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‘Something’s Bubbling’

Downtown Greenfield

Downtown Greenfield is becoming a destination, as are other communities in Franklin County.

Franklin County, the state’s most rural county, and also its poorest, faces a host of challenges today — from a declining and aging population to poor broadband service in most of its communities, to statistically lower wages for comparable jobs. But those working to spur economic development and improve quality of life here see progress in many forms and vast opportunities to attract the young people who covet many of things this region can offer them.

John Lunt was looking to make a point about Franklin County in general, and the amount of developable land in and around Greenfield in particular, and to do so effectively, he recalled a recent conversation he had with Jay Ashe, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development.

“We were talking about land that small precision manufacturers could potentially develop on, and he said something like, ‘you’re in Western Mass., Franklin County — you must have a ton of land,’” said Lunt, director of Special Projects and Economic Development in Greenfield, adding quickly that this is not the case at all.

“The land that we have available for those kinds of manufacturing jobs is pretty much gone,” he explained, referring especially to Greenfield. “We have some land that’s zoned ‘planned industrial,’ but there isn’t a business in the world that would build on it because of slope and ledge and things that make it to difficult to prepare.”

John Lunt

John Lunt says collaboration is a necessary quality in rural Franklin County, as is independence and an entrepreneurial approach to progress.

Lunt recalled his conversation with Ashe to make another point — that many of the perceptions about rural Franklin County, like the one about land to develop, are not exactly on the mark.

Others include the widely held belief that families and businesses do not want to locate there, the notion that the region doesn’t have much of what the Millennial generation is looking for, and the perception that manufacturing is all but dead in a region that had been economically dominated by it for centuries.

“Manufacturing is still doing very well here, but it’s changed somewhat; many large companies involved in traditional manufacturing have left,” said Patricia Crosby, executive director of the Franklin Hampshire Regional Employment Board. “Many smaller ones have stayed, and new companies have come here; they’re mostly involved in precision manufacturing or fabricated metals, and they’re doing extremely well, and they’re adding a few employees each year.”

Meanwhile, others we spoke with said Franklin County is, in fact, becoming a landing spot for Millennials — generally older Millennials who are ready to settle down, and especially those who are active and into outdoor sports (much more on that later).

Unfortunately, though, many other perceptions about this region are far more accurate, to the point where they become statistics. These include the fact that this is the poorest county in the state; that wages here are well below the state average for comparable jobs — a real factor in the region’s struggles to attract young people; that broadband service doesn’t exist in many of the communities in the county; that public transportation is sorely lacking; that the age of the population in those communities is rising at almost alarming levels; and that, while unemployment is fairly low at 3%, this is a misleading statistic because many individuals have stopped looking for work, and others are unemployable.

But while rural Franklin County has more than its fair share of challenges, there are a number of signs of progress and abundant hope that there will be many more in the months and years to come.

Start with the Five Eyed Fox, a restaurant and bar in Turners Falls that is making that community just east of Greenfield a destination and what some even called a ‘hot spot,’ a term not used in that community for some time.

“It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls,” said Natalie Blais, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, and also the local tourism board. “It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

It’s super hip and cool to be in Turners Falls. It’s the place to be; Turners is sort of leading this whole retro, hip scene.”

Then there’s the Orange Innovation Center, a co-working space in a community in what’s known as the North Quabbin area, the eastern edge of the county. Created in a factory where General Foods once produced Minute Tapioca pudding for roughly seven decades, the space now hosts an eclectic group of tenants ranging from a music studio and to a fitness club to the Center for Human Development.

And at Greenfield Community College (GCC), the only college in the county, a number of new programs have been created to help provide job seekers with the skills they’ll need to succeed in a changing, information-based economy.

Linda Dunleavy

Linda Dunleavy says Franklin County is becoming an attractive landing spot for what she called ‘older Millennials,’ who are looking for a place to settle down.

Perhaps most importantly, though, an ecosystem is emerging. It’s comprised of a number of nonprofits, the college, government entities, and employers across several sectors, and while it’s still taking shape and finding its bearings, it is addressing the issues and problems facing the region through collaboration and efforts to maximize available resources. And it is also taking a more organized approach to the work of bringing families, businesses, young people, retirees — and opportunity — to the region.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with several individuals who are part of this ecosystem about the various forms of progress being recorded — and the considerable work that remains.

Buy the Numbers

Collaboration is needed because the challenges facing Franklin County are numerous, and many of them are complex and defy easy answers — or any answers, for that matter.

Indeed, after talking about how wages in Franklin County are statistically lower than those in other areas and roughly 65% of what is paid statewide, Crosby, who noted that it’s been this way since she came to the REB 16 years ago, was asked the obvious question: why?

She paused for a moment and said simply, “because employers can get away with it.” And they can, because the factors that drive wages higher in other areas — a scarcity of workers and heightened competition for qualified talent — are not in evidence here, with some exceptions, as we’ll see.

That statistic regarding wages is only one of many eye-opening numbers that come to the forefront when talking about Franklin County. Many of the others drive home just how rural this area is: there are 72,000 people living in 26 communities across 725 square miles. In several communities, such as Rowe, Hawley, Heath, and others, stating the total population requires only three digits. In Monroe, one barely needs three; the latest census had 121 people living there.

The people living in those 26 towns are the poorest in the state in terms of per-capita income and, as noted, average wage per job, said Linda Dunleavy, executive director of the Franklin Region Council of Governments.

And, by and large, the population of the county is falling, said Alyce Stiles, dean of Workforce Development & Community Education at GCC. She said the enrollment at the county’s public schools is down significantly in recent years — which doesn’t bode well for the college or the region and its business community.

“That has layers of ramifications for us,” she said. “There are fewer people going into the community-college system, and then fewer people going into the workforce.”

And the population is getting older, said Roseann Martoccia, who should know. She’s the executive director of LifePath Inc., a nonprofit that works to help seniors age in place. She noted that 17% of the county’s residents are over age 65 (the state average is 15%), and in some of the smaller, western communities, the number exceeds 20%.

“And those percentages, in some communities, are expected to double by 2030,” she told BusinessWest. “And that’s not that far away.”

Behind all the numbers is a kind of operating mindset, if you will, one defined by a form of independence that is understandable when one considers how far away this county is from Boston or even Springfield — and not just in terms of geography.

“Collaboration comes from necessity,” said Lunt. “We have to be more independent, and we have to be more entrepreneurial, because whether we want it or not, most people realize that help isn’t really coming from farther east.”

The statistics, as well as this mindset, are just some of the things that Cindy Russo has learned she since became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in Greenfield, the county’s largest employer, roughly 18 months ago.

“I knew absolutely nothing about Franklin County before I came here, and about the only name I recognized was Yankee Candle,” she said, referring to the iconic Deerfield-based manufacturer and retailer. “Everything else, I had to learn.”

Cindy Russo

Cindy Russo, who became president of Baystate Franklin Medical Center in 2016, says she can sense gathering momentum in the region.

She’s learned, among other things, that the region has a strong sense of community spirit, as well as a great deal of natural beauty and a bounty of outdoor recreation to offer, from fishing to hiking; from skiing to whitewater rafting. She’s also learned that a large number of nonprofits operate in the region — often in collaboration with each other to meet a wide variety of missions.

She’s also come to recognize that it’s somewhat difficult to recruit doctors and other medical professionals to this rural area, despite its various amenities and lower lost of housing and living in general.

“That is certainly a challenge,” she said. “One of the biggest ways we’re able to attract people is if there’s a connection — they have family here or their roots are here — but also the beauty of this region and the hiking and other outdoor activity; those are strong selling points.”

Another challenge, meanwhile, is keeping young professionals, she said, adding that more than 50% of Baystate Franklin’s employees have less than five years of experience.

“Many times, we’ll get a new nurse from GCC, and they’ll start their practice at Baystate Franklin,” she explained. “But then they might be looking out for the sexier markets, like Boston. So we have to think of ways to keep them here.”

But since arriving, she’s observed something else — gathering momentum when it comes to the region being a destination for everything from a fun night out to a place to raise a family, to a spot where one can enjoy retirement. “There’s something bubbling here; even in the short time I’ve been here, I’m feeling it,” she said, adding that the region is becoming something it probably doesn’t want to become — a best-kept secret.

Land of Opportunity

There was some general agreement about that notion of something bubbling among those we spoke with. People talked about momentum and the region making strides toward becoming something it’s never really been, or hasn’t been for some time — a destination, on several levels.

Start with a night out — at the Five-Eyed Fox, or a growing number of alternatives.

“There’s great food and drink; there’s much more of a local arts scene than people than people think,” said Lunt. “We actually toured the Mass. Cultural Council around, and they were kind of blown away by what they saw out here.

“There are a lot of artists studios,” he went on. “There’s a lot of local theater, and Greenfield’s gone from having not that many restaurants to having 13 different kinds of cuisine. It’s not uncommon at all to do something you really couldn’t do here 10 or 15 years ago — families go out, have something to eat, and then go to a local show or theater or listen to some music.”

And then, there’s tourism in general. Blais said the region has built a solid infrastructure of attractions that includes ski resorts, ziplining and whitewater-rafting outfits, fishing, boating, and more, and needs to more aggressively promote what it has and build that important sector of the economy.

But those within this ecosystem also talked about destination in a bigger sense — as in a place for a family to settle or a business to put down roots.

And some younger families are moving into Greenfield and other communities, like Turners Falls, because of what they offer, said Blais.

“There’s lots of culture and live music,” she explained. “And with all the breweries and cideries in the region, we’re really seeing young people being interested in coming here.”

Dunleavy agreed, but narrowed the definition of ‘young’ somewhat. She said the region is more attractive to older young people, those with familes, those who might have roots in the region, or those who might have left in search of something else and now value what they left behind.

“It’s Millennials at a different stage of their life,” she said, adding that, despite recognized progress in this realm, there needs to be a large, concerted, and collaborative (there’s that word again) effort to sell the county as an attractive place to live.

“As a group of organizational leaders, we were talking about how we need to have the same mission — attracting young people and young families to Franklin County,” Dunleavy explained. “We should all identify how our organization will do that and work together to implement a region-wide strategy, because we need to bring more people to Franklin County and younger people to Franklin County.”

As for attracting businesses and jobs, the region faces a number of challenges, ranging from those broadband issues to the lack of developable land that Lunt mentioned.

“We never turn anyone away,” he said. “But we struggle when someone says, ‘we want a 40,000-square-foot building and 22 acres’ — we just don’t have that available.”

What is available are smaller lots, some old mill spaces, and office buildings downtown, he noted, adding that all of the above can be used toward something that Millennials, in general, seem to like: co-working space.

Several projects in this realm are already underway or in the planning stages, said Lunt, adding that they will helped by the town’s creation of a municipal broadband network that includes Internet, phone, and data services.

“The goal is to move people into these spaces by offering them more 21st-century infrastructure,” he explained, “because, as manufacturing-driven as we’ve been, we just can’t be in the future, because we just don’t have the space for it; we have to try to develop higher-tech businesses, and those are also businesses that pay well.”

Another challenge for the region involves the workforce. As noted earlier, unemployment is relatively low, but there are many who lack needed skills, have stopped searching for work, or are unemployable.

Stiles said the broad goal is to help individuals gain needed skills and fill positions in growing fields, such as healthcare and precision manufacturing.

She mentioned specific programs created at GGC for the precision-manufacturing and medical-assisting fields, just two of many where jobs exist and will exist in the years to come, and where companies consistently struggle to find good help.

Moving forward, she and others said the primary goal is to make the workforce larger and stronger, an initiative that is, in all ways, a work in progress.

Moving the Needle

Surveying the situation from many different angles, including that of a long-time resident and also someone working to stimulate economic development in the region, Lunt said the path Franklin County is on is the right one.

Elaborating, he said the many groups working to spur economic development and improve quality of life are moving the needle when it comes to generating progress and addressing the overriding challenge facing the county — creating enough good jobs to support the lifestyle that is the primary draw for this region.

“We could all live somewhere else, but we don’t — we choose not to,” Lunt told BusinessWest. Speaking for all those now part of the county’s emerging ecosystem, he said the broad goal is simply to inspire more people to take that same attitude.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features

Change Agents

The old Sears Roebuck store on Main Street

The old Sears Roebuck store on Main Street in Greenfield will soon be home to an innovative health partnership.

If you’re looking for symbolism — or some irony — in the fact that that the new development to be known as the Greenfield Center for Wellness will be located at the former site of a Sears Roebuck, well, there’s plenty of both.

Indeed, in 1929, when this one opened, Sears was the place where you could go to find almost anything — from a Lady Kenmore washer to a fly rod; from a new pair of sneakers to a tractor; from a monkey wrench to a new battery for your Packard. It was one-stop shopping personified, and the new wellness center, a partnership between the Center for Human Development (CHD) and the Community Health Center of Franklin County, will have that same quality.

But, and this is a big but, the Sears sign over the front of 102 Main St. has been gone for a long time now — so long that no one who spoke to BusinessWest about the new wellness center could put a date on it. The best anyone could do was a guess: “in the early ’70s — I think.”

It’s long gone because shopping habits have certainly changed — going to Sears (for almost anything) is no longer how it’s done. And in most all respects, the new wellness center is being created because the way people are receiving health and wellness services is also changing, and this location represents the future, not the past — even if those involved have secured a grant to restore the original Sears storefront.

From left: Cameron Carey, Community Health Center development director; Jim Goodwin; Ed Sayer; and Shannon Hicks, CHD clinic director.

From left: Cameron Carey, Community Health Center development director; Jim Goodwin; Ed Sayer; and Shannon Hicks, CHD clinic director.

Like we said, symbolism and irony, and lots of it.

Simply put, the new wellness center, a $6 million project, has, as its foundation, the integrated-care concept, said Jim Goodwin, executive director of CHD, noting that it will bring a host of services, including primary care, dental, and counseling for emotional wellness under one large roof.

“Providers can deliver complementary services that treat the whole person,” said Goodwin, noting that this is an important consideration in a region that has both a host of healthcare issues and a poor public transportation system.

And it also represents a relatively new model in the delivery of health and wellness services, he went on, adding that progressive states such as New York, Oregon, and others have seen the creation of similar integrated-care facilities, and the facility in Greenfield is a reflection of this movement, if it can be called that.

Meanwhile, the center, slated to open its doors early next year, also represents a somewhat unique case of collaboration between nonprofits working to improve the overall health of the communities they serve through that integrated model of care, said Ed Sayer, chief executive officer of the Community Health Center of Franklin County.

“You’ll find a single corporate entity that has primary health, behavioral health, and sometimes dental,” he explained. “But it’s rare to find this degree of partnership where two different corporate entities come together under one roof.

“CHD and the health center have really worked together almost as one organization,” he went on. “This facility is very exciting and quite unique.”

And, in yet another parallel to the Sears store — at least in its heyday — the Greenfield Center for Wellness will be an economic catalyst, a magnet that will draw people to a changing and re-emerging downtown Greenfield.

Indeed, between 80 and 100 people will work at the center, and at least another 100 are expected to visit it on a daily basis, said Sayer, adding that this critical mass of potential consumers will help existing business ventures downtown and probably spur new ones.

“We really want to be part of the redevelopment of downtown Greenfield,” he told BusinessWest, “and spearhead some of the economic recovery of the downtown area.”

For this issue and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the wellness center and how it is expected to help change the landscape in that rural region — in many different ways.

Brand New

When asked how the center came to be, Goodwin told BusinessWest it was the product of a recognized need and a unique, if challenge-laden, opportunity to meet it in a forward-thinking manner.

Talks began roughly three years ago, he noted, adding that they were prompted by changes brought about by healthcare reform, a sharpened focus on population health, and much greater emphasis on recognizing — and addressing — what are known as the social determinants of health.

That list includes everything from housing, or a lack thereof, to transportation, of a lack thereof, to unemployment and poverty and the many ways they impact one’s ability to address their health and well-being.

“Medical costs were rising, and not just because the cost of medical care was going up, but also because people were showing up in emergency rooms, being hospitalized, and becoming in need of services for a variety of reasons that included high levels of anxiety, depression, and disorganized living,” Goodwin explained.

These forces, if you will, coincide with what are known as ‘1115 waivers.’ As Goodwin explained, the Massachusetts 1115 Demonstration provides federal authority for the state to expand eligibility to individuals who are not otherwise eligible for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), offer services that are not typically covered by Medicaid, and use innovative service-delivery systems that improve care, increase efficiency, and reduce costs.

An integrated-care facility in Greenfield would accomplish all of the above, he went on, adding that CHD, which provides a number of behavioral-health services in Franklin County through its Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative, sought out a partner to create such a center.

It found one in the Community Health Center of Franklin County, a 20-year-old nonprofit founded with the mission of providing excellent medical care to all residents of Franklin County, regardless of insurance status or income. It currently has three locations, one in Orange providing medical and dental services, another in Turners Falls offering dental services, and a third in Greenfield offering medical services.

Initial talks gathered momentum, said Goodwin, adding that the discussions focused on creating what would be a new model, in many ways, for improving the overall health of the community.

Sayer agreed, noting that the two nonprofits came to the realization that they could more effectively meet their respective missions if they came together at one location.

“We’re all really trying to create the health and wellness center of the future,” he said of the joint venture. “What is healthcare going to look like in five or 10 years? That’s the question that’s driving us, and we’re trying to make the experience as seamless as possible. It’s not just having everything in one place; it’s being taken seriously as a whole person in terms of your healthcare needs. I think that’s a very exciting thing.”

With a collective vision for an integrated health center taking shape, a search was commenced for a suitable location. A number of options were considered, and eventually the parties focused on the old Sears building, which had several benefits, including adequate space and parking and a convenient location in the center of Greenfield, just a block or so down from a famous department store still doing business — Wilson’s.

However, the site, in recent years home to everything from an antiques shop to the Franklin County District Attorney’s office, also needed a lot of work.

“The building was not in great shape — the second floor was; the DA had renovated it, but the rest of it was in general disrepair,” said Goodwin. “The parking lot was a mess, and everything needed to be upgraded; it didn’t have the capacity for the kind of IT needs that the health center would have.”

On top of all that, there was oil that had to pulled out of the ground, remnants from the automotive center that Sears operated at the site.

But the leaders of both nonprofits saw past those problems and kept their focus on the vast potential of an integrated health center at that address and on what it would mean for the region.

“The type of facility we’ll have here is just way ahead of anything that exists in this region,” said Goodwin. “In many ways, it represents the future of how healthcare services will be delivered.”

What’s in Store

Putting the center and its importance to the region — on many different levels — in perspective, Sayer said the facility is “not just a mental-health clinic, and not just a doctor’s office — it’s something that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.”

That’s saying something, because there are quite a few parts to this venture.

The same could be said of the Sears that operated at 102 Main St. for decades, of course, which brings yet another layer of symbolism and irony to the this project and its historic home.

You could say something remarkable is in store for Greenfield and the surrounding area — in all kinds of ways.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Great Barrington Gets Creative for Its Own ‘Big Dig’

Christopher Rembold and Jennifer Tabakin

Christopher Rembold and Jennifer Tabakin say construction hasn’t halted plans to transform the former historic Searles High School into a hotel and conference center.

Main Street in downtown Great Barrington has always been an interesting place with lots to do. These days, it still fits that description, but for many more — and quite intriguing — reasons.

A few weeks ago, for example, a crowd of people outfitted in western clothing, including cowboy hats, gathered in front of the coffee shop known as Fuel for what became a Wild West flash-mob gathering.

“Two large hitching posts had been planted in the dirt outside, and two horses, a wagon, and young calves were tied to them as if it was an old western tavern,” recalled Town Planner Christopher Rembold, adding that farmer Stan Stanton, who brought the animals to the site, gave people rides on the horse and buggy, while others enjoyed unlimited coffee on the dusty sidewalk.

Dusty, because the street and its sidewalks have been torn apart as part of a massive reconstruction project on the half-mile stretch of Main Street along which 20,000 to 25,000 vehicles travel each day.

That western-themed gathering was just one of many events and activities drawn up by the town, the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, and individual business owners to maintain vibrancy in a thriving downtown during a project that is long overdue and will yield long-term dividends — but is, at this moment, a huge pain in the neck.

“We’ve taken a proactive approach because we want to make sure our downtown remains vibrant, so we’re working with local businesses to increase the number of activities they offer,” said Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin, noting that, collectively, these efforts are part of something called the “placemaking” program (more on that later).

“Main Street is not just a road; it’s a place to be. It’s the cultural and commercial hub for all of Southern Berkshire County, and has become our community common,” said Rembold. “We recognized the construction could be disruptive before it began, so we needed to find a way to keep people coming downtown to gather, shop, and dine.”

But while the ongoing construction work is in many ways dominating day-to-day life downtown, there is much going on beyond those scenes, including progress with redeveloping some of the town’s better-known but long-idle landmarks.

For example, the former St. James Episcopal Church, which marks the southern gateway into town, will be transformed into a cultural performing space. Meanwhile, the former Methodist Church at the northern gateway into town, which had also been vacant for several years, was purchased last year by a local developer who just received the permits needed to renovate it.

And the privately owned former train station, just west of Town Hall, was turned into a dance studio last fall, and last year the former Searles High School was purchased by nationally known Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, whose headquarters are downtown.

“They’re working with local hotel owner Vijay Mahida, who owns the Fairfield Marriott on Stockbridge Road, to turn it into a first-class restaurant and conference facility. We hope to see the plans this summer,” Rembold said. “It will bring additional people downtown, as well as jobs.”

Officials say the combination of placemaking events, historic renovations, and infrastructure work will keep Great Barrington vibrant for the coming months — and the long term as well. For this, the latest installment of BusinessWest’s Community Spotlight series, we look at how the picture will likely come into focus.

The Real Dirt

Rembold said Main Street and its sidewalks have needed to be redone for many years.

“They were in very bad shape. We needed new storm-water drainage and a new natural-gas main, in addition to a complete reconstruction of the road and sidewalks,” he said, adding that town officials began planning for the $6 million project in 2009 when they paid Fuss & O’Neill to design a streetscape plan, which included new lighting and traffic signals. At the same time, they applied for state funding to pay for the initiative.

The actual construction began last July, but wasn’t too disruptive because the road had not been torn up. “But we knew this spring and summer would be difficult for businesses,” Rembold said, adding that, by the end of June, the blacktop will be laid from Castle Street to Elm Street, new traffic lights will be installed, and the sidewalks will also be finished. However, J.H. Maxymillian Inc., the firm handling the project, will not complete the work until December, with final aesthetics finished next spring.

That means several more months of Main Street as a construction site, and thus the need for more creative programming to keep downtown humming.

Knowing such initiatives would be needed, town officials last year hired the so-called Project for Public Spaces to conduct a workshop for elected and appointed leaders, the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, and Lee Bank. “We wanted to find out what they could teach us about what other towns have done during similar construction,” Rembold explained.

The next step was a brainstorming session with local businesses, and since that time, everyone involved has gotten quite creative; even Maxymillian has joined the effort.

“We banned single-use plastic shopping bags last year, so Maxymillian donated 1,000 bright yellow canvas bags with a logo that reads, ‘I Dig GB’ printed beneath the shovel of the arm of a large tractor,” Rembold said.

In an effort to keep people informed, Betsy Andrus, executive director of the chamber, pens a weekly construction update to let people know the status of the project and what Maxymillian, Verizon, and other companies will be doing on a day-by-day basis. Businesses receive notification via e-mail, and the information is posted on the chamber’s website, printed in the Berkshire Record, and read on WSBS radio.

“The town is still functioning, and the police are doing a phenomenal job keeping the traffic moving,” she told BusinessWest. “I drive down Main Street several times each day so I can time how long it takes, and it has never been longer than eight minutes.”

Businesses have also held ‘no sidewalk’ sales; the Farmer’s Market is relocating to a parking lot on Church Street, and the town hopes to stage outdoor movies downtown during the summer.

Another placemaker planned for June 1 involves a collaboration between restaurants that will host a GB Dig and Dine Event. “Picture 200 people dressed in white having an elegant dinner on tables with white tablecloths outside in the midst of the Main Street construction,” said Andrus, adding that the food will be provided by Allium, Castle Street Café, and Prairie Whale restaurants, while unusual, construction-related props will add to the fun.

She added that Barbara Watkins, who owns the Evergreen Fine American Crafts store, has been a lead organizer of the dinner and has gone door-to-door to businesses to generate excitement about the placemaking effort.

The multi-faceted infrastructure work should eventually make downtown Great Barrington an even better place to do business, for both existing ventures and several new concepts that will soon take shape in those aforementioned landmarks.

The former St. James Church, for example, sat empty for four or five years and was slated for demolition until Fred and Sally Harris purchased it to prevent that action. The town provided them with $150,000 of Community Preservation Act funding to support their $7 million investment, and the building is scheduled to open next spring and become a venue for concerts, lectures, and more. The first floor, Rembold noted, was attractively renovated to house a food pantry.

At the former Methodist Church, the developer has plans to place an 80-seat restaurant in the historic building, which Rembold described as “critical to Great Barrington’s identity.”

Progress is also being made at the former Leeds Cleaners. It is privately owned, but the town secured funding from MassDevelopment to conduct environmental testing to determine the cost of any contamination cleanup. “It’s been vacant for years, and there has been a lot of interest in it because it’s in an ideal location,” Tabakin said, adding the study results should help to make it more marketable.

In addition to these development initiatives, a number of new activities and programs are intended to bring people downtown and create more momentum for the central business district.

Paint the Town, for example, taking place at the end of July, will give people the opportunity to take painting classes at three or four outdoor locations. “Several organizations have donated easels, artists are donating their time, and we’re working with the stores to donate cookies and lemonade,” Andrus told BusinessWest. “They really understand it’s time to team up and work together.”

Another initiative, dubbed Decorate and Shade, is aimed at recreating the shade that was lost when the trees on Main Street were ripped up. New ones will be planted, but since they will take time to grow, businesses can purchase large planters shaded by 9-foot umbrellas and set chairs around them. “We’re encouraging them to be creative and use the planters to hold signs, flags, or balloons,” Andrus said.

Digging It

Despite all of the placemaking events and activity, it has not been easy for businesses to contend with the traffic backups and construction. However, some, including Alan Kalish, who manages the Vault Gallery, see it as an opportunity for growth. “We’ve doubled our space in the last two months. The town will be so beautiful when the work is done that we will get more tourists than ever before,” he said. “The construction gave us the impetus to want to do more business.”

Rembold said the investments and the collaborations taking place are significant and bode well for the future.

“Great Barrington may be small, but there is a lot happening,” he noted. “Everything here is getting better, and our downtown is being transformed.”

Great Barrington at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1761
Population: 7,003 (2012)
Area: 45.2 square miles

County: Berkshire
Residential Tax Rate: $13.72
Commercial Tax Rate: $13.72
Median Household Income: $50,882 (2012)
Family Household Income: $75,508 (2012)
Type of government: Open town meeting
Largest Employers: Fairview Hospital; Prairie Whale; Kutscher’s Sports Academy
* Latest information available

Community Profile Features
Greenfield’s Location, Technology Aid Reinvention

Bob Pyers

Bob Pyers says developments ranging from expanded Amtrak service to new broadband infrastructure will help Greenfield grow and prosper.

As a former economic-development director for 13 years with the Economic Development Council (EDC) of Western Mass., Robert Pyers was consulted several times by various Greenfield municipal employees about growing the town at the intersection of Interstate 91 and Route 2. The answer was always the same.
“We told them you’re not going to get any traction on anything until you change your system of government,” said Pyers, now Greenfield’s economic development director, a position he’s held since Mayor William Martin unseated Greenfield’s first mayor, Christine Forgey, in a write-in campaign in 2009.
Forgey served two terms after the town applied for, and was granted, a city form of government in 2003; under her leadership and, now, with four full years under Martin’s guidance, the city’s unemployment rate has fallen from 8.3% to 6.7% — lower than both the Commonwealth and the nation, Pyers said.
“We’ve been very successful since converting from the selectman style of government to mayoral; it changed things because you have greater impact in terms of designing your business plan,” he said, noting that a mayor’s decision comes much faster than the colliding opinions of select board members and their executive council. “In the old system, it was very difficult for decisions to be made because there was always a naysayer.”
The critics are far fewer these days, Pyers continued, because the city is seeing traction in many areas, like a visible solar farm on a capped landfill and the invisible addition of underground broadband for high-speed Internet, VoIP, (voice over Internet protocol, which facilitates multi-media sessions over online networks), and future wireless Internet for businesses and residences.
“Reinventing itself” is how Martin characterizes Greenfield’s current efforts to become self-sustaining, just as it used to be just after the Civil War through its own gas and electric companies, which were sold to larger corporations in the 1930s. The mission is to now return to that efficient and environmentally sound existence.
Mayor William Martin

Mayor William Martin says Greenfield’s efforts to become more self-sustaining are nothing short of a reinvention.

“We’ve always had this opportunity, surrounded by rivers, roads, and land,” he said, “and we’ve got quite a population that is interested in sustainability and active in cooperatives — in fact, we’re the city with the most number of cooperatives in Massachusetts — so everyone contributes to the economy, the culture, and the governance. It’s wide-open; every opinion is valued.”
The reinvention of Greenfield, which is central to almost a half-million residents within a 25-mile radius, is possible, both told BusinessWest, because of the city’s best natural attribute: its location.
Greenfield has historically prospered in its Upper Pioneer Valley setting as a nexus for walking the famous Mohawk Trail — which became the well-traveled Route 2 that crosses over I-91 — and connecting with roads that lead to Boston, Springfield, Albany, and even Montreal, Martin said.
Revitalized Amtrak passenger service coming online along the Connecticut River in the next year, Pyers added, will help the city — the administrative center of Franklin County — continue to act as a net importer of diverse forms of labor, including manufacturing, retail, tourism, and public-services jobs.
“In the old-fashioned sense, Greenfield is the county seat,” Pyers explained. “We’re the center of the population and the center of all public services, as well as employment.”
For this issue’s Community Spotlight, Martin and Pyers explained how those in Greenfield are using this central location, and the transportation and new technology it supports, to spur future growth in a number of different ways.

Investing in the Future

Of Greenfield’s 9,500-strong workforce, 8,500 of those live in town, Pyers said. But a couple of years ago, the town lost a growing IT firm called HitPoint that moved to Amherst because the infrastructure it needed just wasn’t available in Greenfield. Once in Amherst, HitPoint grew from 10 employees to 35. Pyers said that isn’t going to happen in Greenfield again.
To that end, Greenfield, in partnership with the Department of Public Utilities, is in the last stages of approval to create what’s called a Municipal Aggregate Plan, providing the town with affordable high-speed Internet, broadband, and VoIP, preparing a level, high-tech playing field on which new and existing businesses can grow.
The project is being tackled in conjunction with the Massachusetts Broadband Institute (MBI), a division of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. Martin said the MBI has the authority to invest up to $40 million in state capital funding for broadband-related infrastructure and improvement projects. The MBI works closely with municipalities like Greenfield, broadband service providers, and other key stakeholders to create new, statewide digital opportunities. To that end, the MBI has ‘ringed’ Greenfield with seven miles of broadband, with access to about 25 large buildings, said Martin.
The three-phase effort will begin with updating the town’s current IT infrastructure; phase two will expand that hard-wired infrastructure to 25 more major businesses, and the third will benefit the public in the form of free wi-fi — downtown first, and then further outside the town center. Part of that effort involves a promising study by the Franklin County Council of Governments regarding the feasibility of a proposed Internet interconnect facility for a city-owned, 100-acre brownfield-turned-industrial park abutting I-91 — essentially a server farm and switching station for other providers.
As the city solicits private developers, Pyers said, there are two benefits: spinoff businesses that need to be located near high-speed connectivity, and the fact that the extremely expensive mechanics on the property would be privately owned — and the largest taxpayer in Greenfield.
Additionally, when Martin was elected in 2009, he immediately took advantage of the Green Communities Act of 2008, legislation that encourages investment in renewable energy. During the recession, Greenfield was able to build a revenue-generating, 17-acre solar farm on a capped landfill, and is instituting new energy upgrades for residential properties through a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program by working with the Department of Energy Resources. By mid-spring, the plan will allow Greenfield to purchase all the electricity for the town’s businesses and residences.
“It won’t cost the town anything, just our investment in looking for the best deal, which should be lower than any other entity, and our distributor, Western Massachusetts Electric Co., will handle house calls and billing,” Martin explained.
While a small community like Greenfield can’t influence the economy, it can prepare its infrastructure and sustainability efforts for when the national and state forecast picks up, said Pyers. “So we’re concentrating on making our investments in things that will make the cost of production in Greenfield, and for service industries, much more competitive.”

Smart Crossroads

Regardless of the industry, businesses take seriously both cost of production and availability of high-tech services, and both Martin and Pyers said several Greenfield firms will immediately benefit from the city’s investments.
They include New England Natural Bakers, producer of granola and tofu; Real Pickles, producer of naturally fermented pickles; PV2, an installer of solar farms and solar applications for business and residential use; Argotec, producer of plastic film for other manufacturers’ applications; Bete Fog Nozzle Inc., a high-precision maker of spray guns and devices used in industrial applications; and the Sandri Company, which provides a diverse combination of energy products (its leader, Tim Van Epps, was named BusinessWest’s Top Entrepreneur for 2013).
While Country Hyundai recently moved to brand-new headquarters in Northampton (see story on page 31), Dillon Chevrolet and Toyota of Greenfield have recently expanded in the west end of the city. More retail business development includes more than 200,000 square feet on the Mohawk Trail; a possible 100-acre parcel on French King Highway, targeted for manufacturing in the power-services industry; and a 40,000-square-foot expansion of an existing food-service business in town.
The renovation and expansion of the Franklin County Courthouse from 60,000 to 96,000 square feet is another bright spot, but one challenge will be to fill the 48,000-square-foot vacancy on Main Street left by the Juvenile Court when it moves to the larger courthouse, Martin added.

A new hotel above Wilson’s is an example of how Greenfield is growing in myriad ways.

But it’s the renovation of a still-to-be-named, 52-unit boutique hotel on the upper floors of the former Greenfield Hotel, above Wilson’s department store on Main Street — one of the last remaining privately owned general-merchandise department stores — that has many excited about more rooms for business travelers and tourists, and the smart reuse of 30,000 previously empty square feet.
Scheduled to open within the next two years, the hotel will help support a new cultural-district initiative centered around the stately, but vacant, First National Bank building right off the Town Common, and the many events that the Greenfield Business Assoc., a division of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce, produces each year, including the three-decade-old Green River Festival on the grounds of Greenfield Community College, which attracts thousands each July.
Residents take much pride in Greenfield Community College, Martin noted, adding that, while the city is surrounded by public and private schools, the newest addition to that list is the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, or ‘MAVA @ Greenfield,’ the first of only two distance-learning schools of its kind in the state.
As part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Virtual School, the MAVA is a K-12 public school, similar to a charter-school model, that operates independently under a board of trustees. Its 28 certified teachers primarily teach from a remote location using the Internet, Martin explained. Now serving 500 students, MAVA has the ability to serve up to 2,500. The state has indicated that there are approximately 19,000 resident students that would want to participate who are international musicians or athletes, have health issues, or are home-schooled students requiring hybrid classes.
Meanwhile, the MAVA is joined by the new $66 million (80% reimbursed by the state) Greenfield High School, which replaces the original 1950s structure. Classrooms will open this September to 500 students, allowing for growth up to 685, he explained. The entire new school will be fully complete by September 2015, and the original structure demolished.
“We’ll now have a combination of a 1,000-seat auditorium in our new high school and a Cultural Arts District in the downtown,” Martin added. “It’s going to be another catalyst for creating and maintaining momentum in Greenfield.”

Spreading the Word

After the high-school completion, a possible consolidation of public-safety departments, the need for a new senior center, and refurbishment of other 75- to 110-year-old structures are all up for discussion. As those plans develop, the return of improved Amtrak passenger service — for trains topping 75 mph, running between New York’s Grand Central Station and Montreal — will allow more people to discover a reinvented Greenfield.
“When people come into Greenfield, they have that ‘wow, this is quite an interesting place’ type of response,” said Martin. “We’re hearing that more and more, and that spreads the word.”
While the physical changes in Greenfield include new building facades on Main Street that replaced older ones, the city’s biggest changes in the works can’t be seen because they’re either underground, in the form of broadband, or soon to be in the air, as wireless Internet.
“There’s a new vitality, and we’re moving at a different speed now,” Martin said. But while he’s always striving to create a more efficient city, Greenfield — true to its heritage as a county seat — also continues to benefit in every way from its advantageous natural setting.
“Obviously, the Mohawks, the Iroquois, the settlers, and the colonists all noticed the location,” the mayor said. “It’s location, location, location — so let’s use it.”

Greenfield at a Glance

Year Incorporated: 1753
Population: 17,456 (2010); 18,168 (2000)
Area: 21.9 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential Tax Rate: 20.72
Commercial Tax Rate: 20.72
Median Household Income: $38,219
Family Household Income: $46,412
Type of government: Mayor, City Council
Largest employers: Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield Community College, Argotec, Bete Fog Nozzle Inc.
* Latest information available

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Granby Officials Master a Difficult Balancing Act

CommunityProfilesMAPgranbyFour decades.
One could say that’s how long it took to get a new municipal library built in Granby, said Virginia Snopek, a retired teacher in the town’s school system who chaired the building committee that finally got the job done and then orchestrated the elaborate ribbon-cutting ceremony on Nov. 16 that drew more than 1,000 residents.
But while serious talk of replacing the quaint, one-room structure built in 1917 officially began in 1973, active work to build a new facility was sporadic, said Snopek, who counted five different attempts to break ground in the ensuing years, the last, and ultimately successful, one coming in 2010, after town voters turned down a school-building project that would have included a new library, a development that effectively re-energized efforts to get a new facility built.
The elegant, $4.6 million, 12,062-square-foot library came to fruition thanks to an aggressive capital campaign that raised more than $3 million, said Snopek, adding that the successful end to this endeavor provides evidence of this rural community’s patience and resiliency, and offers another example of how change often comes slowly here.

Virginia Snopek

Virginia Snopek says the successful campaign to build a new public library is a good example of the community spirit that exists in Granby.

But not always. Indeed, thanks in large part to more than $15 million in ‘host fees’ generated by the regional landfill built and operated by Waste Management within the town’s borders, Granby was able to undertake a number of municipal projects, including the library, in the past decade or so. Others included a new police/fire complex, and Highway Department building, and relocation of the Council on Aging, said Louis Barry, former town police chief and current chair of the Board of Selectmen, adding that this unique revenue source has enabled the town to do all that without incurring costly debt.
“We owe nothing on the police station, the library, the Council on Aging, or the Highway Department building,” he noted. “We’ve done an incredible amount of construction in a short amount of time and don’t owe a dime, all because of that trash fund.”
But soon, that fund, or “cash cow,” as Barry called it, will be referenced only in the past tense. Indeed, the landfill is scheduled to close Dec. 31, leaving the town with both short- and long-term challenges. In the first category is the simple matter of how and where the town will now dispose of its trash, while the second includes the need to find new, and equally creative, ways to fund municipal projects.
And that challenge comes as the community’s leaders are moving to balance residential growth and those aforementioned municipal improvements with the growth of a business sector still dominated mostly by very small businesses and agricultural ventures.
The MacDuffie School recently relocated from Springfield to the former St. Hyacinth’s Seminary property off School Street, giving Granby a new second-largest employer (behind the municipality itself), but officials are eyeing more commercial development. To encourage it, discussions have been commenced about rezoning Route 202, the main throughway, enabling different types of businesses to locate there, and also about the possibility of infrastructure improvements, such as municipal water and sewer services, which would make the town much more attractive to businesses in several sectors.
“A new sewer line, and possibly town water, isn’t part of rezoning for business, but together, they could enable Granby to lay down a plan for the future, and that’s been one of the missions for the Granby Planning Department,” said Pam Desjardins, chair of the Planning Department.
For this, the final installment of its Community Profile series in 2013, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at Granby, its recent history, and emerging plans to make this bedroom community a more business-friendly address.

A New Chapter

Granby Free Public Library

A November ribbon cutting celebrated the new $4.6 million, 12,062-square-foot Granby Free Public Library, an effort 40 years in the making.

When visiting a neighboring community’s library, Snopek said, she came across a plaque that read, “communities build libraries; libraries build communities.”
“And that really was what happened with our project,” she went on, adding that the initiative was truly a community-wide effort that not only gave the town a 21st-century facility with a host of amenities — including a children’s programming room, a community room that seats 60, and an area dedicated to teens — but also gave it a source of pride and sense of accomplishment, even if it took 40 years to realize the dream.
Elaborating, she said the long and varied list of donations for the project drives home that notion of a community endeavor. That list includes the gift of land on which the facility was built — made by the Alice and Fred Stewart family — as well as a large challenge grant by the Fowler-Bombardier Family Charitable Trust, and even an in-kind donation of services by a local landscape-design student.
This sense of community has been a trademark of the town since it was settled in 1727 as part of South Hadley. Incorporated in 1768, Granby, which also shares borders with Ludlow, Belchertown, Amherst, and Chicopee, has been a farming community for most of its existence, and there are several agricultural ventures still in operation.
The Dickinson Farm & Greenhouse is one of them. Operated by members of the LaFlamme family — Leonard and his sons, Marc, Mike, and Bruce — the 265-acre farm focuses on produce and flowers. And this time of year, that means poinsettias.
“We sell roughly 15,000 a year,” said Marc as he gestured to one recently emptied greenhouse and another that was reaching that state, noting that many of the festive plants are bound for other florists and churches in the region.
The 70-year-old business also includes several pick-your-own fields planted with strawberries, blueberries, and apples, as well as a second retail location (the original) in Chicopee called LaFlamme’s Garden Center. Like other businesses in town, it has benefited greatly from the loyalty of those who grew up in Granby and surrounding communities and want to buy local.
“We’re a family here, and we take the brunt of everything,” LaFlamme said, adding that, instead of laying off employees during the recent recession, the family remained conscious of each season’s sales, planning for each year based on the year before. “And some people really do understand that ours is fresher, and the Buy Local campaign is helping us.”
When asked about the business climate in the town, he said most businesses have weathered the recent fiscal storms and are holding their own.
“Things aren’t much different than they were 10 years ago,” he noted. “People still have jobs; they’re still working. Things aren’t necessarily getting better, but they aren’t getting any worse, either.”
But there are signs of improvement and new vibrancy, said Barry, who cited the relocation of MacDuffie as an indication that the community can attract new businesses.
Tom Addicks, MacDuffie’s assistant head of school, said the institution, which was founded in Springfield in 1890, was hampered in its ability to grow by the land-locked nature of the campus, located just a few blocks from that city’s central business district. Space is not an issue in Granby — the school’s footprint covers 26 of the seminary’s 500 acres — and he said there are plans in place for further construction.
“MacDuffie is planning to increase its enrollment as soon as possible, and we hope to break ground on an arts facility as soon as the funds are raised,” said Addicks, adding that further expansion of the institution would be greatly aided by infrastructure improvements such as municipal water and sewer services.
Barry concurred, but noted that such a significant step could alter the town’s fortunes — and character — in many ways, if growth is not carefully controlled.
“We don’t have sewer or town water, and that’s a double-edged sword,” he said. “It has limited our development, which is a good thing, if you like rural living, but the limited development is also a bad thing because it limits tax revenue.”

Ultimately, the community, like many in this region, would like to achieve a greater balance between residential and commercial growth, said Barry, adding that, with the library project now in the books, it’s time to focus on the next chapters in this town’s history.
Whatever those new developments are, they probably won’t take 40 years to come to fruition. But they will be community projects, in every sense of that phrase, because that’s how it’s always been in this town, and that’s one thing that won’t change.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Hampden Thrives on Community Partnerships

CommunityProfilesMAPhampdenRebecca Moriarty, executive director of the Hampden Senior Center for the past 11 years, equates this small, rural community to the TV show Cheers: a place where everybody knows your name.
“Everybody just knows everybody, and everybody pulls together,” she told BusinessWest. “If somebody gets sick, it’s phone calls, letters, cards; everybody is asking what they can do to help. It’s just a great community.”
That last phrase is one heard often in this town, which borders Connecticut, East Longmeadow, and Monson, but is most closely associated with the community just to the north. If fact, the town was originally known as South Wilbraham when settled in 1878; it would eventually take its own name, but the history — and the links — to Wilbraham run deep.
Even after Hampden became its own entity, separate from Wilbraham, “we’ve always been joined at the hip,” said John Flynn, chairman of the Hampden select board and co-owner of Hampden Engineering Corp. in East Longmeadow. “And we enjoy a terrific relationship with Wilbraham. In fact, we were invited to be a part of their recent 250th celebration because, for a number of those years, we were part of them.”
The towns, through the Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District, share grades K through 12 (Hampden funds approximately 25%, while Wilbraham funds 75%), including the new Minnechaug Regional High School, which opened its doors in 2012.
Hampden currently has a three-member select board, planning board, and other boards that, in addition to paid department heads, run the town through elected and appointed volunteer roles. The selectmen oversee a $10 million budget, a single tax rate, and a recent bond to cover road improvements. The population, roughly 5,000, has remained steady for the past few decades, following a surge in the mid- and late ’80s with the construction of several new subdivisions.

Gary Mayotte

Gary Mayotte has seen his small grocery store and popular meat department grow due to assistance from IGA and a loyal customer base.

Steady is a word that also applies to the business community, which boasts few large players — the town itself is the largest employer, and Rediker Software Inc., a school-administration software company, is a close second — but a number of service businesses that thrive by meeting specific needs.
One such enterprise — the currently shuttered Hampden Country Club — has become a source of speculation and anticipation. The club has been closed for nearly two years now as new ownership undertakes a broad renovation and new-building project, with all eyes focused on the spring of 2015 and the start of a new era for one of the town’s landmark businesses.
For this installment of its Community Profile series, BusinessWest turns the spotlight on a quiet town that is a community in every sense of that word.

Room with a View
One of the most visible business ventures — literally, because it sits high on a mountain, and figuratively, because everyone’s watching it — is the 295-acre Hampden Country Club purchased at auction for $1.4 million in early 2012 by the Antonacci family, owners of USA Hauling & Recycling Inc. of Enfield, Conn.
Guy Antonacci, a golf pro and now owner and general manager of the 18-hole course, told BusinessWest that what first caught his attention, and that of this father, were the stunning views from the clubhouse. But what they could also see was vast potential in a club that had been struggling in the years prior to this acquisition, and thus what had been an eight-year search for a golf operation to add to the family’s business portfolio came to an end.
The process of writing the next chapter in the club’s history has been long and sometimes challenging, said Antonacci, but Hampden officials have been instrumental in moving the plans forward.
“The town has been awesome, very open about it, and it seems they can’t wait for it to go up,” he said, adding, with a laugh, that “it seems that everybody I talk to was married here.”

Guy Antonacci

Guy Antonacci says the millions of dollars of improvements to the Hampden Country Club hold the potential for a private world-class golf destination.

The course is undergoing millions of dollars in improvements to all 18 holes and accompanying facilities, including construction of a new, 6,500-square-foot post-and-beam banquet facility that will entertain up to 200 guests, and a 24,000-square-foot clubhouse with a private restaurant and lounge, slated to open to private membership in the spring of 2015.
“So far we have 100% of 12 holes completed, two are partially done, and the other four will be finished next year,” said Antonacci, adding that other amenities will include a pool, tennis courts, paddle tennis, and a driving range.
“The golf course has the potential to become something very special,” he told BusinessWest. “In my mind, it can be one of the top golf clubs in the state, maybe even better.”
As the course construction continues, the mild-mannered Gary Mayotte, owner of Village Food Mart in the center of Hampden, is content to provide what he calls the freshest and most competitively priced meats and deli products in his small grocery store. He is a member of the Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA), an organization of independent grocers across the U.S. dedicated to helping local, family-owned grocery stores remain strong in the face of growing chain competition.
Mayotte, who has owned and managed the 4,500-square-foot store for the past 27 years, describes the IGA as a “company with a conscience.” And a loyal clientele eases his concerns about big-box competition.
“I can’t stress enough how much they’ve helped a small guy like me,” he said, referring to town residents, adding that he really has little competition with larger grocery stores, with none within a six-mile radius. He employs 25, including three full-time butchers for his popular meat department, and purchases as much locally produced and in-season food as possible.
Mayotte gives back in a variety of ways, but the most popular vehicle has been the Minnechaug Booster Club card, which sells for $10 (with all of that going to the school) and entitles holders to discounts with a number of participating businesses.
The 5% discount that the card brings at the Village Food Mart amounts to hundreds of dollars in savings a year for the store’s regular customers, said Mayotte, who said his participation allows him to reward those patrons and help the town at the same time.
“It allows me to offer a customer-appreciation card and still support the school,” he noted. “And I think it’s important to reward our loyal customers.”
What Mayotte is far less willing to talk about are his Good Samaritan efforts that get less press or attention, but that many in town have personally witnessed.
“He’s one of those businesses that goes above and beyond,” Moriarty told BusinessWest. “He has a schedule for deliveries on a certain day of the week, but if someone calls and they’ve been sick or broken their leg, he’ll say, ‘no problem’ and pick what they need off the shelf and deliver it to them. His last-minute help is really personal.”
Moriarty offered another example of good-neighbor relations. She’s received a few calls over the years from the Village Food Mart about seniors who are in need for someone to help get them home. “It’s this community partnership in which we all work together that makes Hampden what it is.”
She also described Hampden as a small community with a very vibrant older adult population. “We keep the senior center in a ‘home-away-from-home’ feel with the fireplace and the library, and we have people come in and have their coffee and read the morning paper. It’s a place to have a routine.”
Moriarty said there is not much she’d change about Hampden, but admits that, due to its almost 20 square miles of rural territory, getting around can be challenging for those seniors who can no longer drive.
Without a PVTA bus route, she explained, many of those older adults have to rely on volunteers or the generosity of residents to help. However, the town has partnered with the East Longmeadow Senior Center for a regionalized transportation program called the Two Town Trolley. That does help a bit, but funding is always an issue.

All for One
Flynn, who could be called a third-generation selectman — his grandfather served on the board for 22 years, and his father for 33 — said the ongoing challenge for Hampden, and most all communities like it, is balancing needs with available tax revenue and keeping the community both affordable and livable.
“Our biggest challenge is balancing our needs versus the revenue. Everybody has a need, which is valid, but the reality is, we also have taxpayers who are just coming out of the biggest recession in 70 years, so we cannot be increasing the bill on them,” he told BusinessWest. “Everybody wants more services, but you have to be pragmatic and run the town like you do your home.”
Elaborating, he said this is possible with the town-meeting format of governance, a system he called the “purest form of democracy,” and one that has served the town well for nearly 140 years.
“It’s their [residents] choice of how they want to spend the money,” said Flynn. “We tell them, ‘here’s our plan,’ and they can accept it or amend it, but we back it 100%.”
During those important discussions — some more difficult than others — good neighbors reach for the same goals, he said. And it certainly helps that everybody knows your name.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Lenox Boasts More Than Just Seasonal Charms


Tanglewood, which hosts the Boston Symphony Orchestra and other musical events, is one of the top tourism draws to Lenox.

John Bortolotto understands that, from an economic perspective, Lenox is a seasonal destination.
“Predominantly, Lenox revolves around Tanglewood and Shakespeare & Co. and the multiple art venues in town, and as a result, we have a very productive summer. There can be a shortage of rooms in hospitality,” said Bortolotto, who serves on the Lenox Chamber of Commerce board of directors.
“If you talk to many of the local folks, you’ll find out that many have this  preconceived idea that Lenox is busy from June through October, and then the town gets really quiet,” he added. “To an extent, that’s true.”
But he’s trying to get people to think about this small community — population just over 5,000 — in different ways, talking up its energy and recent commercial growth, and not just its many downtown inns and its high-profile performance spaces.
“From a chamber perspective, it used to be that, if you weren’t downtown, you kind of didn’t partake in all things Lenox,” he said. “What’s happening right now — what’s been happening for the last five years or so — is that Route 7, which is just outside downtown, connecting Pittsfield to Lee, has experienced growth of a different type. We now have three banks on that little stretch, where before there were only two downtown. We have multiple attorney’s offices, a fitness facility, a printing company, some retail.”
One notable success story has emerged in the Lenox Shops, a cluster of once-underutilized retail space along Route 7.
“It had a few stores, until a gentleman named David Ward bought the place and started revamping,” Bortolotto told BusinessWest. “He added condos out back and brought some non-retail businesses and restaurants to it. It’s going to be huge.”
In addition, Berkshire Health Systems, the largest employer in Berkshire County, will occupy a large portion of the complex, and healthcare services, from primary care to ob/gyn to yoga, will have a strong presence — and a flow of employees to support other businesses in the shops.
“So Route 7 has really come along, with more professional businesses and not just retail,” he added. “And, of course, we have Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club nearby — a beautiful place to be.”

Growth Pattern
The character of fast-growing Route 7, with its chain hotels and motels, is different than downtown’s Main Street, Church Street, and surrounding roads, which play host to a number of inns, bed and breakfasts, and locally owned shops.
“Downtown is largely retail,” said Bortolotto, who is also branch manager of NBT Bank in town. “You have two banks, some attorney’s offices, a lot of realtors — that’s part of the makeup, some of the more profitable businesses — but the retail, they tend to close for a good part of the year. Church Street gets very quiet. Some restaurants choose to close for the whole winter season because they figure they lose less money by not adding staff and other expenses.”
Laura Shack has bucked that trend for two decades. She opened Roseborough Grill in downtown Lenox in 1993, then transformed it into Firefly, which she calls a “new American bistro,” 10 years later.
“Roseborough Grill had a great run, but that was because there were only 25 restaurants in Berkshire County, and now there are probably 125,” she said. “It got to the point where it was more of a struggle to maintain the antique, country feel, and I didn’t have a big bar. But I love what I do, so I reinvested and gutted the place, changed the name, and started over.”
Firefly features the huge bar she craved, and a décor that’s contemporary and rustic at the same time. “We changed the menu a little bit, did some tapas and light plates — just changing with the times — and it’s been a great run. There were times when the economy was struggling, but this is one of the few restaurants in Lenox that stays open year-round. We’ve created an extremely loyal clientele due to the fact that I cater to the locals tremendously. We went from having 10 people in the winter to 100. People come in, spend money, have drinks — and they come back.”
Shack partly credits a well-received series of daily specials, from a $5 burger to 50-cent chicken wings, a $16 prime rib, and $10 lobster rolls, which locals look forward to. She’s used a similar strategy at her new breakfast-and-lunch eatery, Kitchen on the Commons, located at the transformed Lenox Shops, and is a testimony, Bortolotto says, to the fact that local businesses can succeed year-round in town.
Our challenge as a chamber is to say, ‘look, if you build it, they will come,’” he said. “If you stay open, it won’t happen overnight, but people will come and spend. As they go ski in Great Barrington or Hancock, they may feel inclined to come to Lenox.
“The challenge is to get more people to downtown, yes, but Lenox is sort of changing that,” he added, noting that the chamber is actively trying to lure non-tourism-related business into its fold.
“Some of the professional service people say, ‘look, I’m not going to join the chamber because I really don’t see the benefit; the chamber revolves around the arts. But I work in a professional business, working with attorneys, electricians, and car businesses, and when I joined the chamber, one of my goals was to add value to those businesses. We’re trying to do some of that.”

Taste of Home
A New York City native, Shack said she came to Lenox for the summer 23 years ago and never left. “What I’ve learned is, you have to cater to the locals, and you have to be super warm and friendly and welcoming. I have staff who have been with me for 20 years; I’m known as Mama Shack, and I’ve raised a lot of kids out of there. They started at the age of 13 or 14, and some are still here. They started out busing tables, and I taught them how to cook or bartend.”
One of those, Zee Vassos, left Roseborough for college but decided the food industry was what he loved, Shack said, “so he came back and helped me open Firefly. Then, after being out in Boston for a few years, he came back again, and we just opened Kitchen on the Commons in May. We had a great summer. David Ward, who owns the complex, really turned it around.”
Bortolotto said the chamber has become more open to cooperating with local towns on events and marketing. “It’s one county, not ‘we’re Lenox, and you’re everyone else.’ We’re mixing more, and we’re more open-minded these days than we were 10 or 15 years ago, definitely.”
There’s more to Lenox than its downtown and Route 7, of course, including Lenox Dale, a blue-collar village straddling Lenox and Lee that used to be home to a cluster of paper mills and today still features some manufacturing.
But, overall, Lenox is mainly known as the home to arts destinations like Tanglewood — where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays — and a knot of rustic inns, while Bortolotto and the chamber continue to raise the profile of the town’s other charms.
Shack certainly finds the town charming, and hated the early days when she closed for part of the time during the off-season. “I find continuity is really important, being open seven days a week, so people don’t ever question, ‘are they open?’
“I love the people. The town is great,” she continued. “Obviously, having Tanglewood around the corner is wonderful. But I’ve really gotten to know the local people, and the clientele makes it really nice. People are grateful I’m here for them, and I’m grateful to have them.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Culture, Education Boost Business in Williamstown

Carl and Marilyn Faulkner

Carl and Marilyn Faulkner have survived myriad setbacks in the tourism industry to remain a regional draw.

Carl Faulkner has never played professional baseball.
His name, however, is engraved inside a New York Yankees World Series ring on display in an antique curio cabinet in the great room of the Williams Inn, on the green in the heart of Williamstown.
Faulkner and his wife, Marilyn, have been the inn’s proprietors since 1979, and the ring is just one of many mementos that validate just how respected the the couple is by thousands of tourists who have visited the area, famous thespians who have performed in the Williamstown Theater Festival, and students and alumni of Williams College, located mere yards away.
“I’ve never been to a Yankee game, but for 30 years I knew George Steinbrenner because he used to come for his college reunion. He said he was fed up with Cooperstown and wanted the fans here to be able to see and touch a real ring,” Faulkner said, adding with a sly smile that he believes Steinbrenner added Faulkner’s name to the ring to deter him from selling it.
All who know Carl Faulkner know he would never do such a thing, but the dry humor and easy demeanor are among the many reasons he and Marilyn have attracted so many return guests, both celebs and regular folks, to this small town on Route 2, the famous Mohawk Trail.
Whether for a Williams College reunion or commencement, a play at the famous Williamstown Theater, a visit to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute — known affectionately as ‘the Clark’ — or an exhibit at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (MASS MoCA) in nearby North Adams, Williamstown isn’t easy to get to, but legions of alumni, and fans of culture and natural beauty, think the town and its unique attributes are well worth the trip.
In fact, those making the trek from the Mohawk Trail, or the Mass Pike and Route 7 from the south, can currently see economic development in progress on the Williams campus and at the Clark.
James Kolesar, vice president for public affairs at Williams College for the past 29 years, told BusinessWest that a new, three-story Sawyer Library, now under construction, will replace the original, soon-to-be-demolished library, located about 50 yards away, making way for a formal quadrangle. Throw in the massive, three-year, $50 million renovation and expansion project at the Clark, which should be complete by the end of 2014, and there is a firm foundation for economic growth in Williamstown.
“Our academic reputation is a draw, certainly, no question about it,” said Kolesar, noting that Williams stacks up well in stature with Harvard, Yale, Dartmouth, Brown, and archrival Amherst College. “With our 1,000 employees and operating expenditures of more than $190 million, that’s $82 million in capital improvements from us, plus the Clark improvements.”
Williamstown is not without its issues, however. The Great Recession affected businesses here much the same as in other Western Mass. communities, and when Hurricane Irene struck in 2011, a popular mobile-home park was essentially wiped out, further shrinking an already-low inventory of affordable housing.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned new economic development and ongoing roadwork — courtesy of the federal stimulus program — will be positive for the town in the long run, but Faulkner calls the disruptions they cause in the meantime “medicine that has to be swallowed” (more on this later).
But the biggest challenge this town of 7,870 residents (2,000 of whom are Williams College students) faces, according to Town Manager Peter Fohlin, isn’t what one would expect — it’s a lack of land. Specifically, “we don’t have enough developable land for me to respond to inquires I get.”
The issue, he said, isn’t due to infrastructure or the mountainous terrain surrounding the town, but the fact that a collection of successful farms, producing mostly cattle for beef and not available for sale, comprises much of the usable land.
For this month’s Community Profile, BusinessWest ventured to the most northwestern point of the Commonwealth to learn more about the business life of Williamstown and how the community, even with the logistical challenges of its far-flung location and lack of buildable land, is making the most of its educational, cultural, and natural advantages.

Cultural Values
Like Carl Faulkner, Fohlin has his own sense of humor. He proudly states that Williamstown isn’t that remote, but, rather, “centrally located four hours from everywhere.”
Fohlin’s ability to make fun of himself in his municipal position — in which, he says, he’s often dodging verbal bullets — is on display each year for the Fourth of July parade.
“Instead of Peter being in front waving, he’s at the back behind the horses with a shovel and a broom,” said Marilyn Faulkner, laughing. “That’s the kind of guy he is.”
That upbeat attitude will help as Fohlin, the five-member select board, and other departments in town seek to replace its outdated high school and police and fire stations, among other issues. While citizens are “engaged in lively debate over priorities and affordability” when it comes to municipal needs, he said, Williamstown has a lot on its plate for a small community.

James Kolesar

James Kolesar says Williams Colleges provides an excellent educational and cultural anchor for business in Williamstown.

Also on that plate is the fate of those who used to live in the Spruces, a 100-acre planned mobile-home community. Fohlin said the park was a “showcase” when it was built in the 1950s. “It had a ferris wheel, a fountain, and a groundbreaking government structure in which the people in the park voted their own officials and managed their own rules,” a predecessor of the now-common ownership associations in many residential communities.
But the swift floodwaters from Irene severely damaged 160 of its 225 mobile homes; almost 5% of Williamstown’s non-student population was made homeless in a day. Fohlin said the remaining homes will ultimately be moved because they are in a flood plain, and the housing authority is working on a 40- to 60-unit project for those living temporarily with family or friends.
Kolesar said the loss of the park damaged the town’s socioeconomic diversity, which is already lacking for a combination of reasons, among them fewer jobs for young people, which keeps them from returning after high school or college graduation, as well as increasing real-estate costs.
The town does boast a significant percentage of second homeowners, and some, Faulkner said, are faces that might not be familiar, but as CEOs of major corporations or notable alumni, their names certainly are. “It’s such a desirable place to live, and that drives the property values up,” added Kolesar.

Road Well Traveled
The guest ledger at the Williams Inn, especially from Clark visitors, has been truncated for the past three years due to the massive expansion project. The final phase includes construction of a new visitor, exhibition, and conference center, as well as a comprehensive landscape plan for the 140-acre property. During this period, the Stone Hill Center on campus is housing some of the more famous works, but several others have been loaned out to other galleries across the nation for the duration of construction.
“It makes me cry,” Carl said, feigning the wipe of a tear from his cheek. “We are usually busy for lunch, but it’s been much less so over the past couple years, and with this most recent two-week closure, we had almost no one.”
But the Faulkners are no strangers to setbacks; it’s just part of the tourism industry. Hoteliers all their lives in New England, they suffered through the 1970s gas shortage, and 9-11 slowed all tourism in the U.S., but the tightening of the American and Canadian borders by Homeland Security has caused problems with bus tours, he said. Canadian bus-tour companies now encourage Americans to fly to Canada, skipping American border-security checks and, as a result, bypassing the Berkshires region, Williamstown businesses, and the Williams Inn.
Amid the recent Great Recession, visitorship was also down, and then the federal stimulus to create jobs offered many towns funds to improve roadways, which tore up Main Street and the green in front of the inn for almost two years. When Irene’s rains took out the Spruces, the Mohawk Trail — the most scenic route into town — was also massively damaged.
But the innkeepers remain upbeat, replacing those missing customers with tourists from Europe and Australia, and are focusing on the region’s residents with seasonal events like the German Oktoberfest they recently staged for hundreds of attendees over a two-week period. Next up is a month and a half of holiday programming, which has always proven popular.

Good Company
Fohlin and Kolesar both say Williamstown’s selling points reflect the American Dream — a town that is safe, has an excellent educational system (the Mt. Greylock Regional School District), and little traffic in the real sense of the word.
Certainly, Williams College remains one of the main draws in town, and Kolesar sees the institution as the main anchor of business in the Williamstown area — economically, culturally, and socially.
Yes, prospective students who appreciate city life might see four years in this remote area of the Northern Berkshires as a deal breaker. “But, for some students, it’s a plus,” said Kolesar. “By and large, students who end up coming here end up falling in love with the area, not just the college.”
Faulkner agrees. “The college is like having a good uncle in town,” he added. “And we do have a strong feeling that better days are ahead.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Wilbraham Embraces Vision of the Future

Amy Scott

Amy Scott says businesses in Wilbraham try to support each other whenever possible.

Amy Scott, principal of Wild Apple Design Group in Wilbraham, was heading out to look for a new car on the day BusinessWest spoke with her about the general business climate in that community.
The Hampden resident acknowledged that, like other Western Mass. residents, she has plenty of options when it comes to where to shop for a new ride, but she entered the search firmly committed to making sure it started and ended on nearby Boston Road.
“It’s part of the loyalty factor,” said Scott, who used that term to cover not only her buying habits but her willingness to serve the community in a number of roles. It’s an attitude that emerged not long after she took a gamble and leased more expensive space in Post Office Park in Wilbraham when she was searching for a new home for her venture two years ago.
She accepted that risk hoping that her services would appeal to the more than 50 businesses in the park and the hundreds of others in the community and just beyond it in Springfield — and the gamble has been rewarded. And she’s made it her policy to repay the loyalty shown to her.
“I feel like every time I have an opportunity to make a purchase, I look around at my neighbors, and they seem to be doing the same,” she explained. “It shows good faith on everybody’s part.”
Good faith is needed in this community that suffers, in many respects, when it comes to that old axiom about commercial real estate: location, location, location.
Indeed, Wilbraham is not exactly easy to get to from most anywhere in Western Mass. So, in recent years, those involved in town government and its business community have been actively involved in providing reasons for people to withstand the many traffic lights and stopsigns they encounter when trying to get here.
Post Office Park is part of that equation, but so are ongoing efforts, waged by the Boston Road Business Assoc. (BRBA), to make that thoroughfare a true destination for those looking for everything from a car to a major appliance to a good meal.
Scott has recently helped the group revamp its Best of Boston Road awards, which now has thousands of Wilbraham and Springfield residents voting for their favorite retailer, insurance company, dentist, restaurant, and more.
But while civic and business leaders work to help convince consumers that Wilbraham is a good place to do business, they’re also focused on quality of life for those who have chosen to live there — and also those who will join them in the decades to come.
The town christened its new, $65 million Minnechaug Regional High School just over a year ago, and also opened a new fire station, thanks to some imaginative financing. The next priorities, said Robert Boilard, vice president of Boilard Lumber and a selectman, are a new police station and senior center.
They are likely to be key components in a new vision, or comprehensive plan, for the town taking shape through the work of the recently formed Vision Task Force.
Working under the slogan “honoring the past, understanding the present, and imagining the future,” the group began work in early 2012 and gave its final report a few weeks ago, said its chairman, Charles Phillips, a long-time resident. “The Vision Task Force expected a largely positive response and received it,” he noted. “We were surprised, however, at some of the creative ideas that were expressed for improvement.”
For this, the latest installment of its Community Profile series, BusinessWest will look at some of those ideas, and also some of the ongoing — and generally successful — efforts to help people in this region, and sometimes from well beyond it, find Wilbraham.

School of Thought

“Tweedy” and “New Englandy.”
Those are two adjectives concocted by Rodney LaBrecque, head of school at Wilbraham Monson Academy, to describe the institution and help explain why it currently boasts students from 34 countries and several U.S. states, and is at full enrollment.
Those terms (the former is actually in the dictionary, while the latter is not) help paint a picture of the 209-year-old campus, one that is obviously appealing. “It’s certainly a selling point,” said LaBrecque, adding that this quaintness is only one reason for the institution’s success and current growth pattern; the diversity of its programs and the school’s emergence as a leader in such fields as entrepreneurship and business studies are more pertinent factors.
And they (or at least ‘New Englandy’) can also be used to describe Wilbraham itself, which was incorporated in 1763 and, like many neighboring communities, was largely agricultural until quite recently.
Robert Boilard

Robert Boilard says the Vision Task Force has helped define future goals for the town.

The town was once famous for its apple and peach orchards and several farms — including Pheasant Farm, Rice’s Fruit Farm, and Bennett’s Turkey Farm — that are no longer operating. In fact, the Wilbraham Peach Festival, a popular fall tradition for a quarter-century, was discontinued in 2010.
In its place, the Wilbraham Nature and Cultural Center (WNCC) — steward of Fountain Park, located off Tinkham Road, where the peach festival was held — has re-energized a summer music series on Thursday nights, which has drawn great reviews and strong attendance for regional bands such as The Kings, Trailer Trash, and The Frank Manzi Band.
This evolution, from peaches to rock music, mirrors other transformations in the town, from agricultural center to one of the region’s more popular bedroom communities, and from a business community that could only be described as sleepy to one that is growing — and diversifying.
Indeed, the tenant list at Post Office Park, which has seen explosive growth over the past decade, includes everything from marketing firms to the Scantic Valley YMCA; from medical facilities to law offices.
The park has helped make Wilbraham the business mailing address for many entrepreneurs who previously had little reason to give the community a look, and it is fueling the potential for more commercial development, albeit controlled, as civic leaders cope with some of the growing pains that come with the population surge recorded in recent decades.
The new high school is a manifestation of this growth, said Boilard, as is the need for a new police station and senior center — and the new vision plan itself, which was commissioned with the knowledge that the community needed to anticipate its future and properly prepare for it.
The Vision Task Force, with which Scott was involved through her work with the BRBA, completed phase one of the initiative, called the “Community Vision,” which laid the groundwork for the next step, creation of a comprensive plan, which will be the road map for the community, said Phillips.
The key priorities identified by respondents, he said, include the need to work harder alongside the business community, continue to insist on excellent education, preserve the feel and beauty of the community, place added emphasis on individual recreation, offer reasonably priced housing with excellent town services, and improve service on sidewalks and bikeways.
And while contemplating the future, the town is coping with the present, which in recent years has meant everything from the Great Recession to the tornadoes that caused extensive damage within the community in June 2011 to the ongoing budget challenges faced by all cities and towns and exacerbated by the state’s own fiscal turmoil.
Effective teamwork in Town Hall has been the most important ingredient in meeting these challenges head on, said Boilard.
“Our department heads are phenomenal, and no matter what our political affiliation, we’ve always been on the same page fiscally,” he said. “When you have a team that is running for that common goal, it makes the end result easier to get to, and we all work as slim as we can to get the job done.”

The Bottom Line
‘Getting the job done’ is a phrase used by a number of people in a many different contexts in this community.
For town officials, it means creating that roadmap for the future while dealing with current challenges. For LaBrecque, it means continuing to build WMA’s brand around the world while also strengthening an already-solid town-gown relationship. And for Scott and others in business community, it means growing their own ventures while working, collectively, to convince the world that Wilbraham really isn’t that far away.
“I love that I’m doing business with my neighbors and they’re doing business with me,” she said. “It’s a pretty healthy place to be.”

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Tourism, Nostalgia Help Stockbridge Thrive

Michele Kotek, right, and Stephanie Gravalese-Wood

Michele Kotek, right, and Stephanie Gravalese-Wood say Stockbridge brings tradition and nostalgia to life, but looks to the future as well.

It’s been called the most famous Main Street in America.
And there is little disputing that Stockbridge’s main thoroughfare has earned that distinction. It was cinched in the years and decades after the town’s most famous resident, Norman Rockwell, made it famous in his “Stockbridge Main Street at Christmas” painting, created in 1967.
“If people want to experience that classic New England Christmas, then Stockbridge is the place to do it,” said Stephanie Gravalese-Wood, marketing and communications manager for both the Red Lion Inn and the Porches Inn at MassMoCA in North Adams.
Indeed, that classic experience comes to life annually in a weekend event that takes the same name as the Rockwell painting and celebrates both the artist and the holidays through various family-friendly activities. This year’s 24th edition of the event, slated for Dec. 6-8, will include holiday readings, festive home tours, caroling, a luminaria walk, and the sold-out holiday concert at the First Congregational Church. All events lead to the weekend highlight: the closing of Main Street to recreate Rockwell’s scene, complete with 50 antique cars.
Michele Kotek, innkeeper for the Red Lion Inn, has also been involved with the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce for the past several years; currently she is president of the board. She told BusinessWest that the annual event was launched to help invigorate the holiday season in Stockbridge, and the success is evident, especially for the Red Lion, which is sold out for that weekend a year in advance.
“We [the chamber] have obviously perfected the event, and if you are at all ‘bah, humbug,’ come to Stockbridge and see,” said Kotek, adding that, while the community isn’t shy about celebrating its past, this is definitely not a town where time stands still.
Indeed, the community — as well as those charged with promoting it — are in some ways changing with the times, said Barbara Zanetti, long-time director of the Stockbridge Chamber of Commerce, noting that everything from a recently updated chamber website to mobile apps are being used by the chamber and specific venues to make a number of audiences, and especially the younger generations, aware of all that Stockbridge offers.
Jeremy Clowe

Jeremy Clowe says myriad creative initiatives have helped put the Norman Rockwell Museum — and the town — on the map.

However, ever-advancing technology brings challenges along with opportunities. And one of those challenges is cell-phone coverage and GPS identity, said Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden, noting that dead zones are common and GPS searches for many Stockbridge addresses lead to the wrong locations (more on this later).
But despite these difficulties, people are finding Stockbridge, in both a literal and figurative sense, said Jeremy Clowe, manager of Media Services for the Norman Rockwell Museum, where that famous painting of Main Street hangs, along with hundreds of others.
“People want to experience American history and values, and even the name ‘Norman Rockwell’ has become an adjective, as in ‘a Norman Rockwell moment,’” he said, noting that the artist’s work — and the town in general — resonates with younger audiences, and with people from across the country and around the world. “That’s what a lot of people are looking for when they come here.”
For this latest installment of its Community Profile series, BusinessWest turns the spotlight on Stockbridge, where tourism is the main economic driver, and nostalgia has long been the main ingredient in a recipe for success.

Culture Club
Zanetti said that, while most everyone knows that the official address for Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, carries a Lenox zip code, far fewer know that perhaps 90% of the property is in Stockbridge.
And she and others in the community are not shy about reminding people of that.
“In some of the advertisements for Tanglewood, they’re now saying ‘between Stockbridge and Lenox,’ but we do like to get our name in there for sure,” said Marsden, who has worked for the town since 1985. She noted that Tanglewood — in whatever town people believe it’s in — is one of many venues in the Berkshires that make the area a truly regional attraction, with Stockbridge being a key part of that equation.
And the regional approach is certainly one of the strategic approaches being used by those charged with promoting the community and stimulating tourist activity, said Zanetti, adding that Stockbridge, like Lenox, Great Barrington, Lee, and other communities, certainly benefits from its proximity to other popular locations and the large number of true destinations within an hour of each other.
But Stockbridge itself has long been a major draw, said Zanetti, noting that the museum, Main Street, the Red Lion Inn, and, yes, Tanglewood are some of the many attractions that help bring up to 25,000 people to the town (population: 2,000) in the summer and fall.
And these visitors have helped keep Main Street and its small commercial district — just a few blocks in size — thriving, said Marsden. “Tourism continues to thrive in our small business area, and the few times a storefront has gone empty, it hasn’t stayed empty for long.”
Rockwell and the values ever present in his work play a huge role in the town’s vibrancy, said Clowe, noting that the license plates in the museum parking lot are from all over the country, not just Massachusetts, New York, and Connecticut, and there are bus tours bringing people from China, Japan, France, and other countries as well.
But while Rockwell still seems to resonate with all generations, it doesn’t hurt to have much more to offer the younger audiences, said those we spoke with, and the regional aspect of Berkshires tourism has been part of this equation.
Tanglewood has added popular talent that is drawing a much younger audience over the past several years, said Clowe, adding that the Solid Sound music series at MassMoCA (the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, featuring such bands as Wilco, has also brought more young people to the Berkshires — and to Stockbridge.
“I think it’s been some of these initiatives that have been really creative that are helping to get our name on the map,” he said. “People don’t always know where this [the Rockwell museum] is, but we’ve found new ways to market ourselves online and with mobile apps, and maybe it’s a combination of all these things making the younger generations aware.”
Overall, the younger generations are “a different type of person and traveler,” said Zanetti, adding that that individual destinations must adapt and create programming that will appeal to such audiences.
Clowe concurred, and cited, as one example, a recent exhibit at the Rockwell museum — “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: The Creation of a Classic,” which celebrated the 75th anniversary of the famous film. On display from early June until the end of October, the successful exhibit evolved from the personal friendship between Rockwell and Walt Disney and has drawn Disney fans of all ages from across the country.
“Everyone has to work harder and keep things fresh,” said Clowe, adding that, by doing so, Stockbridge and its individual attractions can make nostalgia just one of many selling points.

History Channel
Marsden told BusinessWest that Stockbridge’s problems with cell-phone dead zones (including some stretches of that famous Main Street) and GPS identity are real and somewhat frustrating, although carriers are looking to perhaps add another tower.
“I think it’s just a matter of time,” she said. “We’re continuing to talk to Verizon and AT&T and pushing for that cell service. While we may have a small year-round population, we’re a tourism destination, and our population swells, and for the people that travel here, we really need that cell service.”
But while it waits for that service to improve, Stockbridge will continue to focus on what enabled visitors of all ages to find — and eventually cherish — this community long before anyone knew what the acronym GPS stood for.
“A visit to Stockbridge and the Red Lion Inn is the classic New England experience,” said Gravalese-Wood. “And sometimes innovation is just keeping things the way they are.”
Stockbridge has continued to prove that point for more than a half-century now.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Enfield Enjoys Vibrant Business Development

EnfieldCommunityMapLast year, Jeannette Norman and her husband, Lou Masachi, purchased the former Friendly’s restaurant at 86 Enfield St. in Enfield, Conn. “The building had sat empty for several years and was an eyesore,” Norman said.
But they were intrigued by the location — right off of I-91 and almost in front of MassMutual — and after gutting and renovating the building and cleaning up the property, they opened the doors to the Backyard Bar and Grill on July 2, 2012.
Although the couple hoped the eatery would do well with a broad clientele — it boasts a full bar as well as a children’s menu and a good environment for families — its popularity has been greater than they imagined. “Business has been excellent, even better than we expected,” Norman said.
She cites Enfield as an ideal spot to own and operate a business. “It has a lot of diversity in terms of demographics, a lot of commercial opportunity, and a good mix of residents and businesses,” Norman told BusinessWest, adding they opened an outdoor patio in May, which has also proved to be a draw.
Town officials say the success the couple has experienced mirrors the experience of many business owners as Enfield has undergone an unprecedented amount of growth in the last few years. “In the past year alone, we have issued more than $100 million in building permits, which is more than the town has ever done in its history,” said Town Manager Matthew Coppler.
The upswing is remarkable, considering a number of serious setbacks that occurred in 2007 and 2008. “Westvaco closed, and Lego downsized from 800 to 300 employees,” Coppler said, adding that the cutback resulted in 1 million square feet of empty distribution and manufacturing space.
Circuit City and Bernie’s also went out of business, along with a number of other retail stores. “Things were very bleak at one point, and we had one of the highest vacancy rates of retail space in the state. It was very bad for about two and a half years,” Coppler said.
But in 2009, Enfield’s economy began to rebound, and in the ensuing years the town saw rapid growth. “What has come out of the setbacks we suffered is far greater than what we had here before,” he said.
Lego’s Enfield warehouse and offices have undergone a $10 million renovation, which transformed it from a manufacturing facility into offices for white-collar workers. Phase 1 is finished, another expansion is planned, and when it is complete, the number of jobs regained will be close to those that were eliminated. The toymaker’s distribution and manufacturing space has also been filled, including square footage leased by Coca-Cola and Advanced Auto.
In addition, Westvaco’s property was purchased by Data Warehouse Co., while the former Bernie’s store became home to Underwriter’s Laboratories when the company relocated to Enfield.
The German biomedical equipment maker Eppendorf Manufacturing Co. has also expanded twice in less than 10 years, and last spring, the firm began a $25 million expansion to its production plant, in addition to buying land from the town.
Growth also occurred at MassMutual. The company tackled a $15 million renovation of its Enfield campus after purchasing the Hartford’s Retirement Services division. “They are finishing the exterior of the building right now,” Coppler said, adding that the acquisition brought about 300 new jobs to Enfield.
Yankee Castings is also expanding, with a 5,000-square-foot addition. “And the second phase of their addition will add another 40,000 square feet,” he noted.
The retail arena has also improved considerably, and the former home of Circuit City is now occupied by P.T. Richards. Meanwhile, storefronts in Enfield Mall that sat empty are now occupied. “We have gained back more than we lost,” Coppler said. “Things have happened very quickly, especially on the commercial side.”

Winning Combination

Matthew Coppler, left, and Peter Bryanton

Matthew Coppler, left, and Peter Bryanton say Enfield businesses are thriving, and more space is available.

Coppler said four factors have played a major role in Enfield’s economic boom, the first being its location. “It’s very conveniently situated off of I-91 with proximity to Bradley International Airport and two large metropolitan areas with different and diverse characteristics, and businesses can also tap into two different pools of employees in Hartford and Springfield.”
The large anchor industries in town, which include Lego, Hallmark, MassMutual, and Eppendorf, have also helped to keep the economy strong. “And Brooks Brothers is consolidating all of its operations to Enfield,” Coppler said, adding that, during the past two years, partnerships have formed between these cornerstone businesses and the town’s schools, leading to internships and externships for students. “One of our goals is to keep our youth here.”
The third draw is the affordability of housing and rental space. “It provides a lot of opportunity for people who want to live and work in our town,” he said.
Peter Bryanton agreed. “Enfield has every available service people need. It’s all right here,” said the town’s director of Community Development. “We have seven plazas and an enclosed mall, and in the last 18 months, Aspen Dental and Moe’s restaurant have opened up in Enfield Commons, and on Hazard Avenue, the site of the former Bickford’s has become home to Chipotle, Supercuts, and a wireless store.
“Plus,” he continued, “Hartford Hospital has several satellite medical facilities in Enfield, and St. Francis Hospital recently established health facilities here. These are all building blocks to the future we are trying to create.”
A fourth attraction is the active role citizens play in the town’s government. “The people who live here want the best for their community and believe in living up to their responsibility. They want to be part of town committees,” Coppler said. Recently, 50 residents applied for 13 spots on the high-school building committee. It’s a quality that stretches back to World War II, when Enfield had the highest per-capita enlistment rate in the U.S., he noted.
But although the town has experienced tremendous growth in the past few years, officials say they continue to work to keep Enfield vital. “We are trying to live up to our reputation of creating an environment that makes people want to live here,” Coppler said, citing infrastructure improvements that include $60 million spent on sidewalks and roads over the last 15 years.
Town leaders have also adopted measures to streamline the permitting process. “In the past, Enfield was seen as creating barriers to growth. But that has changed,” he said, explaining that officials made a concerted effort to meet with business owners to get feedback about how they could improve the system, then implemented their suggestions.
He cited the exterior renovation of MassMutual, which is nearing completion, as an example of that success. “They came to us with their plan on June 26, and within a month, they had all of the approvals they needed, including those for wetlands,” he said, adding that the wetlands presented a challenge for the town, “but our land-use board holds special meetings when things need to get done.”
The town also took a proactive stance in 2008 and 2009 by building a Hampton Inn on the edge of the industrial park. It contained a pad for a restaurant, and a Longhorn’s Steakhouse is set to open there soon.

Dedicated Initiative

Enfield is made up of a number of neighborhoods or small villages, which include Hazardville, Scitico, Shaker Pines, Southwood Acres, and Thompsonville.
Once home to manufacturing mills, Thompsonville is today the focus of a revitalization plan aimed at bringing new life to the area that was once considered downtown when the Bigelow-Sanford Carpet Co. was thriving and an untold number of homes were built to accommodate workers.
But the town’s center of activity moved when Enfield Mall was constructed. The neighborhood took another hit when Bigelow closed its doors, and “Thompsonville was left in the dust,” Coppler said.
Bryanton agreed, saying the village is now “an urban center with a lot of absentee landlords.” But plans have been put in place to rejuvenate the area. A $3.5 million intermodal transportation center is being built to accommodate travelers on the planned Thompsonville stop of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line.
“It will be multimodal and will include rail and bus service and a pedestrian/bike path that will link Enfield Street to the Connecticut River as part of the Connecticut River Access Project,” he told BusinessWest.
The downtown is dense, and although there are numerous vacancies, “we know that transit helps bring about economic development,” Bryanton said. “We have also put in new streets and sidewalks and done a large pond-restoration project.”
In addition, the nonprofit Enfield Community Development Corp. has been tasked with granting $180,000 in microloans for startup businesses and expansions in Thompsonville. A tax-abatement process for improvements and new construction in the area is also in place, and town officials are in the process of completing a zoning study to ensure that space is available for new businesses that fit in with the natural surroundings, he added.
As for Coppler, he believes the town is filled with vitality and has experienced tremendous growth, but has not yet realized its full potential.
“Today, our vacancy rate is the second-lowest in the state,” he said. “There is money to be made here, and we can show that we have worked to help businesses come to Enfield or expand here.”

Community Profile Features
Deerfield Touts Tourism, Agriculture, Business

Deerfield, MassBela Breslau opened Bela’s Bed and Breakfast in June, and the Deerfield entrepreneur has already had guests from as far away as Korea.
“I’ve met the nicest people. They have come here from New York City for a wedding and for events such as school graduations,” she said, adding that her business has done well and she has received support from area residents. “The town officials here are positive to work with, and everyone has been very thoughtful because they want you to succeed.
“Deerfield is a really good place to do business,” she added, explaining that she and her husband, Stephen Bliss, also own and operate a martial-arts school on their property, where they teach the Japanese body movement known as shin tai do.
The couple moved to Deerfield from San Rafael, Calif. in 2004, and they love the town. “It’s a beautiful place with a lot to do and see,” Breslau said.
Carolynn Shores Ness, who was on the town’s Planning Board for 21 years, has had a seat on the Board of Selectman for 11 years, and is chair of the Board of Health, says the Breslaus’ story has been repeated many times in this community, and location is one of many reasons why.
“A lot of traffic comes through town, and we have a lot of tourist attractions,” she said, noting that Deerfield is a crossroads for Interstate 91, Routes 5 and 10, and Route 116.
Max Hartshorne agrees. “We really do promote Deerfield as a tourist destination,” said the former owner of GoNomad Café, who now owns a travel publishing business he operates from his Deerfield home. “Tourism here is strong. Yankee Candle is the number-two destination in the state, Historic Deerfield is legendary, and Deerfield Academy is really pretty.”

Gideon Porth

Gideon Porth says Deerfield’s access to highways and land availability are two factors that make it an attractive location for agricultural businesses.

Shores Ness said that, while the town has but 5,100 residents, 2 million people visit Yankee Candle each year. She also cites Historic Deerfield, which includes the Memorial Hall Museum and Flynt Center of Early New England Life, which feature constantly changing exhibits and workshops; Magic Wings Butterfly Conservatory and Gallery; and Mount Sugarloaf Park in South Deerfield, “which has absolutely wonderful views and allows people to walk the length of Pocumtuck Ridge,” as other popular tourist attractions.
In addition, there are the annual Old Deerfield Craft Fairs, which take place every spring and fall and draw between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors, along with the town’s Music in Deerfield chamber series and its gun clubs.
“The Franklin County League of Sportsman’s Club is here, and the South Deerfield Rod and Gun Club are also important to the community,” said Shores Ness, adding that the latter holds fishing events and turkey shoots. “There are also a lot of cultural activities that happen here year-round. And we have three boarding schools with a lot of activity, as well as many nonprofits.”

Room for Growth
Many of the town’s businesses have expanded over the past few years, and an expedited permitting process for a town-owned, 16-acre tract of land with sewer and water hookups has been approved for commercial or industrial use.
Opportunity also exists in a variety of other areas. “There are empty buildings downtown, and plenty of space is available,” Hartshorne said. “Although it’s a very sleepy downtown, a lot of traffic passes through it.”
He added that Mosaic Café is set to open this month at the site of the former, well-known Elm Farm Bakery, while Hillside Creamery, which sells ice cream and food, also opened on Elm Street. In addition, there is a new empty building across the street, which would make a great store, he said. “It has post-and-beam construction and a large parking lot.
“Plus, the Bank of America branch on Sugarloaf Street also closed recently, which has a vault and drive-through and would make a great location for another bank,” Hartshorne continued. “Permitting here is really easy, and people are friendly and helpful. It’s a crossroads town, taxes are really low, and the town officials are interested in helping new businesses grow.”
Shores Ness said space and buildings are also available in the town’s industrial park.
And although the tourist business makes up a large part of the town’s economy, the East Railroad Yard has undergone tremendous growth.
The town’s agricultural base has always has been strong, and Hartshorne said town officials are looking to the future. “Some farmers have approached them about growing marijuana, and their response has been positive.”
Shores Ness added that UMass has active agricultural and turf programs in town. “They have really ramped up, and there are a lot of experimental fields and classroom research being done in Deerfield,” she told BusinessWest.
Gideon Porth agrees. In 2004, he purchased three acres of farmland in Deerfield and began an enterprise known as Atlas Farm. It has doubled in size every year, and Porth recently purchased an additional 45 acres and opened a year-round farm stand that sells the organic produce grown on his 95-acre property, along with other local products.
“Business has been good, and we have definitely exceeded our sales estimate,” he said, adding that the town’s access to highways and resulting proximity to metropolitan markets such as Boston, where he does a lot of wholesale business, makes it an even more attractive place to establish a farm.
“The town is very supportive of agriculture, and this is one of the few spots in New England with prime land and soil for growing vegetables,” said Porth, who came to the area from Boston when he was a graduate student at UMass Amherst.
In addition, the town takes a proactive stance on capital improvements. Current projects include the replacement and relining of sewer lines as well as streetscape planning being done for the village of South Deerfield.

Keeping Pace
Shores Ness noted that Deerfield is a green community and has signed up with the Hampshire Power Municipal Aggregation group, which will eventually allow the town to buy power at a discounted rate. In addition, a stretch energy code was approved during a recent town meeting; it requires the use of energy-efficient measures in renovations and new construction. “We also encourage conservation throughout the town,” she said.
Measures have also been taken to mitigate the effects of weather emergencies, such as Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 and the freak Halloween snowstorm the same year, which had an adverse effect on land and property in Deerfield.
Town officials have applied for grants to do restoration work along the Deerfield River. “And we’re working with FEMA and MEMA to become a more resilient community so we won’t be as affected by weather events. We also offer a free, drive-through flu clinic on Oct. 6 at Yankee Candle,” Shores Ness said, adding that several hundred volunteers work with the town’s medical disaster-response team.
Laurie Nivison, director of marketing for Historic Deerfield, said Champney’s Restaurant inside the Deerfield Inn reopened in April after being closed for 18 months as a result of flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.
“The restaurant and inn underwent extensive renovations and restorations. We expanded the tavern area from 10 to 20 seats, have a new menu, and are farm to table. We have partnerships with local farms and get our pork and beef from Yazwinski Farm in Deerfield,” she said, adding that they also serve beverages made at Berkshire Brewing in Deerfield as well as other local breweries.
“Even though Deerfield may seem like it’s off the beaten path, people come here year-round,” she continued. “Historic Deerfield gets about 15,000 tourists each year, and it’s a really vibrant community; people don’t realize how much there is to see and do in town. It’s a great place to come and spend the day.”
Hartshorne said the fall is a busy season in town, but winter is also fruitful because people drive through Deerfield or pass by on their way to ski areas in Vermont.
“There are also events such as a bike ride known as D2R2, which attracts about 1,000 cyclists every year,” he said, adding that cyclists have their choice of an 80- or 100-mile route.
In fact, there is so much to see and do that, in 2008, Hartshorne worked with the tourist attractions in town and created the website deerfieldattractions.com to allow people to find out about the fairs, shopping, dining, recreation, museums, and other activities that take place in Deerfield throughout the year. He also coordinated an annual Tag Sale Day that takes place the first Saturday in October.
“We try to get everyone in town who is holding a tag sale to do it on that day,” he explained. “We create a Google map on the website every year so people can find where the sales are.”

Vibrant Economy
Shores Ness says many businesses in Deerfield have formed strong partnerships with the town, and it’s a reciprocal arrangement, as officials do all they can to help them.
“People here communicate well with each other, which is something we have encouraged,” she said. “There is a constant stream of really interesting and exciting things that are always happening in Deerfield. It’s just a wonderful place to live and work, and we welcome new neighbors and want to keep and encourage the businesses that have made a long-term commitment here.”

Community Profile Features
Businesses Reflect Southampton’s Rural Character

Eric Snyder

Eric Snyder says a small but healthy collection of businesses operate in Southampton, a town that values its rural character.

Bruce Coombs has observed the slow pace of progress in Southampton over the years, a quality long ingrained in the fabric of this rural community.
He owns two businesses on College Highway, the section of Route 10 that runs north and south through town: land-surveying firm Heritage Surveys, and a second enterprise, Heritage Books, located in the historic 1904 building that once housed Southampton Library.
“I started Heritage Surveys in 1976 in the basement of the building which is currently a Subway,” he told BusinessWest. In the decades since, “we’ve had to deal with various town boards and officials — not only in Southampton, but in other towns — and that’s a constantly changing scenario because board members change continuously. There have been some great people on the boards who are very cooperative and easy to deal with, and there have been others on the boards with personal axes to grind, who haven’t been as cooperative.”
Still, he was quick to add, “we deal with that in all communities, and Southampton currenty has a pretty good Planning Board and Conservation Commission, and I’m able to work with them. We currently have two subdivision projects before the Planning Board.”
To be sure, Southampton’s residential growth has outpaced its commercial growth, with the housing stock rising more than 50% from 1990 to 2010, and population rising from 4,500 to more than 5,800 over that period. Meanwhile, the number of companies doing business in town has hovered around 125 for the better part of the last decade.
“We have approximately 33 members from Southampton,” said Eric Snyder, president of the Greater Easthampton Chamber of Commerce, which includes Southampton in its purview.
“They are primarily the smaller businesses,” he added. “There’s limited manufacturing here, and they also seem to be on the smaller side. We have a couple of machine-shop members, contractors, things like that.”
Still, despite the lingering effects of the Great Recession, “our understanding is that business is holding on well here. There are a lot of successful family businesses — historically, a lot of businesses here have been family businesses. And our local businesses are holding their own in this economy.”

Resistant to Change
Southampton’s rural character is almost two centuries in the making, dating back to the mid-19th century, when manufacturing mills began to spring up across Massachusetts. In particular, communities along the Connecticut River and its tributaries developed thriving mill industries.
In the 1840s, a businessman named Samuel Williston proposed to build a mill in Southampton, but the town was reluctant to support such industry and the influx of immigrant workers that came with it. So, in 1847, Williston established his National Felt Mill in neighboring Easthampton, and Southampton focused mainly on agriculture as its primary economic base, in so doing maintaining a more rural character than nearby communities like Westfield and Holyoke.
Today, Southampton is still largely rural — only 1% of the town’s land is zoned commercial, virtually all of it along the Route 10 corridor — and serves primarily as a bedroom community for Greater Springfield and Northern Conn. In fact, of the town’s roughly 5,800 residents, close to 40% commute to jobs in Springfield, Holyoke, Westfield, Northampton, Easthampton, Chicopee, West Springfield, Amherst, or South Hadley, while only about 350 work in Southampton itself.
The town’s economy consists mainly of small stores, restaurants, and service businesses, many of them family-owned or home-based, with a smattering of chains, including Big Y, Rite Aid, and Tractor Supply.
When town officials were preparing a master plan for Southampton earlier this year, they solicited opinions from residents, who, for the most part, are interested in expanding the town’s municipal tax base, but at the same time eager to protect the community’s rural character.
“The greatest challenge in achieving this vision,” the planners wrote, “will be determining what type of economic growth should be promoted in the future and what type of public infrastructure, such as water and sewer service, will be feasible to support economic growth in areas where it is desired.”
In addition, the report noted, “residents expressed a preference for encouraging types of economic growth that maintain and expand the town’s existing and proposed recreational opportunities and amenities, especially those that are connected to Southampton’s natural, cultural, and recreational resources. This approach would benefit residents directly and also serve as an economic marketing attraction. Further, residents said they would also like to support small businesses and provide services that support home-based businesses, such as coffee shops, computer support, and meeting locations.”
Home-based enterprises — about 85 residents work from home — indeed make up a significant portion of the town’s business culture, while working farms, while not as numerous as they once were, are still prevalent, with 43 still in operation.
Among the businesses operating in the town’s tiny commercial zones, Big Y is by far the largest employer, with 170 jobs in Southampton, while other moderate-sized companies include Heritage Surveys, Marmon Keystone, Connecticut Valley Biological, and Lyman Sheet Metal, all of which employ between 10 and 25 people.

Nature’s Way
What Southampton lacks in commercial zoning, it makes up for in spades when it comes to open space. In fact, 87% of the land in town remains in a natural, undeveloped state, with about 22% of that, or some 4,100 acres, designated as open space or recreational lands, most of which is permanently protected from future development.
That natural character of the town’s geography is a treasured facet of Southampton life to many residents, and helps explain the slow pace of economic growth. In fact, a 2005 open-space survey revealed that residents enthusiastically support the development of bike paths, sidewalks, conservation trails, and playing fields, even as they’re less concerned with attracting an influx of businesses.
“While the market ultimately drives the types of businesses that will choose to locate in Southampton, the town can take active steps to encourage the preferred types of business through its zoning bylaws and infrastructure improvements,” the recent master plan states. “It is possible for this bedroom community to increase its commercial base and maintain its rural character, but town officials will need to be wise on where they place their investments.”
Away from his land-surveying business, Coombs is able to interact with a wide variety of residents on the weekends, when his bookstore is open for business (he also maintains a website offering access to 30,000 books). No matter which hat he happens to be wearing, “this is really a great town to live and work in.”
But it’s not always a town that embraces change, he added.
“I had been on the planning board for about 10 years, and also served on the Rural Lands Committee,” he said. “At one point, we did kind of a zoning review that was partially funded by the Forestry Service. It was a project that included some master planning, and we came up with proposed revisions to the bylaws. It was defeated.”
Added Snyder, “there is a certain amount of retail businesses in a couple of centralized areas — basically on the Route 10 corridor, College Highway — but, personally, I get the impression that residents would prefer to keep the character of the town as it is — primarily a rural-based community.”
Coombs called the growth he has seen — primarily on the residential side — normal, “non-offensive” growth.
“I think people like living here,” he told BusinessWest, “and they like to move to Southampton from other communities — more so than moving the other way.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Great Barrington Has Become a True Destination

GreatBarringtonIt’s been difficult for Doria Polinger to keep enough handmade chocolates on the shelves of the store she opened about a month ago on Railroad Street in Great Barrington.

“Almost everything I make has sold every day — business has been amazing, even though we are tucked away and many people find us by surprise,” she said about H.R. Zeppelin Fine Handmade Chocolates.

Polinger began looking for the right location for her specialty shop several years ago. The Stockbridge resident and New York City transplant chose Great Barrington because of its “urban feel” and the mix of people who pass through the town. “There are tourists, people who live here year-round, and people who have second homes,” she explained. “Everyone comingles well, which is nice.”

Doria Polinger

Doria Polinger says her business thrives in Great Barrington, even though many visitors find her by accident.

The town is the center of what’s known as the Southern Berkshire District, and is the cultural and commercial hub of the area. Sean Stanton, chairman of the select board, said 90% of the surrounding communities don’t have grocery stores, gas stations, and other basic services.

“Our infrastructure serves residents and people who come here in the summer as well as the surrounding communities,” he told BusinessWest, adding that Great Barrington gets a steady stream of traffic due to its central location.

Route 7 is the town’s Main Street, and Route 23 passes west to east. It combines with Routes 7 and 41 in the western part of town and Route 183 in the eastern part, which also follows a section of Route 7 northward from Route 23, before splitting toward the village of Housatonic. As a result, people from Boston, Upstate New York, and the New York metropolitan area are among the many tourists who visit Great Barringtons’s bustling downtown, where streets are home to small storefronts that sell products ranging from clothing made from hand-woven fabric to homemade food products that include cheese, bread, barbecue sauce, and meat and produce from local farms.

Richard Stanley, who built the four-screen Triplex Cinema downtown and owns other real estate, said the extent of Great Barrington’s vitality can be understood by the fact that, although the town only has 7,700 full-time residents, it is home to 65 restaurants, a number of art galleries, and the well-known Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, as well as many specialty stores and small businesses.

Richard Stanley

Richard Stanley says the Triplex Cinema he developed has helped to revitalize the town and turn it into a thriving resort destination.

“We’re ground zero for the Berkshires, and the diversity of the population is incredible,” he noted. “There are artisans, business people, and people in financial services here.”

Town Manager Jennifer Tabakin agrees.  “We’re not only a residential community, we are an employment hub — 10,000 people come here to work,” she said, adding that many second homeowners enjoy Great Barrington year-round.

Stanley concurs. “We’re a second-home community for the New York metropolitan area.”

The agricultural community is also thriving. “Many young people are coming back to the area purchasing land to develop as farms, and people are also coming here to learn how to do organic farming,” Stanton said. “We have an internship program for sustainable agriculture, two garden centers, and a lot of landscapers.”

Stanton operates Blue Hill Farms, which is a mixed livestock operation, and says much of the town’s land is under conservation easement and/or agricultural-preservation restrictions.

“Although most of it is being used, there is other land which could be designated as agricultural,” he said, “which would reduce the property taxes on it by 75%.”


Logging Growth

Great Barrington has been honored with many accolades that attest to its character, which include being named the “number-one small town in the U.S.” last year by Smithsonian magazine.

Since its early beginnings, the town has been divided into two sections: the downtown area and Housatonic Village, located on its north side. In its heyday, Housatonic was a booming mill village that provided employment for generations of townsfolk, getting its name from the Housatonic Manufacturing Co. located there.

The village is important in Great Barrington’s history due to its mills, and today, the space within some of them has been transformed into offices, businesses, and apartments with ample room for growth. “There is a fair amount of vacant space available in two of the mill buildings,” Stanley said.

He purchased his first building in town in 1989. “It was just another sleepy place on the map then, and people thought I was nuts,” he told BusinessWest. “It was so quiet, you could shoot a cannon down most of the streets at 5 o’clock.”

But over time, New York residents discovered its beauty and began buying second homes there. In addition, a parking lot was constructed, Stanley built his Triplex Cinema, and the town that had served as a retreat for the wealthy during the Gilded Age was rediscovered. “Today, people come here for the town’s unique combination of beauty, for movies and entertainment, for its restaurants and stores, and for the local art galleries,” Stanley said.

Sean Stanton

Sean Stanton, a farmer and chair of the town’s select board, shows off one of the Great White Tomatoes he grows at Blue Hill Farms.

But although town officials have created partnerships to bring in more tourists, they have also taken steps to ensure that Great Barrington retains its pastoral setting and recreational opportunities. The town contains 3,000 acres of state-owned forest property and has an unlimited number of hiking trails. It is also home to Ski Butternut, and its close proximity to Catamount Ski Area in Egremont helps make it a busy place even during the winter.

And while the community has staged a stunning turnaround, there are projects in various stages of development that could make it even more of a destination.

Topping that list is the $30 million redevelopment of the former New England Log Homes factory site at 100 Bridge St.

“The Community Development Corp. of Southern Berkshire County owned the property for about 20 years,” said Stanley. “It was a brownfields site, but nothing was migrating, so they felt no sense of immediacy to do anything with it.”

But in past few years that changed, and several weeks ago preliminary plans were approved for the eight-acre property that will offer public access to the Housatonic River and provide mixed-use opportunities for businesses, nonprofits, and new restaurants. The plan calls for 50 to 70 new housing units and 40,000 to 50,000 square feet of commercial space.

Stanley sits on the board of directors of the development corporation, and said the state Department of Environmental Protection worked with the panel to determine the best use for the property. “The plan is threefold: to foster commerce on the retail level and create higher-paying jobs and a residential environment,” he said.

The anchor tenant will be Berkshire Co-op Market, which generated $8.3 million in sales last year and has outgrown its current location on Bridge Street. The market is owned by 3,500 members and offers locally grown meat, produce, and other products. It is expected to open next fall in a 10,000-square-foot space, which will include a café.

“The co-op supports local farms and is very active in the community,” said Betsy Andrus, executive director of the Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. “It helps entrepreneurs develop local products and was instrumental in creating a program in the schools after students reached out to them requesting better food. Plus, almost every restaurant in town is farm-to-table. They vary their menus according to the season.”

The redevelopment theme for the site, which is in line with the foodstuffs that will be sold there, includes a wellness center, and Stanley said doctors who practice alternative medicine have already expressed interest in office space.

He added that the site is within walking distance of the downtown, and the board of directors has agreed to think of it as an extension of Main Street because there are buildings available for business use in between.

One of them is the former Searles Middle School, which offers views of the Housatonic River and mountains and sits adjacent to the old Bryant School, which is being redeveloped. It will be the first project of its size to receive the LEED Gold designation in Southern Berkshire County and provides for a ‘destination’ mixed use of the property that respects the character of the historic buildings while enhancing public access of the Housatonic River and creating jobs.

Other development opportunities exist on the former Great Barrington Fairgrounds property. The 50-acre site was recently purchased by the Fair Ground Community Redevelopment Project Inc., a nonprofit group that plans to use it as a sustainable community resource for education, recreation, and agriculture, which would include community gardens and a greenhouse.

More opportunity lies at the Searles Castle, built in 1888, which has been on the market since 2007. The castle contains 40 rooms with more than 60,000 square feet of floor space and 36 fireplaces. After being converted from a private home, it was used as a private girl’s school, conference center, a golf course, and most recently was owned by the John Dewey Academy, which served troubled teens.

“The property has 80 acres of grounds with fountains and ponds,” Andrus explained. “The carriage house alone is beautiful and could be used for businesses.”


Destination Location

Overall, Great Barrington is flourishing. “The future continues to look bright as we get more diversity in terms of people and types of businesses and continue to support our farming community,” Stanley said.

Added Tabakin, “the quality of life here is wonderful. It’s a wonderful place to work, raise a family, and enjoy recreational activities.”

Stanton concurred, noting, “there is a lot going on here.”

Community Profile Features
Business, Family Roots Run Deep in South Hadley

CommunityProfilesMAPSoHadleyWhen asked for his thoughts on the fire that recently gutted the Dockside restaurant at Brunelle’s Marina, Michael Sullivan paused for a moment to collect his thoughts.

“The Brunelle family has been a cornerstone of the South Hadley business community for a long time,” the town’s administrator said. “It’s important to the community; people come to South Hadley to cruise on the Lady Bea or access the Connecticut River, and the Brunelles have built quite a reputation — and quite a business — there.”

It was a fitting thought, as several of those words — business, community, reputation, long time — were summoned again and again in discussing the economic character of South Hadley, a town where small, multi-generational family companies dominate a commercial sector that’s relatively tiny compared to neighboring communities like Chicopee, Amherst, and Hadley.

And it’s that deep-seated community identity that has the Brunelles firing up lunch and dinner under an outdoor pavilion while their eatery overlooking the marina is rebuilt.

“They’re resilient,” Sullivan said. “They’ve got all their permits reprinted up, everything is in place, and they’re looking to get back at it in quite an aggressive fashion — and we’re looking to do everything we can to support them.”

Dr. Steven Markow, owner of Village Eye Care and president of the South Hadley & Granby Chamber of Commerce, also expressed sympathy after the fire, noting that the Brunelles have been part of South Hadley’s business picture for a long time, but they’re far from alone.

“Carey’s Flowers has been around here for decades. All Star Dairy is a long-time, long-standing family business. There’s Chapdelaine’s Furniture, Jubinville Insurance, Ryder Funeral Home, and many others … there has been a lot of stability in that way. It’s a generational town in a sense, and the same is true of many businesses.”

That stability extends to residential life in what Markow calls a bedroom community. He said he recently consulted a world atlas from 1960 that listed South Hadley’s population at around 15,000; today, it’s just over 17,500.

Dr. Steven Markow

Dr. Steven Markow says South Hadley is a generational town in many ways, for both families and businesses.

“I’ve been here for 17 years, and I’m just starting my 13th year in business — so, by South Hadley standards, I would be considered a newbie,” he said. “But as president of the chamber, I’d say we have a very diverse membership, and it’s that diversity that helps keep the economy somewhat stable and strong here. Of course, that’s true of the whole region. I think, relative to how things are in other parts of the country, we’re doing fairly well here, although we could do a lot better.”


Reversing the Fall

With a thriving town center driven by the bustling Village Commons — with its 100% occupancy rate and mix of retail, restaurant, service, and office tenants — and the more than 2,300 students at Mount Holyoke College, the challenge for South Hadley is to focus on more-challenged areas of town, such as the Falls, just across the Connecticut River from downtown Holyoke.

“We’re moving on with some new tools we think will be advantages for economic development,” Sullivan said, noting that the town recently invited John Fitzgerald, urban development coordinator from the state Department of Housing and Community Development, to talk about the usefulness of a redevelopment authority, which would have the power of eminent domain to seize private property. “We think, particularly in an older community, you need to amalgamate properties to make it viable or attractive to developers to come in and make investments. The redevelopment authority can be a wonderful tool.”

Sullivan said such a move is long overdue. “The Falls is an area that has been unintentionally neglected for a long period of time, and we need to be a little more dutiful and pay attention to it.”

the fire-gutted Dockside

The Brunelle family has kept food service going under an outdoor pavilion while they make plans to rebuild the fire-gutted Dockside.

The Falls will benefit next year from a new, $10 million public library overlooking the Holyoke Dam, and the neighborhood also received a profile boost this summer with the first Falls Fest, a free, all-day music event at the Beachgrounds, the recently renovated park beside the river.

“We got the buzz out, and everyone who was there had a great time,” said Markow, adding that the neighborhood has the potential for more such events. “The idea was, what can be done to revitalize the economy of the Falls? This was a wonderful step in the right direction. The bands who performed there thought it was the best place they had ever performed, because it provided everything one would need for a venue — food vendors, craft vendors, shade for a summer day, kids got to play in the splash park … it’s a great place to come listen to music.”

Sullivan also welcomes a multi-faceted approach to boosting the Falls. “That’s really our focus; we’re trying to revitalize and find adaptive reuses for the area, and we’re looking at having more events there. Some people say that the way cities get rediscovered is through those types of events. People come in and say, ‘wow, I never knew this was here; I want to invest.’”


Success Stories

Decades of investment are clearly visible at the Village Commons, across Route 116 from the college, home to six restaurants, Tower Theater, and a host of retail shops and other businesses.

“When I moved here 17 years ago, there were more retail shops in the Village Commons, but retail has gone through some tough times,” said Markow, whose eye-care practice neighbors the complex. “What’s evolved is more food and service, which probably is a microcosm of the whole economy in general. It’s the center of town, and it’s thriving; they’re doing very well there, and a couple of new food places went in recently. People like coming there; it’s a good, central location.”

Mount Holyoke itself provides much of the energy in that neighborhood, he added. “In my opinion, South Hadley is extremely lucky to have Mount Holyoke College in its midst because it’s a world-class higher-education institution, the first all-women college in the country that’s still in operation. It has a world-class art museum, outstanding faculty, and a first-class equestrian center that brings equestrian shows here and helps the economy. The college just brings the town to a higher level.”

Although South Hadley receives just 8% of its tax revenues from businesses, Sullivan noted, “what’s not listed in that statistic is Mount Holyoke College, a nonprofit business. If you put that into the valuation formula, as an economic-development engine, that is quite significant — the jobs it creates, the investments made by the college.”

A prestigious college is just one piece of the community’s education strengths, Markow added, which includes the new public library and plans for a new Plains Elementary School. “It’s this kind of development which helps to attract families to the community. When they see investment in the school system, that’s very important to new families coming into town.

“I try to work with the schools because I think having a high-quality school system is part of the formula that makes a community strong and stable,” he continued. “The new superintendent of schools here, Dr. Nick Young, has been a very willing partner. He wants to cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship with the business community, and he’s really reached out to us.”

Despite the town’s strong points, however, commercial vacancies remain, Markow told BusinessWest, and there’s plenty of room for improvement in the town’s overall economic outlook.

“I don’t know what the answer is. How do you bring in new business when everyone is still holding back?” he pondered. “From the chamber’s perspective, we’re limited by our resources, and we could do more with more resources. My pitch is trying to get more businesses on the chamber; a large group has more clout than a small group. That’s one of our missions, to increase membership, increase resources, and be more effective in improving the quality of life in town and supporting the business environment.

“Personally,” he went on, “my mission as president is to see what we can do to improve quality of life in town because that’s going to attract new people to come live here, help stabilize the property values, and just make it a nicer place to live. What can we do to make it a nicer place to live? That, in turn, will trickle down and make the economy better.”


Coming Back

Markow noted that the town’s economic strengths are tempered by losses like the Big Y on Newton Street, which the property owner has no plans to retenant in the near future.

“That was a very disappointing occurrence because it had been a grocery store for quite a long time, and as New Englanders, we’re used to not changing. But what’s really disappointing is keeping the place vacant for a number of years, which I find unhelpful to the economic health of the town.”

On the other hand, Sullivan noted, “Village Commons is in discussion about expansion of their retail and mixed-use development. That’s exciting. So there are a lot of good things happening in a lot of different ways from an economic-development standpoint, but we still have a long ways to go.”

As for the Dockside, he applauds the Brunelles’ efforts to bring the restaurant back to life.

“That’s one of the places people go to recreate and spend money,” he said, including the Ledges and Orchards golf courses, McCray’s Farm, and the college area in that category. “It’s all about destinations in the community.” n


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Hadley Honors Rural Past as Businesses Take Root

CommunityHadleyProfilesMAPWhen Jonathan Carr and his wife Nicole Blum moved to the U.S., they spent time looking for a good place to farm. The couple had been growing gourmet vegetables in Ireland and selling them to restaurants, but wanted to establish themselves in a better climate, because it rained frequently there.

In 2002, they bought 38 acres of land with a large apple orchard in Hadley after relatives and friends in the Boston area steered them to Western Mass.

Last year, they opened Carr’s Ciderhouse and produced about 3,000 bottles of sparkling cider and dessert-style wine on their property. The business is growing, and Carr said they are happy to be situated on River Road.

“There is a network of farms that runs up and down the river for miles, and Hadley is a great place to raise a family and own a business because of the accommodating spirit within the town government,” said Carr, adding that the couple appreciates their central location, the vibrant local economy, and the beauty of the area, along with the fact that they can go hiking or canoeing on the Connecticut River without leaving town.

Town Administrator David Nixon

Town Administrator David Nixon says Hadley has the largest amount of preserved land in the Commonwealth.

David Nixon said the ciderhouse is one of dozens of home-based businesses in Hadley, which include self-employed consultants, architects, web-based firms, and about two dozen landscapers with employees. The town administrator said Hadley is also home to historic family farms that have been operating for generations, as well as a healthy mix of retail establishments, located mostly on the seven-mile section of Route 9 that runs through the town.

The balanced mix of open land, agricultural enterprise, and retail business has been carefully orchestrated by town officials.

“It’s the reason for our success,” Nixon said. “We provide a high quality of life with lots and lots of open space that contains forests, grasslands, and farmlands. But we also have a strong commercial district that allows us to keep taxes low and provide the products and employment people need, coupled with small, family-owned businesses, particularly in agriculture.”

In addition, Nixon said, the town offers a central location, an affordable single tax rate, and space for new and existing businesses to grow. “We’re ideally situated between Northampton and Amherst, so we have the synergy of what these communities offer. We also live in a 30-campus community,” he told BusinessWest, explaining that one-quarter of the UMass Amherst campus is in Hadley and the other campuses are within an hour’s drive of the town, which sits off the Interstate 91 corridor, with the Massachusetts Turnpike a short distance away.

“Northampton Airport is just across the river, and we’re a 45 minute drive from Bradley International Airport,” Nixon continued, adding that, when the rerouting of the Amtrak Vermonter commuter train is complete, it will include a stop in nearby Northampton.


Fertile Imagination

Hadley is one of the oldest towns in Hampshire County, and thus it has lots of history, said Nixon, noting that it was incorporated in 1661 and was an agricultural center for hundreds of years.

Today, the town is still home to three operating dairy farms, a number of tobacco farms, and an untold number of farms that grow produce, ranging from corn to asparagus, strawberries to squash. “We have lots of little farm stands, and there are a number of small agricultural businesses developing here,” Nixon said. They include Sister’s Bistro, a restaurant and specialty food store that opened about a year ago, a vineyard under development, and Valley Malt, which opened about three years ago and has been very successful.

Although the farms have stood the test of time, town officials have been proactive in taking steps to insure the bucolic atmosphere is preserved and will remain that way. “We don’t want our population to grow too quickly,” Nixon said. “We lead the Commonwealth in preserved open space. We have about 3,000 acres of it, which doesn’t include the state parks or the land along the Connecticut River.”

He noted that these measures ensure that the high quality of life in Hadley will continue. “It gives us the ability to provide residents with the services they want at an affordable price and helps keep the town recession-proof. We may not see the highs that other places have experienced, but we also don’t see the lows.”

The town’s finances are also sound. “We have a strong financial base with an AA bond rating from Standard and Poor and are always looking to improve things,” Nixon said.

To that end, town officials recently asked the state Department of Revenue to conduct a commissioned study of its financial-management practices.

“We’re not content to sit on our laurels, and are always looking for ways to improve public services and reduce our costs,” he explained.


Commercial Growth

Although Hadley has plenty of open space, the town also contains a healthy mix of businesses. They include the Hampton Inn, which is adding a conference center with seating for 300 people that is expected to open this summer.

Building Commissioner Tim Neyhart said the inn was recently granted a liquor license, and the new center will have a kitchen for catering and provide the town with much-needed facilities for meetings, conventions, and events. “We didn’t have a place where people could hold large weddings,” he said, explaining that, although many couples use the Marriott Hotel, its capacity is limited to 125 people.

“There are already weddings booked in the new conference center, and the large space will also allow the U.S. Fish and Wildlife office to hold conventions there,” he told BusinessWest, adding that its District 5 office is in Hadley. “They use the Marriott for meetings all the time, but the space there is limited.”

There are also three solar projects in the works in Hadley. Neyhart said two are being reviewed by the planning board, while the third involves a pilot program with NexAmp Hadley Solar LLC, which has obtained permits to built a 2.9-megawatt facility on Mill Valley Road.

The solar company and the Hampshire Council of Governments have partnered to form an agreement that is still being reviewed. It would provide Hadley with a discount rate on electricity in lieu of taxes from NexAmp over a 20-year period. If it is passed, Nixon said, it could result in a 21% reduction in the cost of municipal electricity in Hadley, or about $600,000 over two decades.

He explained that the energy NexAmp will generate will be fed into a network that will earn the company credits from Western Massachusetts Electric Co. The credits would then be sold to the Hampshire Council of Governments, which would apply them to the town’s electric bill.

The town is also looking to widen Route 9, although that project is still in the feasibility stage. “We’re also taking concrete steps to improve our water and sewer systems. They will be upgraded over the next 10 years,” Nixon said.

And although there is available space for new business to be established along Route 9, many existing businesses have reinvented themselves to keep up with the times. Nixon cites the former Mountain Farms Mall as an example. “It was in pretty bad shape about 20 years ago, with vacant storefronts and a blacktop that was in terrible condition.”

But the former traditional mall has been transformed into a large strip mall, which is home to Whole Foods, Barnes & Noble, and other thriving businesses. “It has become a very, very vibrant shopping area,” he said.

Hadley also caters to many startup companies, which get help from the UMass Amherst Family Business Center on Venture Way. “They are able to thrive because we have an educated workforce, the infrastructure capacity for new businesses, and the zoning to develop it,” Nixon said.


Balanced Equation

Although the town welcomes business growth, the provisions its leaders have taken to ensure that the landscape remains unsullied is part of its character.

“The goal has always been about maintaining balance,” Nixon reiterated. “Hadley is blessed with a strong and vibrant commercial center, but also has wonderful residential villages and the bike path, which is 300 yards off of Route 9, that illustrates the balance of life here. One side has a view of open land, while the other is home to restaurants, auto-service stations, and stores.”

That combination is a proven recipe for success, making the town a place that honors its agrarian past while keeping pace with the future.

Community Profile Features
Westfield Takes Flight with New Jobs, Development

CommunityProfilesWestfieldWhen BusinessWest sat down this month with Westfield Mayor Daniel Knapik and Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, it was just one more connection in what has become a strong bond between the city and its chamber.
Take the monthly Mayor’s Coffee Hour the chamber launched to forge a stronger relationship between the city’s leaders and its business community.
“That gives businesses and residents first-hand access to city officials,” Phelon said. “We’re very proud that we have that kind of access to the mayor; not many cities can say they do that on a regular basis.”
The mayor agrees. “We really have opened the door to businesses,” said Knapik, noting that some companies had never before approached the city about their issues.
“Manufacturing companies have different needs than small operators,” Phelon said. “It’s good that we can have this open-door policy and bring these issues in and have dialogue.”

Mayor Daniel Knapik, left, and Jeff Daley

Mayor Daniel Knapik, left, and Jeff Daley say Westfield’s investments in its infrastructure have already begun to spur more development.

Both of them agreed, however, that much of the dialogue in Westfield has been positive lately, from job-creation success stories — from Armbrook Village bringing in 100 jobs with a new assisted-living community to the expansion of Gulfstream, which will add 100 jobs while retaining 130 more — to the dramatic reconstruction of the Whip City’s downtown that has improved traffic flow and generated buzz and business there.
“The best testimony is from folks who haven’t been in Westfield in a while,” Knapik said, “when they come into the downtown and say, ‘wow, what happened?’ And there’s more coming.”

Ready for Takeoff
They might say the same about Barnes Airport on the city’s north side, which has leveraged millions of dollars in public and private investment in the service of infrastructure upgrades and development projects.
“We’ve had multiple funding sources, at the federal, state, and city levels, to get $14 million for a new runway,” said Jeff Daley, the city’s advancement officer. “The current runway is 28 years old, which is eight years past its life expectancy. They’ll be ripping out the entire 9,500 feet of runway and rebuilding it. A large portion of the north and south end of the runway will be concrete, and the middle section will be a specialized tar pavement that will allow the F16s and other planes not to rip it up.”
The 104th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard has been relocated to Westover Air Reserve Base and Otis Air Force Base during the project, which is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving. Daley said the new runway will attract more commercial use of the airport. Meanwhile, Rectrix Aviation, which bought out Airflyte, is working to increase its investment at Barnes to bring a wider range of services to its clients.
Meanwhile, Daley said, “we obtained a grant from the state to redesign and rebuild Airport Industrial Park Road. It was a $2 million grant, and we’re returning $800,000 back to the state; we managed to do it with $1.2 million. We made it safer with a full redesign; the hairpin turn there was dangerous. We paved it, and we’ll have some new signage to alert people to come to the industrial park.”
That’s where the city is developing 80 acres — perhaps 12 to 15 subdivided lots — for light-manufacturing and aviation-supported businesses. “We’ve had serious conversations with four or five companies looking there, waiting for the road to be finished,” Daley said.
“Add to that Gulfstream’s expansion, and we think Barnes is in a position of growth, with the most action we’ve seen there in years,” Knapik said, noting that the airport is on the cusp of generating more revenue than the city is investing in it. “We’re close to breaking even now, and some of the other situations coming to light will add more revenue to the city. It took a long time to bring it to break-even status.”
Speaking of breaking even, the mayor said, one of the best stories in the city recently is the turnaround of Noble Hospital. After seven years running a deficit, it was able to turn a profit last year.
“It’s great what they’ve been able to do, to modernize the hospital and open up space that had been shuttered and really find niche services for our community, from gastroenterology to expanding the breast-cancer unit,” he continued. “When I came into office, it was pretty dire over there, but it’s been astounding. They’ve been able to invest in their physical plant and turn a profit, which is great news. They seem to be in position for a pretty strong future now.”

Bridges to Progress
So does the downtown area, following a $14.5 million reconstruction of Main and Broad streets and the Park Square Green, and the four-year Great River Bridge project that paired the renovation of that span, over the Westfield River, with the construction of a second bridge next to it.
Those successes will be followed by a significant commercial development at Elm and Arnold streets, featuring a 130,000-square-foot mixed-use facility, a 2,000-square-foot transportation center, and a five-story parking garage. Daley pegged completion of the project — which has been discussed in some form or other for decades — for 2015 or 2016.
“There have been lots of iterations to it,” he said, noting that the city would like the mixed-use facility to include retail, restaurants, and office space. As for the parking garage, “we’re fortunate to have parking problems, and we’re developing up to 500 new spaces to make it a more attractive prospect to come downtown and shop and have dinner.”
The mayor is excited by the prospects. “We’ve said for years that, if the city took care of its property and infrastructure, which we’ve been doing, the rest will follow,” Knapik said of the proposal, and the hope that it will continue a downtown revitalization that has already seen a number of new businesses open on that stretch of Routes 10 and 202.
Those include eateries and a copy center, businesses that will cater to a growing number of college students living downtown following the conversion of the Lansdowne building on Thomas Street into a 216-bed dormitory for Westfield State University. In addition, the former WSU training school building on Washington Street is being redeveloped into privately owned market-rate housing, which would add more student life to Westfield’s downtown.
“We’ve already seen the opening of many new downtown businesses that cater to the young folks living downtown,” Knapik said, including three restaurants with outdoor seating.
“With the City Council allowing outside seating, that’s a first for Westfield,” Phelon said. “I don’t think we’ve ever had that before. Now people will see people sitting and eating outside,” creating more energy downtown.
The city is also moving forward with plans for the riverfront area on the south side of town, which may include a mix of uses. “We’re reviewing four concepts now, and we’ll unveil those to the public over the next two months or so,” said Knapik, who would like to see that project connect with the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail. “These are all things that have been kicked around the city for 20 years or so, and they’re all starting to click now, so we’re happy about that.”

Challenges Remain
Knapik said the city’s unemployment rate, hovering between 6.5% and 6.8%, “isn’t bad, but we need it to be better to really knock us out of the economic slowdown we’re in. But we feel like, with the diverse base we have — including military, healthcare, precision machining, and warehousing — we’re seeing excellent growth in some areas.”
Daley noted that, since 2010, the city has attracted more than $120 million in private investment and has another $72 million in the pipeline. “Currently, 7,000 jobs have been retained by those efforts, and 800 new jobs over three years. There’s a pretty good story to tell there. We’re working very hard to keep retention up … and to make Westfield a place where people want to grow and stay.”
Phelon said the city is working to cultivate its creative economy in an organized way, as nearby communities such as Northampton, Easthampton, and Holyoke have done. “We’re in the infant stages of this. We applied for a grant to take inventory of the creative economy in the city. That can drive economic development, and the chamber is happy to be a part of that.”
The idea, Knapik said, is to bring different “puzzle pieces” that make up the city’s economy out of their individual silos and into an organized effort to promote Westfield’s vitality.
The mayor also touted the city’s efforts to keep property taxes lower than in some surrounding cities and towns. “We want to be that business-friendly community.”
It has tried to do so at a time when state aid to cities is low — in Westfield’s case, down about 30% since before the recession. Yet, plenty of investment continues, giving the mayor plenty to talk about at those coffee hours.
“It’s good,” he said of that communication. “A lot of times, policy is made in an echo chamber. This way, we ensure that both sides are heard. We hear them, and they hear us.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Antique Shows Have Made ‘Brimfield’ a Household Name

BrimfieldProfileMapDavid Lamberto has witnessed the growth of the Brimfield Antique Show since he started participating some 30 years ago.
“It’s become known worldwide,” said Lamberto, who owns the Hertan’s ‘store’ (actually a field) where he started out parking cars for Jean Hertan decades ago; he later purchased the parcel before she died. “You don’t even have to call it the Brimfield Antique Show; just say ‘Brimfield,’ and people know what you’re talking about. It’s known worldwide just by that one name.”
In fact, few towns of Brimfield’s size (population 3,600) are known so widely for their main attraction. But this is no mere flea market. For six days three times a year — in May, July, and September — a mile-long stretch of Route 20 is ground zero for the largest outdoor market in the country.
“Prior to Six Flags — when Riverside Park was Riverside — Brimfield was the largest attraction in the region,” said Lenny Weake, president of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, which includes Brimfield in its purview. “Six Flags has been quite competitive with that, but for years, the antique show was the only thing that filled all the hotel rooms in the area.”
It certainly helps fill the Yankee Cricket Bed & Breakfast, which former Ohio resident Bill Simonec built with his wife, Sherry, in 2001.
“I was downsized in 2000, so we moved here,” he said. “My sister-in-law lived in Sturbridge, and we loved the area.
“Bed and breakfasts are known either as destinations — 40 acres, a pond, and horseback riding, for instance — or for their location,” Simonec continued. “We picked location, three miles from the shows and three miles from Sturbridge Village. And we’ve been pretty fortunate.”

Bill Simonec

Bill Simonec, who operates the Yankee Cricket Bed & Breakfast with his wife, Sherry, said their choice of Brimfield was a wise business decision.

The Great Recession led to a couple of challenging years recently, he said, but things might be improving. “We’re starting to get more reservations in between the show weeks, year-round, in leaf-peeper season, things like that. And this is the first year in three years that all six days of each show, May, July, and September, we’re booked solid. For us, that’s unusual. That’s a glimmer. Obviously things are starting to pick up. People are starting to travel and get out and about again.”

Show Time
If they travel to Brimfield, they’ll encounter a mostly rural town peppered with a variety of small businesses, from the B&B and several restaurants to a print shop, a brewery, and an apple orchard.
Still, “the culture revolves around the antique shows,” Weake said. “People from all over the world come to Brimfield to attend the shows.”
Added Lamberto, “it has a significant economic impact on the region. I feel like it’s an exciting event that brings variety and diversity and culture to the area. It gives character to the town.”
What is a major event today began humbly, when a local auctioneer named Gordon Reed decided to hold open-air auctions on his property, and it grew into a successful flea market. “That was the only show until the late ’70s, when neighboring properties began accommodating dealers that couldn’t fit on the property of the show’s original creator,” Lamberto said. “It expanded quite a bit in the ’80s and ’90s to a one-mile stretch of Route 20 on both sides, and each property became its own show.”
He explained that field owners — who draw some 6,000 dealers a year and close to 1 million total visitors over the three annual events — went through a period in the early ’90s when the shows were expanding up to 14 days long. “Each event caused considerable traffic and disruption in the residents’ eyes. Because Brimfield is such a small community with a town-meeting type of government, the residents were able to come up with a compromise — the selectmen set a six-day period three times a year during which we can operate our shows.”
Lamberto and other site owners also formed an organization, the Brimfield Show Promoters Assoc. “We work together to improve the shows, and we have staggered the opening schedule.”

Lenny Weake

Lenny Weake says the Brimfield Antique Shows fill hotel rooms across the region.

Specifically, each show opens over a series of days, rather than all fields participating from day one, so that people arriving throughout the week can hypothetically attend an opening. “That’s important,” he told BusinessWest. “Many avid collectors want to see things first because they might find the last piece they need for their collection, or something undervalued that the dealer specializes in.” Meanwhile, those who come later in the week can still find bargains from sellers who would rather settle on a discounted price than pack an item up.
The shows have long been wildly popular, but Weake agreed with Simonec that recent numbers suggest a shaking off of the lingering recession, which put a damper on travel for many. And that helps hospitality businesses across the region.
“All the hotels fill up. There’s not a hotel in Brimfield, and only one motel in Palmer. All those people coming into our area are staying in all the surrounding communities; it’s huge for the whole area. The last show in May, you had a hard time finding a hotel room, and that includes everything from Sturbridge to Springfield And those people need to go eat somewhere.”
In addition, Weake said, “the town charges a permit fee for each of the vendors, so it’s a big economic engine for the town of Brimfield, for sure. They have done very well with the shows.”

Slow Growth

The town — which, by most accounts, doesn’t have much in the way of new business development — could use that success, particularly following the recession and the 2011 tornado.
“The storm went right over our house and destroyed a lot of trees and did a lot of property damage,” Simonec said. “We were on the southern edge of the tornado when it came through. We didn’t have any house damage, but the landscape has been changed; it’ll be 10 or 20 years before it starts to come back.”
The economic recovery has been well under way, however. For example, Hollow Book Farms, which hosts a variety of social and recreational events, is back in business following damage from the storm, Weake said.
“It seems like, over the years we’ve been here,” Simonec added, “a lot of people like myself have moved into the area who come from a pretty good background — middle-class, professional — and it’s shown in the way the town conducts things. People are getting a little more interested in keeping the town rural and making sure things run properly.”
After the slow years he mentioned, when even the antique shows couldn’t totally fill the Yankee Cricket and other business felt the impact as well, “there seems to be a stirring in the economy. After the economy tanked, we had a lot of people struggling. A lot of businesseses are trying to make a comeback. I hear people saying it’s turning around and everything will get better, but I don’t think that’s going to happen for another 18 months or so.”
For now, he and others with a stake in Brimfield will take the gradual brightening of the economic skies they see, and enjoy the thrice-yearly event that has long been the largest event in town, Weake said. “As a general manager of a hotel in my former life, I know that people come from all over the world to the shows.”
“It’s a lot of things to a lot of people,” Lamberto added. “It’s a convention for antiques dealers to get together from all over the country, compare notes, catch up on stories, what’s happening, who’s had grandchildren, who’s had an event in their life. So it’s social in that way. It’s also business; they do a lot of buying and selling. And some come to make connections; they’re looking for things for their collections.”
He said the town has become more strict with permit requirements for sellers, but that comes with the territory of an evolving event. “It’s a balancing act between letting the businesses operate and doing so with the kind of control that keeps public safety as a priority.”
Still, he said, “it’s always an exciting time. It’s hard work, but it’s fun. You meet very interesting people from all walks of life.”
Despite the ups and downs of the economy, Simonec is pleased with his decision to relocate to Brimfield 12 years ago – whether it’s show time or not. “I love New England and love this area, and I’m glad we made the move. I’m happy we settled here.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Profile Features
Northampton Forges Ahead on Innovative Projects

NorthamptonMayor David Narkewicz says Northampton is a city on the move, leading the way in arenas that range from its energy-efficiency programs to its effort to increase the number of daily Amtrak shuttles when high-speed passenger rail service begins next year, to $67 million of new projects expected to add $3.1 million to the tax base.
“We’re moving in a positive direction, and my administration is committed to continuing to build on success,” he said. “We have a strong local economy with lots of businesses, and we want to support them, reach out to new companies, and maximize the use of our developable land.”
Terrence Masterson, the city’s economic development director, agrees. He said the city’s appeal results from its mix of industry, retail shops, and cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities.
“Northampton has a lot of assets which include the benefits of a living in a rural town as well as a large, livable city,” he told BusinessWest. “It has a culturally rich downtown, is well-positioned off Interstate 91, and hopefully will soon have passenger rail service. We also have a solid educational system, and our parks and open-network system is without peer. You can live in Florence and ride your bike downtown.”

Mayor David Narkewicz

Mayor David Narkewicz shows off a rendering of the new, upgraded passenger platform planned for the former Union Station on Pleasant Street.

The city has been feted with a wide array of awards, which range from being named among the “Top 25 Art Destinations” by American Style magazine to one of the “Top 100 Best Places to Live” by CNN Money magazine and the “Top 10 Family Friendly Towns” by Parenting magazine. Other honors include the Retailers Assoc. of Mass. Award of Excellence for the best downtown shopping district.
“We have a vibrant and diverse economy with lots of locally owned retail shops and restaurants; it’s one of the things that sets us apart, because it has been hard for cities to hang onto that in other parts of the country,” said the mayor. “People often say that Northampton has big-city charm, but maintains its small-town character.”
The city is also a center for healthcare, as Cooley Dickinson Hospital and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leeds, which is planning to expand its specialty care, serve people across the region.
For this issue, BusinessWest continues its Community Profile series with an in-depth look at Paradise City, which certainly isn’t content to rest on its laurels.

Diverse Initiatives
Narkewicz said Northampton’s leadership is evident in its approach to eco-tourism. “We have one of the most well-developed rail trails in Massachusetts and are on the cutting edge of developing new segments,” he said, referring to the 12.5-mile route that runs through the city. “We have also done a lot of work to promote local agriculture.”
In addition to three farmer’s markets, the city has one of the largest community farms in the state. The endeavor known as Grow Food Northampton came to fruition in February 2011 when the organization purchased 121 acres of permanently protected farmland in Florence. The nonprofit is a collaborative effort, and its community garden was so successful in its first year of operation that it is doubling in size this year. The city provides funding to the Farm Education Collaborative, which presents workshops and programs at Crimson and Clover Farm in Florence to benefit schoolchildren and adults.
The mayor also notes the Connecticut River Greenway in Northampton, one of the Commonwealth’s newest state parks, which connects open spaces, scenic vistas, and archaeological and historic sites along the length of the Connecticut River.
“We’re a green community, and were among the first cities awarded green-community status by the state,” Narkewicz said. “We’re way ahead of everyone else, and our green initiatives add to what makes Northampton unique.”
He and other city officials recognize the importance of energy conservation, and to that end, the energy and sustainability initiative called Northampton Leading the Way was launched about two years ago.
“We worked with Columbia Gas and National Grid to create a business concierge program that allowed commercial property owners to make significant energy improvements to their facilities,” said Narkewicz. “It resulted in savings for them and helped add to the city’s overall sustainability.”
The city reduced its own energy costs by 27%, and the nonprofit Center for Eco-Technology conducted the outreach to businesses. The utility companies have continued to fund the program because it has proven to be a real success. “Utility costs are a major part of the bottom line for businesses, and this is also good for the environment,” Narkewicz said.
The city kicked off a second energy-efficiency initiative last month to help residents reduce utility bills and conserve energy through measures such as high-efficiency hot water and heating systems, added insulation, new thermostats, and other weatherization efforts. They can schedule free home energy assessments, and Narkewicz said the program “is another example of how the city of Northampton is helping people and the environment.”

New Projects

Terrence Masterson

Terrence Masterson says the city’s appeal stems from its mix of industry, retail, and cultural, educational, and recreational opportunities.

Economic development is also on the upswing, and the King Street commercial area is undergoing an unprecedented level of new building and renovation.
Northampton Crossing (the former Hill and Dale Mall), which sat vacant for about 20 years, was purchased two years ago and is being redeveloped into medical offices and retail shops. The mayor said the space will become home to offices connected to Baystate Medical Center, and added that several new banks and other projects, which include a new hotel being constructed on Conz Street, are in progress.
In addition, two new buildings will offer much-needed office space in Northampton. They are located at the gateway to the city, which officials designate as the area off exit 18 from I-91 near the Clarion Hotel. An office building with 30,000 square feet of space completed about a year ago was fully leased within three months, and a second building is under construction. Masterson says the additional 80,000 square feet of office space will be a significant development for the city. “It is hugely exciting,” he told BusinessWest.
Other growth is expected as the Clarion Hotel hopes to replace its existing structure with a new building and restaurant. “Eventually the whole site will undergo a major facelift and expansion,” Narkewicz noted.
Tourism will also get a boost, thanks to a new Fairfield Inn under construction. It will add 108 hotel rooms, bringing the city’s total to 457. “It will provide more revenue and also allow more people to stay in Northampton,” Masterson said.
And work continues on Village Hill, built on the grounds of the former Northampton State Hospital, where space has been in high demand. Kollmorgen Electro-Optical (now L-3 KEO) relocated there from King Street, a boutique hotel is being created in a building that once housed male attendants at the state hospital, and 9,000 square feet in a new, 12,000-square-foot office building under construction have already been rented.
The projects promise to enhance the city as well improve its economy. “We are pleased not only because of the growth in economic activity, but because it will allow us to expand our tax base,” Narkewicz said, explaining that taxpayers will vote on June 25 on whether to allow a $2.5 million Proposition 2 1/2 override because Northampton is facing significant cuts in service due to a $1.4 million budget gap.
Still, progress continues. “All of the projects we have going on fuel each other,” Masterson said. “But it’s critically important for us to keep adding to them, and we think Amtrak will be another way to bring large numbers of people here.”
Narkewicz agrees, and believes the anticipated commuter rail service will have a positive impact on the city. The return of Amtrak service, which will transport passengers along the west side of the Connecticut River, is part of a larger, $73 million federal project, and calls for a shift next year in the Amtrak-Vermonter’s route, which will include new stations in Greenfield, Northampton, and Holyoke.
The mayor is part of a passenger-rail advisory committee made up of stakeholders in the community who want to maximize the railway’s potential. The Knowledge Corridor Feasibility Study, which the current construction project is based on, indicates that expanded rail can generate economic benefits to a number of communities, and Narkewicz believes it could increase the number of trips between the state of Vermont and Springfield. He would also like to see service extend into New York City.
“The rail service will benefit people in terms of transportation, but will also increase the potential for business, whether the passengers are students, tourists, or people who come here for our art and culture,” Narkewicz said.
He has been proactive in promoting an increase in the number of shuttles, and sent a letter to the secretary of the state Department of Transportation last month, citing numbers from Amtrak showing that regional rail ridership has boomed nationally and locally over the past 15 years.
“We believe this new rail service will deliver many positive economic benefits for downtown/urban revitalization, tourism, residential quality of life, and business/job development,” Narkewicz wrote, adding that the letter was also signed by Greenfield Mayor William Martin and Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. “It’s an issue everyone agrees with, and it will be a real thrill for a lot of people to have Amtrak trains here.”
There are also plans to rebuild the old passenger platform at the former Union Station on Pleasant Street. The new, 40-foot platform will include an awning and cover designed to complement the building’s architecture.

Continuing Progress
Narkewicz said collaborations with residents, government agencies, other cities and towns, and a number of organizations, coupled with efforts to attract new business and spur economic growth, have had a positive result.
“We are moving forward,” he concluded. “There is a lot of activity here, and together, we are making a difference.”

Community Profile Features
Ludlow Looks to the Future by Restoring the Past

LudlowCommunityProfilesMAPCarmina Fernandes is certainly involved in her hometown, and she wants to get others involved as well.
“One thing I want to do is create partnerships with residents, with business people, with the chamber,” said Fernandes, who serves on the town’s Board of Selectmen and the East of the River 5 Town Chamber of Commerce board, in addition to owning a law office downtown. “If we do that, the possibilities are endless. I’m really excited about creating partnerships here.”
Ludlow is a gem that’s getting some polish these days, particularly at the Ludlow Mills site, a former jute-making factory that once anchored the southern end of town along the Chicopee River. The redevelopment of that property — which includes a mix of new development and reuse of close to 1 million square feet of existing manufacturing and warehouse space — will be a 20-year process overseen by Westmass Area Development Corp.
“It really was the Ludlow Mills that created this town,” Fernandes said. “Fortunately for us, the Westmass Area Development Corp. decided this location was a little gem and came forth with a project worth between $200 and $300 million.”
The site has long been one of Ludlow’s identifying marks; its famous clock tower even graces the town seal. “There’s so much history around that location,” Fernandes said of the old jute factory. “Being of Portuguese descent, it’s also the reason my family and many of our Portuguese descendants came to this town.”
The first tenant on the redeveloped site will be HealthSouth, which is building a $27 million, 53-bed hospital there, to be staffed by 240 employees. The rehabilitation hospital, which is currently located nearby on Chestnut Place, will feature private rooms, a gym, and an open floor plan. Construction of the 74,000-square-foot facility should be completed by the end of 2013.

Carmina Fernandes

Carmina Fernandes says Ludlow is growing commercially and residentially.

“We’re very excited not only to retain HealthSouth in Ludlow, but at a much bigger level, with amazing services,” Fernandes said.
Also moving to Ludlow Mills is Winn Development, which is planning a $20 million, 83-unit senior-housing complex on four floors of a renovated mill building, originally constructed in 1907. With an aging population in town, Fernandes said, the development complements HealthSouth well and meets an overall need for senior-targeted services.
More commercial and industrial tenants are expected to follow as the site is gradually developed over the next two decades. As part of the project, the town received a state transportation bond of more than $1 million to repair neighboring streets and a $1.5 million environmental bond from the Commonwealth to clean contamination on the lot. Westmass is even having the historic clock repaired.
“The town is very excited about this project,” Fernandes said. “Westmass is taking an old, run-down, dilapidated property, a site that was eventually going to turn into a liability to the town, and is slowly bringing the site back to its former glory and launching it into the 21st century.”

Moving Along

Ludlow is certainly not resting on its laurels, however. “We are definitely forward-thinking, and we want to be business-friendly,” Fernandes told BusinessWest. “We understand that we want to keep that balance, so our residents have a high quality of life, yet we still make it easy to do business in this town.”
She touted continued growth on the residential front. “Ludlow is a desirable town with great quality of life and a great education system, so our home values have stayed strong throughout this bad economy.”
Newer developments include a 100-lot subdivision on Parker Lane Extension between Parker Lane and Denis Avenue, a 15-lot subdivision being developed off Center Street across from Higher Brook Drive, and several condominium developments, to name a few.
Small businesses have found a home in town as well, Fernandes said. “Ludlow is one of the remaining land-rich communities outside of Springfield, and the town is reaping benefits from the development.”
She cited a new medical office building for Hampden County Physicians at Holyoke and Moody streets; Alegria Dance & Fitness, which took over a formerly dilapidated building near Randall’s Farm; AJE Financial Services on Center Street; and Dave’s Soda and Pet City and Gomes Construction, both of which located operations in pre-existing commercial sites.
“We’ve been able to bring a lot of our business development using existing commercial sites that were not generating much of anything, taking those sites and redeveloping them. It’s a win-win all around,” Fernandes said. “We tend not to have vacant buildings for too long. There’s a constant flow of activity, which is fantastic.”
She credits a streamlined permitting process with some of that progress, and hopes to use the town’s website to deliver an online application process. The town’s low single tax rate for commercial and residential property is another draw, she added. “That benefits our residents and entices businesses, and when businesses come into town, that creates jobs for our residents.”
Meanwhile, “we want to do an inventory of all sites available for business. What are the priority sites? We hope to market and promote these projects, including the mill project,” she said, adding that she hopes to put market and economic analytics on the town’s website.
And she didn’t shy away from the elephant in the room — or at least a nearby room — when she brought up the casino battle among Springfield, Palmer, and West Springfield, the first two of which border Ludlow.
“There will be an impact on businesses in Ludlow, with a lot more people coming through town. Whomever gets chosen, that would be exciting for any business, because it means more people spending money.”

Age-old Concerns
Another project in town involves the conversion of the Stevens Memorial Building on Chestnut Street — a former factory that more recently was used as a Boys and Girls Club — into 28 units of rental housing for seniors and the disabled. HAPHousing was chosen as the developer, and state funding and subsidies will make the units affordable to low-income seniors. Construction will begin this year.
The Ludlow Mills project also includes a planned riverwalk, Fernandes noted. “That will be wonderful for our residents, who will have another area to enjoy the scenery and the weather and the river. Residents haven’t had much access to that area, so we’re very excited about that as well.”
Speaking of redeveloping open space, last year, the Board of Selectmen forged a contract with Borrego Solar Systems of Lowell to install solar panels on the town’s landfill for 2.7 megawatts of photovoltaic generation. “Again,” she said, “it’s taking a site that was not being used for anything, but when you look at sites creatively, amazing things can come out of them.
“We’re thinking outside the box and generating income by making the best use of the location,” Fernandes continued, noting that Borrego will sell electricity produced at the landfill to Ludlow at about 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt hour, around half the 9 cents it currently pays. In addition, those rates are locked in for the 20-year life of the contract, allowing the town to estimate its future energy spending with more certainty.
The project also reduces the city’s carbon footprint, Fernandes noted, which goes hand in hand with other recent ‘green’ efforts, like a recycling program that was recently launched. “This town is forward-thinking. This is our town, our future, our planet, our kids.”
Fernandes makes no secret of her enthusiasm for Ludlow, particularly its multi-ethnic heritage. “One of the things I love about this town is the huge diversity of residents, from Portuguese to Polish to Turkish to Vietnamese and others. It creates little niches,” she said, noting that cultural events like the annual Portuguese Festa bring in tens of thousands of visitors annually. “That helps our restaurants and businesses.”
Another exciting development, she said, is the possible inclusion of Ludlow on the TV show Communities of Distinction, a Fox Business series hosted by Terry Bradshaw.
“We’ve been in conversation with Communities of Distinction to be selected as a town to be highlighted on that show,” Fernandes explained. “They base their selection on a variety of things, like economic development, quality of life, education — just an overall specialness to this town, so I’m not surprised Ludlow would be considered.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]