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The Class of 2013

40 Under 40 The Class of 2013
Realtor, Century 21 Hometown Associates; Founder and Co-chair, Buy Holyoke Now, age 31

Brunelle-Erin-FontaineAs a real-estate agent, Erin Brunelle was quick to share her favorite part of her job. “It’s handing someone their first set of keys. Everyone dreams about their first house, and getting to be a part of that is very rewarding.”
She’s had plenty of experience with that feeling, ranking in the top 10 in sales performance among all Century 21 offices in the area last year, handing out 21 sets of keys while posting more than $2.7 million in sales. Brunelle also helped Century 21 Hometown Associates open a new Holyoke location last year; after just a few months, that office boasts the top market share in the city.
But that’s not the only way she’s impacting home ownership in the city. Take, for example, a project she helped launch called Buy Holyoke Now.
“It’s a new homeowners initiative we launched in the city after Alex Morse was elected mayor,” she said. “We laid out why it would be important, and he was on board from day one.”
In a nutshell, Buy Holyoke Now is a collaborative effort by a network of lenders, real-estate professionals, nonprofit groups, attorneys, insurance agents, home inspectors, Holyoke Gas & Electric, and a number of other retail partners and local tourist attractions, who team up to offer discounted costs and other incentives to people who move to Holyoke.
“Just from the goal of economic development, to have tax dollars coming into the city is always a good thing,” Brunelle said, citing research suggesting that every two homes sold equals one job and $30,000 pumped into the local economy each year. The retail incentives of Buy Holyoke Now are intended to increase that figure further, by encouraging residents to direct their spending money toward locally owned businesses.
“I’m a hometown girl. I was born and raised here,” Brunelle said of her passion for the city, which extends to other civic volunteerism, including service to the Holyoke Winter Carnival and the Realtor Assoc. of Pioneer Valley Community Service Committee; she has also decided to run for the School Committee in Ward 7. “I get upset when Holyoke gets a bad rap from people who don’t know what the city is all about. I want to alter that perception.”

— Joseph Bednar

40 Under 40 The Class of 2013
Owner, North Country Landscapes and Garden Center, age 34

Pelis-JustinJustin Pelis was making good use of his bachelor’s degree in Finance and Economics from UMass Amherst at a Boston accounting firm, but something just wasn’t right.
“I found myself spending more time in Boston Common than in the office,” Pelis recalled, and he made a move to head back to school with the goal of spending much more time outdoors.
With a second degree from the UMass Stockbridge School of Landscape Design and Horticulture, he purchased what was then a very small garden center in Westhampton called North Country Landscapes. With just two staff members at the start of the Great Recession, Pelis grew the business to 11 staffers who provide high-end, luxury landscape-design plans that include rock formations, stone patios, and walkways with integrated gardens.
Targeting what he calls the ‘aspirational gardener’ — the client who wants more of an artistic, outdoor living-room area that celebrates nature — Pelis took advantage of trends associated with the recession that impacted his industry.
“People were staying home more often, not going on vacations, and willing to put $20,000 or $30,000 into their backyard, with a patio and firepit,” he noted. “Now, they’re spending even more.”
While growing his business, Pelis has also broadened his involvement within the community, devoting more time and energy to civic causes that he finds personally rewarding and important in others’ lives.
Watching his late mother, who suffered for years with multiple sclerosis, enjoy an active quality of life through the Stavros Center, he decided to give back to that organization in her name by serving on the board beginning in 2012. Meanwhile, his love of art, and his desire to help others appreciate what is in their own backyard, has kept him active on the UMass Amherst Fine Arts Center board and gala committee.
A frequent attendee of Northampton Area Young Professionals and Northampton Chamber of Commerce events, Pelis donates time to bowl-a-thons, golf tournaments, and nonprofit auctions, as well as donating birdbaths and garden-themed gift baskets from North Country Landscapes for raffles.
“I find it to be the cheapest and the most rewarding form of advertisement for my business,” he said, “and it feels good.”

— Elizabeth Taras