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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]

Technology

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;
www.berkshireeast.com

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;
www.bohdiiboutique.com

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;
www.champagneapothecary.com

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;
www.ctvalleybrewing.com

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.

 

CyclePottery

CyclePottery

CyclePottery

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;
www.echohillorchards.com

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;
www.elementshottubspa.com

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;
www.elementsmassage.com/hadley

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;
www.feelgoodshoplocal.com

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;
www.floratheshop.com

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;
www.funhubactionpark.com

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;
www.glendaleridgevineyard.com

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

www.halliescomet.com

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;
www.highfivebooks.org

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;
www.eatjackalope.com

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.

 

Kestrel

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;
www.themilldistrictna.com

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;
www.monsoonroastery.com

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;
www.noshspringfield.com

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

www.pmreedcarrygoods.com

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;
www.tenthousandvillages.com/northampton

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;
www.thornesmarketplace.com

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]

Entrepreneurship

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]

Construction

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]

Technology

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.

 

Features

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]

Education

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.”

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