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Waiting Game

Scenes like this one are nowhere to be found right now at Historic Deerfield

Scenes like this one are nowhere to be found right now at Historic Deerfield, which is developing plans for a September opening.

Magic Wings is a year-round operation, Kathy Fiore said — even when its doors are shut.

“This is different from a clothing store,” said Fiore, who co-owns the butterfly conservatory in Deerfield with her brother. “When we closed our doors, we still needed to have staff here, because we have to take care of whatever is happening. Butterflies are laying eggs every day. Caterpillars are hatching out every day. We need to feed and care for the lizards, tortoises, birds, fish … all sorts of animals have to be taken care of.”

And that means expenses that don’t disappear when no visitors show up — which they haven’t since the facility closed to the public in mid-March, part of a state-mandated economic shutdown in response to COVID-19.

“We kind of saw it coming, and then it just happened,” she said of the closure. “As owners of the business, we’ve tried to remain positive and upbeat and assure our staff, assure our customers.”

As for when Magic Wings will be allowed to reopen, phase 3 looks most likely, which means very soon. But the state’s guidance is only one consideration. The other is keeping visitors safe and helping prevent a viral flareup in a region that has effectively depressed infection rates, as opposed to states like Florida and Texas that were more lax about regulating crowds — and have seen cases spike in recent weeks.

“When we closed our doors, we still needed to have staff here, because we have to take care of whatever is happening. Butterflies are laying eggs every day. Caterpillars are hatching out every day. We need to feed and care for the lizards, tortoises, birds, fish … all sorts of animals have to be taken care of.”

“My brother and are watching how things are going,” Fiore said. “We’re certainly watching other businesses open back up, but we’re also hearing about the resurgence in certain places, about people getting together and going right back to a situation we don’t want to be in.”

Historic Deerfield, which shuttered its buildings to the public a few weeks before the start of its 2020 season, doesn’t expect to reopen most of them until September.

“We had a lot of different challenges and things to figure out,” said Laurie Nivison, director of Marketing, explaining why the organization’s leadership isn’t rushing back before they feel it’s safe. “Just thinking ahead to when it might be possible to open again, we decided to move some bigger things to the fall. The fall season is always a big time for us. That’s when people start thinking they want to come to Deerfield, so we said, ‘let’s look at opening around Labor Day weekend.’”

Losing an entire spring and most of summer is a considerable financial hit, of course, and the center was forced to lay off dozens of staff. But at the same time, it has looked to stay relevant and connected to the community in several ways, including putting a series of ‘Maker Monday’ workshops online, taking a virtual approach to teaching people how to stencil, make their own paper, or building a decoupage box, to name a few recent examples.

Meanwhile, museum curators have been sharing plenty of interesting artifacts from the collection online, while the director of historic preservation recently took people on a virtual tour of the attic of one of the historic houses.

“People never have the opportunity to do that, so that was great,” Nivison said. “We’ve become really creative trying to think of what we can do to bring Historic Deerfield to people when they can’t come here. Being closed down, we still want to have people engaged.”

Many Franklin County attractions, especially of the outdoor variety — such as Zoar Outdoor and Berkshire East in Charlemont, where people can engage in ziplining, biking, kayaking, and other outdoor activities — are already open. But indoor attractions face different challenges and are on a different reopening pace, due to both state guidelines and their own sense of caution.

But a wider reopening is the goal, as area tourism officials consider the region a connected ecosystem of activity that draws visitors to take in multiple sites, not just one. In short, the more attractions are open, the more each will benefit.

Kathy Fiore says Magic Wings won’t reopen

Because it’s an indoor attraction, Kathy Fiore says Magic Wings won’t reopen until she’s confident visitors will be safe.

“We’re talking a lot about how we can convince visitors to come back when the time is right because there’s so much outdoor fun you can have here,” said Diana Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. “We have hiking, cycling, fly fishing, regular fishing, walking trails — there’s so much opportunity for things to do here that are perfectly safe and healthy.”

Safety First

Szynal was just scratching the surface when she spoke to BusinessWest. From retail destinations like Yankee Candle Village to museums, golf courses, wineries, and covered bridges, it’s a region that has plenty to offer, and attractions like Magic Wings and Historic Deerfield certainly sense anticipation among fans and potential visitors when they connect with the community on social media.

But they also don’t want to jump the gun and see the region turn into another Houston.

“It’s been a little unnerving, but from the beginning, my brother and I didn’t want to reopen until we feel it’s safe, even if the government lifts the regulations for businesses like Magic Wings. We don’t mind waiting it out a little bit to make sure everything is safe,” Fiore said.

“We normally can take in a lot of people, but we’re different because we’re an indoor facility,” she added, noting that Magic Wings will follow the state’s guidelines for social distancing, masks, and crowd count, while considering options like visiting by appointment as well. “We’re trying to think of all the different things we can do to make sure people are really safe but still have a pleasant experience.”

It helped, she said, that the conservatory procured a Paycheck Protection Program loan to keep its staff paid, and now that reopening approaches, she’s hoping to get everyone back on the regular payroll. “We’re responsible for the livelihood of a lot of people.”

But the shutdown also posed an opportunity, she added. “It’s beautiful here — it’s in pristine shape, because we were able to do some cleanup things, different projects, that we don’t have the opportunity to do when we’re open every single day. We hope to welcome people back to a nice, fresh environment that’s better than they remember.”

While the museum houses of Historic Deerfield remain closed for now, the organization got a boost from the reopening of Deerfield Inn and Champney’s Restaurant & Tavern. The week she spoke with BusinessWest, Nivison said the restaurant already had more than 100 reservations lined up for the following week.

Those facilities will benefit from September’s museum reopening, but this fall may still look a little different than most, as tours may be limited — or be smaller, self-guided experiences — while outdoor tours may be expanded. Demonstrations of trades like blacksmithing may be moved outdoors, while the annual Revolutionary muster event, typically held on Patriots’ Day in April, will likely happen this fall as well.

“We’ve become really creative trying to think of what we can do to bring Historic Deerfield to people when they can’t come here. Being closed down, we still want to have people engaged.”

“We want to be able to give a good experience to folks and really take advantage of all the outdoor things they can do,” Nivison said. “There are a lot of things we can do.”

One thing people aren’t doing as much as they normally would is getting married — with crowded destination receptions, anyway. Because Magic Wings is a popular spot for weddings and receptions, that was another significant revenue loss this spring and summer, Fiore said.

“Couples had to shift everything, and a couple bumped their weddings into 2021. One couple canceled altogether,” she told BusinessWest, noting that weddings already have a lot of moving parts, and couples are simply unsure right now how many guests they’ll be allowed to include until the state offers more guidance.

All Aflutter

That said, Fiore has been buoyed by the number of people calling since the closure. In addition to its social-media presence, Magic Wings also recently ran a television commercial featuring soothing sights and sounds inside the conservatory — to put a smile on viewers’ faces more than anything.

“It was an opportunity for people to take a deep breath,” she said. “We’re all in the same boat, we’re all experiencing something totally new, and we’re all concerned and feeling anxious about what’s going to happen — what’s safe and what’s not.

“People love butterflies, and they do come see us from all around,” she added. “But they also want to know it’s not going to be a huge health hazard, and that’s what we’re working toward.”

Szynal understands the concerns, too.

“People are taking this seriously,” she said. “I see the masks. When people are out on errands, walking through stores, they’re giving each other space. As long as this behavior continues, people will feel better moving around a bit more” — and that includes visiting Franklin County attractions.

“I feel people respect this virus and respect each other,” she concluded. “So far, they’re taking the steps they need to keep Massachusetts on the right track.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Franklin County Special Coverage

View from Main Street

Diana Szynal

While economic activity is still slow, Diana Szynal says, she senses a resilient spirit in Franklin County.

Diana Szynal is encouraged by what she sees on Main Street in Greenfield as restaurants and retail continue to emerge from months of closed doors.

“I certainly see people making the changes they need to make,” she said, referring to Gov. Charlie Baker’s guidance for how — and at what capacity — to open businesses safely. “We’ve seen these business making the effort to reopen and get their staffs back to work and welcome back their customers.”

But no one is fooling themselves into believing everyone is ready to go out again, said Szynal, executive director of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce.

“Certainly it seems like businesses are open — like restaurants with outdoor seating or limited indoor seating — and I think there are people really wanting to get out there, but some people aren’t ready yet,” she told BusinessWest.

“Realistically, things have slowed down, but I feel a very resilient spirit here,” she continued. “People in Franklin County are tough. And you see that not only in Greenfield’s downtown, but the area as a whole — downtown Deerfield, downtown Shelburne … I think you’re going to see them bounce back for sure.”

What will make the difference, she and other economic leaders increasingly say, is consumer confidence, which is being driven right now almost exclusively by health concerns — and that’s a good thing, considering that Massachusetts is one of the few states in the U.S. consistently reducing instances of COVID-19.

“For the typical consumer, making decisions about going out for the day or just going to a restaurant or retail shop, creating confidence is the key,” Szynal said. “And focusing on those [infection] numbers is really critical. That’s really how we’ll build confidence. Some people will take a little longer than others because they have different health concerns. But I think, if we can stay the course, we’ll be heading in the right direction economically as well as from a public-health standpoint.”

Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM) polls its 3,500 members each month to produce a Business Confidence Index that was firmly entrenched in positive territory for years — until it suffered the largest one-time decline in its history a couple months ago. However, it began to rebound slightly last month as Baker announced the four-phase process for re-opening the state economy under strict workplace-safety guidelines, and in the report due this week, it’s expected to creep up again amid positive news regarding infection rates.

“What makes this whole situation unique — and a little bit mystifying for employers — is that the economic situation is still being driven by a public-health situation,” said Chris Geehern, AIM’s executive vice president of Public Affairs and Communications. “Typically in an economic downturn, business people know exactly what to do. Now, it’s wholly dependent on what the daily numbers are from the state and nationally. I think that’s been a big challenge.”

“Certainly it seems like businesses are open — like restaurants with outdoor seating or limited indoor seating — and I think there are people really wanting to get out there, but some people aren’t ready yet.”

That said, he told BusinessWest, “our members have been satisfied with the state process. It has certainly been a challenge to meet all the requirements, but for most employers, the big issue isn’t what the government tells you to do, but what you know you have to do to ensure that employees, vendors, and customers feel comfortable coming in. It’s going to be a slow recovery whether the government requires these steps or not because people won’t come to your restaurant if you haven’t taken the appropriate safety steps.”

Growing Optimism

Employers hope a timely return to business will allow them to re-hire some of the 1.2 million Massachusetts residents who have filed for unemployment since the onset of the pandemic.

“From a broad perspective, I’m not getting a super pessimistic view from anyone I’ve spoken to,” Szynal said. “Certain people are concerned — they’ve had to make some changes, and they’ve had some struggles. People don’t expect those struggles to end instantly. But people are pretty optimistic for the long term.”

Again, that likely depends in part on the public-health data remaining on a positive track.

“Employers are encouraged that Massachusetts has been able to moderate the number of new COVID-19 cases. We have said all along that the current economic crisis is being driven by the public-health crisis, and that’s what we see here,” Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors, noted in the latest business-confidence report.

Chris Geehern

Chris Geehern

“Typically in an economic downturn, business people know exactly what to do. Now, it’s wholly dependent on what the daily numbers are from the state and nationally. I think that’s been a big challenge.”

AIM President and CEO John Regan added that Baker’s deliberate, four-phase plan has so far been an effective way to reopen the state economy in a safe and efficient manner.

“We realize that every employer in Massachusetts would love to hear that they can reopen immediately. But we also acknowledge that a phased reopening balances the need to restart the economy with the need to manage a public-health crisis that continues to claim many lives a day in Massachusetts,” Regan said, adding that employers, “will in many cases need to reconfigure workplaces for social distancing and determine how to implement other safety measures, such as the wearing of protective equipment, continuing work-from-home policies, and ensuring the health of workers and customers.”

While AIM employers have been satisfied with the pace of the rollout, Geehern told BusinessWest, there was some frustration early on, particularly in the retail, restaurant, leisure, and hospitality sectors, which weren’t included in phase 1. “Some thought we should be moving faster. To be honest, I think the events going on down south persuaded most people that slow and safe is still the best way to do all this.”

He conceded that many AIM members are manufacturers, and they were able to return to work in phase 1 — and many were deemed essential workers from the start and never shut down operations. That partly explains why their business confidence has been slightly higher than non-manufacturers.

“They were, in fact, dealing with issues of workplace safety right along — processes like how to create six-feet separation, sanitize common areas, and monitor the health of people coming in,” he said. “This is something they’ve had a lot of experience with. For our group of manufacturers, it’s been a fairly smooth process.”

All Eyes on the Numbers

That said, Geehern noted that if COVID-19 cases began spiking and the governor paused or slowed the reopening, business confidence would clearly suffer.

“It’s still volatile and changeable, but I think it’s fair to say companies in general are satisfied with the pace of the rollout. Believe me, every employer in Massachusetts wishes Governor Baker could wave a magic wand and everything would go back to the way it was, but everyone knows that’s not the case.”

“The numbers are fairly optimistic, and I think the most important thing right now is confidence. That’s what’s going to help those businesses bounce back.”

How schools handle students’ return this fall — and what that does to the child-care picture — is a factor as well, he said. “There are a bunch of different elements to the whole picture. They’ll all eventually become clear.”

Part of that clarity is the sad reality that some businesses will be left behind. According to one AIM survey, slightly more than half of companies that furloughed employees will want them all to return when they’re able to bring them back, but some said they won’t be taking any of them back, because they’re planning on going out of business or running a skeleton staff for a while.

“It’s going to be a slow recovery, but our members still think the fundamentals of the economy that existed in February still exist, and I think that’s going to help us,” he noted, adding, however, that leisure and hospitality, as well as mom-and-pop shops of all kinds — two types of businesses that are important to the Franklin County economy — are especially vulnerable right now.

Knowing all of this — the tentatively good health news and the more uncertain economic outlook — Szynal chooses to take the glass-half-full view.

“The numbers are fairly optimistic, and I think the most important thing right now is confidence,” she said. “That’s what’s going to help those businesses bounce back.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Franklin County

Come as You Are

Jeremy Goldsher

Jeremy Goldsher says Greenspace CoWork melds modern amenities with a distinctly Greenfield vibe.

Co-working spaces — hives of business where members share office space — have taken root in many Western Mass. communities over the past several years, for a number of reasons, from the efficiency of sharing resources to opportunities to network and be inspired by other professionals. In the past year and a half, two have cropped up a block apart in downtown Greenfield, with different types of clientele but the same goal: to help enterprises develop and grow, and have fun doing it.

The way people work has changed dramatically since the last century, Jeremy Goldsher says — and so has where people work.

“There are so many intelligent people doing incredible things here, and they don’t feel like they have to go to Boston or New York or Hartford or wherever to flourish,” said Goldsher, who launched Greenspace CoWork about 18 months ago with business partner Jeff Sauser. “No, you don’t have to do that anymore. You can do it from locations all over the place.”

But why not just work from home, as so many companies encourage their employees to do? To Goldsher — and others who believe in the value of co-working spaces — it’s about culture, energy, and especially connection.

“In the great rush to connect people with technology, we’ve forgotten one of the most important things that connects people, and that’s human interaction,” he told BusinessWest. “I think we get a lot of really brilliant people who move out here to get away from the cities and raise families, but there’s not a lot of opportunities to interact, congregate, and meet their neighbors.”

That’s why more people are taking advantage of the co-work model. In some cases, he said, they’ve moved to Greenfield specifically because co-working was an option.

“In the great rush to connect people with technology, we’ve forgotten one of the most important things that connects people, and that’s human interaction.”

“We offer the same amenities you’d get in New York or Boston. But you can do it in a rural setting where you can leave work, go down to the river, swim, come back, jump back on your computer, and Skype with someone in Dubai. We have people here whose companies are spread out all over the country or all over the world, yet they can congregate in the kitchenette, talk over coffee, talk about each other’s kids, and maybe grab a beer after work. It’s just wonderful to see these people enrich their own lives.”

A block away in downtown Greenfield, Pat King, executive director of Another Castle, told BusinessWest that he and Paul Hake, CEO of HitPoint Studios, opened their co-working space, which caters to video-game developers and designers, a little over a year ago after the pair recognized its potential.

Pat King says Another Castle

Pat King says Another Castle helps bring together the region’s large and far-flung game-design community through a number of programs.

King worked with Hake for many years, both with HitPoint and its precedessor, Paul Hake Productions, before striking out on his own about four years ago. During that time, he started a group called Pioneer Valley Game Developers, a networking community that now boasts about 300 members, many of whom gather for monthly meetups and events.

King started talking with Hake about the potential of a co-working space specifically geared for this crowd, especially considering that many are small and solo outfits that could benefit from the networking and shared resources Another Castle offers.

“About two years ago, I realized we have such a vibrant community, and a close community that’s really active and wants to get to know each other, so it made sense to look for a space,” King explained. “We’d looked at other models in other cities that have done similar co-working spaces for video-game developers. We had enough people that expressed interest, and thankfully Paul was also interested in moving to a new location and wanted to go in with me on a co-working space for game developers.”

Michael Crigler found, in Greenspace CoWork, an ideal spot for his digital marketing agency, Bueno Social.

Michael Crigler found, in Greenspace CoWork, an ideal spot for his digital marketing agency, Bueno Social.

With just four members now — HitPoint is the anchor tenant, with about 12 employees — Another Castle has plenty of room to grow, despite the specific challenges of this niche-specific model (more on that later). But King, like Goldsher, is excited about the way the co-working environment encourages professionals to come together in the heart of Greenfield, rather than working alone.

Back to Life

Four years ago, Goldsher’s family bought the four-story building on the corner of Main Street and Court Square out of bankruptcy and rebranded it the Hawks & Reed building, after a former clothing store on Main Street. They have since brought new life — and many more events — to the arts and music space on the first floor, while Goldsher and Sauser worked to develop Greenspace CoWork on the upper floors.

The two met at a Franklin County Community Development Corp. event and were soon talking about the co-work concept, which Goldsher had seen flourishing while living in New York City.

“I was seeing co-working really starting to take off there, and it was something I wanted to see here. This is the wave of the future in workspaces for my generation, to address the modern needs of workers wherever they are,” said Goldsher, noting that the space has been designed with a Franklin County aesthetic in mind, with original wood floors, reclaimed materials, and greenery. “We didn’t want to throw a bunch of stuff into a space and say ‘done.’ It’s not overproduced, and it reflects Greenfield.”

His biggest challenge right now is building out more space in a building that could eventually house about 150 workers — although, like all co-work spaces, they’re typically not there all at once. About 30 individuals and companies call Greenspace home right now. Open 24/7, the facility has two secured entrances, and one of its conference rooms has access directly from the street without having to walk through the rest of the co-working space, which appeals to lawyers who meet with clients there.

Michael Crigler, who heads up digital marketing agency Bueno Social, is one of the original Greenspace clients, and is currently working with Goldsher to create a new logo and branding and redo its website.

“We had our own office down the street,” Crigler said. “It was nice, but my business partner and I were on the road a lot, meeting new clients, and we have a pretty big remote workforce; employees can work from anywhere. When just one or two people were in that big office, it felt empty, and didn’t feel like there was a lot going on, and we wanted to be more part of a community, where we can collaborate with people.”

When he heard about Greenspace, he was immediately intrigued.

“That week, I was like, ‘we’re going to get rid of our office and move in here.’ So far, our employees love it,” he noted. “I’ve never felt a sense of ease like I feel working here. Jeremy’s vision, and the way he’s built out the space, are warm and inviting, and the people it attracts are very cool. I’m really excited about the next few years in Greenfield.”

“About two years ago, I realized we have such a vibrant community, and a close community that’s really active and wants to get to know each other, so it made sense to look for a space.”

Members are attracted to co-working for a number of reasons, Goldsher said, among them lower prices than traditional office rent, flexible leases, and shared resources ranging from a printer, projector, conference rooms, and wi-fi to a kitchen with free tea and coffee.

Members range from stay-at-home fathers who show up in the wee hours to get some work done in a professional setting to Australis Aquaculture, an international fish-farming operation headquartered in Vietnam. When its fish farm in Turners Falls was shuttered and the farming operations consolidated overseas, the company needed a place to house eight employees who focus on sales and distribution to large food retailers in the U.S.

“I think it’s a great concept,” said Jackie Galvis, an administrative, financial, and human-resources assistant with Australis. “And it’s cool because this is a historic building.”

Goldsher said it was beyond his expectations to have a company of that size as a member, but at the same time, it makes sense.

“They were downsizing their space but wanted to upgrade in the amenities and the culture,” he noted. “We’re just lucky to have people from the community believe in what we’re building here and invest in our dream. You hear these stories about the synergy that happens in a co-working space, but it’s actually happening.”

Game On

It’s happening at Another Castle as well, though perhaps at a different pace. Besides the 10 HitPoint staffers who work there, Vermont Digital Arts utilizes the space, while the rest of the current members include a 3D artist, a software engineer, and an electrical engineer.

Greenspace CoWork’s private, soundproof phone booths

Greenspace CoWork’s private, soundproof phone booths were designed and built in house.

“It’s a slightly different beast than a general co-working space,” King said, noting that only about half the game developers and designers in the region are making money in this field, making it difficult to afford even the reasonable rates co-work spaces charge.

“I’ve seen numerous success stories of people who have been able to get work through the community, either from HitPoint or word of mouth,” he noted. “So people are definitely interested, but it can be a challenge making pricing work because it’s a hobbyist community. People want to support the space but can’t necessarily join.”

That’s why he and Hake are exploring the possibility of adding incubator space at even lower cost, to attract more startups who might benefit from the synergies, guidance, and networking opportunities available, as well as the 24/7 access and shared resources — not just the wi-fi, conference rooms, and flexible membership plans common to most co-working spaces, but a wide array of cutting-edge computer hardware to be used for testing, playing, or just for being productive.

And the events, too. Another Castle often serves as a community space for events like last month’s Global Game Jam, which drew about 50 participants who designed games for a frenzied 48 hours, producing 15 games by the end of the weekend.

“That was amazing to see a packed space, all people working on different projects,” King said. “We also host monthly educational events and a few workshops here, and we’ve led a couple at GCC and other institutions.”

Greenspace CoWork hosts community meetings as well, Goldsher said, just another way he hopes the venture connects professionals to the city and region around them.

“We want our members to be able to accomplish what they would in a corporate setting, but we also want them to go out into the community and enjoy all the resources and the natural beauty here,” he told BusinessWest, noting that he dreamed of something resembling a co-working environment when he was a kid, even though he had no idea they actually existed, or what they were called.

“This is just a child bringing his dream to life,” he said. “I’ve created a comfortable space that’s open 24/7, and anyone is welcome to join.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Franklin County

Connecting Past and Present

Philip Zea says Historic Deerfield paints an often-surprising picture

Philip Zea says Historic Deerfield paints an often-surprising picture of a large swath of the region’s cultural history.

It’s a grand reopening more than 200 years in the making.

Specifically, it’s a house in Deerfield, built in 1795, that operated as a tavern for roughly a decade.

“We know a lot about it, and because most Americans today travel, we thought it would be great to show the public how people back then lived, not when they were at home, but when they were out and about,” said Philip Zea, president of Historic Deerfield, the living-history museum that comprises more than 50 buildings on or near sleepy Old Main Street.

“Believe it or not, our tranquil street here, north and south, back in the day, was the equivalent of Interstate 91,” Zea went on, adding that Old Albany Road connected with the 18th-century equivalent of the Mass Pike, making Deerfield a sort of crossroads of New England, frequented not only by locals, but by travelers.

Refurbishing that tavern — it will open later this year — is the latest capital project undertaken at Historic Deerfield to expand the scope of the history the museum aims to convey across its 110 acres, he told BusinessWest. “We want to tell that story, what the country was like when it was on the move — not today, but in the 1790s and a little bit later.”

Upstairs from the tavern is a big assembly room that quickly became the largest public space in town, so the tavern keeper drew income from renting that space, for court proceedings, auctions, and balls. Deerfield Academy was founded in that room in 1797.

Zea can share countless historical details like that one in this complex that includes 28 houses built in the 1700s and another 14 that predate 1850. “The skyline is intact, if you will.”

“When people feel the need to know more about the past, we need to be more inventive about how we share it.”

So is business at Historic Deerfield, which opened to the public 71 years ago and has continued to evolve its programs and exhibitions to keep visitors returning and, crucially, keep attracting new generations at a time when it’s not always easy to turn young people on to history.

Knock, Knock

That ‘71 years’ may be an official statistic, as Historic Deerfield was indeed begun in 1947, and its first museum house, the Ashley House (built in 1733), opened its doors to visitors in 1948.

Yet, the street was a sort of unofficial museum well before that. The local library has correspondence, from the 1830s, from two Mount Holyoke College students who wanted to head north and visit Deerfield’s houses, which even then were old. One homeowner charged them a dime to come in and see the house. “That’s the business of history,” Zea laughed.

And it’s often significant history, he went on. During the early Colonial wars, Deerfield was the northwestern point of English settlements in the region, so while people lived and farmed there, it was also a military outpost. Around the time of the American Revolution, the town was an organizational point for troops moving north and west. The week before Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen took Fort Ticonderoga in 1775, Arnold was in Deerfield, buying beef for the army. “That’s real history,” Zea said. “It happened right here.”

For decades, families, school groups, and others have trekked to Deerfield for both its palpable history and its reflection of a quintessential new England village, Zea said. “If someone visits New England, they might go to Fenway Park, or get a lobster in Maine, but if they want a feel for what it was really like long ago, they’ll come here.”

That’s true of Old Sturbridge Village as well, but he doesn’t believe Historic Deerfield is really in competition with that complex, because often visitors want to check out both sites. We’re quite different. They’re interpreting 1830s New England life; it’s all about process and how people made their livings. Rather than focusing on a specific time, we’re one-stop shopping if you want to look at history from the 1770s, or even earlier, to today. If you want to be in a place and feel the expanse of history, this is the place you want to come.”

To keep visitors returning, the museum — which boasts 61 full-time and 115 part-time employees — needs to make it relevant, and that’s not always easy.

“The apex of this kind of museum in America was back around the Bicentennial. That’s when the biggest crowds went to places like this. That was about patriotism, about the roots of the country, the roots of American democracy,” he explained.

“That’s still important,” he went on, “but when people feel the need to know more about the past, we need to be more inventive about how we share it. It’s not always political history; it’s not always military history. What we do here is more about the history of culture in the Connecticut River Valley and the roots of small-town America in a place like Deerfield.”

Even the colors of the houses tell a story. Today, paint colors cost pretty much the same, but back in the 1700s, blue pigment was derived from cobalt, which was expensive. “So, if you could paint your whole house blue, it was like parking a fancy car in the driveway.”

Maintaining the condition of the museum houses and other structures — and expanding the activities within them — accounts for some of Historic Deerfield’s $7.7 million annual budget, bolstered partly by a $49 million endowment and the 1,317-member Friends of Historic Deerfield, which supports the museum through annual gifts from individual and corporate donors.

“We’re finding ways to move forward on the programmatic front, as well as historic preservation,” Zea noted. “One of our problems is, we’ve got a pretty good-sized physical plant, a lot of which is old, by the nature of the place, so historic preservation is important for us; it’s part of our mission and part of our responsibility that requires a fair amount of cash to keep going.”

The other key is to expand the audience because, obviously, the more people who come, the better — both for the museum and the region at large.

“Deerfield’s a little different from other museums in that, while we charge admission to our buildings, it’s a gateless museum. You can come to Old Deerfield, walk around, have a great time, and I don’t get into your wallet,” said Zea, who used to work at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, which operates under a similar structure on a larger scale. “But visitors, even visitors we really can’t count, are important not only to us, but to the regional economy, because we draw a lot of people to Franklin County.”

Lens to History

To keep drawing them, Historic Deerfield continues to expand both its programs and the physical space in which to present them. In the latter case, the organization recently purchased the home of 19th-century artist James Wells, built during the 1760s and known as Elmstead, to expand public programming and storage.

As for those programs, one ongoing lecture series, “Native Voices: Rediscovering American Histories,” which began with a well-attended event in January and continuing on Feb. 24 and March 24, aims to reframe the experience and perspectives of indigenous peoples into broader American narratives.

Then, on April 13 — the day that kicks off daily operations after the weekends-only winter schedule — Historic Deerfield will host its annual Patriots’ Day festivities, featuring a military re-enactment group from Connecticut and discussions about the impact of the Revolution on the people of Deerfield.

All of it, said Laurie Nivison, the museum’s director of Marketing, is intended to make history relevant to those who want to learn about it.

“With today’s audience, it’s telling the story and encouraging people to think about how it relates to their life and how their life might connect to one of the families who lived in the houses here,” she told BusinessWest. “When we bring people to come [give presentations] here, we want them to make that connection as well.”

Those connections can be powerful, Zea said, and visitors interact with the history in different ways. “Part of what a place like this peddles is nostalgia — what was it like then, or imagining how they did this and that. So, a big part of our constituency doesn’t want anything to change because that’s the nature of nostalgia.

“But then, there’s an equal part of our constituency that wants to learn more, learn different things, look at Deerfield in different ways,” he went on. “And there are so many ways to do that here because, while Historic Deerfield is a great institution, Old Deerfield is a great place in history. And we’re a sort of lens to that.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Franklin County

Living the Dream

Bob Pura

Seen here with two of many works of art created by GCC students and faculty, Bob Pura says he knew early on that he wanted to make the community-college mission his career.

Bob Pura couldn’t help but laugh and shake his head as he talked about it. And that’s because the whole idea of it was so, well, foreign to him — in every way.

He and his wife will be flying into Edinburgh, Scotland in July to visit their daughter, who’s studying there. “And we bought one-way tickets,” he said, uttering those last three words slowly for emphasis and in a voice that conveyed as much as three exclamation points.

“We might stay a week, we might stay two … we don’t know,” said Pura, president of Greenfield Community College (GCC) since 2000, adding that this is one of the many perks of a retirement that will start in two months — and a radical departure from a 40-year career marked by crammed calendars, countless appointments, and rigid schedules.

And something else as well — extreme devotion to the community-college mission.

In fact, you might say Pura bought the equivalent of a one-way ticket to a career in the community-college realm back in 1980 when he came to the Bay State and took a job on the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges.

By the time he was working toward his doctorate in educational administration at the University of Texas in Austin a dozen years later (a setting chosen specifically because of its commitment to work in the community-college domain) he was, as they say at that school, hooked.

“I knew by then that this is what I wanted to do for the rest of my career — the community-college mission,” he told BusinessWest. “That mission about opening your doors to everyone and holding our high standards is a noble mission, and people who are part of the community-college movement feel a special passion for social and economic mobility.

“It’s a bit of a cliché, but it still brings great meaning to many of us —that American dream where someone can start without much of a background and still have an opportunity to create a better life for themselves and their families,” he went on. “It’s part of what motivates us every day.”

Pura said his passion for the community-college mission stems in large part from the fact that he is a product of that system. In fact, he calls himself the “classic community-college poster child of the Baby Boom age.”

“My father was an immigrant; he never graduated from high school — worked in a deli his whole life,” Pura told BusinessWest, adding that he was the first in his family to attend college — Miami Dade Community College in Miami, to be more specific.

It was, in large part, the only door open to him at the time, he went on, and once through it, he created a host of career options and paths to follow.

It started by going through that door, he said, adding that, for millions of people across the country, it’s the same today. But aside from opening doors for students, community colleges play a huge role in their respective communities, he said, listing everything from workforce-development initiatives to simply being one of the area’s largest employers. And in Franklin County, it goes well beyond that, to a realm that couldn’t be appreciated anywhere else in the state.

Indeed, as he talked with BusinessWest during spring break, Pura, asked about a parking lot half-full of cars, replied that students and other members of the community were on campus simply because they can’t get Internet access at home.

“So much of our West County still doesn’t have service,” he said matter-of-factly, referring to communities such as Heath, Rowe, and Conway. “You can’t get connectivity up there, so people come here more. It’s a serious challenge to the economic and social development of the area; it’s hard to get young families to move here if they can’t have high-speed Internet access.”

“Community colleges have a most significant impact on the communities they serve,” he explained while putting that aforementioned mission, and his career, into some proper perspective. “A long time ago, a college friend of mine said that if Amherst or Williams College were to close, those students would find somewhere else to go. If a community college were to close…”

He didn’t give a full answer to that question because he didn’t have to. And in retrospect, he’s spent his whole career reminding people of the answer.

For this edition and its focus on Franklin County, BusinessWest talked at length with Pura as he winds down that career. There were many talking points, including GCC and its ever-widening role, the community-college mission, and, yes, that one-way ticket he bought. Actually, both of them.

Class Act

The unknown student might have been born almost 30 years after they broke up, but he or she obviously knows the Beatles and their song lyrics.

“Help! I need somebody,” it said on one side of the card positioned on a stand sitting on a table in GCC’s Math Studio, with “Help! Not just anybody” on the other side.

That message was eventually seen by one of the math professors at GCC — not just anybody — and help was administered, said Pura, adding that this was just the scenario that was envisioned when this studio (actually the second such facility at the college) was created several years ago.

“This is a unique learning environment,” said Pura as he stopped at the studio during an extensive tour of GCC’s facilities, noting that the studio model, envisioned by the math faculty, creates a learning area surrounded by faculty offices.

the learning studios at GCC

Bob Pura says the learning studios at GCC are symbolic of broader efforts at the institution to build community and come together to solve problems.

“Those faculty members said, ‘we want to have our math students with us, with our offices right around that room, so we can check in on them,’” he explained. “They embraced their commitment to having students close to them; the students didn’t have to make appointments or wait two weeks — the faculty were right there. And then the Business Department said, ‘hey, we want one of those,’ and then the sciences, and on it went.”

The college now has studios all throughout the campus, said Pura, adding that these facilities have become symbols of the community-building work that has more or less defined his administration at GCC (more on that later).

First, Pura likes to tell the story about how a group of students were enjoying their time at the Math Studio so much, they didn’t want to leave — and didn’t — prompting security to call the president’s office and request instructions on what to do.

“I got the call at 5 o’clock on a Friday night — and no president wants to get a call from security at 5 o’clock on Friday night,” he recalled. “They said students in the studio don’t want to leave; they have a math test on Monday, and they just ordered a pizza. I said, ‘that’s exactly the kind of problem we want.’”

Pura has a large collection of stories amassed from more than four decades of work in higher education, all of it in Massachusetts.

But our story, as noted earlier, begins in Florida. After graduating from Miami Dade Community College, he transferred to the University of South Florida in Tampa, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1973. Four years later, he would add a master’s in human resources administration at St. Thomas University in Miami.

As he contemplated where to pursue a career in higher education, he applied some logic to the process.

“If you’re in theater, you go to Broadway; if you’re in movies, you go to Hollywood,” he explained. “If you want to be in higher ed, you go to Massachusetts.”

He did, starting in 1978 at the Massachusetts Board of Regional Community Colleges as program coordinator of something called Title XX. Based in Boston, he worked with all 15 community colleges. Later, he joined one of them, Massasoit Community College in Brockton, as chair of the Division of Career Studies, and over the next 14 years, he worked his way up to chair of the Health and Human Services Division and then assistant dean of Academic Affairs.

In the summer of 1995, he became dean of Academic Affairs at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield and served in that capacity for five years, until he was urged to apply for the position of interim president at GCC. He did, and he prevailed in that search and later earned the job on a permanent basis.

Over the past 18 years, he’s presided over a number of impressive changes to the campus infrastructure, while broadening its already considerable role within the community.

A major expansion of the core building roughly a decade ago, which includes a new dining commons, a new library, considerably more glass (and, therefore, natural light), and works of art created by students and faculty on every wall (the school is renowned for its art programs), is a very visible transformation, he said.

But he put things in perspective, while also bringing the discussion back to where he likes it — the community-college mission — by saying, “we finally have a building that matches the excellence of our faculty and staff.

“The values of the institution are found in the design of the building,” he went on. “We had great architects to work with, and they listened, but it was all about the values of the institution.”

School of Thought

And this brings Pura back to those studios he mentioned and the community mindset they symbolize.

“There’s a clarity of focus on relationships and community here,” he explained, referring to the studios but also the college as a whole. “And when relationships are powerful and community is powerful and people know they belong somewhere, then learning is powerful.

“The transformative nature of higher education is at its best in that environment,” he went on. “And we’ve been able to crystalize that here; it’s always been part of the core, but we were able to really make it an explicit part of our commitment.”

Continuing with that theme of the studio as a microcosm of what goes on at GCC, he said students in them work together in teams, helping each other work through problems.

“They realize they’re not alone in their learning,” he explained. “And so, when you think about that, it reinforces what will happen when they leave the higher-ed environment; they’re going to go into a work environment where they’re going to work with others in teams and solve problems.”

The progress GCC has made in this regard — in building community and forging relationships within the campus and across the region it serves — bodes well for the school and the president who will succeed him, said Pura. But there are some considerable challenges ahead — for that school, all the community colleges, and public higher education itself, he went on.

Most of these challenges involve resources, he continued, adding that all public schools suffer as the state’s commitment to public higher education wanes, but especially the smaller ones like GCC.

“The struggle is to maintain the kinds of services that are needed for each student,” he explained. “Right now, the strength of the college is that we still have the capacity — and the passion — to form-fit education around each individual; we don’t believe that one size fits all.

“Somewhere along the line I heard that getting an education at GCC is like getting a suit from a tailor and not one off the rack, and I think that’s a special privilege that comes from a small school,” he went on, adding that maintaining this type of custom-tailored education will become ever more challenging in the future, especially as the state continues to shift the cost of public education to students and their families.

As for community colleges as a whole and that mission he embraced 40 years ago, Pura said these institutions have certainly found their place in higher education today. The assignment moving forward is to build on the momentum that has built and make community colleges an attractive option not only to first-generation college students, but second- and third-generation students as well, especially as the cost of higher education continues to soar.

To get his point across, he went back 45 years to when he was a community-college student, a situation that gave him an opportunity to “explore,” as he put it, while trying to chart a path.

“When you’re paying $70,000 a year for a bachelor’s degree, it’s hard to explore,” he said. “At $5,000 or $6,000 a year, you have a lot more breathing space.”

Overall, he’s more than content with how community colleges have registered gains when it comes to overall acceptance and their role within society and the economy. And he’s proud to be a part of it.

“We’ve been accepted in the higher-ed landscape,” he told BusinessWest. “We have a seat at table; great gains have been made over the years, and the future of work is going to be honed and shaped by good conversations at community colleges in consult with the employers in their communities.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said in conclusion. “But there’s more work to be done, because, in many ways, the associate’s degree has become the new entry level into society and work; 12 years and a high school is not enough to develop the kinds of skills needed to succeed given the way society has changed and technology has changed.”

Plane Speaking

As he was wrapping up his tour, Pura noted that, while he has only a few months left at the helm at GCC, his talk with BusinessWest amounted to his first real exercise in reflection upon his career.

“I haven’t given myself the opportunity to look back much — there’s still too much to look forward to,” he said. “But it’s been a privilege to be part of that mission — a real privilege.”

With that, he noted that, despite their differences in education and career paths, he shares something very important with his father — love for their respective chosen fields.

“I have a picture of my dad — one picture of him on our wall,” he said. “It’s a picture of him at work with five salamis in his arms behind the counter, and the most natural, wonderful smile on his face. The man was happy. So I tell students at orientation that I’m going to look for that smile — that authentic, real, ‘I’m happy, I’ve found what I want to do’ smile.”

Pura’s been wearing one of those for about 40 years now, ever since he bought his first one-way ticket — the one to a career fulfilling the community-college mission.

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

Franklin County

Hive of Activity

Mary Winzer Canning, owner of Follow the Honey.

Mary Winzer Canning, owner of Follow the Honey.

The movement toward innovation centers and collaborative maker spaces might be hot right now across Western Mass., but the Orange Innovation Center was on the cutting edge when it opened 20 years ago in this small Franklin County town. Under its current ownership, the complex has doubled its tenant roster over the past five years, in turn boosting perhaps its greatest calling card — the built-in support of a business community invested in seeing each other succeed.

Mary Winzer Canning characterizes her business, Follow the Honey, as a “human-rights honey company” that creates products with honey sourced from beekeepers and small-batch producers around the world. So she knows a little something about bees — and their habitats.

“No bee in isolation is effective because it operates as a superorganism,” she explained. “It’s about what’s best for the whole.”

The same can be said for the Orange Innovation Center (OIC) and the 48 businesses that call the complex — nestled in the woods in this Franklin County town of 4,500 residents — home.

“It’s a hive,” Winzer Canning said. “There’s a sense of egalitarianism here, where everyone is really rolling together. We want this to be a place where people are not in their silos. It’s the whole idea of having an open hive where everyone can learn from each other and help each other. It’s about giving; it’s about problem solving.”

And it’s about community, tenants repeatedly pointed out when BusinessWest spent the better part of a morning at the complex recently.

“I love that fact that I get to pamper the people with businesses here in the community, just building those bonds and really cross-advertising each other,” said Danalynn Stockwood, who owns the Fun Fancy Nails salon, just a quick walk down the hall from other personal-care businesses.

“I tell my customers, ‘hey, if you need your hair done or colored, we have a little salon right around the corner, and if you need a facial or waxing, go down the hall,’ and it’s just nice to have that support amongst each other,” she said. “We’re always saying, ‘hey, have you tried the Valley Farm Café?’ or ‘have you tried the gym?’ and ‘have you seen the honey?’ It’s just such a great family.”

Then-building owner Noel Vincent launched the Orange Innovation Center as a mixed-use destination 20 years ago, but occupancy really began to soar under its current owner, Jack Dunphy, who bought the complex in 2013 and has increased its tenant roster from 26 to 48.

“The mill owners had just left these abandoned buildings in the post-industrial era, so Noel started converting it into offices and multi-purpose suites,” said Brianna Drohen, the center’s development director. “He was actually a visionary; this is one of the first innovation centers in the state, if not the country.”

When Dunphy, who also owns Dunphy Real Estate, purchased the property, about 75,000 of its 128,000 square feet were rented, and he saw plenty of potential in the rest — but, more than that, an investment he could truly enjoy.

Brianna Drohen and Jack Dunphy

Brianna Drohen and Jack Dunphy have seen tenancy surge to nearly 50 businesses at the Orange Innovation Center.

“I met some of the tenants and saw a real sparkle in their eye and realized this could be fun,” he recalled. “And if you can do something fun and maybe make a little money along the way, that’s an exciting business venture — and it has been.”

The tenants, several of whom were enthusiastic about speaking with BusinessWest, range from a clinical psychologist to a photographer; from a career-services center to the Literacy Project, and even the Center for Human Development, which houses a branch on the ground floor.

“The kinds of businesses we concentrate on tend to be in the service industries, so they’re bringing in foot traffic — a brewery, a nail salon, a hair salon, a gym, a massage therapist, and there are also lot of professional offices. There’s a really healthy mix of businesses. And we’re strategic about who we let in here,” Drohen said, noting that she and Dunphy don’t allow competing businesses unless an existing tenant doesn’t mind.

“It’s about revenue,” she went on, “but at the end of the day, it’s more about growing this business community and having all the businesses be able to work with each other and sustain each other and support each other in any way they can.”

They certainly do, and in many ways, as we were quick to discover.

Food for Thought

Matt Buzzell has been in the food-service industry for almost a quarter-century, working in establishments in New York, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. He said he wouldn’t have recognized the potential of the OIC, where he opened Valley Farm Café in July, just by looking at the understated old mill.

“Driving by, you have no idea what’s going on. But this place has a heartbeat — there’s a pulse when you walk in the doors and look around and see these businesses … it’s very energizing.”

He was introduced to the center by Jay Sullivan and Sean Nolan, the proprietors of Honest Weight Artisan Beer, who gave him their spent grain to feed the hogs on his nearby farm. “I found out through them that this opportunity was going to come up — the previous café owner didn’t want to do it anymore — so, long story short, I got together with Bri, had a meeting, and proposed a business plan.”

It turned out to be a successful one; the enterprise — which serves up salads, sandwiches, Tex-Mex fare, smoothies, and more, with ingredients sourced from local farms — draws a long line during the lunch rush, and virtually everyone who spoke with BusinessWest mentioned the café, not just for the food, but for its role as a nexus for making connections and hanging out with other business owners.

“I believe in the economic-development renaissance going on in the area, and that’s what was attractive about coming here,” Buzzell said. “I’m very thankful for the reception I’ve received from the tenants, the sense of community — the support from them is very humbling.”

Carly Mongeau has worked in the hair-salon business all her professional life, mostly in the Worcester and Marlborough areas, but once she settled in Petersham, she fell in love with the Franklin County culture. She stumbled upon the Orange Innovation Center two years ago, and the timing wasn’t right, but when she took a second look last year, she couldn’t stop thinking about the potential. One of the newer tenants, she opened Salon Nouve in January.

“It’s a great opportunity for someone who’s starting a new business to have space versus having to find a whole building — it’s a little more affordable, and a great way to get started,” she explained.

That’s partly because the tenants, especially those in similar fields, not only patronize each other, but also create a one-stop shop of sorts, which they all benefit from.

“Around the corner is a nail salon and a skin-care business, so we’re a good trio,” Mongeau explained, noting that her last client that day, a business owner in Athol, had told her she couldn’t regularly get her nails and hair done if she didn’t have a place to schedule everything at once.

Meanwhile, she added, a handful of women business owners at the OIC meet regularly for lunch. “We all brainstorm and bounce ideas off each other. We’re all different businesses, but we all have common ground in one way or another.”

She also appreciates the way different business owners talk each other up to customers.

“I recommend people to Matt all the time, and Matt recommends people to me. They smell the food as they’re walking up and say, ‘that smells amazing,’ and I say, ‘you have to go check out Matt.’ Or, ‘now that you’re all beautiful, you’ll have to go stop and get a drink at Honest Weight.’ It’s a great one-stop shop, and that’s what most of my clients love — that they can come here and get everything taken care of in a very accessible way.”

Matt Buzzell has seen Valley Farm Café become a hub of sorts

Matt Buzzell has seen Valley Farm Café become a hub of sorts at the OIC, where small-business owners make connections over breakfast or lunch.

Phil Simon is one of the veteran tenants at the OIC, having headquartered his music booking and publicity company, Simon Says Booking, there for a dozen years. Meanwhile, his wife, Angel Simon, and her mother, Lynn England, operate Old 78 Clothing — which makes upcycled and refashioned music-festival wear — elsewhere in the building.

Simon, who previously lived in Oregon, ran his company — which represents about 20 bands doing up to 1,500 shows a year, in addition to representing venues and festivals — from Boston and then Greenfield before moving to Warwick and finding ideal office space in Orange.

“I was an early adopter; it was a matter of convenience for me,” he said, adding that he appreciates the balance between a quiet workspace and the ability to chat with other tenants when he wants to.

“Even though we have our privacy in our office, I could walk down and get something in the café, there’s a gym here, and we can interact with a variety of other local businesses and talk about the things we’re doing. We don’t have to be locked in our box all day long.”

Those neighbors aren’t just friends and sounding boards, however; they’re also resources. For example, he was able to locate a tow-behind generator, to be used at an event this summer, through another OIC tenant. “It’s not surprising; there’s quite a network going on here. We get people knocking on the door all the time.”

Launching an Idea

Like Simon, Alec MacLeod has been at the OIC for a long time; in fact, he was one of Vincent’s earliest tenants, running a wetlands and watershed consultancy. Today, he’s teaming up with Drohen on a project to turn 10,000 square feet in a currently unusable building in the complex into LaunchSpace, a ‘community workshop’ that will provide resources, equipment, training, and support to a broad spectrum of people.

To explain it, MacLeod broke down the endeavor into three tiers. First is a community-based set of shops with three rooms: an arts room for paper arts, fabric arts, pottery, etching, glass blowing, and photography; a large room entirely devoted to robotics and information technology; and a third room divided between metalworking and woodworking.

The second tier is an emphasis on workforce development and education, aimed at improving the employability and salary of members who may, for instance, learn how to operate CNC (computer numeric control) machinery, an important skill in manufacturing. MacLeod has reached out to both local manufacturers about what their workforce needs are, and the region’s colleges and universities about developing courses for the space.

The third tier is entrepreneurial support, he added. “If you would like to be a cabinetmaker or some other type of woodworker, for instance, but you don’t have $30,000 or the room at your own place to set up your own shop, you can buy an entrepreneurial membership here, month to month, and come use our equipment.”

He noted that members will also access storage, marketing services, help with writing a business plan, and the services of board members including two local credit-union representatives and the head of the North Quabbin Chamber of Commerce. As small businesses develop, they may incubate into spaces at the OIC or, better yet, need more space out in the community.

Carly Mongeau, who loves the Franklin County lifestyle

Carly Mongeau, who loves the Franklin County lifestyle, found in the OIC an ideal spot to grow Salon Nouve.

“This is economic development at the most basic,” MacLeod said. “This is grass-roots, town-scale economic development without needing to invite Apple to build a big factory.”

Drohen noted that Jay Ash, the state’s secretary of Housing and Economic Development, supported a recent $250,000 MassDevelopment Collaborative Workspace Initiative grant to improve the LaunchSpace site, because Ash is a believer in what’s happening in this corner of Franklin County.

“He sees how one business owner, Jack, can host all these businesses, and the state sees this whole collaborative workspace as the new way of doing business. This is where people can grow and can incubate and collaborate.”

Dunphy envisions LaunchSpace as the sort of environment where a middle-schooler might work alongside an 80-year old on woodworking equipment. “There will be interaction that normally doesn’t happen in a community, where different people who wouldn’t otherwise associate with each other are suddenly working together on a project.”

That also, in a way, describes the entire ecosystem at the Innovation Center.

“We’re all here earning our own livings,” MacLeod said, “but when we meet in the café, we have conversations, and we talk about what’s going on — ‘how is your business going? How are you doing? What are the hard parts?’ — and we help each other out. It’s a business community, and it really does foster innovation.”

Bee Ambitious

In a sense, innovation has been happening at the OIC since it housed Minute Tapioca in the early days of the 20th century. It was a multi-use complex in the middle of the century, hosting a sewing company, a shoemaker, and a retail store, among other businesses, before the Bedroom Company, a furniture manufacturer, set up shop in the 1960s.

Today, it’s back to multi-use, but the original tapioca vat is still in the basement, too expensive to remove. On the roof is a 93-kilowatt solar array, with plans to install another on the building that will house LaunchSpace.

That combination of old and new, historic and cutting-edge, isn’t unlike what Adam Suzor brings to the OIC, running two separate businesses: his own information-technology outfit, Suzor Enterprises, LLC — he also maintains the Innovation Center’s Internet service — and a fitness center, where he has incorporated digital technology into the equipment and is gratified when senior citizens join Snapchat to check out the gym’s activities there.

Some business relationships, however, are strictly old-fashioned, such as the bartering that goes on; for example, the resident photographer recently paid for massage services with a photo session.

Meanwhile, Dunphy is emphasizing the complex’s natural surroundings, planning a shuttle service for people who want to kayak or canoe on Millers River, right outside the OIC’s back door. A system of hiking and bike trails, stretching to New Hampshire, is equally accessible.

“We’re trying to offer more amenities to encourage people to come here,” he said. “We put a shower in just for that reason — if you take a bike ride or go to the gym, and then have to go to a meeting.”

In short, it’s a place to enjoy being at work, grow a business, and, in many cases, outgrow the space and have to find other digs, as North Quabbin Food Co-op, which incubated at the Innovation Center, did when it changed its name to Quabbin Harvest and moved into a building in downtown Orange, a short walk up the road.

Stockwood, on the other hand, who lives in Athol and used to rent a booth at a nail salon in Fitchburg before finding the OIC, believes she’ll thrive there for the foreseeable future.

“I absolutely love being here. It’s a cozy atmosphere for my clients,” she said, adding that she maintains a ‘party room’ one door down, where girls and women can get together for baby showers, birthday parties, or other events.

“Everyone gets to paint their nails and do some artwork and have some fun,” she said, adding that “this is my haven. My 11-year-old says, ‘are you going up to your castle?’ I call it my getaway, my quiet space, and it’s just nice to have.”

Winzer Canning feels that way, too, knowing she can throw open her doors any time to make her quiet space a little more social. She operated a yoga studio at the OIC a decade ago and was happy to return to build her bee-based business.

“There’s definitely beauty in numbers; it builds morale. Just go into the hallway — it’s like Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. There’s Matt, smoking his pork out back. There’s Shawn and Jay doing things with their hops, and there’s Brianna talking with the film crew down the hall. She’s the queen bee,” she said with a laugh.

“People are doing their own daily grind, but at the same time, you’re not working in isolation,” she went on. “It really is a hive where you can feel connected to something greater.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]