the past 10 years, ransomware viruses have become more and more prevalent,” he went on. “They’re attacking hospitals, schools, it’s all over the news. If they get infected with a virus, all their data becomes locked; their computers cease to function. They can’t interoperate, they can’t access software, they’re frozen.”

Post-pandemic, businesses are starting to focus again on the importance of security, and Northeast has been diligent in helping them do so, especially for clients in the insurance industry.

Underwriters specifically are getting more stringent about annual review processes, Mollison explained. Clients are being asked to fill out paperwork regarding the kind of security measures they have, and Northeast IT, in turn, sits with them and answers with ‘yes, you have this,’ or ‘no, you don’t have this.’ But Mollison has come to realize that cyber-liability space in insurance is “like the Wild West.”

“What we’ve been finding is that, while a lot of the clients have always been on the fence about when to invest in these different security methods that we have available to them, they’re starting to get forced into these because, if they’re not doing it, they’re going to receive a much higher rate on their insurance underwriting, or some of them, in some cases, may not even be insurable, depending on their industry.”


Future in Focus

With a refocusing on IT, network security, and making sure client businesses are in good condition, Mollison remains focused on strategic growth.

“I think one of the differences for us is that our growth is controlled,” he told BusinessWest. “We’re taking on the right types of clients that really value our services, and we’re creating long-term relationships with those clients.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Health Care

Staying Power

The Arbors puts a focus on resident quality of life.

The Arbors puts a focus on resident quality of life.

For the past 25 years, Sara Robertson and her family have run one of the most successful assisted-living facilities in Western Mass. and now Northern Conn. But she stressed repeatedly that this success did not come easily.

“We learned early on about the importance of all the hard work and dedication that our grandparents and parents put into evolving and growing the company,” she said, “and just how challenging making your own success truly is.”

Robertson, co-owner, her sister Emily Quinn, and cousin Amie Hanrahan grew up working for their parents and grandparents. Starting as teenagers, they handled just about every job one can take on at an assisted-living facility — landscaping, dishwashing, housekeeping, and more. Those assignments taught some invaluable lessons and have helped guide them every day as they manage Arbors Assisted Living Communities, grow the family business, and take it in new directions in this broad sector — everything from home care to memory care, as we’ll see.

Those same lessons helped guide the company and its leadership through the pandemic and the myriad challenges it brought to all those working in assisted living and related businesses.

“We learned best practices to keep our residents in communication with their families and loved ones when they weren’t able to visit,” Robertson told BusinessWest. “We adapted to new ways of activities and dining options. We eventually found our new normal, and all the practices we have in place to keep our residents and staff safe are a part of our everyday life now.”


Building Blocks

As the Arbors celebrates 25 years of success, growth, and evolution, Robertson reflected on where this family has been, where it is today, and where it might go in the future. She began with some history, starting with the venture known as E.A. Gralia Construction, launched by their grandparents.

“They would build everything from hotels and plazas to senior housing like Wilbraham Commons and facilities like that,” said Robertson. “Then my parents basically started to focus on senior housing.”

They built more than 5,000 housing units, as well as schools, hotels, nursing homes, and several elderly-housing developments, she went on, adding that, when this second generation took control of the family business, it evolved into what is now Arbors Assisted Living Communities.

From the beginning, the family sought out growth opportunities, and took full advantage of them.

Indeed, senior housing was available in Agawam and Wilbraham, but not in many other places around Western Mass. at the time, Robertson said. The first Arbors facility was built in Amherst in 1998. Five more facilities were added by 2009, in Chicopee, Greenfield, Stoughton, Taunton, and Westfield.

“At the locations [Agawam and Wilbraham] that our parents managed, we would do landscaping or activities or housekeeping,” she explained. “From there, they evolved into creating assisted living. Assisted-living facilities were few and far between at that point in time; we were one of the first assisted living in the area. And it obviously is an industry that has grown exponentially from there.”

“We eventually found our new normal, and all the practices we have in place to keep our residents and staff safe are a part of our everyday life now.”

The Arbors offers independent-living, assisted-living, and memory-care services. Robertson told BusinessWest that all needs are diverse and vary from person to person, so individuals are able to create their own service plan, detailing their personal-care needs and preferences.

Each resident has their own private apartment with a full kitchenette, private bathroom, living room, and bedroom. Staff members assist individuals with everyday tasks, such as bathing, dressing, preparing meals, and managing medications.

Respite services and short term/trial stays are also possible at the Arbors. With move-in-ready apartments, individuals are able to stay and make sure they find the right fit.

In 2010, the third generation took over the Arbors management, making it a women-owned and operated family business. Robertson, Quinn, and Hanrahan started Integra Home Health Agency and built new assisted-living facilities in Dracut and Stoneham. The third generation also created a Connecticut brand, the Ivy at Ellington and the Ivy at Watertown.

“At this point, we were fully immersed in the senior-living industry and our careers, so we decided to grow again,” Robertson said. “Our assisted living was all-inclusive. A lot of assisted-living facilities at the time were starting to transition into levels of care. We didn’t really want to do that because we liked that it was all-inclusive pricing at the time. So we were utilizing Integra Home Health to kind of fill that void to cover additional services that our residents needed that we weren’t able to offer. It took the business to the next level.”

Integra Home Health Agency offers personal healthcare services for those who feel more comfortable staying at home but need additional support beyond the basic assisted-living services. Integra’s staff can work alongside hospice agencies and also provide services to those in senior housing and nursing homes. They provide transportation to doctor appointments, as well as companion services to keep clients company, spend quality time, reminisce, and play games. The company also offers a variety of personal-care and memory-care services right in clients’ homes.

The Arbors has also diversified into memory-care services through its Reflections Memory Care Program, designed with four specific, resident-centered focus areas — life enrichment, personal care, serenity enrichment, and multi-sensory dining — to specifically address the challenges of living with memory loss and cognitive challenges.

Residents live in a specifically designed neighborhood that provides a safe and secure home with private apartments for each resident. The environment of Reflections is designed to minimize challenges and barriers, and to inspire confidence, peace of mind, and independence so each resident has the freedom to move about in a familiar, recognizable environment.

Through the years, Robertson said the leadership team at the Arbors has “fine-tuned the services we offer with current trends,” such as offering ‘anytime dining’ at its Connecticut locations and providing levels of care for services since assisted living is not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

“We listen to what our customers want and hopefully can work those suggestions into our offerings,” she said. “We also have a full array of activities and programming in our communities; social-engagement directors and memory-care directors create monthly calendars of a wide variety of options. Some examples might be exercise programs, card games, outings on the van, travel series, entertainment, cocktail hours and socials, lectures, religious services, arts and crafts, and so much more. There is something for everyone.”


At Home with the Idea

Robertson told BusinesWest that in college, she studied business and hospitality, but Quinn, co-owner and regional marketing and sales director, and Hanrahan, co-owner and co-director of Integra Home Health Agency, pursued degrees in communications and marketing, so they all have their own specialty when it comes to the business.

As long as Robertson can remember, the family business was something she’s always wanted to pursue.

“Growing up in a family business is unique in that your entire world revolves around business; you hear it at the dinner table, at family get-togethers, even at holidays,” she told BusinessWest. “I think at one time or another, all of us pondered what we really wanted to do in life, but the family business pulled us in. We had to be willing to put in the same amount of hard work, determination, and dedication that our parents and grandparents did.”

Robertson’s parents and grandparents never had to experience a pandemic like COVID-19. But the third generation took lessons from those who came before them — especially those involving hard work, determination, and dedication — to persevere through a period that tested them in every way imaginable.

Because assisted-living facilities have the most fragile populations to protect and keep safe, Robertson and her team had to learn to adapt and pivot in real time. There were safety guidelines coming from different agencies that had to be maintained and communicated to the staff weekly.

Robertson described the past few years as “by far the most challenging of our careers.” Not only did they have to pivot on the fly and adjust to constantly changing guidelines, but they had to cope with rising amounts of fear within the community about senior-living facilities, home care … essentially every aspect of their multi-dimensional business.

She went on to explain that making “huge life decisions” became even more challenging than they already were. The main goal was making residents comfortable with where they were and what they needed from the facilities and their loved ones.

Recovery took time, she added, as people needed time to feel comfortable again with placing their loved ones in an assisted-living community or to allow a caregiver into their homes.

“We had to be patient, yet stay front of mind,” Robertson said. “We had to get more creative in our marketing efforts, hosting outdoor events, drive-through dine-and-dash events, hot-chocolate deliveries, home visits, and so much more.”

The pandemic threw the Arbors facilities a curveball since it forced the company to stop growing its brand, so its leadership could focus all of its efforts on the safety of its current residents and on recovering and improving services.

Robertson said that they wouldn’t have made it through the pandemic without their staff. “They worked tirelessly under difficult circumstances for several years now. We were and are lucky to have them.”

As COVID restrictions loosen and the pandemic comes to a close, Robertson and her Arbors teams are continuing to grow the business. The industry has matured, and smaller family businesses have diminished, but being able to assist and serve more residents and more families has always been the top priority, moreso now than ever.

“I think people in general have learned to navigate the pandemic, making choices that are right for them and their families. We still have safety protocols in place in our industry,” she told BusinessWest. “We will always have the most fragile population that lives with us, so we have to remain diligent now and in the future knowing public-health crises are possible.”

She went on to explain that she has always said, “it is our family taking care of your family.” Robertson, Quinn, and Hanrahan are heavily involved in the daily operations and intend to continue in those roles. Whether there is an issue to address or someone just needs a friendly face to talk to, the third generation is right on the front lines, just as those who came before them.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Shop Local Special Coverage

Gifts Close to Home


It’s not always easy to find the perfect gift item for everyone on your list, but, thankfully, Western Mass. provides plenty of experiences to share — from axe throwing to massages; from wine tastings to pottery making — not to mention gift items like books, toys, locally created art pieces … the list goes on. So, if you’re looking to shop local, eat local, and support area businesses and organizations — and, in turn, boost the region’s economy at a time when it could really use the lift — here are some suggestions to get you started. Happy holidays, and happy shopping!


Agawam Axe House

396 Main St., Suite A, Agawam

(413) 292-6549; www.agawamaxe.com

The Agawam Axe House is one of only a few axe-throwing spots in the area. With an 18+, reservation-only hour slot, people can practice their aim in one of the six lanes available; parties and events are also welcome. For a more family-friendly approach, Agawam Axe House offers ‘footbowling,’ the perfect combo of the fun of throwing a football and trying to knock town 10 pins in bowling for ages 12 and up. Gift certificates are available online and in-store.


Berkshire East Mountain Resort

66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont

(413) 339-6618;

Berkshire East is a four-season resort that offers a downhill mountain bike park, skiing, snowboarding, tubing, snowshoe trails, three zipline tours, whitewater rafting trips, one of the longest mountain coasters in the world, an adventure park, a rustic farm inn and wedding center, a restaurant, and lots of facilities at which to host an event or stay at after a day on the mountain. It also hosts group events. Passes, admission, and gift cards are available online.


Bohdii Boutique

34 Center Square, East Longmeadow

(413) 224-1672;

The Bohdii Boutique is a women’s clothing boutique with a focus on trendy and affordable clothing. It also sells shoes, jewelry, hats, and accessories; there is also a home and wellness section, stocked with phone cases, wine glasses and wine tags, dog clothes, candles and matches, and keychains. The boutique holds pop-up events throughout the month at both its East Longmeadow and Boston locations.


Champagne Apothecary

38 School St., Westfield

(413) 579-5077;

At Champagne Apothecary, owner Amber Champagne-Matos — a licensed esthetician and herbalist for almost a decade — offers a vast variety of handcrafted self-care products, scents, and gifts, including but not limited to nail care, hair care, skin care, men’s grooming, fragrance, and Champagne-Matos’s own line, ETHYST Skincare. Gift cards are available. She offers virtual skin-care sessions and business-consulting sessions as well.


Common Grounds Cafe

2341 Boston Road, Wilbraham

(413) 279-1700

Coffee Grounds Cafe in the Wilbraham Shops offers a variety of coffees, teas, lattes and breakfast foods. The menu of this family- and pet-friendly establishment changes regularly, with seasonal options available for takeout or delivery. A small seated area is also available for dining in. Wilbraham Local Gift Cards are accepted here.


Connecticut Valley Brewing Co.

765 Sullivan Ave.,
South Windsor, Conn.

(860) 644-2707;

Connecticut Valley Brewing Co. has a taproom in South Windsor that offers an array of IPAs, pale ales, sours, lagers, NEIPAs, spiked seltzers, spiked smoothies, and more. Events are held at the taproom with a family-friendly atmosphere. In late 2019, the company launched Birdhouse Coffee, a café and roastery that celebrates ethically sourced and produced coffee, and in 2021, it launched its an in-house kitchen producing a variety of shareables, entrees, breads, pastries, and more.





42 Maple St., Florence

(413) 333-8893; www.cyclepottery.com

CyclePottery studio offers classes, lessons, and workshops for beginners to advanced potters; birthday parties, special occasions, and private workshops are also available. Extra-needs-friendly classes are available as well. The facility boasts five Brent wheels, a production-size Skutt kiln, a smaller L&L kiln, a North Star slab roller, two large hand-building tables, two large glazing tables, lots of light, and two porches. Gift cards are available online and in-store.


Echo Hill Orchards & Winery

Echo Hill Orchards & Winery

Echo Hill Orchards & Winery

101 Wilbraham Road, Monson

(413) 267-3303;

Echo Hills is a family-owned and operated pick-your-own orchard that grows apples, peaches, pears, pumpkins, sunflowers, and wildflowers in season. It makes wine, moonshine, spirits, and liquors out of fruits that are grown on the farm, using apples as the base. The winery and distillery offers tastings, also including a variety of seasonal drinks made in-house. Because outside food and drinks aren’t allowed, food-truck vendors are on site to help soak up the alcohol.


Elements Hot Tub Spa

373 Main St., Amherst

(413) 256-8827;

Elements Hot Tub Spa offers an array of spa packages and services, including but not limited to massages, skincare, facials, waxing, body treatments, spiritual wellness, and enhancements. There are also a handful of hot-tub and sauna rooms for visitors, both indoors and outdoors. Gift cards are available online and in-store.


Elements Massage

379 Russell St., Hadley

(413) 301-0625;

Elements Massage (not associated with Elements Hot Tubs Spa) offers an array of massages and packages, including but not limited to deep tissue, Swedish, sports, trigger point, stretch, and couples massages. Gift cards are available online and in store.


Enjoy Boutique

4 Deerfield Ave., Shelburne Falls

(413) 687-0827; www.storeenjoy.com

Enjoy Boutique is a boutique clothing, accessory, and gift shop, specializing in ethically and sustainably made goods; it sells brands like Cut Loose, Free People, Origin, Magnolia Pearl, and more. Adjacent to Shelburne Falls’ famed Glacial Potholes and just a few blocks from the gorgeous Bridge of Flowers, the boutique includes fair-trade items, organically grown textiles, eco-conscious wares, and one-of-a-kind artisan goods.


Feel Good Shop Local

(413) 252-5400;

Fueled by the COVID-19 crisis, Feel Good Shop Local was founded in 2020 to ensure local small businesses would not be left out of the online shopping and discovery experience. The website has different options for how to shop: by occasion, price, recipient, interests, values, and what’s popular. The array of local shops feature clothing, jewelry, blankets, candles, accessories, skincare, and much more — and local retailers are being added all the time.


Flora! the Shop

61 Bridge St., Shelburne Falls

(413) 695-7379;

Flora! the Shop is a gift shop offering a wide variety of items: art, photography, and canvas prints from featured artists and artisans from Boston to Brooklyn to Burbank, as well as jewelry, face masks, lip balms and butters, calendars, chocolate, coffee and tea, candles, blankets, incense, planters, ornaments, pet bowls, pet placemats, gifts for holidays and special occasions, coloring books, puzzles, notebooks, stickers, and more.


Fun Hub Action Park

367 Russell St., Hadley

(413) 438-6482;

Fun Hub Action Park is a family-friendly arcade and play facility for ages 3 and up. Different admissions packages allow access to the various attractions offered, including climbing walls, a virtual-reality arena, bumper cars, a ninja course, trampolines, balance beams, ziplining, a multi-level playground, and much more. The facility hosts birthday parties, group events, and fundraisers. Tickets, packages, and gift cards may be purchased online or in stores.


Glendale Ridge Vineyard

155 Glendale Road, Southampton

(413) 527-0164;

Glendale Ridge Vineyard estate wines are grown, produced, and bottled in Southampton. The business produces unique wines using grapes carefully sourced from the best vineyards on Long Island and in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Wines, select pantry goods, and merchandise are sold in store and online, and white, red, rose, dessert, and sparkling wines are available. The vineyard offers gift-box options with local ingredients. The grounds overlook Mount Tom and the Seven Sisters range, and the building features indoor seating and space for private events.


The Grati Shop

The Grati Shop

The Grati Shop

2440 Boston Road, Wilbraham

(413) 279-1546; www.thegratishop.com

The Grati Shop is a comfortable fashion boutique that focuses on doing good and giving back. The store offers a selection of sweaters, pants, shoes, jewelry, accessories, and a cruelty-free beauty line. Owner Kelly Partridge holds regular events and fundraisers to support small businesses and give back to the local community.


Hallie’s Comet Fine Jewelry


Christina O’Keefe, owner and craftsman of Hallie’s Comet Fine Jewelry, uses semi-precious gemstones and metals from gem shows and showrooms from across the country to make a variety of fine jewelry pieces, such as necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. Bridal and custom pieces are available upon request.


High Five Books

High Five Books

High Five Books

141 North Main St., Florence

(413) 200-0197;

High Five Books is an independent kids’ community bookstore in downtown Florence — a local go-to for graphic novels, middle-grade readers, and picture books, plus art kits and other creative supplies. High Five Books offers storytimes, book and art events, author and illustrator experiences, and other family-based community programs around literacy and creativity. It shares a space with Art Always, an art school for children and adults.


Jackalope Restaurant

254 Worthington St., Springfield

(413) 233-4422;

Jackalope Restaurant is part of downtown Springfield’s growing entertainment district. It offers a variety of foods, including seafood, beef, and poultry. The restaurant also offers an extensive drinks menu, including but not limited to red and white wines, bourbon and whiskey, cocktails, beers, and hard ciders. Reservations can be made online.



22 Masonic St., Northampton

(413) 341-3115; www.kestrelshop.com

Kestrel was born from a passion to merge the love of nature with the beauty of handmade craft and design. It carefully seeks out local and national artisans who make, create, and handcraft beautiful wares, furniture, and jewelry and nurtures a minimalist modern and vintage aesthetic with an emphasis on horticulture. Amongst the fine jewelery, visitors are able to browse plant pots, blankets, candles, ceramics, paper goods, and much more. Gift cards are available online and in store.


The Mill District

91 Cowls Road, Amherst

(413) 836-1765;

Built on the 275-year history of Amherst’s agro-industrial past, the Mill District boasts locally owned stores, events, and apartments that are intentionally designed to be a place to reconnect in the internet age. This mixed-use development is home to Graze Craze, Balanced Birch, the Closet, Provisions, Cowls Building Supply, Big Basket Market, the Mill District General Store, and the Mill District Local Art Gallery. Events are held throughout the month that often include pop-ups for other local artisans and business owners.


Monsoon Roastery & Espresso Bar

250 Albany St., Springfield

(413) 366-1123;

Monsoon Roastery & Espresso Bar is an environmentally conscious, community coffee roaster and hallway espresso bar serving serve lattes, cold brews, and cans of beans. Through the week, it brings in locally baked pastries from Nosh Bakery, Granny’s Baking Table, Comfort Bagel, and Wicked Whisk Creations. Monsoon offers an array of coffee-bean blends. Coffee subscriptions and Monsoon Roastery & Espresso Bar gift certificates are available for purchase.


Nosh Restaurant & Café

1341 Main St., Springfield

(413) 391-7948;

Nosh Restaurant & Café is a vegan-friendly sandwich shop at the Shops at Marketplace. Other options include breakfast, salads, burgers, soups, sweet potato bowls, and desserts. All breads are house-made (and may vary daily), including a new gluten-free bread option. Nosh offers weekly specials, soups, and sweets based on seasonal foods. Catering and gift cards are available. The owners work directly with local purveyors such as Bardwell Farms in Hatfield, Corsello Butcheria in Easthampton, Monsoon Roastery in Springfield, Mama Life Oils in Wilbraham, and Top o’Hill Maple in Blandford.


Plum Boutique

281 Main St., Greenfield

(413) 475-3518; www.plum413.com

Plum Boutique seeks out the best in global design from women-owned enterprises and local artisans, then offers items to visitors as a curated experience. Plum prioritizes strategic partnerships with mission-based organizations and local businesses in an effort to galvanize and enrich the community. The boutique offers clothing, jewelry, shoes, accessories, bath and body items, crafts, journals, and more. Gift cards are available.


p.m. reed Carry Goods

p.m. reed Carry Goods

p.m. reed Carry Goods


Peter Reed, owner and craftsman of p.m. reed Carry Goods, designs and builds totes, messenger bags, aprons, and accessories for function and durability. Using “the best-quality waxed canvas and leather available,” each item is made to order, Reed notes. “They’re a workhorse for carryin’ your books, laptop, tablet, camera gear, knitting, groceries, spirits, or whatever you might be transportin’.”


Puffer’s Salon & Day Spa

56 Southwick Road, Westfield

(413)568-9000; www.pufferdayspa.com

Puffer’s Salon & Day Spa offers an array of services, ranging from haircuts and colors to massages and skin esthetics. Packages are available as well, including but not limited to a Spa Energizer package, a Day of Relaxation package, a New Mom package, and more; clients may also customize their own package, which can include hair care, a massage, makeup applications, manicures and pedicures, and more. Gift certificates are available online and in-store.


Ten Thousand Villages

82 Main St., Northampton

(413) 582-9338;

Ten Thousand Villages is a fair-trade retailer of artisan-crafted home decor, personal accessories, and gift items from across the globe. Featuring products from more than 130 artisan groups in some 38 countries, the shop has spent more than 60 years cultivating trading relationships by which artisans receive a fair price for their work and consumers have access to distinctive handcrafted items. It seeks to establish long-term buying relationships in places where skilled artisans lack opportunities for income.


Thornes Marketplace

150 Main St., Northampton

(413) 584-5582;

This historic commercial building in downtown Northampton is home to an array of independent, locally owned retailers and restaurants — some of which have thrived in Thornes for more than 40 years. There are an array of shops and restaurants to choose from: Booklink Bestsellers and Café, Captain Candy, Cedar Chest and Cedar Chest Fashion, Glimpse of Tibet, Backstop Seated Chair Massage, Yoga Sanctuary, and more. Gift cards and certificates are available in stores and on the various businesses’ websites.


White Lion Brewing Co.

White Lion Brewing Co.

White Lion Brewing Co.

1500 Main St., Springfield

(413) 455-0820; www.whitelionbrewing.com

White Lion Brewing Co. is a local taproom in the Springfield entertainment district. With a variety of IPAs, ales, stouts, sours, and more, White Lion also partners with Springfield native Andrew Brow — owner of Highbrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar in Northampton — to provide a full menu to taproom guests. Catering is available through the Wild Dandelion Mobile Beverage Catering app, offering a 20-foot mobile beverage trailer. Gift cards are available for purchase in store or online.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


The Science of Dream Teams

Mike Zani

Mike Zani says creating a community is important for workplace culture.

With 3.5% unemployment and a continuing recession, the pressure to build a collaborative, productive, and happy workplace is greater than ever.

“We all benefit on the business side from productivity, engagement, and performance. But more importantly, for every person in this room and every person you’ve ever worked with, is their act two: not work, but going home,” Mike Zani said. “And if you send them home more energized, happier, more fulfilled with purpose, then you’ve sent home a happier spouse, a better parent, better siblings, and better neighbors. If leaders do this right, they can create a more meaningful community than they already are.”

Zani was the 16th speaker at Bay Path University’s Innovative Thinking & Entrepreneurial Lecture. The university’s Business Leadership Council launched the series to connect students and others with innovators, such as Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick; Delcie Bean, CEO of Paragus Strategic IT; and Michelle Wirth, president of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield.

Zani, CEO of the Predictive Index and Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Science of Dream Teams: How Talent Optimization Drives Engagement, Productivity and Happiness, spoke to a large audience about the importance of talent optimization and how the Predictive Index (PI) Assessment is helping companies and organizations make better, data-driven, people-centered decisions.


What Is the PI Assessment?

Arnold Daniels, creator and founder of the Predictive Index Assessment, got the idea for it when he served as a flight navigator in World War II. His team logged more than 30 missions, all without a single combat casualty. When commanders noted the team’s record, they sent a psychologist in to work with Daniels to study just what made their teamwork so successful.

In 1952, Daniels released the first PI Assessment, and three years later, he founded PI Worldwide, now called the Predictive Index. The Predictive Index Behavioral Assessment was created through a normative sample of thousands of people and has since been the subject of nearly 500 validation studies. It has received continual updates and today represents a well-established, business-relevant, and scientifically proven measure of behavioral tendencies in the workplace.

“Talent optimization is linking the third leg of the stool, linking business strategy to results. If you don’t get results, you don’t have the privilege of staying in business.”

PI later introduced the PI Cognitive Assessment, which provides a better understanding of each person’s learning capacity, and the Job Assessment, which defines jobs via individual attributes and needs. Together with the PI Behavioral Assessment, this trio of tools has fulfilled Daniels’ vision — identifying what uniquely motivates and drives each person, and setting them up for ultimate success in their work.

Daniels paved the way for the future of workforce development and built a foundation for the new discipline of talent optimization, the framework that aligns business and talent strategy, which has since grown into a discipline powered by assessment data.

Today, the Behavioral Assessment helps employers understand the personality traits that make their employees and candidates tick. Assessment takers get two lists of adjectives. Using the first list, they are asked to select the words that describe the way others expect them to act. Using the second list, they are asked to select the words that describe them in their own opinion.

Each adjective is associated with one of the four key factors that determine workplace behavior: dominance, extraversion, patience, and formality. These four key factors — or key behavioral drives — provide a simple framework for understanding employees’ and candidates’ workplace behaviors; it lets employers see beneath the surface so they can predict how people will behave in given situations. Behavioral testing, combined with an understanding of cognitive ability, can dramatically improve the hiring process.

A good example of this is Maersk, the largest shipping company in the world. It has been using the PI assessment since 1972 and uses it for every single employee.

“They can tell the profile of the ship’s captain versus a navigator versus an engineer versus a deckhand,” Zani explained. “And, interestingly, this has changed over time. They have not only been using it for every position, but they’ve actually evolved over time as these positions have evolved with technology and with changes and how they operate, so that they’re always trying to make sure they have the right fit for the role.”

With the evolution of the workplace, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, managers are having to change their hiring strategies, and Zani thinks the assessment will be a step in the right direction.


Benefits of Talent Optimization

Zani went on to say the biggest mistake leaders make is relying on their own conscious and unconscious biases.

“They manage people the way that they want to be managed, or they don’t hire the person that walks in with a neck tattoo or knuckle tattoos; they just can’t get their arms around that, even though they’re the right candidate,” he said. “This is a problem today.”

Most leaders have a one- to five-year financial plan to support that strategy, but few have a talent strategy. And if they do, it doesn’t say what kind of people they are going to hire or who they need to fill in the gaps on the current team. It’s a critical element, as 65% of costs in businesses in an average company today are personnel-related.

“Becoming self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses not only benefits the individual, but it also helps you understand others better so you can be a better teacher, a better manager.”

“Strategies don’t execute themselves; people execute those strategies,” Zani said. “Why wouldn’t you have a plan for 65% of your cost? Talent optimization is linking the third leg of the stool, linking business strategy to results. If you don’t get results, you don’t have the privilege of staying in business.”

Most businesses follow an unstructured interviewing model, where résumé checkers are taking less than six seconds to review the résumé, and interviewees are taking less than 10 minutes to prepare for the interview. There is a cycle of questions, such as ‘tell me about a time when you were challenged at work?’ or ‘why do you want to work here?’ And someone will ask the same questions in the following interviews.

This creates a system that doesn’t tell the employer who the best fit for the job will be. Embracing talent optimization creates what Zani calls a ‘T-shirt effect’ — the front of the shirt embraces a person’s strengths and capabilities, but the back ultimately shows their flaws. The PI Assessment helps leaders figure out the behavioral and cognitive abilities needed to create a well-meshed team.

“Becoming self-aware of your own strengths and weaknesses not only benefits the individual, but it also helps you understand others better so you can be a better teacher, a better manager,” he said. “You can modify yourself to get the best out of them so your people can be their best on their best day. It’s about understanding others.”

He continued by saying the onus is on the manager to modify themselves so they can get the most out of their people. The beauty in doing talent optimization well, he reiterated, is being able to send employees home more energized to be better parents, spouses, siblings, and neighbors.

“Community kind of stinks right now — like, there’s not a lot of it,” Zani said. “And if we can help create happier, better members of the community, we really impact the world in a positive way.”

The real inspiration is to make sure people feel like they can be successful and have purpose at work. By sending people home more energized, happier, and more fulfilled with purpose, leaders are creating a stronger community, both inside and outside the business world.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


View from the Top

Thomas Morin

Thomas Morin says the season has been busy as usual.

With recession clouds building and supply-chain issues still affecting industries across the board, area roofers say they’re still maintaining a steady workflow.

That’s partly because, when it comes to a leaky roof, there’s no skipping out on fixing the problem, said Fran Beaulieu, co-owner of Phil Beaulieu & Sons Home Improvement Inc. and PBHI Roofing. “Unfortunately for people, whether they beg, steal, or borrow to get money, when you have water leaking into your home, you have to fix it. So roofing is generally pretty consistent.”

PBHI was started in 1967 by Beaulieu’s father, Phil Beaulieu, and has been family-owned and operated ever since, offering full roof replacement and repair, new roof construction, roof inspections, flat- and low-slope roofing, storm-damage repairs, and skylight installation, as well as vinyl siding, windows, doors, decks, porches, and more.

The roofers at CDA Roofing and Siding agreed with Beaulieu’s take on basic demand for roofing services. Chris Dore, lead estimator and project coordinator, said that as long as the phones are ringing and estimates are going out, business can be considered healthy.

CDA has been family-owned and operated for the past 11 years in Agawam, since Clarke Dore and Jimmy Acerra merged their roofing businesses to strengthen their clientele. Dore owned and operated CDA Roofing, but primarily focused on residential shingle work. When merging the two companies, Acerra brought forth his expertise on commercial roofing; he has earned an A+ rating with Firestone Building Products, a leading roofing-products manufacturer.

Fran Beaulieu

Fran Beaulieu

“There has never in my adult life been a better time to get into the trades, period.”

A healthy flow of business doesn’t necessarily mean a peak year, however. Dore said he and his team have a theory: during a typical summer, kids are home from school and people are on summer vacations, but as the weather starts to change and people are getting their kids back into school mode, there’s an influx in business.

But this year, the recession has caused some hesitancy among homeowners.

“It was slow in the sense that people were a little gun-shy, I think, to commit. Regardless of the size of your house, roofing is a huge project, whether it’s a million-dollar mansion or a modest cape or even a shed or doghouse,” he said, noting that issues like inflation and the supply chain are disrupting homeowners’ decisions. “There’s a million fingers pointed at the highest level of government down to the local government. Who’s to really blame? Everyone’s got their theories.”


Fixing a Hole

Thomas Morin, owner of Valley Roofing and Restoration, agreed and said that people are being more conscious about what they’re spending their money on and “comparing apples to apples for every estimate.”

Shingles are generally the more affordable option depending on the company, but just like everything else in the world, the roofing industry is driven by petroleum costs. Each of the businesses BusinessWest spoke with said that, when the price of oil is high, all their building products are going to cost more, but roofing shingles, which are made with oil, and other commercial roofing products are especially vulnerable.

Morin launched Valley Roofing and Restoration about a decade ago. He specializes in new roof installations and repairs, and among his products is metal roofing, which he says is a growing trend due to its price.

“We’re just trying to stay busy at this point, but things have been good,” Morin said. “In roofing, it’s hard to expect anything. You have to go with the flow, and if something isn’t working, you change it.”

It doesn’t help, Beaulieu said, that roofing is one of the heaviest materials to transport, and diesel costs are through the roof (no pun intended). “When things are heavy, you need heavy trucks that are capable of moving really heavy materials, and they use a lot of diesel.”

Dore described the rise in prices as a “kick in the head.” In these circumstances, he explained, it’s difficult for businesses to maintain consistent profit margins. While prices seemingly never slow and continue to rise, that cost is relayed to the customer, but the company doesn’t benefit.

“The profit margin is what it is,” he went on. “You try to remain competitive — and there’s a lot of competition in this area. You just have to try to keep your head down, stay the course, and weather the storm; that’s really what it is.”

As the harsh cold of New England starts to settle in, both Beaulieu and Dore stress that homeowners should conduct due diligence and research the company it hires to do a job, but for different reasons.

Ice dams are a homeowner’s enemy in New England; those are ice buildups on the eaves of sloped roofs of heated buildings that result from melting snow under a snow pack reaching the eave and freezing there, especially in the middle of winter. The first inclination is to call a roofer, but Beaulieu advises against that.

Workers for Valley Roofing and Restoration make progress on a residential roof replacement.

Workers for Valley Roofing and Restoration make progress on a residential roof replacement.

“You need an insulator contractor. When you have ice dams on your house, homeowners tend to call roofers, and unfortunately, roofers in this industry aren’t always the most ethical guys,” he said. “They will just sell them a new roof or charge them to shovel snow off the roof, which causes all kinds of problems.”

Winter also brings an influx of storms and storm chasers. For example, after the June 2011 tornado, Dore explained, roofers from out of state were patrolling neighborhoods in hopes of “repairing” roofs.

“A lot of potential future work for myself and other companies in the area evaporated. I don’t want to say it hurt us by any means, but we noticed, ‘OK, there’s that house, that house,’ whole neighborhoods that got roofs that really weren’t ready for them,” he said. “They were done by guys who you can’t even get on the phone if you wanted to. They came in, and a lot of them did the wrong thing; we ran into it multiple times.”


Getting Better

As the roofing season heads into winter and unemployment is still high, Beaulieu, who is also president of the Western Massachusetts Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc., stressed the importance of trades as a career path, saying the writing is on the wall for continued disruption in the industry due to workforce challenges.

“There has never in my adult life been a better time to get into the trades, period,” he told BusinessWest. “Whether you want to be a mason, a carpenter, a vinyl-siding installer, a roofer, you want to do windows and doors, you want to build decks, there’s never been a better time because it’s really hard to find younger people that want to do it.”

And roofing is a place they can start at the top, in a sense — and only move up from there.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

The Children’s Chime Tower has been in use since 1785.

The Children’s Chime Tower has been in use since 1785.


In a small town where art and culture have long been powerful economic and tourism drivers, the pandemic has been a hurdle — but one many Stockbridge institutions have weathered with aplomb.

Kate Maguire, artistic director and CEO of Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), said the town and its surrounding communities understand the importance of keeping live shows going and continuing on with normal life.

“There is no accounting how much the arts do for the community, both economically and sort of socially and spiritually, if you will,” she told BusinessWest.

The Berkshire Theatre Group was created in 2010 by the merger of two of Berkshire County’s oldest cultural organizations, Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928 in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield.

BTG encompasses two stages in Stockbridge: the Unicorn Theatre and the Playhouse. The Playhouse was established in 1928 when the Stockbridge Casino was sold to Walter Clark; he called a few friends, and together, they formed the Three Arts Society.

The Three Arts Society remodeled the casino’s interior by adding a stage and seating for 450 people and christened the new theater the Berkshire Playhouse. And the rest was history — literally.

“If you go through the history of the Playhouse, it mirrors the history of the American theater. We have an incredible collection of archives and stars as luminous as James Cagney, Al Pacino, Katherine Hepburn, Holly Hunter, Cynthia Nixon — they’ve all performed on that stage,” Maguire said. “And often, when folks walk onto that stage at the Playhouse, they’ll say, ‘I have to be here at least once in my life or my career is not complete.’”

By the 1980s, the Unicorn Theatre became a home for new and experimental work, and in 1992, it hosted cabaret acts from New York City and a workshop-style production. In 1996, the Unicorn was reopened after a lengthy renovation and became Berkshire Theatre Festival’s official second stage. The now-U-shaped performance center, located in the barn, boasts 122 seats.

Today, the Unicorn Theatre and the Playhouse hold performances of both classics and new works for locals and tourists. BTG even made it possible for those to still gather during the height of the pandemic in 2020. BTG hosted outdoor productions of Godspell during the summer and Truman Capote’s Holiday Memories in December; the former was the only Actors’ Equity Assoc. live production being staged in the U.S. at the time.

Stockbridge at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1739
Population: 2,018
Area: 23.7 square miles
County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $9.38
Commercial Tax Rate: $9.38
Median Household Income: $48,571
Median Family Income: $59,556
Type of government: Town Administrator; Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Austen Riggs Center; Tanglewood; Red Lion Inn
* Latest information available

As for the latter, “in 13- to 20-degree weather, the audiences came,” Maguire said. “They were so hungry for theater and to be together again. Everybody was spaced, everyone was masked. But we kept going, and I think, because we have been able to keep our audiences safe, people have trusted us through the pandemic.”


Things to Do and Places to See

When thinking of a small town that relies on tourism to support its economy, one might assume it turns into a ghost town during the winter months. But this is not the case for Stockbridge. In fact, this close-knit town provides plenty of museums, historic sites, and other activities for those who live there and visitors alike, and most don’t close down during the offseason. While summer and spring typically see the most tourism, Stockbridge still has plenty to offer year-round.

Along Main Street alone, one can find the Stockbridge Library, the Red Lion Inn, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Austen Riggs Center, the Mission House Museum, and many more.

Among the most popular is the Norman Rockwell Museum, which holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of Rockwell art and provides educational opportunities for those who are interested in learning more about the universal messages of humanity and kindness portrayed in his work. The museum houses more than 100,000 original items from Rockwell’s life, including working photographs, letters, personal calendars, fan mail, and business documents.

Of the 20 studios that he worked in, Rockwell said the one he owned in Stockbridge was his “best studio yet.” The museum has turned back the clock to an earlier, active period in his career: October 1960, when he was hard at work on his painting, “Golden Rule,” which would later appear on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Another popular cultural destination is Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which straddles the Stockbridge-Lenox line. The summer 2023 season featured offerings ranging from Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band to a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert with BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons leading a program of Bernstein’s “Opening Prayer,” Bernstein’s “Symphony No. 2 the Age of Anxiety,” and Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”

Kate Maguire

“The first few moments of all of those shows that we did, I would watch the audience drop their heads and lift them, and you could see tears coming down their eyes. They were not only together again, even though the audience members were all socially distanced, but they were reminded of what it means to be human again.”

Among the museums and shops downtown is the historical Children’s Chimes Tower, which recently underwent some renovations. The bell tower was built on the site of the original church in Stockbridge, which stood there from 1739 until 1785. The church was established by John Sergeant, a missionary who moved to Stockbridge to convert the Mahican people, a local indigenous tribe, to Christianity. He served there until his death in 1749 and was replaced by Jonathan Edwards, the former Northampton pastor and prominent theologian who helped influence the First Great Awakening. Edwards remained in Stockbridge until 1758.

The Children’s Chimes bell tower in front of the current church was built in 1878 by David Dudley Field II in honor of his grandchildren, with the intention that “it will be a memorial of those who are enshrined in my heart, while the ringing of the chimes at sunset I trust will give pleasure to all whose good fortune is to live in this peaceful valley.” Today, almost 140 years later, it is still rung, according to his wishes, every evening between Memorial Day and Labor Day at 5:30 p.m.


Culture and Community

The creative economy keeps Stockbridge running. Whether it is the local museums, shops, restaurants, or shows at the Unicorn Theatre and the Playhouse, there are plenty of ways to experience culture.

“Doing Holiday Memories that winter of 2020 was a remarkable experience. I mean, the first few moments of all of those shows that we did, I would watch the audience drop their heads and lift them, and you could see tears coming down their eyes,” Maguire recalled. “They were not only together again, even though the audience members were all socially distanced, but they were reminded of what it means to be human again — because that’s what we do in a theater, right? So the culturals in the Berkshires are the driving force of the economy here.”

If someone sees a show, she explained, they will likely have a bite to eat at a local restaurant. Meanwhile, programs run by BTG bring in school-aged children who may later work in the box offices or house management, or take a summer job with the theater group. Annually, BTG hires about 700 people.

The group also makes almost 2,000 tickets available to community members who wouldn’t otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford coming to the theater. Sensory-friendly performances are also an option, Maguire said, “so for those members of our community that may have autism or may not be able to be in a room with loud noise, we make sure that one of our performances is specifically dedicated to making everyone feel comfortable at the theater.”

The arts and culture sector has always been a driving force in Stockbridge, and its resilience during — and recovery from — the pandemic has certainly been a performance worth hailing.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

Anna Farrington says First Fridays are bringing out lots of locals, as she had hoped.
Photo by Ben Lamb

In a small city like North Adams, Ben Lamb says, economic growth is easy to see.

“Historically speaking, there’s always been a smattering of small businesses downtown, and we’ve seen that number grow; I believe there were at least six or seven small businesses that opened downtown over the last year,” said Lamb, director of Economic Development at 1Berkshire. “Some of those are growing even at this point; they’re expanding.”

In the past two years, small niche businesses have been moving into a downtown area where Lamb thinks people are looking for more than just a transaction; they’re looking for an experience.

The Plant Connector is a good great example of a shop that started very small on Eagle Street and, within the period of the pandemic, “scaled up fivefold from one footprint to another” because business was so strong, he noted.

However, while business has been strong, Nico Dery, Business Development director for the North Adams Chamber of Commerce, noted that there seems to have been less tourism this summer than in recent summers, with the possible exception of festival weekends.

“Historically speaking, there’s always been a smattering of small businesses downtown, and we’ve seen that number grow.”

“It’s all kind of speculation why that could be, but I do think that a part of it is the lift on COVID restrictions,” she explained. “People aren’t traveling as close to home as they would be. So we’re losing some of those tourists from Boston or New York who might be going abroad or somewhere else within the country rather than making the short trip over to the Berkshires.”

Lamb agreed. “That’s where the downtown small-business community can rise to the occasion,” he said, adding that business that can identify opportunities can make a workable business model out of a fairly niche opportunity.


Creative Businesses Surging

In 2015, Lamb founded the NAMAZING Initiative, a community-based organization focused on increasing the lovability of North Adams through creative placemaking in an effort to drive organic economic development. Through the effort, he and his team created points of excitement and attraction to get people to invest and look at what they could do in downtown North Adams.

“Now it’s the businesses themselves that are self-propelling,” he said. “If you see a cool business and then you see a vacant storefront next door, you want to be in that space next door to them.”

Jenny Wright says the vending machine at MASS MoCA has brought joy to not only the artists, but visitors too.

Jenny Wright says the vending machine at MASS MoCA has brought joy to not only the artists, but visitors too.

With the help of 1Berkshire, NAMAZING was able to directly invest and help set up pop-up shops to help small, niche businesses have a space on their own until they could hit the ground running.

For example, Walla-Sauce and Conscientious Cloth, two young businesses, are co-sharing a common space. Lamb explained that, with the resources provided to start up an operation for a three-month stint, they were able to extend their lease past the three months because they’re seeing enough business and revenue to do that.

“The First Fridays program that’s been going on over the summer — that’s spearheaded by two downtown property and business owners that wanted to see that sort of activity on a monthly business — really catalyzed something exciting over the past year,” he added. “And when you look at all of those opportunities, it also draws more attention to downtown.”

Anna Farrington, creator of First Friday events, owner and primary curator of Installation Space, and owner and principal designer at Anna Farrington Arts & Design, teamed up with Andrew Fitch to work on closing Eagle Street in downtown North Adams to specifically draw people to the local businesses.

Last spring, Farrington thought there was something missing downtown after the end of Down Street Art, hosted by MCLA; street art was starting to draw crowds at this time. Other communities like Pittsfield, Brattleboro, and Boston had a First Friday events program in place and had a lot of positive feedback. She then went business to business downtown and asked if and how they might participate in the First Friday events. Unanimously, the response was “yes, let’s do it.”

“First Fridays is a grassroots initiative; that means businesses participate at a level in which they’re comfortable,” Farrington told BusinessWest. “And the gallery [Installation Space] has been instrumental in helping to organize some of the First Friday events.”

Installation Space was opened five years ago to provide a space for installation artists where they could show their work without the pressures of a typical art gallery, where artists are expected to make sales and the gallery would then make commissions.

“It’s one thing to just point a global audience in the general direction of Main Street and send them on their way; it’s another thing altogether to be a full partner and develop a shared vision for what they encounter once they get there.”

There are typically up to four or five shows over the course of the year. Each show will have an opening reception that also takes place on First Fridays; “it’s a way to sort of maximize that appeal to people to come down to First Fridays,” Farrington said.

The gallery has been instrumental in helping to organize some of the First Friday events, drawing in artists, artisans, and locals. The inaugural First Friday event was held in August; a block party on the street featuring live music and games drew a successful turnout.

In September, Farrington and her team held a community picnic where a 100-foot-long dinner table was set up, thanks to the American Legion. Locals were asked to bring their takeout or picnics and come down and have dinner on the street together.

“It was very successful. I’m looking forward to doing that again next year,” said Farrington, who, at the time she spoke with BusinessWest, was planning the October First Friday event on Oct. 7, an Eagle Street night market. “We’ll be having 20 vendors on the street, including the Berkshire Cider Project.”

With the creative-economy surge in downtown North Adams, the First Friday events aren’t the only place local artists and artisans are able to share their work in more creative ways. Jenny Wright, director of Strategic Communications & Advancement at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA), emphasized that they’re not just artists; “they are savvy entrepreneurs who understand the risk of starting a business during a pandemic” — and the risk is paying off.


Modern Ideas

For example, an artists’ collective repurposed a vending machine to sell art on MASS MoCA’s campus, which also promotes the local businesses that created the art. But that isn’t the only thing the museum is doing to help stimulate the new creative economy surge.

“It’s interesting because, in every strategic plan I think MASS MoCA has ever been involved with, there’s been a priority of making sure that patrons that visit MASS MoCA also visit downtown,” Wright said. “It’s one thing to just point a global audience in the general direction of Main Street and send them on their way; it’s another thing altogether to be a full partner and develop a shared vision for what they encounter once they get there.”

Historically, the city of North Adams has struggled physically and psychologically because of the overpass dividing MASS MoCA and the creative downtown. Even though the environment is improving, it is still an ongoing struggle to get people off the gallery’s campus.

In 2018, the North Adams Exchange was a research study, a collaboration between the city of North Adams, the downtown business community, the NAMAZING Initiative, and MASS MoCA to go into the city and determine how to create tactical and tangible ways of pulling people from the museum into downtown.

Because of the pandemic, Ben Lamb says, more dollars are being spent locally. Photo by Tricia McCormack

Because of the pandemic, Ben Lamb says, more dollars are being spent locally.
Photo by Tricia McCormack

The organizations created a pop-up space that was like an indoor park, with yard games, activities for kids, and a stage for music events. There was also a pop-up business that sold an array of North Adams-made items from artists and others. The initial pop-up park is where MASS MoCA then invested “a not-so-insignificant amount of money and resources” to make Big Bling Park, Wright said.

“That was like a great litmus test to see what can be done to actually pull those people in,” Lamb said. “MASS MoCA is really trying things, novel approaches, and seeing what sticks. I think having them there as a creative partner is really important because they’re used to that process that happens in the arts. And when you can apply that to planning and movement through a city, you can get some really interesting results.”

The museum’s new director, Kristy Edmunds, has made it her priority to really get to know the community, its people, and individual businesses, Wright added.

One event she hopes will spark more momentum is the museum’s annual gala, historically held in New York, which is moving back to North Adams. The museum is hosting the gala to coincide with the opening of E.J. Hill’s exhibition, Break Run Helix, in Building 5.

“I really think MASS MoCA has an opportunity to help as a catalyst for these creative businesses and in the creative economy of North Adams by partnering with the city, bringing in artists and creative producers from other parts of the country or other parts of the world, to partner with some of these local business that are starting,” Wright said. “That’s where I see our value moving forward.”

North Adams is ready to take this momentum and run with it. MASS MoCA will continue to hold live events throughout the year, from performances by national touring bands like Soccer Mommy to a roundtable with mixed-media artist Rose B. Simpson.

Dery added that retail shops and restaurants in town will congregate to see how the city can drum up business. One idea to reactivate the storefronts downtown is to decorate them with Christmas lights so people can enjoy dressed-up windows for the holiday season.

“I’m also excited, if the businesses are on board with this, to continue our Plaid Friday initiative and Plaid-urday, which is a grassroots initiative,” she said. “Instead of shopping in big-box stores or online for Black Friday, you spend your money in your community, so it stays local.”

Lamb explained that, because of the pandemic and locals working remotely, those dollars were brought back to the community and stayed there versus going to the city where the person was working. Even though people have built habits around the small businesses close to home, there is still a balancing act that every business needs to figure out for themselves in terms of what their customer base is.


Taking Stock of the Future

Businesses are prepared for things to slow down for the winter, but they still need to have a critical customer base, so they try to connect with the local community in whatever ways they can to garner support.

“Maybe that’s around pricing, maybe that’s around what they’re offering, doing special gift-card options. It’s really figuring out what is the thing that you can offer to the local market that is going to keep your doors open during the slow times,” Lamb said. “The businesses that take the time to do an analysis on sales and where their customers are coming from, and what those customers are buying, are the most informed and, therefore, the most able to pivot seasonally to fit the market. We’re seeing more businesses that are conscientious of that; they track metrics very intentionally and are planning that before even opening their doors.”

Meanwhile, he and other business leaders are pleased that North Adams is growing — and its creative economy booming — with the help of local partners taking the initiative to make the city a more attractive location for locals and tourists alike.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

The new Pafumi’s Pizza and Scantic River Brewery

The new Pafumi’s Pizza and Scantic River Brewery building creates a family-friendly hangout spot on Main Street.

As he talked about the new home for Scantic River Brewery in Wilbraham, Dave Avery stressed repeatedly that this will be much more than a facility to make beer — although that will happen, too.

“This is a place where people can come and hang out,” said Avery, co-owner of Scantic River with Dave Buel, as he discussed the new setting on Main Street and the taproom planned for it. “The location is extra special for us because it’s right in the community, and we’re looking at this as much more than just a beer-making place.”

It will be a destination, he noted, adding that Scantic River will share the facility, now under construction, with Pafumi’s Pizzeria, long a staple in the community, in an intriguing business development that will bring more visitors, and vibrancy, to an already-busy business corridor in this mostly residential community that also has a diverse, and growing, collection of businesses both large and small.

Overall, maintaining a critical balance — between welcoming new businesses and the many benefits they bring and maintaining the small-town vibe and high quality of life this town is known for — has been the mission of town officials for decades now, said Michelle Buck, Wilbraham’s Planning & Community Development director.

Michelle Buck

Michelle Buck

“There hasn’t been explosive growth; it’s just been steady increase after steady increase.”

She told BusinessWest that the town has long seen steady growth in its economy and business community, and it is the goal of town officials to continue that pattern.

“There hasn’t been explosive growth; it’s just been steady increase after steady increase,” she noted.

Grace Barone, executive director of East of the River Five Town Chamber of Commerce (ERC5), agreed. The growth she is seeing comes from people who have taken time to explore their passions; that little business that they thought would be a side hustle is really taking off and being produced on a larger scale. She added that Boston Road and Main Street are the central hubs for activity.

“There’s a lot of great places on Boston Road; it is very well-traveled, and there’s so many wonderful shops and restaurants and businesses there,” she said. “The Gratti Shop just opened; Sandy from the Scented Garden has been there for so many years. If you’re traveling to and from, you can pull into Delaney’s Market and pick up a meal. We’ve got Fieldcrest Brewery on that strip as well. The roller-skating rink is there … we’ve got a lot of stuff to do, and there’s a lot of businesses to visit.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest explores this ‘stuff,’ and how it has come together — with more on the way — to make this town a great place to live, work, and start a business.


Draught Choice

Those sentiments describe the thought process that compelled Avery and Buel to make Wilbraham their new mailing address.

And the location on Main Street essentially sealed the deal, said Buel, because it allows this venture to get to the critical next level in its growth and development.

Wilbraham at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1763
Population: 14,613
Area: 22.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $20.49
Commercial Tax Rate: $20.49
Median Household Income: $65,014
Median Family Income: $73,825
Type of government: Board of Selectmen, Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Baystate Wing Wilbraham Medical Center; Friendly Ice Cream Corp.; Big Y; Home Depot; Wilbraham & Monson Academy
*Latest information available

“We kept hearing about people wanting to come to our brewery, and a lot of people were asking about hosting events, birthday parties, and stuff like that,” he explained. “So there were opportunities there, and we decided we needed to build a taproom. We realized we’re really missing an opportunity there. We decided to look around, and this place on Main Street in Wilbraham just looked like the ideal location for us.”

Avery and Buel have been brewing for more than a decade; they are from the area, and their daughters went to school together and played on the same sports teams.

Because they were both interested in exploring their passion, Buel started formulating recipes, and the partners started brewing beers in the back of Buel’s garage. They quickly outgrew the small system when their brand began to grow momentum. They then opened a brewing and distribution warehouse in Hampden.

Scantic River Brewery has been able to expand its distribution to Long Island, Upstate New York, Cape Cod, and the area east of Worcester; their labels are sold in 150 Market Basket locations around Massachusetts. But with a growing popularity comes increasing demand.

“The industry changes quite readily in every aspect that you can imagine between ingredient changes and style changes. And as part of those changes, the bottling turned to 16-ounce cans, or cans in general, like overnight,” Avery said. “Within a year, we had to quickly change that. So it became a little harder to do the canning in the garage — the bottling wasn’t terribly hard, but that kind of forced us to switch. Plus the volumes were picking up, so that’s where we had to get better capability.”

Buel added that, if not for the location and people in Wilbraham, the two might well have given up on the constantly changing industry. Instead, they are taking their venture in a new and intriguing direction.

Avery and Buel originally approached Mark Pafumi, co-owner of Pafumi’s Pizza, about leasing space in the proposed building, but then decided to buy into the property along with another investor. “We felt that owning and renting to ourselves made a lot of sense, as opposed to renting from someone else,” Avery said.

Three historical buildings, including the Landry, Lyons, and Whyte Real Estate office, were demolished to allow space for a new joint facility. The new location will be about 8,000 square feet, featuring two outdoor dining areas — one for each business — a taproom in the rear, Pafumi’s Pizza restaurant in the front facing Main Street, a small rental area for outdoor performers, and a second story of apartments.

Scantic River Brewery owners

Scantic River Brewery owners Dave Avery, left, and Dave Buel, with Catherine Avery, who designs logos for their beers

“We wanted to make it bigger and better to suit our needs, the needs of Scantic River, and the needs of the community,” said Pafumi, noting, as Buel and Avery did, that the new facility will be a true destination.

“The restaurant and the brewery will bring some life — there will be a lot of added foot traffic,” he said. “The center is the most heavily foot-trafficked area in the whole town; we’re a restaurant for the community, a place to bring your family.”


School of Thought

Wilbraham & Monson Academy (WMA) is looking at taking a couple of spots in the apartments as well, according to Barone. Because the school serves a diverse population of international students from 34 countries, families will need space to come and visit.

WMA was created in 1971, a time when the prep schools of New England began to merge, often with a school for girls merging with a school for school for boys, creating a coed institution.

“It was a good business strategy for the time; times were tight during the 1970s,” said Brian Easler, head of school at WMA. “It was a way for schools to tighten their budgets and eliminate a lot of their debt all at the same time. But Wilbraham Academy & Monson Academy were both all-boy schools, so the merger didn’t go quite as smoothly — they were archrivals for sports. It was kind of a tricky situation.”

Since then, the school has grown exponentially, a pattern that continued even during the pandemic.

“In a lot of ways, the academy is a smaller version of a college. We don’t have the amount of students that colleges do, but we do have a strong amount of students that do impact the economy in a positive way.”

Indeed, Easler told BusinessWest that the school was able to stay open during the pandemic when many public institutions had to close their doors and resort to remote learning. Through rapid antigen testing and taking precautions as early as the summer of 2020, WMA was able to keep its positivity and transmissions rates relatively low throughout its community. Astoundingly, only 50 international students were not able to travel to the U.S. due to travel restrictions.

Surveing the current landscape at WMA, Easler said it is very close to business — or school — as usual, only with even better recruiting of top students.

“I had a senior faculty member, someone who’s been here longer than me, tell me the other day that the incoming class this year is the strongest group of students she’s seen in his 30 years at the academy,” Easler told BusinessWest. “We had one of our best college-admission lists in recent memory, and I’ve been here for about 25 years; I think it was our strongest college-admissions list yet.”

Students are excited to return to a normal school year, he continued. Classes are filling up, and families are having to be turned down. WMA is a nonprofit — all of the money that comes into the school goes to support the school, finding a way to “flood back out” to the community through consultants, service providers, contractors, and employees that live in the area — not to mention the 400 customers every year for the businesses in the center of town.

In short, WMA is an economic driver in the community, Easler said.

Brian Easler

Brian Easler said WMA’s 400 students add to the economic vibrancy in town.

Barone agreed. When school is back in session, Wilbraham’s economy grows, she said, adding that the Village Store and Rice’s Fruit Farm are in walking distance from the academy, along the side of historical Main Street.

“They’re engaged in shopping in the area — they’re visiting that Boston Road sector, they’ll go out and shop for the holidays, and they’re buying gifts to bring home to mom, dad, siblings, and so forth,” Barone said. “When their parents come to visit, they’re going out to dinner, and they’re doing all that Wilbraham has to offer. In a lot of ways, the academy is a smaller version of a college. We don’t have the amount of students that colleges do, but we do have a strong amount of students that do impact the economy in a positive way.”


What’s on Tap?

As noted earlier, Avery and Buel are looking at their new home as more than just a beer-making place; it’s a place to hang out and unwind. With local breweries like Iron Duke, Fieldcrest, and Vanishing Valley all within 30 minutes of each other, opportunities for collaboration abound.

“I’m sure we’ll collaborate on some things with them, maybe get a beer-trail type of thing going. We can get together as a group and somehow figure something out,” Avery said. “Rice’s is right down at the other end of Main Street, and there’s a sidewalk that runs the full-length between us; we could possibly do things there, like road races.”

Overall, it’s an exciting new development in a community that has put a premium on balancing business with quality of life, and only one of many stories to watch in the months and years to come.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


Plugged in to Opportunity

From left, STCC Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development Gladys Franco, STCC President John Cook, Upright CEO Benny Boas, HCC President Christina Royal, and HCC Vice President for Business and Community Jeffrey Hayden.

From left, STCC Assistant Vice President of Workforce Development Gladys Franco, STCC President John Cook, Upright CEO Benny Boas, HCC President Christina Royal, and HCC Vice President for Business and Community Jeffrey Hayden.


Christina Royal says community colleges are leaders in workforce development — and that’s why a new partnership between Holyoke Community College (HCC), Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), and Upright Education makes so much sense.

“Our focus is on how we are able to bring education and training to the area and to be able to serve the employer needs in the region,” said Royal, president of HCC. “We are specifically about educating individuals who would stay here and work here and be able to lift up our communities, as opposed to institutions with various other missions.”

The two community colleges are in the process of starting a technical program for those with a sparked interest in the technological field. Upright Education is a partner for universities and community colleges to add programs that train workers and adult learners for direct entry into the workforce, specifically in technology fields.

The programs boast an accelerated, intensive focus on specific job training for the technological workforce, ranging from 12 weeks for full-time learners to 24 weeks for part-time learners.

Participants are able to choose from an ignition course, an introductory prep course that helps determine if the boot-camp programs are right for them. Students also get the opportunity to meet with an in-house career coach who helps them identify, early in their bootcamp training, the types of jobs and settings that most interest them.

“Our programs are not on the credit side of the house; they’re on the non-credit side, and they’re specifically for workforce training,” explained Benny Boas, founder and CEO of Upright Education. “So it’s people who want to get all the skills that they need in one place and then go out and get the job that they want.”

“Upright’s mission is to expand access and opportunity to adult learners; that aligns with our mission to support students as they transform their lives.”

Upright offers a programming boot camp, training students in jobs like coding and software development. Through the partnership with HCC and STCC, there is an entirely different course that focuses on UX/UI Design.

“Essentially, students are learning how users or people interact with software and then using design skills to improve that software through research and applied behavioral understanding,” Boas explained. “So, essentially, a UX designer is what happens before anyone even writes the code or when you need to make an iteration in a project.

“Upon graduation, each program comes with digital certifications, so we work with Credly to offer digital badging for each of our programs,” he added. “So when you graduate, even from our ignition programs, you leave with verified skills showing that you know a specific technology or subject area.”

Boas told BusinessWest that he founded and ran Burlington Code Academy — a Vermont company dedicated to training individuals with the computer-science and programming skills necessary in the same format as Upright for graduation — before realizing why Upright needed to be started: there was a big hole in the distribution of this type of education model.

Gladys Franco

Gladys Franco says the mission of STCC aligns with the mission of Upright Education.

“The reason why we saw a limited adoption of this model in higher education is because it just doesn’t fit into the higher-ed curriculum offerings; it’s on a cohort schedule,” he said. “It’s not on a calendar, and instructors aren’t professors; they’re practitioners, people that are typically professionals in a specific field that they’ve been working in for a period of time, and they’re pretty pricey to spin up.”


Connecting to Careers

Boot-camp programs have been available throughout New York City, Los Angeles, and other big cities for almost a decade now. Smaller cities aren’t offering them through their local market because they’re expensive to run, and in order for universities and colleges to run these programs, there needs to be a large, upfront investment.

Enter Upright, which, by making these programs readily available, especially to schools like HCC and STCC that represent an underserved population, is creating opportunities for growth: for individuals, communities, and the local economy.

“We saw that there’s a really big opportunity for these colleges to address a very post-industrial economy and bring a very much-needed element to the curriculum that can be very impactful, specifically for Western Mass.; we can see that there is so much potential for the area,” Boas said, adding that there needs to be a workforce revitalization that focuses not as much on bringing traditional manufacturing and industrial jobs into the region, but targets the new economy, which focuses on “skilled labor in the tech sector.”

Through his work with the president of Vermont College of Fine Arts, Boas was introduced to both HCC and STCC. They established connections which evolved into a contractual partnership.

Gladys Franco, assistant vice president for Workforce Development at STCC, said the missions of Upright and the college go hand in hand.

“Upright’s mission is to expand access and opportunity to adult learners; that aligns with our mission to support students as they transform their lives,” she explained. “This partnership provides an option to our community for those who are looking for a fast track or accelerated pathway to get into a career with technology, the target population being adult learners.”

“Just as Westfield is now serving a number of hilltowns, we can now do the same. These towns chose us because of our team and our ability to serve them.”

She noted that, while the programs are the same, each school has its own contract with Upright. However, the two community colleges work together on a different number of initiatives to support the community.

Royal agreed, noting that, even though HCC and STCC have programs that are unique to those colleges, there is an overlap in some areas that both schools offer. “We’re trying to work together so we can work on this partnership in so many of the other ways that HCC and STCC can partner together. We can really offer the options that we need, and, in this case, for IT-accelerated change and for individuals in the Valley.”

Upright Education focuses specifically on community colleges and smaller universities because it serves demographics that could generally use the workforce advantages of having a career in tech.

Students are typically adult learners, usually over age 24. Coming from all walks of life, this underrepresented group is looking for a career change, specifically one that will impact them tremendously.

“There are a lot of single mothers, single fathers, folks from all non-traditional backgrounds that want to go from a job to a career, people who want to work from home and get the benefits of working in tech jobs,” Boas said. “We’re realizing there’s a great equalizer. They are learning tech skills and not needing the higher-education prerequisites or really even entry-level skills to get into a tech job. Students just need to be good at actually coding or doing the job itself to get into the program.”

The technical workforce is growing rapidly, and there isn’t a company that doesn’t use IT in some form, he added, whether it is to support server emails for someone carrying a smartphone in their hands, or software applications to support a business or organization. Royal agreed, calling IT professionals “absolute staples within organizational strategies.”


Servers of the Workforce

Now that a program like Upright is locally available, people are able to get access to the same sophisticated job training that leads to high-paid, high-demand careers that someone would get in urban centers. The hope is that these new technical careers will create vast opportunities for area students.

“There’s a need to really help strengthen and produce more IT professionals to be able to support more businesses in our community,” Royal said. “Upright’s recent cohort has a 92% job-placement rate, and on average offers about a 30% increase in salary for students who are coming from other careers. That is something that our students are also focused on: being able to receive training and education to be able to better support themselves and their families. So we welcome anything that allows us to have offerings that can support a wide variety of career paths.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Great Barrington came to life with the help of weekend performances by Berkshire Busk!

Great Barrington came to life with the help of weekend performances by Berkshire Busk!

Like most communities that rely on tourism and hospitality to anchor their economies, Great Barrington was hit hard by COVID-19, with its lively downtown coming to a virtual standstill in the early months of the pandemic and recovery coming slowly amid different surges in 2021 and even early this year.

But in recent months, this community, the hub of the Southern Berkshires, is starting to look like its old self — with some wrinkles and some businesses in new places, as we’ll see. Which means its restaurants, clubs, and cultural attractions are thriving, and people from near and somewhat far are once again finding Great Barrington.

“Everything kind of filled in accordingly,” said Betsy Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, referring to both the calendar of events and downtown real estate. “The normal things that have happened, even if they had their hiatus during COVID, are back and seem to be back in full swing.”

This past summer has been a good one for the community as higher gas prices prompted more day tripping, said Andrus, adding that there was considerable pent-up demand for all that Great Barrington has to offer — from brewpubs to a wide range of dining options to an eclectic mix of shops — and business owners took full advantage of the opportunities afforded them.

Town Manager Mark Pruhenski agreed.

“This past summer has been incredible for Great Barrington,” he said. “There were a number of events taking place, such as the popular summer concert series every Wednesday and Friday, the Fire Department’s annual car show, and the farmer’s market that is held every Saturday.”

One of the most popular events this summer made a return after its COVID hiatus. Berkshire Busk! took advantage of the close-knit nature of the town’s businesses and offered many different types of entertainment in different locations. For its third year, weekends between Memorial Day and Labor Day were packed with magic, performing arts, music, and more.

“It’s difficult to say if inflation has impacted tourism because it didn’t seem to impact the number of visitors. But inflation is certainly impacting purchasing and project costs for the town, and housing challenges remain a high priority.”

“I’ve lost count of how many weekends they had multiple performers at different venues,” Andrus told BusinessWest. “It exposed the public to so many different local artisans and it was very popular with visitors and locals.”

For this, the latest installment of its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest turns its lens on Great Barrington, which hasn’t put COVID in its rear-view mirror, but is definitely looking to even better times down the road.


Picking Up the Pace

Andrus noted that, as businesses started to get back into their groove, there was what she called “a great rotation” throughout Great Barrington’s downtown area — businesses moving from one location to another as spaces become available.

This phenomenon changed the landscape in a minor way, but it added a new element to a central business district that has always been a popular destination.

“Everything is about 10 minutes apart at least; it wasn’t very far apart, but they moved,” Andrus said. “I think the choices people made were great.”

She went on to explain that some of the popular restaurants and stores had to change their hours or close certain days mostly because of a persistent workforce crisis, but also “for their own sanity,” as business returned to downtown venues and in a big way, even amid the higher gas prices and skyrocketing inflation.

Pruhenski concurred. “It’s difficult to say if inflation has impacted tourism because it didn’t seem to impact the number of visitors,” he said. “But inflation is certainly impacting purchasing and project costs for the town, and housing challenges remain a high priority.”

Andrus agreed, noting that, with the inflating value of land and housing, people are struggling to find good, reasonably priced housing. Great Barrington and other outlying towns are hoping to find a solution because “people deserve clean, affordable housing in a good location.”

As summer draws to a close, another important and traditionally vibrant time begins for Great Barrington and the Southern Berkshires. The community has a number of events on tap to keep tourists and locals busy and intrigued. Cultural venues will go on with their events until the end of the fall foliage or until it gets too cold to hold events outdoors.

Betsy Andrus says events like Berkshire Busk! exposed the public to many different local artisans and performers.

Betsy Andrus says events like Berkshire Busk! exposed the public to many different local artisans and performers.

“Outdoor dining will continue until it gets too cold,” Andrus said. “I think the fall will not be as busy as the summer, but it will still be very busy.”

Coming up at the end of September is the Festival Latino, which is always very popular among tourists and locals. It features Latin American folkloric dance and music performances, language and cultural activities, artisans, and Latin cuisine vendors.

Meanwhile, the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce is introducing its new video series. Great Barrington has a full menu of dining options, said Andrus, and if people want to see what the town has to offer, they can visit the “Chefs of the Berkshires” series and purchase one video for $10 or $60 for the entire series of 13 restaurants, a savings of more than 50%.

“It’s a way to show people that this is what’s going on in this area; some of it highlights the location, too,” Andrus said. “This whole series is to get people more acquainted with the area. And if they live here, we want to show them there is more than just the restaurant they’re used to going to — we want them to branch out.”

She noted that 50% of revenues generated by the program are given back to the restaurants to help them meet the considerable challenges of these times, including workforce issues, rising prices, and other lingering effects of COVID. “And I want to be able to hand them a big check.”

Another video series the chamber has introduced is “Tour the Berkshires,” a tour package that introduces people to recreation in the Berkshires. Visitors are able to book a weekend of activities if they live in the area or if they’re from out of town and need lodging.

“They’ll go through a whole weekend schedule: there’s yoga and stretching classes, Reiki, dinner at the breweries, renting bikes for a self-guided 20 mile ride, and hiking,” Andrus explained. “There’s a ton of stuff to do here. It’s a whole weekend of activities and food.”


Bottom Line

Andrus told BusinessWest that Great Barrington has long been a destination — for people from this state, neighboring New York, and even beyond. Visitors have been drawn to the different kinds of attractions and came knowing they could find old favorites as well as something new.

And that remains true today. Different venues, such as the Chesterwood museum, Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, St. James Place, and Barrington Public Theater all have their own schedules, and they’ll keep producing plays, musicals, and events through the end of the fall season.

It’s taken a while, and COVID has changed the landscape in some ways, but Great Barrington has its groove back.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Construction Special Coverage

Building Toward Stability


John Raymaakers, operations manager and estimator at J.L. Raymaakers & Sons, says he is happy to have the projects he does to carry him into the fall of 2023.

“In this area, I can’t give a for-sure number of how many people are doing this kind of work,” he said of the civil construction company, which works on projects mostly for cities, the government, commercial and industrial interests, and commercial properties, as well as some private jobs. This type of work includes a lot of underground sewer, drainage, and water.

“Some of these jobs have had to be pushed off for almost a year because it’s just about nine to 12 months to get product in.”

“When we bid on jobs, usually eight to 15 people are bidding on that job,” Raymaakers said. “When you look at things, it’s really not that many companies. Even though there doesn’t seem to be many projects to be done, there is still a lot of work to be done in those projects. Right now, we’re very busy.”

The Westfield-based firm is currently working on a C5 hangar at Westover Air Reserve Base, a cannabis dispensary in the Whip City, and several pump stations. The company also has a few emergency contracts with the city of Westfield in case of emergencies.

Just like J.L. Raymaakers, many construction businesses are surviving in the current economic state. Sweitzer Construction, based in Monson, has been filling its backlog with projects going into 2023.

John and Laurie Raymaakers

John and Laurie Raymaakers say there’s an understanding between contractors and clients when it comes to supply-chain issues because everyone is dealing with them.

The family construction business specializes in work ranging from zoning and permitting for customers to acquiring sites for them to find, as well as helping customers secure financing. Its projects range in geographic location from Greenfield to Springfield; from Southwick to Lenox. Over the summer, it worked on projects in a number of its specialties, including medical, dental, high-tech, education, and cannabis facilities.

“We have a multi-year high-tech customer, IMI Adaptas, in Palmer Industrial Park,” explained Craig Sweitzer, general manager of Sweitzer Construction. “We’ve done six buildings for them, and again, it’s all high-tech manufacturing, from clean rooms to research and development to mass spectrometry labs.”

Springfield-based Gagliarducci Construction has been working on a multitude of projects this summer also. Projects range from site work in Springfield and Amherst and road work in Easthampton and Northampton to the Newman Catholic Center at UMass Amherst and the new Aliki Perroti & Seth Frank Lyceum building at Amherst College.

“Some of these jobs have had to be pushed off for almost a year because it’s just about nine to 12 months to get product in.”

Jerry Gagliarducci, the firm’s president, said he’s got “a lot of stuff going on at Amherst College and UMass.”

Tim Pelletier, president of Raymond R. Houle Construction in Ludlow, said his business performs commercial and industrial construction, primarily working on medical facilities in the Western Mass. area. The firm has been busy this summer, “renovating said medical facilities and a few other private projects on the outside, but still medical-related.”


The Price for Projects

Despite the constant work at many area firms, supply-chain issues and inflation have taken a toll on productivity.

Raymaakers told BusinessWest that a lot of his projects have gotten pushed back almost a year because products aren’t coming in on time.

“We’ve been told that some of our sewer pump stations that need electrical components won’t be in until June of next year,” he said. “Some of these jobs have had to be pushed off for almost a year because it’s just about nine to 12 months to get product in.”

Sweitzer had a similar story to tell. He explained that some electrical equipment needed for jobs can take up to 40 months to come in. Basic water pipes, such as the Delta Liner pipe, are also among the hottest items waiting to be delivered.

Jerry Gagliarducci

Jerry Gagliarducci says he may be looking for help, but the help he has now is “excellent.”

Gagliarducci said he must be “very diligent” when it comes to ordering products ahead of time. The hope is to order products now, so there can be some sort of possibility of seeing it before spring.”

Pelletier agreed. “Most supply-chain issues were definitely a concern, but knowing what products take longer to get and approximately how long it’ll take to get it, I planned accordingly so I could meet the timelines we promised to our customers,” he said. “It’s just a matter of reorganizing our planning process so that we can acquire the materials needed when we need them.”

Supply-chain issues aren’t the only thing putting a halt on production; the rising price of fuels and materials is causing companies to account for it in their estimates. Gagliarducci said that he must be very cautious of where he buys from and what he buys, and he has to be careful to not let machines idle for too long.

Raymaakers agreed. He explained that one of the downfalls of city and state work is that it doesn’t follow the escalator clause. If the price of something increases or decreases more or less than 5%, the price is adjusted. A lot of contracts, such as diesel fuel and concrete, run with an escalator clause.

“We’ll be looking more into the public sector for roadwork and things like that. There seems to be a big push for infrastructure money — water, sewer, and new roads, that kind of thing.”

“This is what it was at when you bid it, but if it goes up or down, this is what you get,” he said. “But a lot of these contracts won’t allow it, so it does hurt us on our end of it. The change in prices this year is really tough.”


Projected Plans

Even though prices look to be staying where they are for the moment, construction companies are planning ahead to hopefully get themselves started earlier. All the contractors who that talked to BusinessWest mentioned bidding on projects way ahead of the starting timeframe.

“Taking a vacant lot and bringing it back to life in the city is an exciting project for us,” said Pat Sweitzer, partner at Sweitzer Construction. “One of the projects that we are looking forward to is breaking ground on a dispensary on Boston Road in Springfield.”

She went on to say it’s a real privilege to be part of revamping old mills in Holyoke and Hardwick; “it’s an exciting project, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work.”

Raymaakers said one of his firm’s next projects is going to be at the airport in Garner, as well as four to five pump stations. About five crews are currently out in the field, allowing the company to work on different jobs at once.

Gagliarducci is planning to branch out this upcoming season in the public sector.

Tim Pelletier

Tim Pelletier (fourth from left, with some of his team) says he’s had to plan around expected supply-chain issues to meet customer timetables.

“There’s not as many projects, and we’ve done a lot of site work on schools in the past dozen years — it doesn’t seem like many schools are being planned and coming out for bid this coming season,” he told BusinessWest. “We’ll be looking more into the public sector for roadwork and things like that. There seems to be a big push for infrastructure money — water, sewer, and new roads, that kind of thing.”

Even though the past year has been tricky, construction employers are feeling fortunate to have dedicated employees by their side. With a lot of work to be done in the construction sector, new employees are hard to come by, but Raymaakers is proud to have new trainees on his team.

“We’ve taken in a few employees that are just raw to this field. They’re learning, and it’s good for us in the future to have younger people. We are very lucky because the employees we have are very dedicated to us and very knowledgeable. They’re fantastic workers.”

It’s clear that the challenges that have beset construction over the past couple of years aren’t going away any time soon. But as the summer construction season comes to a close, area companies see enough positive signs — and have enough work in the pipeline — to feel good heading into 2023.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Healthcare Heroes

ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic and Its Partners at Springfield College and UMass Amherst

Helping People with Brain Injuries Maintain Function Is a Unique
Group Effort

Leah Martin Photography

Ellen Werner has been helping people with acquired brain injuries for decades.

But since she arrived at ServiceNet a decade ago, she’s learned how powerful collaboration can be in serving this population that often falls through the cracks in today’s healthcare system.

Werner’s work with ABI patients began in Pennsylvania, at one of the first dedicated brain-injury rehabilitation programs in the country, Bryn Mawr Rehab. After moving to Massachusetts, she did homeless outreach through the Statewide Head Injury Program that was created in 1985. “I was trying to find people in shelters that had brain injuries and needed proper medical care and housing.”

When she was approached by the then-vice president of ServiceNet to help launch its Enrichment Center in 2013, she was intrigued; the center helps people with brain injuries to become more functional and engaged with others and their community.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them,” said Werner. “But I just didn’t know how we were going to afford therapies. The agency had already put in a lot of money just opening the program, so that’s when I started sending out messages. Springfield College was the first to respond to them.”

Today, the Enrichment Center and ServiceNet’s Strive Clinic in West Springfield — day programs for adults with brain injury caused by trauma or medical conditions — actively collaborate with two area academic institutions to provide outstanding rehabilitative care, while helping train the healthcare professionals of tomorrow.

“I had some kind of an understanding of what I wanted to do for these people and what kind of opportunities I wanted to be able to provide them.”

This work began in 2014 when Werner, director of Operations at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, met with leaders of the Physical Therapy program at Springfield College to develop an innovative model of community-based care that would bring in graduate students, under the direction of their instructors and on-site clinical staff, to work with clients on a variety of PT modalities. The model proved so successful that this partnership expanded in 2017 to involve the Communications Disorders program at UMass Amherst’s School of Public Health & Health Sciences in developing and providing speech-language pathology services at the Enrichment Center.

Since she facilitated those partnerships with Springfield College and UMass Amherst to better serve people with ABIs, the program has grown from a small group of students and instructors to a full-fledged clinical team.

Lisa Sommers, clinical director and clinical associate professor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst, said the partnership with the Enrichment Center is a natural offshoot of the clinical training program first-year graduate students have to complete.

Kathy Pappas

Kathy Pappas says the program wouldn’t be where it is today if it weren’t for Ellen Werner.

Kathleen Pappas, associate professor of Physical Therapy at Springfield College, agreed. “It really aligns with the mission of Springfield College to educate our students to become leaders in service.”


Specialized Care

The Enrichment Center is an adult day-care center that offers physical, occupational, and speech and language therapies as needed, but clients also have the ability to choose from an array of activities to help promote cognitive growth and social interaction, such as support groups, music and dance sessions, arts and crafts, and trips to museums, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

The Strive Clinic uses the Enrichment Center’s well-equipped gym, providing a safe space for limited-contact services by appointment only, which allows for more individual work for a client.

Clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic are typically adults with ABIs, many of whom suffered them years ago. Brain injuries can be inflicted by traumatic, external forces, such as car accidents, assaults, and other forms of violence, or from medical issues, such as strokes, aneurisms, and brain tumors. An ABI can cause changes in identity, mental health, relationships, family structure, the ability to work, and economic status.

Years past the big event that altered their life, people with ABIs sometimes fall off the radar in the healthcare system, but ServiceNet and its partners want to change that. Clients are able to go through the Acquired Brain Injury/Moving Forward Plan (ABI/MFP) waiver program.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu … that is developed between them.”

“With the waiver, there’s really no end to the amount of therapy that we could provide people,” Werner said. “Our clients have really benefited from it; it’s just wonderful. We’ve had people that have been in wheelchairs for years, and now Kathy is getting them up, standing and walking. And we have clients that didn’t have communication devices that really benefit from them and the sessions provided now. There are all sorts of things that we’re able to do that we wouldn’t be able to do if we had just traditional insurance.”

Maintaining the client’s level, or hopefully going beyond it, requires constant, consistent therapy, she noted, so the waiver program allows the center and clinic to be more flexible in accepting and keeping clients. At the same time, the State Licensing Board of Massachusetts requires the facilities to follow all the same regulations any other clinic would follow.

The main focus for both facilities is to help people who are living with a brain injury to become more functional and engaged with others. And because every brain injury is different, students get a more varied education than they might elsewhere.

“By having us, the instructors, available on site, providing the supervision, we know exactly where they are in the curriculum,” Pappas said. “We hold them accountable to applying the knowledge they’ve learned in the classroom and measuring that as they prepare to become entry-level clinicians.”

Because there isn’t any prior conditioning, students are able to adapt to the center and provide the care clients need, she noted. In short, they come in with a learner attitude, so they’re more receptive to the clients and their habits.

Many people have a narrow idea of what therapy is and what it should look like, but the programs provided by the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic “really explode that,” said Michael Starr, clinical instructor and supervisor in Communication Disorders at UMass Amherst. He went on to explain the relationships this intense care creates in the center.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

Lisa Sommers says the Strive Center teaches students how to provide continuous services for a person who is living with an ABI.

“At the end of a recent spring semester, the student clinician got a beautiful thank-you note written by this client who has a really hard time expressing herself through writing. They had been working on it all semester. So she was able to do that and send it to the clinician, which was amazing and left everyone in tears.”

Sommers said the client and student spend the semester teaching and connecting with one another, and that connection leaves a lasting impact on both of them.

“There’s some kind of a beautiful milieu, like Michael said, that is developed between them,” she added. “I think it teaches them how to provide services across the continuum of a person’s life who is living with a brain injury.”

But while students and faculty are impacted, Starr added, the program can be life-changing for the clients at the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic.

“The clients really love it so much. Certain clients will park themselves outside of our offices and wait and sometimes demand a session,” he noted. “Or I’ll go to get someone and say, ‘hey, do you have 30 minutes for a session?’ and they really want it, but they say, “I have to go to PT first,” and they’re on their way to PT because they’re not going to miss their appointment for love or money. They’ll come back and see me after. They just really love our services.”

He went on to tell BusinessWest that, because of their injury and especially when living in small group homes, clients can be marginalized or cut off from what’s happening in the world around them. Sommers agreed.

“When people encounter the medical system, there is so much that is determined for the patient, particularly when the patient can’t communicate or has cognitive impairments,” she said. “They don’t get to participate in person-centered care, which we know has the best outcomes, but is not really the model used in our healthcare system. And there are so many barriers for people — just think of all the cognitive challenges that are in our healthcare system. I can’t even navigate my own health insurance half the time and struggle if something isn’t covered or denied.”

Historically, the healthcare system has been “a top-down, patriarchal model,” Sommers added, putting clients in a vulnerable position emotionally, financially, medically, and more. Through the Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, that model is upended, allowing clients “to have agency, to have a voice, to be able to say what they want and be able to say.”


Striving for Tomorrow

In supporting the program’s Healthcare Heroes nomination, Amy Timmins, vice president of Community Relations at ServiceNet, noted that “the partnership between ServiceNet, Springfield College, and the University of Massachusetts exemplifies the vision and innovation so central to the Pioneer Valley — where academic and healthcare programs are each strengthened by the other, for the benefit of those they serve. In working together, they have created an environment where new goals and possibilities are free to take hold every day.”

That they have, which is why Sommers sees potential for other collaborations; in fact, the clinical educators she’s worked with have also articulated as much because of the opportunities collaboration brings to the community.

Their next goal: “world domination,” Werner said with a laugh. Actually, she wants to continue to create more opportunities for people living with ABIs.

“In healthcare, it’s all about collaborating with other professionals, and Ellen has brought that to the top and forefront of what’s best for these clients,” Pappas said. “Without her vision and enthusiasm and ability to really work within and out of the system to make things happen, none of us would be here. So I am eternally grateful to her for what she’s given our students as opportunities and what she’s given to the clients on a daily basis.”

For finding and fostering the connections that not only help people with acquired brain injury, but cultivating the next generation of therapists, ServiceNet’s Enrichment Center and Strive Clinic, and its academic partners, are certainly worthy of being called Healthcare Heroes.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Sports & Leisure

Where Art and Nature Collide


Richard Richardson

Richard Richardson told BusinessWest destiny played a big role in his work.

Richard Richardson, creator and caretaker of the Three Sisters Sanctuary in Goshen, likes to say that he has built his own world in what he called a ‘snow globe.’

“I live in a snow globe; I built the snow globe, I designed the snow globe, and I’m not done with the snow globe yet — this is the magic of it all,” said the philosophical and quite colorful Richardson. “Somehow I’m gifted enough to take nature and work with it to see it come to maturity in such a magical way out there.”

But the snow globe is not his alone. Indeed, it has become a popular stop for day trippers and others. It is a place to stop, reflect, take in beauty of various kinds, and, in many cases, grieve the loss of a loved one — which is where, in many ways, this fascination starts.

The Three Sisters Sanctuary sits on 3,500 acres of protected mixed forest and wetlands. When walking down the winding paths, guests will encounter standing stones, small and large rock cairns, classic statuary, bejeweled beings, and other whimsical creations.

Cozy pockets along the trail invite visitors to stop and take it all in. It has been described, appropriately enough, as a place where art and nature come together.

Within and around the gardens are multiple art exhibits of sculpture, glass, metal, mosaics, found and repurposed items, and other materials. But each exhibit mainly focuses on its natural surroundings; most projects are composed of large stones, like “The Kiss,” but some projects include other natural materials like wood, such as “The Conception.” Perhaps the most intriguing piece in the sanctuary’s gardens is a giant dragon head made of stone, metal and glass; it is most known for breathing fire.

All of this has been derived from the vivid imagination and artistic mind of Richardson, who said he landed in “the land of Goshen” — a rural community northwest of Northampton about 30 years ago in a bread van when driving through for a job. Richardson said he opened the door, looked out, and instantly thought “if I could live anywhere, this would be it.”

The fire-breathing dragon

The fire-breathing dragon is just one of many works of art to capture the imagination at the Three Sisters Sanctuary.

And in three years’ time, he bought the land that the sanctuary currently sits on.

“Destiny played a major role in my life. This is the only house I ever thought of buying,” said Richardson. “It was very clear to me that when I purchased this piece of property, I didn’t know then that I had arrived. Where I was going to go from there, I didn’t know, but I had arrived.”

Years later, the sanctuary was created, but as gardens. Richardson’s brother was an avid gardener and close friend to him; he suggested to Richardson that he gardened to help grow through his grief.

“In the last year of his life, he said to me in order to deal with grief, he’d like to install three gardens with me. Each will be a perennial garden,” explained Richardson. “His hopes were that when the plants started to come back and he was gone, that I would continue to love, nurture, and care for these gardens.”

He went on to explain how his brother considered himself an annual, his life cycle was complete after death. The gardens were perennials, coming back each year to remind him that nature has a plan to help heal the soul.

Seven years later, Richardson found himself in a rut. He had been gardening, but they had become much more elaborate than he anticipated. He compared his gardens to English gardens — “well composed and too proper.”

“I had the reality check of realizing that my personality is one that could go much further than I ever thought I could go,” said Richardson. “And after seven years, I looked at my gardens and thought I wasn’t comfortable with myself. I had to be really committed to these gardens until I figured it out.”

Then his mindset changed: he wanted to hardscape. Hardscaping is another word for landscaping, but defines what an environmental artist truly is. They work with stone, trees, flowers, and the landscape to create something beautiful.

His first hardscape piece was a fire pit and waterfall to the right of his deck. He explained to BusinessWest that it was the first project he’s done that took control of itself. He usually plans ahead, and sets out a purpose for his pieces, but once he started building this feature, it kept dictating what it wanted to do next.

“It was a major piece because I didn’t know what or why I was building it,” he explained. “It allowed me to trust myself and it allowed me to realize that when you have an intuition, that overrides everything else. And that’s what was going on; I had intuition on what I was doing.”

Grief had led him to gardening and hardscaping once again — this piece became the final resting spot for his oldest daughter, Tina. He said he didn’t understand the meaning behind his first piece and to just spontaneously throw himself into a year and a half project speaks to the willingness to see where it would take him. Richardson said he was willing to see where the art would take him.

And that is how he came up with the name, Three Sisters Sanctuary. After the loss of his oldest daughter, he named the gardens to represent the bond of his three daughters: Tina, Sara, and Megan.

All three women were born and raised on the land now dedicated to the sanctuary. Richardson said that they have always “encouraged and contributed to the ever-evolving outdoor healing space since the beginning.”


Leave Your Baggage at the Door

Starting a new art piece means being in the trenches for three to 10 years, fully immersing himself in his art, Richardson told BusinessWest. One of those projects is his famous ‘Fyre Dragon.’

“The project had a funny feel to it because the dragon was so intriguing; it was so wonderful to build something like that — I mean come on, who gets the chance to build a dragon in their lifetime?” he asked rhetorically. “Especially when you don’t know what you’re doing, which is half the attraction to my art. I generally build things with the belief that I was meant to do it — I was meant to build that dragon.”

After the dragon was finished, he said that he was concerned that his work was finished. It was hard to look up when it felt like the end seemed so far. Richardson said it reminded him of the Frank Sinatra song, Is That All There Is? He was worried it wouldn’t hold the magic he anticipated, but the community proved him wrong.

Over the past 20 years, visitors have left trinkets and old toys surrounding the dragon head along the rock wall. “No matter where the eye draws you, there is another tiny piece of plastic to remind us all we’re still human,” Richardson told BusinessWest, “I get as much enjoyment going in and visiting all those characters as I did building it.”

Once a week, Richardson gets “dolled up,” and becomes this character he calls “Little Dapper Dad,” and purposefully looks for new trinkets and knickknacks visitors have left behind. A popular item to be found around the dragon’s trinket wall are little turtles that always seem to appear.

“If you were to go in and really study it, you’ll find the turtles; they’re a big deal. Don’t ask me where they’re coming from, don’t ask me what they’re about,” said Richardson. “I just know that the turtles play a big part in the dragon’s life — so do prayer cards, and people who just want to go in and say goodbye; they want to let go of something.”

He explains that the trinkets are often left by adults, not children. They have usually been to the sanctuary before and have had some time to think and process what to leave behind the next time they visit. The trinkets are more than just trinkets, he said — they’re a piece of the past.

When talking to visitors, Richardson urges them to leave their baggage at the entrance.

“Let the magic be in the moment so that you can really leave and say to yourself ‘wow that was an experience; that’s something I want to share,” he explained. “That’s something I want to come back to.’”

The sanctuary is a beautiful chaos that creates balance within itself. Each hardscape project allows not only the visitor to let go, but the artist himself. This was a place of closure, but also somewhere to watch something else bloom.

The sanctuary helped Richardson become the artist he is today. He worked on the sanctuary for 15 years before deciding he wanted to wear the artist hat.

“I like being an artist — it’s like being a rock ‘n’ roll star; it’s the same damn thing. I can wear the clothes and the flash, and I have the hair,” he said. “And I work it, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll star all in the comfort of my back yard. The hardest part has been that I’ve made the conscious decision to share it with the public. I knew all along that once I opened Pandora’s box, I couldn’t close it.”

And with the pandemic, he has found he is sharing it with even people.

Indeed, in the early days of the pandemic, indoor gatherings were prohibited and people across this area and beyond found themselves looking for things to do outdoors, away from other people.

For many, a trip to the sanctuary filled that void. It was a safe destination, and one that enabled them to find some peace, quiet, art, gardens, and plenty to reflect on.

“When other people didn’t have outdoor events, it started to bring more traffic here; I can already see how much it’s changed things,” said Richardson, adding that with inflation and a looming recession, he is trying to come up with new ideas and events to include in the peaceful walk through the sanctuary.

“The humor in this is I have dyslexia, so everything I do is done ass backwards. So naturally, when I built the sanctuary, I built it ass backwards,” he said with a laugh. “Right now, I’m finally building a section for live events and workshops on the remaining two acres of land that I have. It’ll be separated from the sanctuary — so if there’s 100 people here for a workshop, they won’t be mingling with the other 100 people here to visit the sanctuary. They’re completely separate.” He is also planning on setting up a section for pop up tents if events or workshops run late, a fairy cottage where other artists can promote their work, and an airbnb at the sanctuary.



Art of the Matter

Summing up what the sanctuary has become, Richardson said that he has loved the land of Goshen so much that he allowed the rest of the world in, and he admits that it hasn’t always been easy.

“I’m one of those rare artists that don’t put on a show — the show goes on 24/7. People either love what I do or they don’t. But they do love it,” he said. “It’s like I’m Mr. Popular over here. I’m having way too much fun with my life and the character I’m living and the things I’ve created.”

In other words, life in the snow globe keeps changing. And, as he said, that’s the best part.



Painting the Past

John Simpson (left) surveys the new mural as it nears completion, along with Susan Riano and Khali Hernandez, two of the artists who worked on it.

John Simpson (left) surveys the new mural as it nears completion, along with Susan Riano and Kahli Hernandez, two of the artists who worked on it. (Photos by Mark Murray)

Kahli Hernandez descended the wall, stood back, and reflected on his long day’s work.

“This mural is more than just a mural because of the things that are associated and attached to it,” said Hernandez, a local painter who got involved with the mural painting at 241 Worthington St., facing Stearns Square. “A big part of history is being plastered on this wall. Essentially, what’s happening is the legacy of Springfield is being visually painted, whether people know it or not. You can pick out iconic things that people know about around the world. Springfield is the birthplace of greatness.”

The idea for a new mural reflecting Springfield’s history came about almost a decade ago when Union Station was about to be completed and the area around Duryea Way had just been revamped. Evan Plotkin, president and CEO of NAI Plotkin Commercial Real Estate, has been a key player in the mural’s conception and production.

The finished work, formally unveiled during the Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival on Aug. 12, restores the wall’s faded 1950s advertising art to vibrant life.

“John Simpson and I have been involved with most of the things that are public-art-related downtown, one way or another,” he said, noting that he and Simpson, a noted local artist, co-founded both the Springfield Cultural Council and City Mosaic, a nonprofit with the goal of changing lives and bringing people together, as well as changing the direction and conversation about Springfield from negative perceptions to something positive.

“There would be no City Mosaic without John Simpson. We formed it because we thought we could transform this city. We don’t want people to be afraid to come to downtown Springfield. We want people to enjoy what’s down here,” Plotkin said. “I think this is making a huge contribution of immense proportions. This is a gathering space down here. Everyone should be able to come and enjoy good food and good drinks with the company of friends.”

Through a movement called tactical urbanism, Plotkin and Simpson are trying to reignite a sense of community in the downtown business district. Tactical urbanism, also known as DIY urbanism, is all about action — an approach to neighborhood building using short-term, low-cost, and scalable interventions to catalyze long-term change.

“A big part of history is being plastered on this wall. Essentially, what’s happening is the legacy of Springfield is being visually painted, whether people know it or not. You can pick out iconic things that people know about around the world. Springfield is the birthplace of greatness.”

A two-year study released by researchers from the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania revealed a relationship between the presence of cultural resources in a neighborhood and key aspects of social well-being, particularly in less advantaged neighborhoods.

Specifically, low- and middle-income residents with more access to cultural resources experience better education, security, and health outcomes compared to residents of neighborhoods with similar economic profiles, but with fewer cultural resources.

When controlling for factors including economic status, race, and ethnicity, the higher presence of cultural resources in lower-income neighborhoods is linked with several health, safety, and education benefits. These include a 14% decrease in indicted investigations of child abuse and neglect, an 18% decrease in felony crime rate, and also an 18% increase in the number of students scoring at the highest level on standardized math and English tests.

“I think art is really transformative for a lot of things,” Plotkin said. “It’s transformative to people and their spirits — whether it be visual art or music, art is beauty, and it helps change people.”

Simpson added that “there’s a woman that lives on this street that has told me she’s seen people stopping in the parking lot to look at the mural — they linger a little and take photos. She thinks it’s good because everyone is really excited to see the finished product, too.”


‘Puzzle of Ghost Images’

Simpson, an art professor at UMass Amherst, said he was flooded with ideas for the mural when sitting with the City Mosaic council. He told BusinessWest there were plenty of ideas about historical figures and events showing Springfield’s pride, but the wall had a different idea, in the form of faded vintage advertisements.

“I said, ‘yeah, I know you want all of this stuff on the wall, but there are also the ads. We want to restore some of them, so I reserve the right to do whatever I want here,’” Simpson said. “When I started, I felt like the wall was going to dictate what it should be. So whatever can be saved, will be saved. Then we thought there was so little to be saved, but eventually, when you get one thing, you’d start to see another.”

He explained the process: research and stare. Then relax. Simpson compared the mural to a “puzzle of ghost images” they were hoping would fall into place. It was beyond the scope of his usual work, but he took it all in and got to work.

The new mural brings a moment in Springfield’s history back to vibrant, colorful life.

The new mural brings a moment in Springfield’s history back to vibrant, colorful life.

“We got addicted to finding what was there previously and recreating it,” he said. “Evan encouraged me to work on the design. I tried to keep changing it, but it led me here. There has been such great teamwork that it feels like only one person is working on it.”

Artist Susan Riano was also impressed by the work that has gone into the mural on Worthington Street.

“Going in, we all thought it would be a huge project, but we didn’t let the thought of getting overwhelmed bother us. We just went at it and things went pretty naturally, organically. Looking at it now is kind of crazy, but amazing to see how much we were able to accomplish through the whole process,” she said. “It was really cool to see the work of another artist and figure out their process, and see the way they did things — it was a learning experience for us as well.”

Some of the images painted on the wall are meant to represent Springfield and its community through the years. For instance, Simpson and the artists painted a Rolls-Royce with Prestley Blake, co-founder of Friendly’s, driving it.

When community members see themselves reflected in social spaces, they feel a sense of respect, ultimately allowing for people to identify with the place they are from, live in, or are visiting. Cultural assets are part of a neighborhood ecology that promotes well-being.

Simpson told BusinessWest about another mural he had worked on and how it connects to his overall goal. “It says, ‘there’s no place like Springfield’ because there is no place like home. That’s for every kid to think about, instead of things they’re hearing from other towns. Springfield is home — there’s history here with beautiful people, art, and architecture.”

Khali Hernandez puts the final touches

Kahli Hernandez puts the final touches on one of the mural’s small sections.

Plotkin agreed. “Springfield has an incredible history. To have something as big and beautiful as this spurs the imagination of those bygone days and recognizes a city that was once another Springfield.

“I think that’s why I do it,” he went on. “John is the artist, and I think that I wouldn’t be able to do what he does; physically, I don’t have the talent. I just really get off on the impact it has on the community and the responses people are giving. I’ve lived and worked here for many, many years. I’ve seen some great times here, and I’ve seen some bad times here when the city wasn’t flourishing as much. We’re on the rise again, and we’re coming back strong. This is going to help us reach the point where we have a commercially viable district here. We want to recreate that.”


Tapestry Through Time

Clearly, the mural on Worthington Street is more than just a mural. It is a physical representation of what Springfield has to offer, and a reminder that the past impacts the future, and the future always reflects the past.

“We want the wall to show a little bit of the past, some of the present, and eventually the future,” Hernandez said as he surveyed his day’s work. “It’s a tribute to the overarching narrative that is a part of Springfield.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Home Improvement

Paving the Way

Josh Berthiaume says most of his work is commercial, but he does residential jobs, too.

Josh Berthiaume says most of his work is commercial, but he does residential jobs, too.

Josh Berthiaume says he’s been in the paving business for over two decades and has never seen an economic landscape like the current one, but he’s managed to make things work despite the state of the world.

“I don’t think it’s about the business or where the business is located or outside circumstances. There’s always going to be something: increased prices, shortages, supply-chain issues, political stuff,” he said. “It really depends on the owner of the company for how the company is going to do.”

As the owner of Property Masters Pavement Maintenance in Ware, Berthiaume specializes in seal coating, crack sealing, and line striping, as well as filling in small patches, across the Greater Springfield area.

When the pandemic hit, Berthiaume told BusinessWest, he was concerned about how his small business would be affected. Despite doing all the work outside, he was still worried about the interactions he had to make with customers.

“They wanted to work on their house and work on their properties. My business did really well.”

“We’re a face-to-face business. We had to meet the homeowner and hand them their estimates. I didn’t know if I’d be able to just take photos or a snapshot of the estimates and send them virtually or what,” he said. “But I realized, as we kept going, it really didn’t impact us in a negative way. We work outside, and we’re not in close quarters with anyone. It was only when we met the customers that it got awkward here and there, especially when dealing with older customers.”

For the most part, sales never stopped — in fact, his business increased after the start of federal stimulus checks. Because people were staying home and receiving money, but couldn’t go anywhere, homeowners were willing to spend more to improve their quality of living.

“They wanted to work on their house and work on their properties. My business did really well,” he recalled. “If I’m going to be honest, we were on track for the year, if not making a little more because of the extra stimulus checks people were getting.”

Josh and Sam Berthiaume of Property Masters Pavement Maintenance

Josh and Sam Berthiaume of Property Masters Pavement Maintenance

Even today, with the economy in flux and inflation high, Berthiaume is cautiously optimistic about the pace of business.

While homeowners started to reach out to Property Masters during for their home-improvement needs this time, the material costs have since skyrocketed, and so has the cost of paving a driveway.

“There are jobs that we went to talk to homeowners who were bid at $10,000 last year, and now it’s double the price, if not more,” he said. “They call me to seal coat or crack seal to glue everything together — it buys the customer a few more years before they have to make the big investment that they’re not ready for because of the price increases.”

He went on to tell BusinessWest that seal coating is usually a tenth of the cost of paving, so homeowners are able to put off redoing the entire driveway while prices remain high.


Sealing the Deal

The main issue he’s having right now is figuring out how to retain loyal customers at today’s higher costs. He explained that he has done jobs for customers multiple times over the past decade because he keeps his prices lower than many companies. And because they’re returners, he tries to honor the prices he originally gave them. But that is starting to hurt his profits.

For instance, to make the same profit off a driveway that cost $300 last time, he might have to charge $800 today. “When someone’s never done this before, they just see the difference in my prices versus paving companies. I’m a hell of a lot cheaper. So they’re not barking at the price. When I have to raise a repeat customer’s price over 100% because of economic reasons, that’s difficult. Some people bark at it, but others understand that gas has tripled the price.”

Even though there is no predicting the future, Berthiaume is confident in his ability to keep growing, though inflation remains a thorny problem. He told BusinessWest that, over the 25 years he’s been in the industry, he’s never seen prices rise this much.

“It’s going to be hard for everyone because the problems are just going to be passed on to the next guy,” he said. “We’re seeing material shortages and trucking shortages. We’re just hoping for the best. It’s a seasonable business, so hopefully over the winter, things straighten out, and our distributors figure out how to deal with the problems we’re facing this year.”

In short, while the economy still shows some cracks in the near term, Property Masters Paving Maintenance is ready for the challenge.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Home Improvement Special Coverage

Putting Wood to Work


Tom and Pam Brogle work out of a small factory built in the 1800s.

Tom and Pam Brogle work out of a small factory built in the 1800s.



Tom Brogle has had plenty of titles during his life: father, husband, secretary, boss. But he takes particular pride in being the owner of a small cabinet-making business.

“I remember a former employer who always said, ‘if it was easy, then everybody would be doing it,’” he said. “Owning a business is never easy. But at the end of the day, I feel good — tired, but good.”

Brogle is the founder and owner of Deerfield Cabinets and Millwork. Located in Greenfield, the business tackles both commercial and residential cabinetry and millwork. But he was eager to say he is not a carpenter.

“Please don’t ask me to build your house,” he said. “Instead, ask me to build your cabinets, built-ins, moldings. I will make you what you want, not what the big blue and orange box stores sell.”

Brogle originally “got hooked on woodworking” as a kid; his grandfather was an electrician and pushed him to pursue his interests. He went to a trade school where he took a carpentry and cabinet-making class, but most of his work revolved around the latter. Now, he’s been in the industry for 40-plus years, working for “just about every shop in the area, whether it be a closet place, store-fixture manufacturer, or millwork shop.”

His biggest motivation for getting out of the shops was his dislike for the way they treated their employees, and even customers.

“For most people, when they go to any custom shop, it usually means they have exhausted the options at the stores. They don’t have issues with cost, they’re probably tired of the usual stuff, and don’t want to replace it in five years or so. We will make it to last.”

“I saw how they treated people. I didn’t like the way they treated their employees; that’s why I don’t have any. And the way they treated their customers? I wasn’t crazy about that either.”

So he started his own cabinetry business — his second business in the field, actually. His first business was located in Chicopee.

“My family has a business bug. I got bit by it on the first go-round over 20 years ago. I had about 15 employees at its height. Don’t get me wrong — every employee at that time I considered my friend. But I lost touch with my trade. I felt at times just a sort of babysitter. When you own any business and have employees, they need to be busy, or you are not doing it right.”

Deerfield Cabinets and Millwork (DCM) is different, he said, explaining that he wanted to pursue his passion, but not have to answer to, or worry about, anyone else. In short, he prioritized his happiness overall, and that lies in the work itself.

Tom Brogle says some repeat customers ask for another product before the first is delivered.

Tom Brogle says some repeat customers ask for another product before the first is delivered.

He does have one other co-worker, his ‘office manager,’ Kali — his four-legged best friend. Well, maybe not his best friend. “I owe a lot to my wife, Pam, who, against her better wishes, is always there when I need her.”


Home and Office

DCM specializes in cabinetry and millwork projects. Millwork can be defined as anything from making a kitchen to just crafting the molding that fits around the door. It ranges from a custom piece of furniture, like a desk, to commercial kiosks like those seen in a mall. Brogle makes pieces for businesses and residents all over the New England area.

“The repeat customers are there as long as you treat them correctly.”

“We really specialize in commercial millwork for other businesses. We love doing projects for hospitals and doctors’ offices. We have a regular customer that brings us projects for pharmacies,” he explained. “Those kinds of jobs are great. We also love working with general contractors; they are aware of many factors that go into any project.”

Products are made, finished, and delivered to the customer, but DCM doesn’t typically perform installations. Brogle told BusinessWest that the piece is usually left in the designated area, but he will do installations only if it is one cabinet that requires a few screws in the wall.

“For most people, when they go to any custom shop, it usually means they have exhausted the options at the stores. They don’t have issues with cost, they’re probably tired of the usual stuff, and don’t want to replace it in five years or so. We will make it to last.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Brogle was concerned for his enterprise, like other owners. He felt especially vulnerable, having been in business for only six months before the world shut down.

“I was very concerned about making it,” he told BusinessWest, and the worry is still there. There was little work, but still work to be done. He acquired a job for a Boston hospital, but it has been an on-again, off-again opportunity.

“When COVID hit, of course everything shut down. To this day, they haven’t asked for their project. I have it in the other room, and I’m still working on it. It hurt — but it didn’t hurt much because I was still in the infancy stage.”

He’s also had issues with supply limitations. Brogle explained that, if he needed a lift of plywood, the supplier wouldn’t sell the lift of 35 to 40 sheets; they, too, were losing out on money. “They would sell 10-12 pieces at a time so they can make more money. If you order a lift, they give you a big discount. They can’t take that price cut, either — suppliers would rather sell 10 here, another 10 there, and so forth. I’ve had to watch what I buy. And sometimes I just don’t get it — it’s just not there.”

Despite the setbacks of COVID-19 and the resulting economic disruption, his business is starting to see a rise in sales. He explained a new job opportunity he received with a friend; he’s building about 50 mall kiosks, and the client is requesting 30 to 40 more over the next year.

Kali the ‘office manager’ checks out a kid gym Tom Brogle made.

Kali the ‘office manager’ checks out a kid gym Tom Brogle made.

“It’s a big job for all of us — the repeat customers are there as long as you treat them correctly,” he said. “You can treat a customer pretty badly and think you’re doing a good job. But if they don’t come back or if they tell someone you did a lousy job, you’ll lose money. It might not be a lot, but you don’t get that customer back.”

Brogle added that he likes to work with his customers to make projects doable, especially for residential jobs. When quoting a job, he tries to honor the price if it is within a certain range of the original estimate.


Milling About

Though there’s a lot of competition in his field, Brogle is excited for the future of Deerfield Cabinets and Millwork.

There’s no predicting what the next year or five years will bring, but he is hoping to hire people that are passionate about the trade.

“I don’t have that crystal ball and all the answers, but this I do know — life is only what you make of it,” he told BusinessWest. “You can either be noticed or sit on your butt the rest of your days. And this is my trade.”


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]


Summer Vocation

Eureka! is to increase girls’ confidence

The goal of Eureka! is to increase girls’ confidence in STEM subjects and inspire confidence in STEM careers down the line.

As Emmalene Pirnie thinks about starting college next year, she considers how the past five years in the Eureka! Program at Girls Inc. of the Valley has prepared her for that journey.

“I remember being a shy, nervous seventh-grader. If you had asked me about it then, I probably wouldn’t have answered you,” she said. “The first summer was where I saw how much I loved the community that Girls Inc. built. I loved being able to talk to the staff as friends and the other girls I got to meet. Throughout the past five years, I’d have to say it’s impacted my life in more ways than one.”

She went on to tell BusinessWest that the STEM-focused program made her realize she did enjoy her science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes in high school; she just didn’t like the way they were being taught.

Suzanne Parker, executive director of Girls Inc. of the Valley, explained that stereotypes linger around women not taking an interest in STEM-related learning, and these stereotypes have created a rigid gender divide in the workforce.

“The whole goal, aside from high-school graduation, is to increase confidence in STEM subjects and to inspire confidence in STEM careers in the future,” Parker said. “Having confidence in those skills is going to benefit you no matter the career path you decide to take.”

Suzanne Parker

Suzanne Parker

The program is five summers long, starting the summer after seventh grade. Through a partnership with UMass Amherst and Bay Path University, students are able to explore fully immersive, STEM-based workshops.

Parker explained that half the time is dedicated to exploring different STEM experiences and building exposure, while 25% of the time is focused around personal development, with students learning soft skills needed for jobs, such as leadership, public speaking, and communication. And the last 25% of the time is related to physical health and wellness and comprehensive sexuality education.

“They’re different from other programs in the area — it’s not just teaching the subject; they are doing science, which is different. They’re immersed in their learning,” said Yadilette Rivera-Colón, board chair for Girls Inc. of the Valley. “When we talk about the STEM workshops, it’s not demonstrations. They actually get in, use equipment, and manipulate specimens, stuff like that. It’s a really hands-on experience when they’re at UMass and Bay Path University.”

“ I loved being able to talk to the staff as friends and the other girls I got to meet. Throughout the past five years, I’d have to say it’s impacted my life in more ways than one.”

Workshops, both single-day and multi-day, range from from landscape architecture and regional planning to chemistry and microbiology. Designed to be accessible to youth, the hands-on workshops promote active, engaged learning, to turn their minds on, Parker said.

“It’s incredible stuff they’re doing — and I have to read it because, most times, I don’t even know what they’re doing. They’re working with incredibly well-known researchers in their fields.”


Everybody Wins

Parker told BusinessWest that she views the program as a win-win-win. It is a win for Girls Inc. because the impact of the program is high. It is also a win for UMass, as many of the participating professors are writing the Eureka! program into their National Science Foundation grants. They’re required to engage in what are called ‘broader impacts,’ participating in programs and organizations with the potential to benefit society and contribute to the achievement of specific, desired societal outcomes.

“Professors love the Eureka! program because we bring students they want to work with — girls, other gender-oppressed youth, people of color living in the Springfield, Chicopee, Holyoke areas — but how do you make those connections?” Parker said. “We bus the kids to them, and the professors volunteer their time.”

Rivera-Colón also added that “the youth have a voice in the program. Sometimes the partnerships are born of things the youth want to explore. So we think about who we know in the community that does X, Y, and Z. From there, we get new partnerships, too.”

The biggest winners in the Eureka! Program, of course, are its scholars. They’re often students from lower-income neighborhoods whose families aren’t able to afford other summer programs. Having a completely accessible and free learning environment provides exposure and multiple opportunities.

“Look at opportunities,” Parker said. “More times than not, STEM careers are well-paying careers. They can really lift up themselves, their families, and their communities out of poverty. Making sure there’s access to that type of programming is very important.”

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 7% of total jobs in the workforce are STEM careers. Within that, about 27% of the workers are women — and 5% of that number are women of color.

“Gender-oppressed people in general are very underrepresented and underserved when they express an interest in science. A lot of it gets squandered by systematic things that happen,” Rivera-Colón said.

She went on to explain that stereotypes, especially around math, are creating barriers for young girls. But actually, girls just have different learning styles than the way concepts have been created by universities.

“Universities were built to cater young, all white men. And a lot of that hasn’t changed to this day, even though women have access to study at those institutions,” she said. “It is up to us at Girls Inc. of the Valley to get our local youth ready to face those challenges and feel like they belong and that they deserve a spot in those programs and careers. The playing field just isn’t leveled for them — they have to do a lot more, so we try to arm them with the tools necessary to be able to move forward.”

Studies suggest that a more diverse group of problem solvers will create more diverse results — which benefits research and society in general because more peoples’ will be catered to.

“There are a lot of big problems in the world, and those problems will go to scientists, engineers, technicians, and mathematicians,” Parker said. “If there are only a small group of people trying to solve the problems that don’t represent the population, then you’re going to get very limited kinds of solutions. Having a broader, diverse group of people that are involved in problem solving is so important.”

Parker told BusinessWest that Girls Inc. of the Valley was chosen be a part of Project Accelerate, a new program through the national Girls Inc. that will track Eureka! scholars that have graduated and help them go on to college and give them the support they need.

“It’s one thing to graduate from high school and get into that engineering program, but what are those supports that will help ensure success through that time period?” Parker said. “We’re really excited about that.”


Life Lessons

The Eureka! program was designed to provide a safe and encouraging space for STEM curiosities, but it was built to provide its scholars with much more.

“I’m personally not looking for a career in STEM, but I think the program has taught me much more than what a STEM career has to offer,” Pirnie said. “I learned it’s OK to ask questions and advocate for yourself, especially in underrepresented areas, especially in math and science.”

The West Springfield native isn’t sure yet what major she wants to dive into at college, but is confident in her future journey because of the connections made and skills built by the Eureka! program.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Employment Special Coverage

Employers Are Still Laboring

Meredith Wise, president of the Employers Assoc. of the NorthEast (EANE), has worked in the broad realm of human resources for decades. She’s seen a lot when it comes to different kinds of employment-market conditions, but admits that she hasn’t seen anything quite like this.

“This is an anomaly; employers have not been in a position where they’re not in control of the job market for a long, long time,” she said. “It’s been a long time since employees have had this kind of control.”

And it looks like they will maintain control for the foreseeable future, said Wise and others we spoke with, because the forces of supply and demand are certainly in their favor — as they have been since well beyond the pandemic, but now, even more so.

Indeed, the national unemployment rate in May remained at 3.6% for the third month in a row, just slightly above the mark in February 2020 (3.5%), prior to the pandemic — this despite a general cooling of the economy amid soaring inflation, supply-chain issues, the war in Ukraine, and other factors.

These numbers translate into a smaller pool of available, qualified labor, continued headaches for employers, and, as Wise said, control of the front seat in the hands of employees.

“Demand and supply still do not align where we would like them to, and more importantly, they’re not aligned where most industries and employers thought they would be at this point post-pandemic, whatever post-pandemic actually means,” said David Cruise, president and CEO of MassHire Springfield Career Center. “I think the pandemic is still very much a driving factor in decision making on the part of applicants, as well as, to some degree, on the part of the employer.”

Elaborating, he told BusinessWest that employers are struggling on several fronts; they’re not seeing large numbers of applicants for positions to be filled, they’re not seeing enough qualified applicants, and when they do find people they want to hire, they’re struggling to retain them because other job opportunities with better pay and benefits continue to present themselves.

Meredith Wise

Meredith Wise

“This is an anomaly; employers have not been in a position where they’re not in control of the job market for a long, long time. It’s been a long time since employees have had this kind of control.”

As a result, companies are spending far more than would be considered normal to recruit, hire, and onboard help, said Cruise, noting that, as retention rates continue to fall, employers are expending more time, money, and energy — all precious commodities, especially with small businesses — on the hiring process.

In other words, the Great Resignation isn’t over, although, as the economy falters, there are questions about how long it will last.

“We’re continuing to see a lot of people quitting their jobs and starting new ones,” said Chris Geehern, executive vice president of Public Affairs & Communication for Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). “My sense is that, as the economy weakens and job growth slows down, that phenomena will also slow down because employees now think, ‘I can quit this job and go to six different places.’ But if there are only two job openings opposed to the six, employees think twice about leaving.”

After federal benefits ran out in September 2020, most employers thought there would be an onslaught of job seekers rushing to fill positions. But when people weren’t flooding career centers for help, employers decided they needed to revamp their systems.

There is an emphasis on ‘the next job,’ so employers needed to find new ways to attract workers, meaning their marketing strategies needed to change, said Dave Gadaire, president and CEO of MassHire Holyoke Career Center, adding that companies are “getting more aggressive in how they recruit; they’re taking more advantage of not just social media, but the airwaves and newspapers.”

Employers are also attending more job fairs, both virtually and in person. In the past month, MassHire has held job fairs in Holyoke and Springfield. Each of those fairs brought in more than 200 job seekers and more than 50 businesses, but the demand still far exceeds supply.

David Cruise

As retention rates continue to fall, David Cruise says, employers are spending more money on the hiring process, from recruiting to onboarding.

For this issue and its focus on employment, BusinessWest looks at the issues shaping the current job market, the outlook at least for the short term, and whether employers may gain back control of the market any time soon.


Work in Progress?

Those we spoke with said the current challenges are not restricted to certain sectors of the economy; it’s essentially across the board, with some industry groups, especially essential service sectors, particularly hard-hit. National hire rates have stayed the same at 4.4% over the past year despite more people looking for work, and despite news of layoffs in some sectors, especially financial services.

“Demand and supply still do not align where we would like them to, and more importantly, they’re not aligned where most industries and employers thought they would be at this point post-pandemic, whatever post-pandemic actually means.”

“You do see companies both hiring and laying off at the same time,” said Gadaire. “It’s confusing for people because employers need different skills, and they have the choice to train their employees up or let them go and get new employees with those skills instead. The cost of training subtracts from the bottom line. They could be great employees and the employer wants to keep them, but now they have to get paid more and get the training they need to be qualified.”

Instead of layoffs, companies are trying to slow down the hiring process, he continued. “Instead of layoffs, we’re seeing some of the companies delaying their hiring a little bit; instead of hiring 50 people, they’re hiring 40 people, that kind of thing.”

For those are hiring — and that’s most companies — it’s not business as usual, or what managers were used to before the pandemic and that aforementioned Great Recession.

Indeed, bonuses and higher wages are now the norm for businesses looking to attract — and retain — help. Companies are offering sign-on bonuses, some as hefty as $2,000, when applying and staying at a business for six months or more. That means that companies are having to rework their pay scales from the inside to retain workers.

Beyond higher wages and bonuses, companies are offering other incentives, including flexible hours and, when possible, remote work.

Wise told BusinessWest that one of EANE’s manufacturing members in the central part of the state uses flex time on its shop floor, meaning employees can have a more fluid work schedule to match their personal schedule.

But perhaps what job applicants are seeking most is culture, Cruise noted.

“Over time, the money is certainly an incentive, but it won’t be able to retain people over time without some adjustment with culture and schedules,” he explained, adding that, perhaps above all else, job seekers want to know they’re valued and heard by their employer.

“Most progressive, good companies where people want to work and build a career are working really hard to not only outreach employees and market their business, but make the case to workers that their place of business is a good place to work, not only for the financial and benefit packages, but from the perspective of having a work culture and schedules that work with the employees’ life cycle,” he went on. “Companies are trying to look at schedules that allow flexibility with an understanding that business still has to operate and has to have accommodations to make sure the work gets done.”

Gadaire agreed. He told BusinessWest about an employee who continues to work for the MassHire center because of the care she feels from her co-workers and bosses.

“She and her son got COVID early on in the pandemic, and she had to quarantine in a hotel because her mother and grandmother were living with her at the time,” he noted. “We had staff members bringing food to her, checking in, picking up medications for her every day. She said that was a difference maker for her because the amount of care meant something. She felt like her son’s health mattered to us, and she said, ‘I’ve never felt that from other jobs.’”

Good management is another key, said those we spoke with, adding that this equates to giving employees a voice and a say in how things go, making sure they’re appropriately compensated, and making sure their benefits programs are up to date with what current job seekers are looking for.

Beyond these steps, many businesses and industry groups are becoming far more proactive when it comes to creating larger pools of qualified workers. This includes work to partner with vocational schools and other institutions to create pipelines of talent — and keep a steady flow of potential employees in that pipeline.

“Employers really have to find a way of capturing and attracting the kind of skilled workers they really need,” Geehern said. “For example, you will find manufacturing and engineering companies will establish a setup with Springfield Technical Community College, Holyoke Community College, or UMass Amherst. Some of these are training partnerships, some are research partnerships, but it allows them to establish some sort of connection with the institutions that are training the people that are going to be tomorrow’s workers.”


Hire Power

Moving forward, the overarching question concerns just how long this will remain an employees’ market. Much depends, economists say, on whether there is a recession and, if there is one, what impact it will have on the jobs market.

The monthly Business Confidence Index (BCI), initiated by AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors, noted that 76% of CEOs globally tell the Conference Board that they expect a recession by the end of 2023 or believe it’s already here. The economy appears to be growing, but employers face growing struggles with soaring fuel prices, supply-chain disruptions, and financial-market volatility.

Chris Geehern

Chris Geehern

“We’re continuing to see a lot of people quitting their jobs and starting new ones. My sense is that, as the economy weakens and job growth slows down, that phenomena will also slow down because employees now think, ‘I can quit this job and go to six different places.’ But if there are only two job openings opposed to the six, employees think twice about leaving.”

The BCI is based on a survey of AIM member companies across Massachusetts, asking questions about current and prospective business conditions in the state and nation, as well as about respondents’ own operations. The index is based on a 100-point scale. A reading above 50 indicates that the state’s employer community is predominantly optimistic, while a reading below 50 points translates to a negative assessment of business conditions.

According to the BCI, business confidence fell 3.9 points to 50.8 in June. The index sits 12.6 points lower than a year ago and marginally higher than the 50 mark that separates an optimistic from a pessimistic view. The Current Index, which assesses overall business conditions at the time of the survey, declined 3.3 points to 53.4. The Future Index, measuring projections for the economy six months from now, lost 4.6 points to 48.1.

The Wall Street Journal surveyed economists in June, and its consensus forecast was that unemployment will be 3.9% at the end of this year and 4.6% by the end of 2023. That rate would be higher than what economists are looking at now but, by historic standards, a much lower unemployment rate than is typical for a recession.

“What we may be looking at for the moment here is a jobful recession, rather than a jobless recovery,” Geehern said. “In the sense that job creation has slowed down, it certainly slowed and is out of sync with what we perceive as the decline in output. And those are two things you look at when you want to gauge if we’re in a recession or not: what is happening to economic output and what is happening to employment.”

Elaborating, he said that as economic output goes down, unemployment generally goes up. This time around, the economic output went down in the first and second quarter, but the job market has stayed resilient.

Whether things will stay that way remains to be seen. For now, and for the foreseeable future, what Wise calls an anomaly will be the status quo.


Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]

Women in Businesss

Strength in Numbers

By Kailey Houle

Andrea Marion

Andrea Marion says she’s surrounded by ‘bad-ass,’ powerful women at the Mill District.

Before the pandemic, Andréa Marion worked in the nonprofit world.

As it was for countless others, COVID became a period of reflection for her, a time to determine what was really important.

“I wasn’t happy and wanted a change,” she recalled. “I loved what I did, I loved working with and helping people, but I just knew it was time to see what else was out there and see what I can do. I have always loved fashion. I’ve always been into clothing, and style, and what it means to someone and how we represent ourselves with clothing.”

She took this passion for fashion, started a clothing boutique, and eventually took this fledgling venture to one of the pop-up events at the Mill District in North Amherst, where she hosted a table. Two months later, she is a far more permanent fixture at this home to a diverse mix of businesses, many of them owned and operated by women, including the mill itself, which was created by Cinda Jones, president of WD Cowls Inc., a winner of BusinessWest’s Forty Under 40, Alumni Achievement, and Top Entrepreneur awards.

“Being a woman in business at the Mill District has been very empowering.”

And Marion is rejoicing in both her success and business address.

“Being a woman in business at the Mill District has been very empowering,” said Marion, who sells mostly women’s clothing, but is hoping to expand her business to include male and non-binary clothing as well. “I have been a woman in business where I have been the only woman in the room, and that can be very lonely and tough. At the Mill District, I’m surrounded by so many bad-ass, powerful women and I feel like I’m at home. It sounds corny, but it’s so true. I couldn’t have picked a better spot.”

Marion is one of many who expressed similar sentiments — about both bad-ass, powerful women at the Mill District, and how that location has become a source of pride, inspiration, and a growing list of success stories. And about how much they like being part of all that.

Jessica Lavallee owns a Graze Craze location in North Amherst, a charcuterie-style takeout and delivery store that offers catering for events of all sizes. It was founded by a female Air Force veteran in Oklahoma, who recently franchised her stores through the United Franchise Group. The Amherst store is the first franchise in the Northeast, with the closest store to the North Amherst location being in Tennessee.

Lavallee is always looking for a new challenge and opportunities to give back to the community. “One of my favorite things to do is to entertain, and I love the concept of grazing; charcuterie boards fit into that perfectly,” she explained. “As a woman business owner, this gave me the opportunity to have a corporation for support, but make things my own at the same time. It gave me the opportunity to start a business in the food industry, which has always been something I have wanted to do.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked to several business owners and managers at the Mill District. Collectively, they touched on how they manage to inspire each other, but also about the many challenges and hurdles facing women in business today.

Location, Location, Location

Because women are the natural caregivers for their children, society often forgets that they are a person outside of motherhood. Once their children are graduated and out of the house, the mother often starts experiencing empty-nest syndrome. Another individual who works at the Mill District decided she wasn’t going to be that woman.

Kayla Diggins says she’s proud to be role model to young girls.

Kayla Diggins says she’s proud to be a role model to young girls.

Shannon Borrell is the store conductor of the General Store and Local Art Gallery in the Mill District. She explained that her job allows her to do many things around the store, such as a managerial role, building customer relations, putting up posts on social media, and event production for the art gallery.

The store has the nostalgic feel of an old-time general store. It sells a variety of items: household goods, gardening supplies, baking goods, children’s toys, art supplies, bulk candy by the pound, and more. The art gallery showcases art made by people within an hour of the store. Anyone that is interested can submit an online application, and once their work is approved, they can rent space by the linear foot. Artists keep 80% of the commissions, and the remaining 20% of the proceeds go back into the general store for classes that artists are interested in.

Borrell feels that now is the right time to focus on herself.

“I want to do something meaningful,” she said. “If you told me I was going to be working in retail and how you define that experience, I wouldn’t say that that was what I was doing. This space is more about creating community and bringing people together. It’s like retail with a mission — it’s art with an interest in community and getting people involved and an opportunity for more activity in this area.”

She said that working in the General Store and art gallery has challenged her in ways her previous vocation didn’t. As a para-educator, she wasn’t able to push the limit, as she called it. “There are no limitations in events or classes that the store wants to have, or how robust we want them to be.”

Another woman at the Mill District who is pushing the limits is Kayla Diggins. She owns an online clothing boutique named Harper James, selling women’s clothing, accessories, jewelry, and handbags.

Diggins went to school for fashion merchandising and has wanted to start her own business since her first job in the wholesale side of the fashion industry. Even though COVID-19 hit and she closed her shop for a few years, she felt it was time to reopen her boutique and give it another shot.

“It got to a point where I was thinking if I don’t try to do this now, I could regret this for the rest of my life,” she said. “In the beginning of the year, I hit the ground running — I got everything set up and started up again.”

Since starting her business, Diggins said she feels like she’s found her place in life despite the many ups and downs that are part and parcel to being an entrepreneur. Being in this season of life allows her to not only grow but be a mentor to her younger cousin who is following in her footsteps.

Jessica Lavallee with one of her charcuterie boards.

Jessica Lavallee with one of her charcuterie boards.

“It’s so empowering, and I’m extremely proud to tell people that I own my own business — it brings me a lot of pride, a lot of joy, and it is a really tough thing to do,” she said. “It has its ups and downs, but to be able to push forward and set new examples and standards is really exciting. My cousin is kind of in awe of what I’m doing. Being able to set that example and be a role model for someone that is younger and going through the same process means the world to me.”

Shauna Wallace, project manager for Cowls Building Supply and the Mill District General Store, and interim manager of the latter, also feels empowered in her position. Before coming to North Amherst, she worked for a construction company as the project manager and was one of the few women on the payroll.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for me because traditionally coming from the building and lumber industry, I didn’t get that,” she said, referring to the opportunity to work with, learn from, and become inspired by other women. “Now I am, and it is truly a gift to interact with so many wonderful women in the Mill District. It’s been a wonderful past year to be in a position of leadership and to be able to influence the culture of the store and the women I work with.”

“The most difficult piece is getting people to take you seriously. Often when people approach me about my business, I start talking about numbers and research or all of the effort I’ve put in to make this a successful venture.”

Alysia Bryant is starting her first business at the Mill District. Carefree Cakery is a bakery that focuses on taking care of people. All the ingredients used are fair trade, and all employees are paid a living wage. She started in the healthcare field before learning it wasn’t for her.

“I shifted my focus to ‘how can I use the skills that I have in order to help people?’” she said, “And that’s how I ended up here. I’ve always loved baking; I’ve always been good at making things, so I switched my major to business in college. I’ve truly built my life around this.”

While she enjoys working for herself and takes pride in her accomplishments, she acknowledged that it is “exhausting to be a woman in business.” Bryant just turned 28 and said she feels the need to prove herself to others when explaining she’s a business owner.

“The most difficult piece is getting people to take you seriously,” she said. “Often when people approach me about my business, I start talking about numbers and research or all of the effort I’ve put in to make this a successful venture.”

Progress Report

Bryant’s story reflects those of all the women we spoke to at the Mill District, as well as the other women business owners there, including Kim Rodrigo and Courtney D’Antonio, owners of the Lift Salon, and Mary Ellen Liacos, who owns Balanced Birch Studio.

Collectively, they speak of the desire to seek new challenges and to also find the strength and perseverance to overcome adversity.

They also speak to how there is now strength in numbers at this destination — not just in the number of “bad-ass women,” but also in the number of success stories they’re writing.

Health Care

Support Systems

The past few years have been extremely challenging times for all those in healthcare, but especially the nurses on the front lines. The stress and long hours stemming from COVID have led many to leave the profession — intensifying an already-critical shortage of nurses. In an effort to better attract and retain nurses, area hospitals are taking a number of steps — everything from dramatic increases in pay and signing bonuses, to the introduction of ‘quiet rooms,’ where nurses can unwind during their shifts, to initiatives to create a wider pipeline of nurses. These measures are being implemented to create a better work environment and, overall, help stem a workforce crisis that has taxed hospitals in every conceivable way.


“Quiet rooms’ like this at Mercy Medical Center

“Quiet rooms’ like this at Mercy Medical Center are just one of the initiatives aimed at helping nurses and other healthcare professionals battle stress.


Kelly Chevalier, DND, is a military veteran, having served in the Air National Guard at Barnes Airport in Westfield.

She said there have been many comparisons between actual combat and day-to-day life in hospitals and other healthcare settings at the height of COVID. She believes they are valid.

Recalling those days, Chevalier, director of Nursing Education at Mercy Medical Center and director of the Emergency Department, said healthcare professionals would show up for work facing a great unknown and danger to their own health and safety.

“That made me proud to be a part of this career and proud to be a nurse,” she said, comparing the nurses she worked beside to soldiers going into battle. “They showed up when a lot of people didn’t want to.”

But while most nurses did, indeed, show up, combatting COVID and its many side effects has taken its toll — on both the nursing profession locally and everywhere, and on facilities trying to maintain a full staff of nurses.

As Chevalier and others told BusinessWest, COVID prompted many nurses who were at or near retirement age to take that step and leave the profession behind. And for some not near retirement, the COVID fight and a desire not to endanger the health of loved ones prompted them to look at other career options, with many eventually finding opportunities elsewhere.

Kelly Chevalier says many nurses were pushed into retirement

Kelly Chevalier says many nurses were pushed into retirement by COVID, while others went into other professions or became travel nurses.

This dramatically altered landscape has left area hospitals scrambling to fill their nursing ranks, often resorting to the hiring of very expensive travel nurses, individuals willing, as that name suggests, to travel (sometimes long distances) to take nursing positions at different kinds of facilities.

In the wake of COVID, but in some cases before it arrived, hospitals have been taking steps to more effectively attract and retain nurses and create work environments that help them confront the stress and strain of everyday work. Such initiatives range from signing bonuses and generous wages to ‘appreciation meals’ and so-called ‘quiet rooms.’

Spiros Hatiras, president and CEO of Holyoke Medical Center (HMC), said his institution has put in place generous sign-on bonuses and other initiatives, steps that were in place long before COVID, to not only bring nurses to HMC but draw people into the nursing profession.

“From day one, I’ve implemented, one of, if not the most generous education benefits in the valley, to help people go back to school and advance their degrees,” he explained. “The last element is reaching out to new grads, but we need to make it so we offer something they can’t say ‘no’ to. We’ve decided to offer each new grad nurse $50,000 when they sign on with us, check in hand, as long as they sign to work with us for four years.”

Spiros Hatiras

Spiros Hatiras

“From day one, I’ve implemented, one of, if not the most generous education benefits in the valley, to help people go back to school and advance their degrees.”

Not only do new nurses get a bonus, but already employed nurses can receive an additional $20,000 to their annual income if they agree to work with Holyoke Medical Center for another five years.

For this issue and its focus on healthcare, BusinessWest looks at the current landscape in nursing and how area hospitals are working to address the many ongoing challenges they, and their nurses, are facing.


Supply and Demand

The challenge of securing adequate numbers of nurses is nothing new for area hospitals. With the aging of the Baby Boom generation, matching the number of retirements with new hires has been a difficult assignment.

And COVID, and the so-called Great Resignation, have only exacerbated the problem. Indeed, according to Nursing Solutions Inc., the national healthcare retention and registered nurse (RN) staffing report of 2021 said that for the first time ever, retirement is one of the top three reasons for resignations among registered nurses.

This phenomenon has created what Joanne Miller, chief nurse executive, Baystate Health and chief nursing officer, Baystate Medical Center, called an ‘experience gap.’

Joanne Miller

Joanne Miller

“We’re investing in and learning more about the antidote to fatigue and burnout — that is the ability for our nurses to become resilient. In order to identify and address stress, we’re creating an environment where we can openly share and discuss these feelings.”

“The experience of the complexity gap has widened,” she explained. “Meaning the nursing workforce experience has dropped and the complex care that patients need today is rising. So the overall growth of an RN workforce is primarily new graduates.”

Contending with this gap is just one of the challenges facing hospitals, said those we spoke with, adding that COVID pushed more nurses into retirement and other professions, while it inspired others to join the ranks of travel nurses, and, in doing so, earn much more than they were making.

“We had a large group of nurses that jumped on the travel nurse wave,” said Chevalier, adding that for many in the profession, the chance to earn the wages being offered by travel-nurse agencies was an opportunity they could not pass on.

Hatiras agreed.

“Some people don’t mind traveling and bouncing around from facility to facility and seeing the country,” he noted. “Because of the shortage, the amount of money these agencies were offering nurses to do that was incredibly high, so more nurses left regular full-time jobs to do that. It’s a supply-and-demand issue.”

All three hospitals we spoke with have been working hard to increase the number of staff available on their floors, many of which are again operating at or near full capacity as COVID cases wane.

One way that facilities are combating the issue of staffing is moving staff to areas where the help is needed most and make greater use of certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

The ‘comfort cart’ at Mercy Medical Center

The ‘comfort cart’ at Mercy Medical Center’ is one of many steps being taken to improve morale and battle stress.

“Before, we only had a few (CNAs) on the floor,” said Hatiras. “There were only two nurses and four CNAs on the floor. Now, we’ve teamed up every nurse with a CNA and they work as a team. It’s a one-to-one ratio, and it has helped out a lot,” said Hatiras.

CNAs are able to assist nurses by fulfilling tasks that don’t require a nursing license, such as gathering supplies and medications, documenting important information, assisting in procedures, and transporting patients.

Each facility has its own kind of float pool to help nurses in other areas of the hospital. Nurses are able to volunteer to be moved to other areas that need more assistance, said Hatiras, stressing the importance of volunteering; moving nurses from a unit they enjoy can cause “a lot of dissatisfaction.”

Hospitals are also taking steps to improve the pipeline of nurses from area colleges through various programs designed to only provide experience but introduce them to the institutions in the hope that they will stay with a hospital after they graduate from college.

Baystate and Mercy have partnerships with colleges in the region whereby nurses are able to join an internship program, known as clinicals, and can have a paid position with the facility.

“It’s a great opportunity to be exposed to nursing from an ancillary level with some infusion of higher level of learning from a registered nurse’s perspective,” said Chevalier. “It’s a great way for us to pick from the best of the best that’s out there and really make sure they’re not just an academic good fit, but a cultural good fit.”

Miller told BusinessWest that one step taken at Baystate was to hire 39 student nurses from a Student Nurse Association Program (SNAP) to help further their learning at Baystate Medical Center. The program provides experience for the student nurses and introduces them to Baystate — and the job opportunities there. “They’re not nurses yet, but they’re in college,” she explained. “They do this outside of their clinical practicum. In their junior or senior year of college, a student is able to get a job at the local hospital, practicing and learning since we know they’re in a nursing program; we show them the ropes a little bit more. It’s a great experience for a nursing student.”

Meanwhile, hospitals are taking steps to improve the overall experience for nurses, through initiatives like quiet rooms, or what Mercy calls ‘zen rooms.’

Quiet rooms are specifically designed to have minimal noise, allowing nurses a welcome break from the stress of an average day. Nurses are encouraged to practice breathing techniques, meditate, and decompress while in these rooms. Most rooms even include a massage chair and minimal-interaction videos.

“We’re investing in and learning more about the antidote to fatigue and burnout — that is the ability for our nurses to become resilient,” said Miller, noting that Baystate has created eight quiet rooms for its nursing staff. “In order to identify and address stress, we’re creating an environment where we can openly share and discuss these feelings. It is very important to be able to do that. We’re working to promote and include self-care in their everyday lives.”

Space and quiet aren’t the only way hospitals in the area are making their nursing staff feel appreciated. Facilities are raising the bar when it comes to ongoing work to keep their nurses motivated and wanting to work.

“It’s a struggle to find fun things to do to keep people engaged and excited and interested that don’t tax our resources,” said Chevalier, adding that Mercy continues to look for ways to support its nurses.


Care Package

Facilities also offer smaller incentives such as food truck events, family and friend picnics, and an extra week of vacation to help nurses relax.

Mercy Medical Center has come up with the ‘comfort cart’ — the executive team travels the entire hospital with a car filled with snacks and “trinkets of appreciation,” said Chevalier.

A popular favorite at area hospitals has been meals and appreciation picnics with the families. Hatiras said his staff’s most popular pick is Chick-Fil-A meals.

Taking such steps is just one way hospitals are addressing a problem that began well before the pandemic but has been put into new perspective by what are challenging and truly unprecedented times.

Commercial Real Estate Special Coverage

Union Forces


Pat Goggins, left, and Brian Megliola

Pat Goggins, left, and Brian Megliola


Pat Goggins and Brian Megliola say the talks concerning an acquisition and merger of their companies began more than a year ago. They started — and then continued to a successful conclusion — because of similar philosophies and the shared belief that a union made sense on many different levels. The new company, with two divisions based in Northampton, will emerge and “be right at the top of the agencies in this area,” said Goggins.

By Kailey Houle

Brian Megliola says he considers Pat Goggins a role model.

“I’ve always had so much respect for Pat and what he’s achieved in the Northampton, Hampshire County area,” said Megliola, owner of Coldwell Banker Community Realtors. “He showed me what I wanted to be as a business owner.”

Elaborating, Megliola said that it was Goggins’ success in business — he and the company he started have been a force in commercial and residential real estate in and around Northampton for 40 years now — as well as his commitment to the community that made him not only a role model, but a logical business partner.

Indeed, Coldwell Banker Community Realtors recently announced the acquisition and merger of Goggins Real Estate, a transaction that will bring together two of the longest-running family-owned real estate companies in Franklin and Hampshire Counties. The union that will create a larger, more powerful force in the local market, and one that is expected to balance an already-formidable residential real estate book of business with growth on the commercial side of the ledger.

“When I started talking with Pat about the acquisition and merger more than a year ago, our companies were just so aligned in our values and culture,” said Megliola. “I’ve always seen Pat as a heavily involved community figure and he’s always been a role model for me. His involvement with the community made sense that he would be the right person. It was a perfect scenario — there was no other company we could blend with so well.”

The 112 Main St., Northampton office of Coldwell Banker Community Realtors will be the main office for the residential company. Coldwell Banker’s commercial division will move to the present Goggins office at 79 King St., Northampton. “This separate franchise with Coldwell Banker Commercial will also have a name change to Coldwell Banker Commercial-Goggins Associates.

“I’ve always had so much respect for Pat and what he’s achieved in the Northampton, Hampshire County area. He showed me what I wanted to be as a business owner.”

“We felt it was important to continue the legacy that Pat has created in commercial real estate in the Northampton area and fitting to rename our commercial company to include the Goggins name.”

Pat Goggins will continue on as the manager of the commercial side, building on four decades of work that have seen the ‘Goggins’ name attached to a large portion of the commercial transactions that have taken place since the Northampton market started booming in the early ’80s.

“I plan to remain very active in real estate and look forward to running the commercial company”, said Pat Goggins.  “I look forward to this new partnership, as it enhances our ability to provide even better service to our clients with the added tools and systems we will now have available to us through Coldwell Banker.

“They are an impressive organization and bring a lot to the table, both for our residential clients and our commercial ones as well,” he went on, adding that the acquisition came about after lengthy talks — and, unlike many such deals, it is a true acquisition.

“This was something that Brian paid for; it was a reflection of his interest and determination on his part as to where the value was,” he explained. “If you’re buying anything, you have to figure out what makes that particular purchase valuable. And I think that he felt that we were not only compatible, but he was also intrigued by the market share that we have had for many years.”

“When I started talking with Pat about the acquisition and merger more than a year ago, our companies were just so aligned in our values and culture.”

For this issue and its focus on commercial real estate, BusinessWest talked with Megliola and Goggins about how this important deal came about and what it means moving forward.

As noted, the two companies that came together in this merger have long histories in this region.

Goggins got his start in 1982, and over the ensuing 40 years, the firm has handled some of the Northampton area’s biggest residential developments, including Bear Hill, Village Hill, Parson’s Brook, Baker Hill, and is presently handling the new development Hawley Manor on Hawley St. in downtown Northampton.

But the firm has made perhaps an even bigger influence in the commercial market, handling handing many of Northampton’s biggest commercial deals over the years, including countless transactions in the downtown area, which has remained consistently vibrant.

Over the past four decades, Pat Goggins has been a go-to source for BusinessWest and other media outlets on what was happening in the Northampton commercial market and the forces that were driving it.

As for Coldwell Banker, Coldwell Banker Community Realtors of Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin counties originally started as Upton and May Real Estate in 1987 in South Deerfield, with Christine Aubrey, and Steve Upton, who were both teachers. When they got laid off from teaching in Turners Falls, Upton decided to make real estate a full-time job and asked Aubrey to help run the office. They built their own properties and soon after that, people asked them to assist in selling their own homes. They then merged with Massamont Real Estate in Shelburne Falls, and became Upton Massamont Real Estate. They later franchised with Coldwell Banker in 2006 and have grown to four offices, located in Northampton, South Deerfield,  Shelburne Falls and Amherst.

They also have a commercial office in Greenfield, and they’ve handled many residential developments throughout Franklin and Hampshire counties, including Emerson Way, Silvercrest, Ridgecrest, most of the condominium developments in South Deerfield and, currently, The Residences in Shelburne Falls. 

“We’re going to see something emerge that is going to be right at the top of the agencies in this area.”

Megliola, who has been with Coldwell Banker for 13 years now — the first seven years, he worked in IT and worked his way up to operations — will be the sole owner of Coldwell Banker Community Realtors and Coldwell Banker Commercial-Goggins Associates, and will oversee all aspects of the new entity. Besides Megliola, there are nine other full time support staff and a total of 45 agents, many of whom have been Realtors for over 25 years.

The name “Coldwell Banker Community Realtors” will remain as the name of the residential real estate company.

“Pat, Christine and I share a strong commitment to the communities we serve and feel that name speaks to our style of doing business,” said Megliola. “We have all been very active in supporting our communities and although we have a national brand that brings us a higher level of service for our agents and clients, we are still a locally owned company that has deep roots here in the Valley. That will never change.     

“Community is really important to my team and I,” he went on. “We decided community is what needs to be not only the center of what we do, but also the center of our name. Our name changed to Coldwell Banker Community Realtors about 15 years ago. We knew franchises were going to come and we were getting tired of having to reinvent the wheel every time so we decided we would look into the best franchise out there. We settled on Coldwell Banker for a couple reasons- there is a long history of ethics and at the time they had been around for about 90 years.”

Returning to the subject of the talks that led to the acquisition and merger, both Goggins and Megliola said they came about because of the synergy between the companies, shared philosophies, and timing.

“One of the oddities of this sale was the fact that it occurred 40 years to the date of me starting the business — it was kind of like an anniversary and at the same time, a sale; it was kind of interesting,” said Goggins. “The main motivation is the fact I’m 74 years old and have been doing this for about 50 years. My wife kept kicking me and saying, “Come on — sell this.”

Moving forward, both Goggins and Megliola believe the combined names on the door, but more importantly what’s behind those names, especially the decades of experience in both the commercial and residential markets, will make the firm a force within the region.

“Brian is extremely energetic and with his approach to the business, there’s no doubt that he will blend our experience with his energy,” Goggins said. “And we’re going to see something emerge that is going to be right at the top of the agencies in this area.”

Megliola agreed, and noted that in order to build the brand, there will be a strong focus on growing the commercial side of his business, an assignment that should be helped by the Goggins name, but also Pat Goggins’ desire to continue building on the foundation he has laid over the past 40 years.

“I’m going to remain as active as I want to be, and I still find the work stimulating. I enjoy being engaged in it,” he said. “I’ve been very actively involved in it for 50 years so, I don’t have any plans of moving permanently to Florida — but don’t get me wrong, I will be spending time down there! It just seemed like it was the right time.”