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Riding the Seuss Wave

Kay Simpson says the Seuss museum has fueled a surge in attendance

Kay Simpson says the Seuss museum has fueled a surge in attendance at all the museums at the Quadrangle.

Since it opened nine months ago, the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum has sparked a series of attendance records at the Quadrangle and driven visitorship higher at all five museums at the complex. Meanwhile, it is also inspiring museum officials to consider improvements to those other facilities, and plans are in the formative stage for renovations to the science museum.

Kay Simpson couldn’t recall the specific name of the exhibit; she just remembered that it featured what she called “robotic dinosaurs,” which were a huge hit and are still talked about 14 years after they made their appearance at the Springfield Museums.

Simpson, executive director of that venerable institution, brought up the dinosaurs as she talked, on Presidents Day, about the school vacation week ahead, and whether the Museums, buffeted by the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, which opened last June, could eclipse the record for winter-school-break attendance the dinosaur exhibit helped set.

“It will be really, really hard to top that mark,” she said. “People came from all over the see the dinosaurs. They roared, they moved, it was really exciting. I’m not sure that record will ever be broken.”

Turns out, she was right. The dinosaurs have kept their place atop the charts, due in part to a sunny day in the ’70s that prompted many families to head outdoors, not inside a museum.

But nearly nine months after the Seuss museum opened its doors, just about every other attendance mark has fallen. That includes the one for Columbus Day. And for the day after Thanksgiving. And for Christmas school vacation week.

Overall, the numbers are stunning. When the museum was being pitched to potential funders years ago, it was thought it would provide a 30% overall boost to attendance, said Simpson, noting, by way of comparison, that when the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History opened in 2009, the bump was roughly 12%.

Instead, attendance from June to August soared 300% above the total for that same period in 2016. In fact, attendance last summer equaled the mark for the entire year in 2016. As for the full year in 2017, attendance doubled the mark of the year previous, with only seven months of Seuss.

Looking ahead, well, officials don’t know just what to expect. They believe that, eventually, as more people take in the new museum, the pace of attendance growth will start to diminish, although it will still be significant, especially with MGM Springfield set to open in the fall. When ‘eventually’ will arrive, though, is a huge question mark, as the new museum continues to draw people from not only across the region but throughout the country and around the world.

Indeed, just a few months ago, surveys of attendees revealed that residents of all 50 states had found Springfield and the Seuss museum. The last one in? Neither Simpson nor Karen Fisk, director of Public Relations & Marketing, could recall exactly, but they believe it was one of the Dakotas.

The Seuss museum has brought many things to the Quadrangle — visitors, revenue, publicity, and momentum come to mind quickly. But also something else: the motivation and inspiration to upgrade other facilities at the site.

And officials would like to start with the still-popular, but often-maligned science museum, which has been described as ‘outdated’ and ‘static’ by many, including Baby Boomers who are bringing children and grandchildren to see the same exhibits they saw a half-century ago.

Simpson, while still proud of the facility and the ornate dioramas that in many ways define the facility, acknowledged that it is not as modern and interactive as this era demands, and the museum is putting preliminary plans on the drawing board to address these shortcomings.

“For the most part, people enjoy coming to the science museum; it’s a beloved institution,” she explained. “They just want it to move forward and be more exciting. They want us to bring it into the 21st century.”

The arch in front of the Seuss museum

The arch in front of the Seuss museum has become a sought-after backdrop for photos involving visitors from around the world.

And there are plans now taking shape to do just that, as we’ll see later. They call for taking many of the displays that have been behind glass for the most part and bringing them to life.

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest looks at both the incredible boost that the Seuss museum has provided for the Quadrangle and the plans to build on this momentum.

Rhyme and Reason

Simpson recalls that, when the Museums announced plans to put a colorful arch in front of the Seuss museum (the former history museum built like a stately home from the late 18th century), not everyone was pleased with the concept.

Indeed, there were some who thought the feature clashed architecturally with the classical buildings around it and wouldn’t be a good addition to the historic Quadrangle.

But, while some still think in those terms, this arch is rapidly becoming one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks and sought-after photo backdrops. It’s not in the same league as the St. Louis Arch, that iconic ‘Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas Nevada’ sign, or the Rialto Bridge in Venice, but … it’s getting there.

“People take pictures there … one woman celebrating her 50th birthday came to Springfield and danced under the arch,” said Simpson. “It’s celebratory; Dr. Seuss is very meaningful for a lot of people, and we see that in all those people taking pictures at the arch.”

The popularity of the arch is just one of many signs of the awesome power of Dr. Seuss, the characters he created, and the attachment people have to his work decades after they first read one of his books.

Others include the variety of license plates in the Museums’ parking lots; the huge increase in sales in the gift shop, where a large percentage of items are Seuss-themed; the vast amount of press the Seuss museum has garnered, from outlets ranging from the Denver Post to Architectural Digest to Condé Nast Traveler; and, of course, all those new attendance records.

But maybe the most intriguing, and also entertaining indicator of the author’s gravitational pull is the collection of comments in the guest books visitors are asked to sign.

Some, especially those penned by the very young, are short and simple, like ‘this is the best museum ever,’ in large, bold letters. Others reveal how far people have traveled to take it all in, like ‘so happy this museum has opened for all of us. Much love from Indiana,’ with a little heart drawn as a form of punctuation.

Some, however, take on the style of the author himself. There’s this one:

Can it be
Is it true
To see the Seuss
The way we do?
We traveled by car
All over the land
Only to find
Our fave childhood man
Thank you to the doc
Who made reading fun around the clock.

 

— Abigail & Steve, 6/16/17

And this one:

This place is great!
Not a single thing to hate
It was fun. It was silly
We came all the way from Philly!

— Erica & Jonathan, 6/13/17

Overall, the pages are dominated by prose, little hearts, some attempts to draw Seuss characters, and lots and lots of exclamation points.

And then, there was this entry, which no doubt caught the attention of museum administrators.

Hello, I think that
This is the best museum in all of Springfield. You are the
Best ever seriously
I would also like to say
That the Dr. Seuss museum brings life to this
museum!

From D.

Indeed it does, as was evident during school-vacation week, when, as noted, a near-record number of people took in not only the Seuss museum, but some of the other four museums on the site.

Most need to do that almost out of necessity, because the Seuss museum is relatively small and exceedingly popular, which means many visits to it are timed — an hour or so on average after arrival.

So visitors are using that time to also take in the history museum, the Michele and Donald D’Amour Museum of Fine Arts, the George Walter Smith Art Museum, and the science museum.

So, while the arch is the gateway to the Seuss museum, that facility has become a gateway to the rest of the Quadrangle.

“We have building counts,” said Simpson. “And they show that every single museum got a bump since we opened the Dr. Seuss museum.”

And with this increased visitation comes recognition of the need to put these facilities on something approaching the Seuss museum in terms of earned hearts and exclamation points. Especially the science museum, originally opened in 1899, and for the reasons stated earlier.

“When we opened the Dr. Seuss Memorial Sculpture Garden [in 2004], the most-often-asked question was ‘where is the Dr. Seuss Museum?’” said Simpson, adding that people logically thought there was one, only to learn, to their great disappointment, there wasn’t. “Then, after we announced creation of the Seuss museum, the most-often-asked question was ‘when is it going to open?’

“Now, the question we hear the most is ‘when are you going to renovate the science museum?’” she went on, adding that she doesn’t have a specific answer to the question. But the hope, and expectation, is that soon, those asked that question will be able to say, well, ‘soon.’

The Next Chapter

As she led BusinessWest on a quick walk-through of the science museum, which has been expanded several times since the 1930s, Simpson engaged in some multi-tasking.

She was pointing out, with discernable pride in her voice, the quality, beauty, and historical significance of those aforementioned dioramas, as well as their ability to bring visitors closer to the animals in question than they could ever get at a zoo or in the wild.

At the same time, though, she was explaining that, in this age of interactivity and digital technology, these displays are certainly static.

“To today’s audience, they’re a little dated, which isn’t to say kids don’t love to come look at them,” she explained. “But our intention is to make it more like the Seuss museum, which is a playful, totally immersive, interactive environment.”

With that in mind, the plan — again, still in the formative stage — is to make what’s behind the glass spill into the middle of the room.

“You can sit on a bench that’s a log,” Simpson explained. “You can play with these creatures that you would find out in the woods. The lamps that come down look like birds.”

Elaborating, she said that today, much can be done with dramatic lighting, and the museum plans to use it to create opportunities to take in a woodland scene, for example, in the morning, afternoon, and evening, just by visitor-activated lighting.

Preliminary plans call for making the science museum more modern and interactive.

Preliminary plans call for making the science museum more modern and interactive.

Meanwhile, the renovated displays will be multi-sensory, she went on, adding that visitors will be able to see, hear, touch, and even smell a number of different settings. The carpeting will be patterned to simulate the floor of the jungle, for example.

The second floor of the museum, meanwhile, will likely feature a Spark!Lab, the only one in the Northeastern U.S. Undertaken in conjunction with the Smithsonian (the Museums are an affiliate), Spark!Lab is a hands-on, STEM invention workspace where visitors can learn about and engage in the process of invention, said Simpson, adding that this addition will bring a new create a new level of interaction at the science museum and bring visitors back repeatedly.

“How perfect is that for Springfield, given its long history of innovation and firsts?” Simpson asked rhetorically, adding that the lab will be an exciting addition aimed at generating interest in the sciences through direct involvement.

All this is ambitious, said Simpson, and the museum will need to aggressively raise funds to make it happen. But initial talks with foundations and other funding sources is underway, and momentum created by the Seuss museum is generating enthusiasm to improve other facilities within the Quadrangle.

The plan is to take on the project in phases, she said, with phase one being lighting, carpeting, and renovation of the bathrooms. If all goes according to plan, these changes could be undertaken late this year or early next year.

Phase two would be the “complete immersion” she described earlier, which would come with a much larger price tag.

But there is a need, and now a commitment, to upgrade the facility.

“We’ve made the science museum a priority because people repeatedly ask us when we’ll update that facility; we’ve heard that on TripAdvisor, and we’ve heard that anecdotally,” said Simpson, adding that, while attendance is up at all the museums, again because of Seuss, the greatest surge has been recorded at the science museum, and to drive attendance higher, and bring people back, changes are needed.

The Last Word

As noted earlier, administrators at the Museums don’t know when — or even if — the power surge from the opening of the Seuss museum will start to lose some of its intensity.

They don’t know when or if the Quadrangle will stop setting attendance records for specific dates, weeks, or months between now and June. (Remember, winter break was an outlier due to those robotic dinosaurs and a summer-like Wednesday afternoon).

What they do know is that the Seuss museum has been inspirational, and not only to those from Philly who take to prose and note that the facility is silly. It is also inspiring those at the Quadrangle, who want to raise the bar across the board — and plan to start with the science museum.

If all goes as planned, it will likely earn some hearts and exclamation points itself. And maybe even some of that prose.

Kay Simpson will settle for people young and old saying they had an enriching learning experience.

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

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Pushing the Envelope

Additions at the food court

Additions at the food court comprise just one prong in a broad strategic initiative at Bradley International Airport to improve the customer experience.

Kevin Dillon recalled that, when he first started working at airports in mid-’70s, they were run almost like government facilities.

Translation: there were few, if any, frills, customer service was hardly a priority, and the notion of generating repeat customers didn’t really exist because, for the most part, customers didn’t have any choice but to return.

All that has changed over the ensuing decades, of course. Fliers do have choices, especially in this part of he country, where there are several airports within a two-hour drive. And they make their choices based on a variety of factors, but especially convenience and the quality of their experience (after all, they’re spending at least a few hours there, on average).

So today, every airport wants to be the airport of choice, including Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, said Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which took over management of the facility in 2013.

And there are many factors that go into that equation, from the number of flights and, more specifically, the number of non-stop flights to the number and quality of restaurants at the facility; from ease of movement through the flying process to the overall customer experience.

And Bradley has been addressing all of them, said Dillon, referencing recent developments ranging from new non-stop service to St. Louis to a new $200 million transportation transit facility set to move off the drawing board (more on that later), to the addition of therapy dogs to help those anxious about flying.

“What we’re about at Bradley is convenience,” he told BusinessWest. “We know that’s what we’re selling as an airport, whether that’s convenient access to the airport or convenience once you get to the facility. So we have focused on improving overall customer service and the customer experience.”

Initiatives on these fronts are generating results that can be quantified in a number of ways, said Dillon, who started with the five consecutive years of year-over-year passenger growth Bradley has enjoyed since the CAA took over in 2013. That includes a 6.2% spike in 2017. He also noted that Condé Nast Traveler ranked Bradley the fifth-best airport in the U.S. it its latest Readers’ Choice Awards.

But while the passenger-growth numbers and votes from Condé Nast readers are compelling, Dillon said the airport has to keep pushing the envelope (that’s an aviation term, sort of) and find new and better ways to improve the customer experience.

“The airport business has become extremely competitive,” he noted. “So we’re constantly looking to differentiate ourselves from other options that travelers in our region have; we want to be that airport of choice, but we do know that travelers have options, so we have to keep looking for ways to improve the experience.”

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest talked at length with Dillon about Bradley’s focus on convenience and the many forms this mission takes.

Soaring Expectations

Perhaps the most obvious, and most important, aspect of customer service, Dillon said, is the number of flights being offered, or route development, as he called it.

And over the past several years, the airport has been working to add new flights for the convenience of all travelers, but especially business travelers.

“We know business travelers are looking for a greater menu of non-stop services at Bradley, so we’ve put a lot of attention and focus on development in general,” Dillon explained. “When we first took over the airport, we focused on bringing in West Coast connectivity as well as trans-Atlantic connectivity, and we’ve been able to accomplish both goals.”

With the former, the airport has added a popular flight to Los Angeles, he noted, and last year, seasonal, non-stop service to San Francisco was added to the portfolio, and efforts are ongoing to offer that service year-round.

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

Also, through the addition of carrier of Spirit Airlines, there are now a number of direct flights into a number of Florida cities, including Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, and Fort Myers.

As for the latter, the daily Aer Lingus flight to Dublin introduced in September 2016 has becoming increasingly popular with area business and leisure flyers looking for a more convenient way to get to Europe than driving to and then flying out of Boston, New York, or New Jersey.

“That’s because it’s not only connectivity to Dublin, it’s connectivity to all of Europe,” said Dillon. “And there are 26 major cities that you can connect to very conveniently in Dublin with this flight.”

The overseas flight has thus far met or exceeded expectations, and the response from the business community has had a lot to do with that, he said, adding that, as might be expected, leisure travel to Europe drops off considerably in the fall and winter, and the business side of the equation has helped keep the planes reasonably full year-round.

As for the experience at the airport itself, those at Bradley have been attentive to this piece of the puzzle as well, said Dillon, focusing on such matters as security lead times, check-in times at the airline counters, the menu of restaurants, and, yes, programs such as therapy dogs.

When it comes to eateries, Phillips Seafood and Two Roads Brewery have been added to the mix in recent months, and they’ve been very well received, said Dillon, adding that travelers will likely have a decent amount of time to spend at such facilities because of efforts to help the process of getting bags checked and travelers through security.

Overall, there are some things an airport cannot control — travelers will still be asked to arrive 90 minutes before a flight, especially if it’s an international flight — but there are many things it can control, and those are the factors Bradley is focused on, said Dillon.

This extends, as he noted earlier, to access to the airport, and also what happens after one leaves.

And this mindset explains the facility’s new transportation center, now in the final design stages, which is being built to improve the overall customer experience.

“You’ll be able to fly into Bradley and connect via a walkway to this new facility right across from the terminal to get your rental car,” he explained. “No longer will you have to take a bus to that rental-car facility.”

The transportation facility will also serve as a transit hub for the various bus services into and out of Bradley, as a connecting point to the rail line that now connects Southern Connecticut with Springfield.

“We’re working to have every one of those trains stop at Windsor Locks, which is considered the airport train station, and then we’ll connect the new transportation center to the Windsor Locks train station via high-frequency bus service,” Dillon explained, adding that the ultimate goal is to directly connect the airport to that station with light rail.

Such rail connections will ultimately make life more convenient to business and leisure travelers alike, he went on, adding that they can fly into Bradley and connect, via rail, to a host of other cities, similar to how it’s done in Europe.

Plane Speaking

When the CAA took over operations at Bradley, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Fewer than five years later, the total is 6.5 million.

That’s a significant increase that came about through a broad, multi-faceted approach to improving convenience and the overall customer experience.

But as they say in this business, Bradley is merely gaining altitude. It can soar much higher still, and Dillon and his team are committed to doing just that.

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

Cover Story Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Art of the Deal

By Kathleen Mellen

Crowds at Paradise City Arts Festival

Crowds at Paradise City Arts Festival

Linda and Geoffrey Post

Linda and Geoffrey Post say the festival’s early success snowballed and took on a life of its own.

It’s tough to make a living as an artist, and no one knows that better than Linda and Geoffrey Post, who made a go of it for 20 years, much of it on the art-show circuit, before deciding, in 1994, to switch gears. That’s when they founded the Paradise City Arts Festival.

Geoffrey Post, a fiber artist, and Linda Post, a painter, say they took an enormous leap of faith when they started the festival at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton. They gathered work from fellow artists, put notices in local newspapers, and set up in the Fair’s largest building, the Arena, whose lopsided dirt floor was better designed to show horses, pigs, and sheep than sculpture, ceramics, and fine jewelry.

And they wondered if anyone would come.

Well, people did. Now, 22 years later, the festival is one of the premier such events in the nation, with 250 artists and craftspeople and some 10,000 customers flocking to the site twice a year, in May and October, to immerse themselves in works by some of the nation’s finest craft makers and independent artists, along with a sculpture garden, fund-raisers for local charities, and a wide array of victuals from local restaurants — all to the accompaniment of lively jazz melodies.

Visitors to the award-winning festival have come from all 50 states, and five continents, to partake of what Boston Magazine calls “a unique visual arts institution.”

How it all came to be this institution, and how it continues to grow and prosper, is an intriguing story, one in which the Posts and a number of other players have remained focused on the big picture — figuratively, and quite literally.

Brush with Fame

The very first thing the Posts had to do, back in 1995, was to establish a working relationship with the fair, which was established in 1817 for the purpose of promoting agriculture, agricultural education, and agricultural science in the Commonwealth — a far cry from what the Posts were proposing.

Even with the fair’s blessing, which they received, there was much to be done before a single artist could set up — including making significant investments in the site so it could support such a venture. First up was the installation of an electrical system big enough to power the festival. Plus, they added, when it rained, the whole place, which sits in a floodplain, turned to mud, so they had to fix that.

“It was really an experience trying to transform that space,” Linda Post said. “It took a lot of time, effort, money, planning, faith, and hope.”

But, once they got started, things began to cook.

“In ’95, we were successful enough so that we could have a ’96, and ’96 was a little better than ’95,” Geoffrey said. Then, in 1997, things really took off, when they attracted the attention of the New York Times and the Boston Globe, which wrote features about the event.

“Things just exploded. It was one of those Woodstock-type scenarios, where they’re backed up on Route 91, all the way to Hartford,” Post said. “After that, it kind of had a life of its own.”

Terry Evans

Terry Evans

That success signaled to the city and the fairgrounds that there might be uses for the site other than traditional agricultural events. In 2010, a committee was formed, which included representatives of the fair, the city, and the festival, to consider improvements to the site, with an eye toward expanding its use as a year-round venue for events like the Paradise City Arts Festival. A consulting firm was hired to analyze potential economic gains of an upgrade to the fairgrounds, and the results were impressive: it was projected that such a shift would add 500 jobs and result in an economic output of nearly $63 million, up from $25.9 million.

That got the ball rolling. A $42 million expansion was planned for the 55-acre site, which would include two phases: first, the demolition of old stables and the construction of three new horse barns, and, second, the construction of an 80,000-square-foot exhibition hall, as well improvements to the stormwater drainage, roads, and sidewalks.

Phase one was completed in 2011, when the fair was awarded $4 million by the state to build the new barns and to improve drainage on the site. But then, things stalled, and plans for the exhibition hall were put on hold, says the fair’s general manager, Bruce Shallcross, especially in light of a changed local market, including the addition of a new casino in Springfield and a still-recovering economy.

“We’re not sure, now, that we can support an 80,000-square-foot hall, but the Redevelopment Committee is still looking at alternatives,” he said.

All the while, the festival has stepped up, Shallcross told BusinessWest, sharing expenses for infrastructure improvement, including paving part of the grounds to deal with the mud problem.

Nnamdi Okonkwo

Nnamdi Okonkwo

“They’ve been very good partners over the years,” he said. “They are our anchor event in the spring and the fall, and we have an excellent working relationship with them.”

The Posts also say they have a good relationship with the city of Northampton, and while there’s no official, fiscal partnership, they do enjoy a symbiotic relationship. For example, it is common for the city’s mayor to write a welcome letter for the festival’s catalogue, and the Posts hire police and fire details for security and traffic control. They also bring tens of thousands of patrons from around the region, and across the country, to Northampton.

Indeed, a marketing survey the festival requisitioned about 10 years ago showed that some 70% of the people who attend the show come from outside the Pioneer Valley.

“The restaurants are full, the hotels are full. We think it’s good for the fairgrounds, good for the festival, and good for Northampton,” Shallcross said.

In a gesture of thanks for the city’s support, the Posts offer the Greater Northampton Chamber of Commerce space at the festival each year, where they can promote the city, its restaurants, events, and tourist attractions. That’s a boon for Northampton and the chamber, says its executive director, Suzanne Beck.

“The festival draws thousands of people to Northampton, and once they’re here, people are naturally curious about the area,” Beck said. “By having a pop-up visitor center at the festival, we can share everything about cultural events, dining offerings —what to see and do in the area — and fulfill that curiosity.

In a Different Mold

Fast-forward to 2017.

Not content to rest on their laurels, in May, the Posts decided to “redo everything.” They moved out the 23-year-old Arena building into the three relatively new barns, which are better equipped to house artists’ display booths — although they are still mainly intended for agricultural use.

“At least they have concrete floors,” Linda Post said.

The festival also utilizes more of the surrounding, outdoor areas, for its sculpture promenade, a dining tent, and entertainment.

It’s a move that has paid off.

“Whenever you make a big change like that, it makes you nervous, but we got great feedback from the exhibitors and the customers,” Linda Post said. “People stayed longer, and they really enjoyed the new layout.”

After more than two decades, the Posts say, they have to work diligently to keep the festival fresh. Each year, they combine new artists with the old, always with an eye toward curating an event that includes different price points and aesthetics, and new trends.

“If we don’t get fresh new artists to every show, it gets stale,” Geoffrey Post said.

Turns out, that’s not a problem: Far more artists and craftspeople apply to the festival than the Posts can accept.

“Every year, we’re getting new generations of artists and new generations of patrons,” he noted. “It has a life of its own.”

Looking to the future, the Posts say, they are finding ways to use the Internet to their advantage. They recently developed the Paradise City Membership Program, a partnership which allows artists to market their work year-round, through the festival’s website.

They produce a glossy magazine that gets mailed out to 60,000 households, and they are developing email newsletters and other promotions that go out to patrons on their email list, which is more than 40,000 strong.

Finally, while they don’t have a Paradise City Arts Festival app, they’ve made sure their website is optimized for cellphone use.

“We’re trying to figure out the right model for using all the new technologies.” Linda Post said.

The next Paradise City Arts Festival in Northampton will be Oct. 7-9, when artists and craftspeople will have on the display, and for sale, a wide variety of mixed-media art, ceramics, furniture, jewelry, photography, works on paper, wearable fiber art, and much more.

As is their tradition, there will be a “show within a show,” which invites participating artists to create work related to a special theme: This year, it’s “Life of the Party.”

And, in keeping with another annual tradition, the Posts will invite participating artists to donate a piece for an auction to raise money for a local non-profit organization. Since 1996, more than $400,000 has been raised in support of such causes as the Cancer Connection, the International Language Institute, and the Breast Form Fund. This year, the money will go to WGBY Public Television for Western New England.

Nice Work, If You Can Get It

As the Posts prepare for the next show in Northampton (they also produce a smaller, sister festival in Marlborough), things are heating up at their offices in Northampton’s Industrial Park.

“People don’t realize how much work goes into the shows; we start preparing months in advance,” Linda Post said. But she doesn’t mind. “Every day, we’re surrounded by all these beautiful objects and creative people. That’s a really good way to have to work.”

If one were to call it work. The Posts prefer to call it their passion.

Cover Story Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Fun in the Sun

summertimedpartSummertime is a great time to get away, but in Western Mass., it’s also a great time to stick around and enjoy the many events on the calendar. Whether you’re craving fair food or craft beer, live music or arts and crafts, historical experiences or small-town pride, the region boasts plenty of ways to celebrate the summer months. Here are 35 ideas to get you started, in a region that’s home to many more.

July

Pioneer Valley Beer & Wine Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.lookpark.org
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door
July 1: Hungry — or thirsty — for something to do as the summer months take hold? Look Park presents its second annual Beer & Wine Festival at the Pines Theater from noon to 5 p.m. Attendees will get to sample local beer and wine from the Pioneer Valley, live music, and a host of local food vendors. Non-drinkers (designated drivers and under 21) may purchase tickets for $10 in advance, $15 at the door.

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
July 1-3, Aug. 17-20: Ski Butternut may be best-known for … well, skiing, of course. But the property also plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 16th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 200 artists and designers, inclouding more than 40 exhibiting for the first time.1berkshiresartsfestival

Fireworks Shows
Various Locations
July 1-4: The days surrounding Independence Day are brimming with nighttime pageantry throughout the Pioneer Valley. Holyoke Community College kicks things off on June 30. July 1 brings a display at Beacon Field in Greenfield and Szot Park in Chicopee, while on July 3, Michael Smith Middle School in South Hadley and East Longmeadow High School get into the act. July 4 will bring the spectacle to Riverfront Park in Springfield, McGuirk Stadium at UMass Amherst, and Six Flags New England in Agawam.

Old Sturbridge Village Independence Weekend Celebration
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 1-4: At this celebration of America, visitors can take part in a citizens’ parade, play 19th-century-style ‘base ball,’ march with the militia, make a tri-cornered hat, and sign a giant copy of the Declaration of Independence. Children and families will enjoy the friendly competition of the Farm Yard Games, and a reproduction cannon will be fired. On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.

2monsonsummerfestMonson Summerfest
Main Street, Monson
www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community, The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, along with booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year.

Dog Shows
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.thebige.com
Admission: Free
July 5-9, Aug. 24-27: The Eastern States Exposition fairgrounds certainly haven’t gone to the dogs, but it will seem that way for five days in July, when Yankee Classic Cluster Dog Shows shows take over the Better Living Center. On tap are dog shows from the Kenilworth, Holyoke, Farmington, and Naugatuck Kennel Clubs. Then, in August, the fairgrounds will host dog shows from the Newtown, Ox Ridge, and Elm City Kennel Clubs.

Made in Massachusetts Festival
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.madeinmassfest.com
Admission: $20 general admission, $35 for admission plus tasting combo ticket
July 8-9: The Eastern States Exposition will host this festival featuring craft vendors and products unique to Massachusetts. The event will showcase the state’s top breweries, wineries, local food, live entertainment, specialty crafts, and much more. In addition, kids will enjoy a mobile arcade full of games, a laser-tag arena, huge obstacle courses, bounce houses, an inflated soccer ball arena, face painting, and more.

Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show
Route 20, Brimfield
www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free
July 11-16, Sept. 5-10: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 13-16: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2017: The Festival of New Yiddish Music brings the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center on the campus of Hampshire College. The sixth annual event offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

Post #351 Catfish Derby
50 Kolbe Dr., Holyoke
www.post351catfishderby.com
Admission: $10 entry fee
July 14: The American Legion Post #351 touts its 37th annual Catfish Derby as the biggest catfish tournament in the Northeast. Fishing is open to the Connecticut River and all its tributaries. The derby headquarters and weigh-in station are located at Post #351. A total of $1,425 in prize money is being offered, with a first prize of $300. Three trophies are available in the junior division (age 14 and younger).

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $119.99; Friday, $34.99; Saturday, $64.99; Sunday, $64.99
July 14-16: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and games and activities for families and children — all topped off with four hot-air-balloon launches and a spectacular Saturday-night ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 40 bands slated to perform.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$16, free for children under 6
July 15: Staged at Look Park, this 23nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries.

Positively Holyoke Summer Concerts
221 Appleton St., Holyoke
www.holyokerotary.com
Admission: Free
July 19, July 26, Aug. 2, Aug. 9: The Holyoke Rotary Club  will present a series of four Wednesday night concerts at Holyoke Heritage State Park, featuring, in order, Darik & the Funbags, Out of the Blue, Union Jack, and Trailer Trash. The concerts begin at 6 p.m., but a beer garden and grill will open at 5:30. Parking is free, and the rain date for each concert is the following day.

Franklin County Beer Fest
66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont
www.berkshireeast.com
Admission: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
July 22: Join fellow brew enthusiasts for an afternoon of food, music, and drink. The second annual Franklin County Beer Fest will be held at Berkshire East Mountain Resort and will feature beer from several local breweries, local ciders, and local mead and libations. ID required. Online ticket buyers before July will receive a souvenir glass.

3oldsturbridgecraftbeerOld Sturbridge Village Craft Beer & Roots Music Festival
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 23: OSV’s craft beer festival is back, with more brews, bands, and bites than ever before. More than 30 craft breweries from across New England will offer an opportunity to sample and purchase some of the region’s top beers, ciders, and ales, while local chefs prepare farm-to-table fare. At five indoor and outdoor stages, more than a dozen musical artists will bring the sounds of Americana, bluegrass, country, folk, and roots music.

Hampden County 4-H Fair
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: Free
July 29: More than 200 young people from Hampden County, and 4-H members from Berkshire, Franklin, Hampshire, and Worcester counties, will showcase projects they have made, grown, or raised during the past year. Events include a horse show and other animal exhibitions, a fun run, a talent show, a fashion revue, a lead line and wool competition, and more.

August

West Side Taste of the Valley
Town Common, West Springfield
www.westsidetaste.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 10-13: This community event annually draws over 30,000 people from all over the Pioneer Valley to sample various dishes from a diverse mix of restaurants. The weekend is also highlighted by family-friendly entertainment, live musical acts, a midway of rides and games for kids and teens, animal rides, a petting zoo, and Saturday’s class car cruise, a display of classic, antique, and special-interest cars owned by local residents.

Middlefield Fair
7 Bell Road, Middlefield
www.middlefieldfair.org
Admission: TBA
Aug. 11-13: The Highland Agricultural Society was established in 1856 for the purpose of holding the agricultural fair in Middlefield. In those days, it was known as the Cattle Show, and the grounds were filled with local farmers’ prized cattle. Although the fair has changed in its 150-plus years, it retains that tradition, adding food, a truck pull, a petting zoo, animal exhibits, rides, games, and live including Ray Guillemette Jr.’s Elvis tribute, “A-Ray of Elvis.”

4springfieldjazzrootsSpringfield Jazz and Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 12: The fourth annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend and enjoy featured performers including Lizz Wright, Miles Mosley, Rebirth Brass Band, Sarah Elizabeth Charles, Christian Scott, Zaccai Curtis & Insight, Natalie Fernandez, and Community Grooves.

5westfieldairshowWestfield International Airshow
175 Falcon Dr., Westfield
www.westfieldairshow.org
Admission: Free; upgraded paid seating available
Aug. 12-13: The first airshow at Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport in seven years will feature the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, a team of F-16 fighter jets that fly in close proximity. Other displays include the Geico Skytypers, a team of six pilots who create aerial smoke messages in the sky, as well as the Third Strike wingwalking act, the the Black Daggers U.S. Army Parachute Team, and a host of others.

Westfield Fair
137 Russellville Road, Westfield
www.thewestfieldfair.com
Admission: $6-$8, free for children under 12
Aug. 18-20: One of the earlier late-summer agricultural fairs that proliferate across Western Mass., the 90th edition of the Westfield Fair promises traditional fare like livestock shows, an antique tractor pull, live music, rides and games, an animal auction, a craft barn, a petting zoo, midway rides, and, of course, lots of food.

Cummington Fair
97 Fairgrounds Road, Cummington
www.cummingtonfair.com
Admission: $5-$12, free for children under 10
Aug. 24-27: The Cummington Fair was initiated in 1883 as the Hillside Agricultural Society. Today, it lives on as a showcase for agriculture and livestock in the region, in addition to a robust schedule of entertainment, featuring live music, magic, a demolition derby, a lumberjack show, the Kenya Acrobats, a square dance, crafts, games, food, and much more.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 25-26: Now in its third year, Chicopee’s downtown block party, which drew 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall last year, will feature live music from nine bands, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and, for the first time, a 5K race.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 25-27: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus, drawing an estimated 12,000 to 15,000 people downtown over the course of the weekend. This year’s festival will include live musical performances, food and beverages from local restaurants, activities for children, and goods from local artists and makers.

September

Stone Soul Festival
1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield
www.ssfestival.weebly.com
Admission: Free
Sept. 1-3: New England’s largest African-American festival offers family-oriented activities, entertainment, and cultural enrichment, and is a vehicle for minority-owned businesses to display their wares and crafts. Entertainment at Blunt Park includes gospel, jazz, R&B, and dance. Sunday’s free picnic includes ribs and chicken cooked by talented pitmasters, backed by live gospel music performed by local and regional choirs.

Three County Fair
41 Fair St., Northampton
www.threecountyfair.com
Admission: $8-$10
Sept. 1-4: For almost 200 years, the Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden Agricultural Society has promoted agriculture, agricultural education, and agricultural science in the Commonwealth. The purpose remains the umbrella under which the Three County Fair is presented to the public. But the fair also includes carnival rides and games, thoroughbred horse racing, crafts, and, of course, plenty of food.

Blandford Fair
10 North St., Blandford
www.theblandfordfair.com
Admission: $5-$10, free for children under 6
Sept. 1-4:
Not much has changed in almost 150 years of the Blandford Fair, but that’s what makes it so charming. Fairgoers can witness the classic rituals of the giant pumpkin display, the pony draw, and the horseshoe tournament, plus more modern additions, like the fantastically loud chainsaw-carving demonstration and the windshield-smashing demolition derby.

Franklin County Fair
89 Wisdom Way, Greenfield
www.fcas.com
Admission: $7-$10, free for children under 9
Sept. 7-10: Named one of the “10 Great New England Fairs” in 2015 by Globe magazine, the 169th edition of the Franklin County Fair will roll into the Franklin County Fairgrounds with every type of fair food imaginable, midway rides, and entertainment ranging from bands and roaming clowns to a ventriloquist, demotion derby, livestock shows, horse draws, a truck pull, and much more.

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
Sept. 8-10: Every year, St. George Cathedral offers thousands of visitors the best in traditional Greek foods, pastries, music, dancing, and old-fashioned Greek hospitality. In addition, the festival offers activities for children, tours of the historic St. George Cathedral and Byzantine Chapel, vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and more.

Hilltown Brewfest
837 Daniel Shays Highway, New Salem
www.hilltownbrewfest.com
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door
Sept. 9: The ninth annual Hilltown Brewfest is a fund-raiser for local fire departments. The event at Cooleyville Junction promises a relaxing afternoon featuring some 30 brands and 100 brews of beer, wine, cider, and Berkshire Distillery products. Selections include products by both local craft brewers, winemakers, and distillers in the Quabbin and Pioneer Valley regions as well as similar craft producers across New England.

8mattoonstreetMattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon Street, Springfield
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 9-10: Now in its 45th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $48-$110 for three-day pass
Sept. 15-17: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing more than 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Brandi Carlile, Railroad Earth, the Del McCoury Band with David Grisman, Shovels & Rope, Del & Dawg, Bill Frisell, and many more.

9bigeThe Big E
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: $8-$12; 17-day pass $20-$40
Sept. 15 to Oct. 1: It’s still the big one, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses or the parades, the local vendors and crafters or the live music — this year featuring Cole Swindell, the Village People, Martin Sexton, Sheila E., the Sugarhill Gang, Fastball, the Lovin’ Spoonful, and many more.

Belchertown Fair
Main Street, Belchertown
www.belchertownfair.com
Admission: Free
Sept. 22-24: This community fair, which draws more than 30,000 visitors every year, celebrates the town’s agricultural roots as well as its active growing community. The weekend features a wide variety of family-friendly activities, from an exhibit hall and animal exhibitions to a parade, plenty of live music, pumpkin decorating for kids, a balloon twister, and an old-time beautiful baby show.

Old Deerfield Craft Fair
10 Memorial St., Deerfield
www.deerfield-craft.org
Admission: $7, free for children under 12
Sep. 23-24: This award-winning show has been recognized for its traditional crafts and fine-arts categories and offers a great variety of items, from furniture to pottery. And while in town, check out all of Historic Deerfield, featuring restored, 18th-century museum houses with period furnishings, demonstrations of Colonial-era trades, and a collection of Early American crafts, ceramics, furniture, textiles, and metalwork.

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

The Sounds of Summer

By Kathleen Mellen

An architect’s rendering of the how the $31 million expansion project will change the landscape at Tanglewood.

An architect’s rendering of the how the $31 million expansion project will change the landscape at Tanglewood.

Audiences have flocked to the Berkshires for Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summertime concerts since 1936, when the musicians offered a three-concert series, under the baton of then-music director Serge Koussevitzky, in a large tent at Holmwood, a storied estate in Lenox.

That first series, which would ultimately morph into the world-renowned Tanglewood Music Festival, was attended by nearly 15,000 people.

Then, in 1937, when the festival presented its first concert at Tanglewood, a gift to the BSO from the Tappan family estate, it drew the largest crowd to ever assemble under a tent, for an all-Beethoven program.

And the love affair has continued.

Last year, 350,000 guests visited the venerable annual music festival in Lenox, which offers weekly summer concerts by the BSO, performances by the Boston Pops and Tanglewood Music Center orchestras, as well as a lineup of famed guest artists in classical, contemporary, and popular music. That number has grown significantly over the past decade, and has remained fairly constant for the past five years, or so, said Anthony Fogg, the BSO’s artistic administrator and director of Tanglewood.

“It is a reflection of increasing, renewed interest in the great music that we’re offering,” Fogg told BusinessWest.

In response to these growing demands, the BSO in February announced a $30 million expansion of its music festival’s facilities and 524 acres campus in Lenox. The new complex will include a state-of-the-art, four-building complex designed to support performance and rehearsal activities at the Tanglewood Music Center (TMC), and to serve as the home of the new Tanglewood Learning Institute (TLI).

The new buildings will supplement the music festival’s main performance spaces — the 5,700-seat Serge Koussevitzky Music Shed, built in 1938, and the 1,200-seat Seiji Ozawa Hall, named for BSO’s former, long-time music director (1973-2002), built in 1984.

We see this as a way of increasing the flow of visitors to the Berkshires. It will be a beautiful facility, with acoustics of the first order, dining facilities, and the possibility for recording. I’m confident it’s going to be a very attractive venue, and we hope the community will embrace it.”

“We’re very much viewing this as a long-term investment in classical music as an art form, which is essential to our lives,” Fogg said in a recent interview.

The new building complex, scheduled to open in spring 2019, has been designed by William Rawn Associates, led by William Rawn and Cliff Gayley. It will be located at the top of the lawn leading down to Ozawa Hall, which was also designed by the architectural firm. The new facilities will be climate-controlled, which Fogg says will offer an opportunity for members of the larger community to use the space during the off-season, for such things as conferences, celebrations, and musical performances.

“We see this as a way of increasing the flow of visitors to the Berkshires,” he said. “It will be a beautiful facility, with acoustics of the first order, dining facilities, and the possibility for recording. I’m confident it’s going to be a very attractive venue, and we hope the community will embrace it.”

In Concert with the Environment

The expansion is part of a multi-year fund-raising effort, which has received donations from private and corporate donors, which Fogg declined to name at this time, saying Tanglewood will make a formal announcement about fund-raising sometime this summer.

To date, enough money has been raised to cover the cost of building the complex itself, but further funds will ensure there is a well-funded endowment to cover future operating expenses and programming, he noted, adding that the ultimate fund-raising goal is in the neighborhood of $40 million.

At the heart of the four-building project will be Studio 1, a 200-seat concert space designed with Tanglewood’s signature setting in mind. The festival’s iconic, 100-foot-tall red oak tree and the landscape beyond will be visible through a wall of glass that measures 30 feet high by 50 feet wide, and which will serve as an expansive backdrop to the stage. A 50-foot-wide retractable glass wall, also part of the design, will open directly out to a porch and the surroundings.

“We wanted to keep a sense of an easy relationship between the buildings and the landscape,” Fogg said. “We were very conscious of maintaining a feeling of openness and airiness. You can’t only hear some of the greatest musicians and some of the greatest music of all time, but you do it in this transparent atmosphere.”

Studios 2 and 3 will offer rehearsal and performance space for small and medium-sized ensembles, and can accommodate audiences of 60 and 40, respectively. For flexibility, Fogg said, all the spaces can quickly and easily convert from one use to another.

In addition, the buildings are designed to take advantage of new sound and recording technology, and “are wired to the maximum,” he said. “They are decked out to embrace whatever new technology comes along. There are very exciting possibilities.”

We have a situation where our fellows are really overcrowded and working in conditions which are not the most conducive to the best work. Ozawa Hall [where the fellows rehearse and perform] is probably the most-scheduled facility on the campus. It goes from 6 in the morning until 1 in the morning, and we found that fellows are starting dress rehearsals for upcoming concerts at 10 p.m. That’s not the right sort of working environment.”

A 150-seat café housed in the complex will become a hub for visitors, TMC fellows and faculty, TLI participants, and performing artists, and a place where visitors and musicians can interact.

Among the beneficiaries of the new space will be the Tanglewood Music Center, a world-renowned summer institute created in 1940 by Koussevitzky to further the tradition of classical music, and to serve as an American center for advanced musical study for young professional instrumentalists, singers, composers, and conductors. About 1,500 musicians compete annually for roughly 150 positions, and those who are accepted receive fellowships that cover tuition, room, and board. Leonard Bernstein, Lukas Foss, and Sarah Caldwell were among its first students.

But, frankly, Fogg said, space has become a problem for the program and its participants.

“We have a situation where our fellows are really overcrowded and working in conditions which are not the most conducive to the best work,” he noted. “Ozawa Hall [where the fellows rehearse and perform] is probably the most-scheduled facility on the campus. It goes from 6 in the morning until 1 in the morning, and we found that fellows are starting dress rehearsals for upcoming concerts at 10 p.m. That’s not the right sort of working environment.”

The new facility will address those and other needs by providing significantly more rehearsal and performance space for the TMC, and will enhance, support, and streamline activities to assure that Tanglewood continues to attract the most competitive class of fellows.

Knowing the Score

The new complex will also be home to Tanglewood Learning Center, which will offer all-new programming designed to provide the festival’s patrons with an array of educational and enrichment experiences that encourage a closer connection between artists and audiences, including seminars and panel discussions, film presentations, conversations with artists, and access to special concerts and master classes.

“An artist can come here and not only have the opportunity to give a great performance, but also spend a couple of days talking about how they got to that point — about the work they are doing … the process of creation,” Fogg said. “Those sorts of insights into the way an artist thinks, I think, will be absolutely key.”

Special offerings will include a ‘passport program,’ which will allow subscribers access to BSO and TMC closed rehearsals, TMC master classes, and backstage visits with musicians, guest artists, and conductors, among other activities.

“This will be an opportunity for those who are already aficionados of classical music, who already have some knowledge, to deepen their knowledge,” Fogg said. “It’s also an opportunity for those who are a little on the outside, who may want to find out more about classical music — why it works, why it’s important, and how it fits into our lives.”

The new buildings will be the first year-round structures at Tanglewood, with both heating and air-conditioning, and have been designed with an eye toward sustainability.

An architect’s rendering of one of the new facilities at Tanglewood.

An architect’s rendering of one of the new facilities at Tanglewood.

“We’re looking for LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] status,” Fogg said, “and we believe we will be able to achieve Gold.”

To that end, natural ventilation and abundant day lighting are designed to minimize energy use. Other notable sustainable features include rainwater harvesting for irrigation; high-efficiency mechanical systems with low-velocity ductwork, meeting acoustic requirements; efficient LED theatrical lighting; water-saving plumbing fixtures; red-cedar cladding harvested from renewable sources; and recyclable zinc roofing.

“We have been extremely mindful of all of these things,” Fogg said. “We’re doing the best we can to achieve the highest standard of responsiveness to the environment, which is so important.”

In addition to the buildings, a new horticultural initiative, designed by landscape architects at Reed Hilderbrand, will revitalize and strengthen Tanglewood’s bucolic landscape, with the planting of 144 trees, improvements to stormwater-management systems and pedestrian walkways, and the restoration of views of the 372-acre Lake Mahkeenac, also known as the Stockbridge Bowl. A new horticultural-stewardship program will create and implement uniform strategies for documenting, maintaining, preserving, and enhancing Tanglewood’s horticultural assets.

“Tanglewood’s expansive setting is both a blessing and a curse,” Fogg said. “It offers the opportunity to do fantastic things, but it’s also a great responsibility … we’re taking this as an opportunity to see how we can find a unity of approach to the grounds.”

In Harmony with History

A groundbreaking ceremony will take place later this summer, at a date to be announced. Organizers hope Tanglewood luminaries will be on hand, and are in the process of trying to accommodate the hectic schedules of some of its artistic principals, including BSO’s music director, Andris Nelsons; Boston Pops conductor Keith Lockhart; and the Pops’ conductor laureate, John Williams.

“Their schedules are incredibly complicated,” Fogg said. “But, it [the groundbreaking] will be toward the end of the season. The construction company needs to start work absolutely as soon as the season finishes, to try to get as much done before the winter hits. They are optimistic, confident, that we can move toward an opening in spring of 2019.”

Thus begins the start of a new chapter in the history of one of the region’s great destinations — and a summer home for music lovers of all ages.

Cover Story Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Everyone’s Living Room

Main Street Hospitality Group CEO Sarah Eustis

Main Street Hospitality Group CEO Sarah Eustis

Sarah Eustis says the core mission of the Main Street Hospitality Group is to “create places that will enable people to connect in meaningful ways — not just to provide hospitality excellence.” The group is now doing that on a few Main Streets, with further expansion of the portfolio always on its mind.

The barstools in the Red Lion Inn’s rustic tavern creak a little, but Sarah Eustis says that’s part of the charm in a building that dates back to the late 18th century. The guests who crowded the place on a late weekday afternoon, as Eustis sat with BusinessWest and told the story of her family’s growing hospitality business, didn’t seem to mind.

It’s a story that actually begins almost 50 years ago, when Eustis’s grandmother, Jane Fitzpatrick, bought the Stockbridge hotel in 1969 with a couple of motivations in mind — to find a home for her growing curtain business, known today as Country Curtains, and to save the Red Lion from becoming a “parking lot.”

“It was a seasonal property — at the time, it was closed in the winter — and it was at risk of being taken down,” said Eustis, CEO of the Main Street Hospitality Group (MSHG). “She reopened the hotel and brought it to full operation, year-round, and the family has been running it ever since.”

Fitzpatrick had a specific vision for the 1773 landmark, Eustis added. “My grandmother set the standard of hospitality, maintaining the place as the ‘living room of the Berkshires.’ All our hotels have that identity and that spirit, meaning a place where all are welcome, a place where people can connect in meaningful ways, with the place and with each other.”

Those places now include four hotels around the Berkshires the MSHG currently owns or manages: the Red Lion Inn, Porches Inn in North Adams, Williams Inn in Williamstown, and, most recently, Hotel on North in Pittsfield, which collectively boast 350 rooms and almost as many employees.

Hotel on North was designed, like all of Main Street’s properties, to be the ‘living room’ of its community.

Hotel on North was designed, like all of Main Street’s properties, to be the ‘living room’ of its community.

“People are coming through the doors with an entire range of human emotions,” Eustis went on, “and they’re wearing invisible signs around their necks, and we have to figure out what they say: ‘I’m in the middle of a divorce.’ ‘I have to impress my girlfriend.’ ‘I’m here with my first big client.’ ‘I’m worried about my child.’ ‘I’m exhausted and hungry.’ We have to figure that out; it’s our job to connect with people in a way that makes the experience good for them, where they are, in that particular moment. We’re not perfect, but it’s what we work toward.”

When they succeed in that task, downtown hotels can be the lifeblood of a town center, she said. “They are the heartbeat that pumps blood to the arteries of cities. Hotels are always there; the lights are always on, and someone is always there.”

Independent hotels, with their unique charms that aren’t based on a corporate template, are even better, she went on. “The Marriotts and Hiltons are great, but I do think there’s something about an independently designed hotel that is unique and that people are willing to pay for.”

Third Generation

Fitzpatrick passed the business to her daughter, Nancy Fitzpatrick — Eustis’s stepmother — who has overseen the operation for the past 20 years.

“I grew up around this place and started working here as a housekeeper when I was 14,” said Eustis, who lived with her mother in Philadelphia but spent plenty of time in the Berkshires as well. “I will always stand behind hospitality training early in one’s career is a great way to start. We have so many young people come through our hotels and go into all kinds of things. If they want a hospitality career, that’s great, too. I was here every summer growing up, getting experience in every aspect of the operation. I’ve cleaned every toilet in the place, and I make a mean hospital corner.”

But she didn’t see it as her career at first, moving instead to New York City to pursue a career in retail operations, marketing, design, and brand development for big clothing labels like Polo Ralph Lauren, Banana Republic, and Limited Brands. “I got good experience working for family businesses, because that’s what those companies are. And that was appealing to me.”

mainstreetporches

Two of MSHG’s properties, Porches Inn opened in North Adams a decade and a half ago, followed by Hotel on North in Pittsfield in 2015.

Two of MSHG’s properties, Porches Inn opened in North Adams a decade and a half ago, followed by Hotel on North in Pittsfield in 2015.

When her father, Jack Fitzpatrick, passed away in 2010, Eustis started thinking about the family business, and decided to move back to Massachusetts in the summer of 2012, a time that unofficially began the family’s most recent chapter, with Eustis eventually setting in as CEO, and Nancy Fitzpatrick continuing as owner and chairman.

“The Main Street Hospitality Group did not exist before that point,” Eustis said. “My aim was to explore how we could evolve and take the resources we already had on the team and deploy them further — to take the ‘special sauce’ that happens here at the Red Lion, in terms of hospitality and graciousness, and spread it around, and also develop new revenue streams.”

The first expansion had already occurred a decade earlier in North Adams. Nancy Fitzpatrick and Jack Wadsworth were both founding board members of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, and decided to strike a deal.

“As the story goes, they were in the main gallery of MassMoCA, looking out across the street at these derelict houses originally designed for workers at the Sprague Electric factory. Nancy is a really creative visionary, and she said to Jack, ‘why don’t we do a hotel there?’ He said, ‘that’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.’ But they signed on a napkin and did the project.”

The result was Porches Inn,  seven renovated Victorian-era buildings. Reflecting its artsy surroundings, the guest rooms and public spaces employ a synthesis of retro and contemporary designs, reflecting everything from the Mohawk Trail to paint-by-numbers art. Boston magazine praised its “hipster sensibility with downtown charm.”

“It’s been a remarkably successful venture,” Eustis said. “We wanted to instill part of our DNA into something that adds value to its landscape. It has to reflect the feeling of the place. It’s elegant, but with a sense of humor. Guests just rave about the place. We really haven’t changed it in 15 years; we just keep it polished and updated and fresh.”

City Life

Williams Inn came next, a 125-room hotel owned by Williams College that MSHG has managed for the past several years.

“The college bought it, but they don’t run hotels,” Eustis said. “They gave us our first big break as a management company. We provided return to the college on what I would call a tired asset.”

But that project, along with the Porches, gave Main Street experience working in educational and art settings, a niche it aims to further explore in the future. Hotel on North, on the other hand, became the company’s first foray into the city setting.

Around 2013, Eustis began talking with the family that owns Tierney Construction in Pittsfield, which had purchased the former Bessie Clark clothing store in the heart of that city. She’s intrigued by Pittsfield’s story as an industrial city that has struggled to reinvent itself but has launched a sort of renaissance over the past couple of decades.

“We’re very, very committed to Pittsfield. It’s right in the middle of our region — this urban center in this bucolic place — and it needs to thrive.”

A city’s renaissance is typically a 20-year process, she said, a cycle she believes Pittsfield is well into, starting with the Colonial Theatre renovation a decade ago.

“A lot has happened on North Street. We felt the momentum was there. Our partners bought the building and invited us to do a hotel with them; we worked on every aspect of the hotel together. We led the design, we staffed the hotel, we run the hotel … we’re accountable to the owners for agreed-upon results.”

Hotel on North was opened using historic tax credits in June 2015, with an eye toward being one of the key anchors downtown. Developers sought the same blend of local character, historical design flourishes, and modern amenities showcased at other MSHG properties, creating a place where, as Main Street’s marketing materials put it, “lightning-fast wi-fi beams through exposed brick from the 1880s.”


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Eustis said first-year projections may have been optimistic. “We really had to engage the community, engage the city, do a grass-roots sales campaign.” But, at the same time, the hospitality group was growing as an organization as well, and the family was learning how to leverage its economies of scale across the properties, including in Pittsfield. “We got stronger and stronger, and the hotel started to get its legs, too. Now it’s really thriving and making a lot of people happy.”

In fact, 15,000 people checked into the hotel last year as their home base to explore Pittsfield. “It’s a well-designed, thoughtful, genuinely hospitable face — it’s become the living room of Pittsfield,” she went on, again echoing her grandmother’s original vision for the Red Lion 15 miles south on Route 7. “You have to overcome the doubters and keep going and show them the positive outcomes that come from a project like this.

“Our core purpose, as we’ve developed it as a leadership group,” she went on, “is to create places that will enable people to connect in meaningful ways — not just to provide hospitality excellence, which we do anyway.”

What’s Next?

Beyond physical expansion, the company is branching out in other ways as well. Take food service, led by Brian Alberg, vice president of Culinary Development. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America who has been with MSHG for about a dozen years, he was at the forefront of the farm-to-table movement in the Berkshires and created a culture around that philosophy at all the group’s properties, as well as a growing niche in event catering.

In addition, Main Street recently formalized a partnership with Hancock Shaker Village — and its new director, Jennifer Trainer, herself a MASSMoCA veteran with a rich culinary background — to establish a café (opening April 15) and manage it, along with working with her on all the facility’s culinary events.

“We’re also expanding the retail piece here at the Red Lion, which is my background,” Eustis added. While the hotel has a gift shop, she envisions creating a line of tasteful logo items — think the Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard as an example — that will expand the Red Lion brand beyond the Berkshires. “We’re thinking of things that reflect the warmth and genuine feeling of being at the hotel, whether it’s food, accessories, or home-related things. This is a part of our business that’s growing slowly this year and will grow further in 2018.”

After almost 50 years in the Fitzpatrick family, the Red Lion Inn remains the heart of Main Street Hospitality Group’s operations.

After almost 50 years in the Fitzpatrick family, the Red Lion Inn remains the heart of Main Street Hospitality Group’s operations.

As for the next big property, the company is looking at a number of projects, representing both ownership and management models.

“A new project has to pass certain fundamental criteria for us — geography, size and scope, who are the people involved, is it a new build or a conversion,” Eustis said. “It’s not necessarily about rolling out the Hotel on North or Porches concept into different markets. I’m interested in responding to the needs of the community, the fact that there may be existing hotels that need to be refreshed or revitalized.”

Still, she went on, “the way Porches and Hotel on North, not to mention Red Lion, have resonated has led us to conclude that kind of hotel can be relevant in other places and can be successful and add value to landscapes like Springfield, like Buffalo, like Albany — cities that are re-emerging as secondary or tertiary cities and benefiting from migration out of big cities.”

Yes, Springfield is a possibility, reflected by the fact that Eustis has had conversations with planning leaders there.

“Springfield is right in our backyard, and the Pioneer Valley has been interesting to us for a number of years. There’s good stuff going on there, a lot of like-minded people collaborating. We’re looking for opportunities where we can add value and the city’s ready for it.

“It’s not a get-rich-quick scheme,” she added. “You do need patient investors that have some psychic investment in a place. You can make money; it just takes a while.”

In other words, Eustis noted, MSHG is not looking to become a 200-hotel group.

“Let’s be honest — we value our lifestyle and like to see our children from time to time. Our vision is to grow thoughtfully,” she said. “Hotels always used to be on Main Street. And we want to be the heart of a place.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

Past Is Prologue

Michelle Rondeau and Michael Glick

Michelle Rondeau and Michael Glick say the addition to the Chamberlain House includes a patio and suite for wedding parties or groups holding functions in the Garden Tent.

Michael Glick says the Publick House Historic Inn and Country Lodge in Sturbridge is two miles — and two centuries — away from the Mass Pike.

“We have every modern amenity, but when people come here, they step back to a period in time when things weren’t so fast-paced. It’s a place where they can really relax,” said the general manager.

Throughout its 246-year history, the Publick House has been known for its hospitality, excellent food, and New England charm, and has become a popular venue for weddings, celebratory events, and family gatherings. Part of the draw is its central location: it is in close proximity to Route 20 and Interstates 90 and 84 and easy to get to from all of the New England states as well as New York and New Jersey.

The historic inn was built in 1771, houses two restaurants and a pub, sits directly across from the Town Common, and offers a retreat from stress on its 43-acre campus that contains more than eight buildings.

Publick House

Michelle Rondeau says the multi-million-dollar investment in the hotel portion of the Publick House has led to an increase in corporate business.

During the fall and winter, guests lounge in comfortable chairs next to wood-burning fireplaces and spend hours reading or talking to co-workers, friends, or family members.

In the spring and summer, meanwhile, they stroll along meandering brick walkways through lush gardens, relax on patios with sweeping vistas, and enjoy outdoor fire pits.

Although its 11 event rooms can accommodate corporate gatherings of up to 200 people, in the past, marketing efforts were focused almost entirely on weddings and events in the dining room. The complex was never promoted as a place to stay overnight, and Glick says that was purposeful.

The reason was simple: the inn offered 17 rooms, and the Chamberlain House next door had six rooms outfitted with period furnishings and décor. But the remaining 80+ rooms were in the outdated Country Motor Lodge. It was built in the ’60s on a hill behind the inn, has drive-up entrances to each room, and falls short of offering the luxury and amenities people expect today.

Minor upgrades were made over the years, including installation of new hotel bedding, but the discrepancy between the rooms in the Motor Inn and the Publick and Chamberlain House next door was so great, they couldn’t market it as a place to hold multi-day business meetings or group gatherings.

“All of our rooms are sold out every weekend because we have so many weddings here,” said Rooms Division Manager Michelle Rondeau, adding that they hosted 183 weddings last year, and 179 nuptial celebrations have already been booked for 2017.

“But corporate groups were offended by the idea of having to put some of their participants in the old motor lodge,” she noted. “Everyone wanted to stay in the inn or the Chamberlain House, and in order to book multi-day events, we needed to be able to offer similar accommodations.”

In 2014 a decision was made to help resolve that discrepancy, and 15 months ago a $3.2 million renovation and addition to the Chamberlain House was completed that includes 20 new hotel rooms.

It has changed the focus of the Publick House from a quintessential New England restaurant to a charming hotel that can custom-tailor events for businesses and other large groups.

New jobs were created as a result of the project, and salespeople who were hired to market the rooms were successful in attracting businesses, craft-oriented groups, and more for multi-day stays.

The trend is continuing, and construction on a new $5 million to $6 million building is expected to start soon to replace more of the old rooms in the motor inn. It will be built on a site that houses an old barn originally built to store horse feed.

“We’re a boutique hotel, and we are not looking to grow larger,” Glick said, adding that town bylaws allow the facility to have only 125 hotel rooms on the campus. “We just want to replace the motel rooms with ones of a higher quality.”

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest looks at recent changes that have taken place at the Publick House Historic Inn and Meeting Lodge, what people can expect in the future, and the reasons behind the facility’s success.

New Focus

Glick said the Publick House first approached the town about six years ago with the idea of making changes, and in 2014 the architectural and landscape design firm Siemasko and Verbridge was hired to find a creative and appropriate way to add new guest rooms to the campus.

Its design plan involved retaining the exterior of the 1830 Chamberlain House with its wide columned porch, gutting the interior, replacing outdated plumbing and electrical wiring, adding a handicapped entrance, and building an addition onto the rear of the structure that would add 14 new rooms and blend in seamlessly with the neighboring historic buildings.

After the renovation and addition was complete, the rooms were decorated in a simple manner befitting the history of the home and Publick House. Window treatments were purchased from Country Curtains in Sturbridge, and the rooms were furnished with solid-wood bureaus and beds whose high wood posts are topped with pineapples, which are a sign of hospitality commonly seen at New England inns during the Colonial era.

In addition, an outdoor courtyard was built between the Chamberlain House and the Publick House that overlooks the bucolic area where the Garden Tent area is set up three seasons of the year. It can hold 200 guests and is a popular place for weddings.

historic building on the Publick House campus

The new hotel has been designed to meld with the architecture of the historic building on the Publick House campus.

A brick pathway leads directly from the Chamberlain House to the tent, and the suite that faces the area is used as a hospitality room for bridal parties, large gatherings, and corporate events, while the patio is often the setting for cocktails and hors d’oeuvres.

Two of the five buildings that make up the old motor lodge have been phased out, and more rooms will be closed when the new building is complete, but Glick said they plan to leave a few open for travelers seeking a modest price point.

“The addition and renovation of the Chamberlain House has definitely increased our corporate business,” Rondeau said, noting that companies that have held training sessions, seminars, meetings, and themed events in the country setting.

For example, a Hawaiian Luau in the Garden Tent was created for a business party and included carving a fully cooked pig in the patio area.

“We created a beautiful atmosphere. The outdoor fire pit was burning, tiki torches were lit around the perimeter of the area, and there were lush flowers blooming everywhere,” Glick said, explaining that the acreage allows the company to offer events that might not be possible in a downtown hotel in a large city.

He added that business guests who enjoy the atmosphere and hospitality the Publick House offers are returning for overnight stays with their entire families.

The investment in upgraded rooms proved so successful that Siemasko and Verbridge were rehired last year to create a design for the new hotel building. Its plans involve tearing down the white clapboard-style barn that sits next to the Publick House and replacing it with a 21,314-square-foot structure with 28 hotel rooms.

The building will face the street and resemble a Colonial home on a raised, red-brick foundation linked to a red-barn-style structure with a raised stone foundation.

“It will be nestled between the Publick House and Sadie Green’s,” said Rondeau, referring to the retail emporium, jewelry store, and curiosity shop housed in buildings on the property.

“The new lobby will become the hotel registration center and will feature a double-sided wood-burning fireplace with lots of comfortable seating,” she continued. “The design and layout have a lot of character that includes roof gables and a mock hayloft door. We can’t recreate the Publick House, but we’re doing our best to give the new building a historic feel.”

The town’s design review board approved the plan in November, and it will go before the planning board in April.

However, the project was delayed in December when the Historical Commission put the demolition of the existing barn on hold for a year, but Glick said they are working closely with the commission and hope to come up with a compromise that will allow them to move forward this year.

“But the Publick House will continue to serve as the hub of the property,” he said, noting that its two restaurants and historic pub are convenient for overnight guests.

Ongoing Traditions

The Publick House is known for its fine food, New England specialties, and bake shop, which does $700,000 in business annually.

Glick noted that the majority of dishes on the menu in the dining room never change and include pot roast, chicken pot pie, lobster pie, and a full turkey dinner with all of the fixings that is offered every day throughout the year.

“People come here and expect to be able to order the foods we’re known for,” he explained.

Indeed, families have been coming there for generations and expect things to stay the same. Glick told BusinessWest that the bakery offers a frosted sugar cookie with a smiley face, and when the chef altered the recipe to make it healthier, they received calls and letters of complaint even though there were no signs alerting people to the slight difference in taste. “So we went back to the original recipe,” he said.

Rondeau added that the Publick House is rooted in tradition, and many grandparents bring their grandchildren there to experience history in the same way they did when they were young.

But ultimately, what all of their guests look for and find is the service, attention to detail, and personal touch that Colonial New England inns were known for.

“We have all the luxuries of a downtown hotel, and the quality of our food drives business here. Until last year, we were never known as a hotel, but that is changing,” Glick said. “We’re targeting business groups of about 50 people, but no matter who our guests are, our focus will always remain on offering them true hospitality.”