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Vine Tuned

Ian Modestow and Michelle Kersberger

Ian Modestow and Michelle Kersberger have orchestrated steady growth at Black Birch Vineyard since launching the Hatfield operation in 2017.



There are not many companies that can say that the pandemic was “probably the best thing that could have happened to us.”

But that’s the phrase Michelle Kersberger summoned as she talked about those unprecedented times. And this was not hyperbole.

Indeed, while the start of the pandemic was a difficult, scary time, to say the least — Kersberger would load up her car and make deliveries to wine-club members just to bring in some much-needed revenue — by late in that summer of 2020, COVID-19 had played a major role in putting the hidden gem that was Black Birch Vineyard on the proverbial map.

“By the time August came around, we had to stop people from coming in,” she said, adding that the winery moved all its operations outdoors, and area residents starved for things to do found several at Black Birch.

“The pandemic was pandemonium. It was crazy here … people were coming from everywhere,” said Ian Modestow, Kersberger’s husband and business partner in this venture, recalling that there were COVID-related restrictions on how many people could be seated outdoors at the winery at any given time, and on more than a few occasions, he had to park his tractor at the top of the long driveway off Straits Road in Hatfield to keep more vehicles from venturing down that gravel path.

“We worked our butts off, our staff worked their butts off … we had too many people coming in, and we had to turn some away.”

Looking back on those days, Ian and Michelle said they were essentially rolling with the punches and making the very best of the opportunities that presented themselves, an MO that has defined Black Birch since they settled into this former onion farm in 2017 after selling off their share of a similar venture in Southampton.

Those opportunities range from the staging of concerts during the summer months — a tradition born from COVID, in many respects — to hosting a wide variety of events in the tasting room, to selling wool and meat generated from the 40 or so sheep that now populate this beautiful real estate.

Things have settled down a little from those crazy days of the pandemic, but business remains steady at Black Birch, and, increasingly, it is now year-round, as we’ll see.

The main businesses are growing grapes and making wine, and Black Birch now produces several different labels, from its Epic White, made from Vidal Blanc grapes, to Eloquent Red, a blend of Cabernet Franc, Blaufrankisch, and Marquette. They come in two distinct labels, white for the ‘heritage’ wines made with grapes purchased from outside growers, and black for the estate wines made with grapes grown on site in Hatfield.

This theme of rolling with the punches continues in 2023, a difficult year due to different types of extreme weather — first a killing frost that destroyed 80% of the grapes planted in May, and then incessant summer rains that will certainly impact the 20% that survived, said Modestow, noting that grapes like it dry and hot, and there simply hasn’t been a lot of that lately.

Fortunately, 2021 and 2022 were boom years for this venture, Kersberger said, adding that they have provided a cushion of sorts from the problems of this spring and summer, although the damage done by Mother Nature will certainly take a toll.

Black Birch now offers a wide array of wines

Black Birch now offers a wide array of wines featuring both its ‘heritage’ and ‘estate’ labels.

Overall, the business plan calls for moving toward producing all wines with grapes produced on site, said Modestow, adding that they’re roughly halfway to that goal, while also growing each of the various operations within this venture, from the events to the sheep’s wool.

For this issue and its focus on wineries and breweries, BusinessWest paid a visit to Black Birch to learn about how a hobby turned into a business … and a passion.


Grape Expectations

As they talked about their venture, Modestow and Kersberger were joined first by sibling cats Chardonnay, or ‘Chard’ for short, and Pinot, and later by Burmese mountain dogs Yogi and Simka, who have become part of the team, if you will, at Black Birch, a vision that first started coming into focus when the two business owners met while attending UMass Amherst in the mid-’90s.

Later, during their college journey, they traveled to the Netherlands to visit some of Kersberger’s family and took a side trip to the Loire Valley in France, famous for its wine production.

“We have a lot of repeat customers, and those customers bring new customers, and it grows from there; there’s a lot of word-of-mouth advertising.”

“Being poor college students, we had to camp, and we would camp at farms, and many of them were vineyards — mom-and-pop operations,” she explained. “It sparked our interest, and any time we traveled after that, we always made sure we visited any vineyards or wineries in the region, and our love of the culture grew from there. Everything about wine and winemaking and the community and the social aspect of it … it was always a draw for us.”

Modestow concurred. “When we traveled, we went to wine-growing areas — Burgundy, Champagne, California, Washington, Spain, even Canada and Texas.”

This interest, and burgeoning passion for wine and making wine, stayed with them as they lived in Amsterdam for a year while Ian attended school there for archaeology, and later, as they started their professional careers, with Modestow launching a dental practice in Northampton and Kersberger essentially managing that practice.

In 2011, this interest in wine started morphing into a business, with Modestow and Kersberger partnering with Mary and Ed Hamel in a venture that would become Black Birch Vineyard in Southampton. In the spring of 2017, they would take that name and their experience, equipment, and burgeoning entrepreneurial spirit to a former onion farm in Hatfield and put down some roots — figuratively, but also quite literally.

Indeed, they would move twice in two months, first to a storage facility and then to the farm in Hatfield, and eventually plant more than 12 acres with roughly 19,000 vines of several different cool-climate varietals, from Chardonnay to Riesling; Pinot Noir to Trominette. They also opened a tasting room (a transformed former onion barn) and launched a wine club.

Black Birch Vineyard

Black Birch Vineyard

Over time, Modestow would ease out of his dental practice — he is now all but officially retired from that profession — and he and Kersberger would make wine and winemaking a full-time pursuit.

They were gradually gaining some traction, and a following, for their wines, when the pandemic put them on a faster, more vibrant track. As noted earlier, it didn’t happen overnight; the first few months of the pandemic were quite scary indeed as both Black Birch and the dental practice shut down, leaving no revenue coming in.

But as area residents starting looking for things they could do, the Black Birch team saw opportunities as they moved many functions outside and kicked off their summer music series with artists who were looking for, and desperate for, places to play their music.

“We were able to open up, pivot what we were doing, and make everything work,” Kersberger recalled. “We worked our butts off, our staff worked their butts off … we had too many people coming in, and we had to turn some away.”

Those who did manage to get down that long driveway apparently enjoyed their experience, she went on, noting that there have been large numbers of repeat customers coming to Black Birch, enough to make 2021 and 2022 “banner years” for the operation.

“People have been coming back,” she said. “Maybe not as often, but they’re coming back; we really got our name out there.”

Indeed, Black Birch has settled into a groove, if you will, with its recently concluded summer concert series routinely drawing more than 200 visitors; the tasting room seeing business year-round; the facility hosting a wide array of events, from birthday parties to wedding-rehearsal parties; and the sheep generating various forms of business while also grazing the spaces between the rows of vines and providing fertilizer for the vineyard.

And what used to a two- or three-season business is now a year-round venture.

“Things have changed over the past two or three years,” Modestow said. “We’ve gone from winters being dead to winters actually being quite steady.”

Kersberger agreed, noting that the vineyard and winery now draw visitors from up and down the I-91 corridor and beyond, including Connecticut, Vermont, New York, and all across Western Mass., while also welcoming students from UMass and the other Five Colleges institutions — who are more into wine those of a generation or two ago — as well as their parents and friends.

“A huge portion of our customers are from this area,” Kersberger said. “We have a lot of repeat customers, and those customers bring new customers, and it grows from there; there’s a lot of word-of-mouth advertising.”


Bottom Line

Getting back to the business plan and the broad goal of producing only wines with those black ‘estate’ labels, Modestow said the extreme weather of 2023 has certainly set those plans back.

On one fateful night in May, the temperature dropped to 25 degrees, killing 80% of the crop at Black Birch.

The full impact of this setback won’t be known for some time, he said, but given the growing demand for Black Birch wines, the damages will certainly increase both dependence on grapes grown elsewhere and reliance on what remains in inventory from previous years.

Meanwhile, after those banner years of 2021 and 2022, when growth was “off the charts,” Kersberger said, projections are for steady, if not as spectacular, growth moving forward.

In short, those at Black Birch will do more rolling with the punches — and the weather.

That has been standard operating procedure since the first vines were planted back in May 2017, and this mindset has enabled a business — and a passion — to take root and bear fruit, both literally and figuratively.

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Let’s Have a Ball

Summertime 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. Let’s start with Hooplandia — a major basketball tournament that’s been a long time coming, as you’ll find out starting on the next page, but one that promises to grow even bigger as it returns year after year. After that, we detail 20 more recreational and cultural events to fill in those summer days. Admittedly, they only scratch the surface, so we encourage you to get out and explore everything else that makes summer in Western Mass. a memorable time.

Tipping Off a Tradition

After Delays, Hooplandia Finally Gets a Chance to Shine >>Read More

Fun in the Sun

There’s Plenty to Do in Western Mass. This Summer >> Read More


Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Tipping Off a Tradition

John Doleva (left) and Gene Cassidy

John Doleva (left) and Gene Cassidy didn’t think, when Hooplandia was announced in early 2020, that it would take three more years to tip off, but they say it will be worth the wait.


It’s been a long road from Hooplandia’s conception to its tipoff on June 23.

Even longer than the road — that would be Interstate 90 — from Springfield to Spokane, Wash., the home of Hoopfest, a 3-on-3 basketball tournament established 33 years ago that now draws 7,000 teams per year.

When he first visited Spokane, Gene Cassidy saw an enormous highway sign calling that city ‘Hooptown USA.’ And he had two initial thoughts, the first being that, if anyone should call themselves Hooptown, it’s Springfield, not Spokane. The second thought was that this type of event could be huge in the birthplace of basketball.

At the sight of the Hooptown USA sign, “I was shaking my head, asking, ‘how in the world does this region, this city, get that moniker?’” recalled Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition. “They’re on the right street, but that’s the wrong end of the country, right?”

So he brought that idea back to the right end of I-90. And by 2019, Cassidy and John Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, were busy planning to unveil Hooplandia the following June.

And then the pandemic shut the whole world down. Tourism and events were shuttered and canceled.

Or, in the case of Hooplandia, postponed. It was clear right away there would be no such event in 2020, but as the pandemic persisted and subsequent surges continued to hit the nation and the region, the tournament was scrapped for 2021 as well. And while the situation improved somewhat that year, there were too many uncertainties and not enough time to put a tournament in place for 2022.

Which brings us to 2023, and the inaugural Hooplandia event finally set to descend on the region for three days on June 23-25. Most games will be played at the Big E fairgrounds, while championship matches in numerous divisions — which include children, first responders, active military, veterans, high school and college students at various skill levels, adult teams at various age ranges, even Special Olympics and wheelchair teams — will get the spotlight of being hosted at the Hall of Fame itself.

“With three weeks left to go before the event takes place, we’ve got about 350 teams registered,” Cassidy said last week, adding that he hopes to reach 500 by tip-off. “And the growth potential is really unlimited. In Spokane, they’ve been doing it for 33 years. They’ve got 7,000 teams. And we’re prepared at Eastern States to beat them.”

Doleva agrees. He knows it will take time to ramp up to that level — but believes it’s possible.

“We’re at the beginning stages of this. And I think we’re in a really good position to launch this. Having the number of teams that Gene’s talking about and getting some momentum here is very important. This first year and the second year are going to be very important to position this tournament as a premier tournament for the future.”

He compared the progression of the tournament to a concentric circle that expands farther out each year.

“Spokane draws from all 48 states consistently. They have international teams,” he said. But after the first year or two in Springfield and West Springfield, “with B-roll to show and as we recruit teams and share through social media, all those things will build as we go further and further out. So I think Gene is right. We’ll go beyond New England this year, and we’ll go beyond that to Philadelphia and down to the Washington, D.C. area. And if we’re able to accomplish that, then we really are in kind of a national march with this by years three to five.”

Besides signing Dunkin’ on as presenting sponsor, Hooplandia has attracted many other big-name sponsors and supporters, including Baystate Health, Ford Dealers of New England, local Boys and Girls Clubs, PeoplesBank, Westfield Bank, and Bulkley Richardson, to name just a few.

“We are thrilled to support the inaugural Hooplandia event,” said Mary Kay Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau, adding that its Western Massachusetts Sports Commission division is committed to supporting athletic events that bring visitors into the region and contribute to the economic vitality of Western Mass. “Hooplandia is a great collaboration between the Eastern States Exposition and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame — two important attractions that have joined together to provide even more opportunities for increased visitation to the region.”

All that is gratifying to Cassidy. “Getting the community to buy in is really important,” he said. “In the end, we’re going to have a signature event for Greater Springfield that’s going to generate business for a lot of people and a lot of regional businesses, not the least of which will be hotels and restaurants. But it’s also going to raise awareness about basketball.”

As well it should, he and Doleva agree — especially in the rightful Hooptown USA, the one thousands of miles east on I-90 from Spokane.

—Joseph Bednar

Tourism & Hospitality Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Beyond Hooplandia, the region offers a wide variety of cultural and recreational happenings for the whole family, from baseball to beer tastings; fireworks to festivals; jazz to jubilees. Here are 20 such upcoming events, and where to find out more about them. Enjoy!


Valley Blue Sox

MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke


Admission: $5-$7; flex packs, $59-$99

Now through July 29: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play the home half of their 44-game schedule close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and giveaways help make every game a fun, affordable event for the whole family.


Westfield Starfires

Bullens Field, 181 Notre Dame St., Westfield


Admission: $10; flex packs, $99

Now through Aug. 6: Still can’t get enough baseball? Celebrating their fifth season of action, the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, play a slightly longer schedule (56 games) than the Blue Sox. The team plays at Bullens Field in a city with a rich baseball history, and peppers its games with plenty of local flavor and fan experiences.


IRONMAN 70.3 Western Massachusetts Triathlon

Downtown Springfield


Admission (for spectators): Free

June 11: Springfield will host the inaugural IRONMAN 70.3 Western Mass. triathlon, which consists of a 70.3-mile journey as athletes will take on a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride, and 13.1-mile run. Athletes will start with a downriver swim in the Connecticut River. Once out of the water, athletes will transition to the bike at Riverfront Park in downtown Springfield for the 56-mile ride around the region’s biking areas. Once back in Riverfront Park, the race will conclude with a run using the riverwalks and downtown streets of Springfield.


Juneteenth Jubilee

Downtown Springfield


Admission: Free

June 16-18: Juneteenth is a federal holiday celebrating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the U.S. two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Juneteenth in Springfield will celebrate this holiday with three days of activities, including a flag raising at the Black Vietnam Veterans Memorial at Mason Square and an adult block party at Level 5 restaurant on June 16; a family fun day featuring music, kids’ activities, youth and business award presentationsl, complimentary food from Black-owned restaurants, and more on June 17; and a Father’s Day brunch at the Dunbar Center on June 18.


Worthy Craft Beer Showcase

201 Worthington St., Springfield


Admission: $35-$50

June 17: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host more than two dozen breweries at an event that also features live music from the General Gist and others, and plenty of food. The event will also feature a home-brew contest; Amherst Brewing will make the winner’s beer and serve it at next year’s Brew Fest. Designated drivers pay reduced admission of $10.


Green River Festival

One College Dr., Greenfield


Admission: Weekend, $169.99; Friday, $59.99; Saturday, $74.99; Sunday, $74.99

June 23-25: For one weekend every summer, Franklin County Fairgrounds 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 hot-air-balloon launches and a Saturday-evening ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.


Municipal Fireworks

Admission: Free

June and July: Western Mass. communities will host numerous fireworks events around the Fourth of July this year. Sites include Szot Park, Chicopee, June 24; Quarry Hill School, Monson, June 24; Look Memorial Park, Northampton, June 24; Westfield Middle School, June 25; Holyoke Community College, June 30; UMass Amherst McGuirk Stadium, July 1; Beacon Field, Greenfield, July 1; Smith Middle School, South Hadley, July 1; Six Flags New England, Agawam, July 1-3; and Riverfront Park, Springfield, July 4.


Berkshires Arts Festival

380 State Road, Great Barrington


Admission: $7-$15; ages 9 and under free

July 1-3: Ski Butternut plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition for more than two decades. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of 155 jury-selected artists and designers from across the country, in both outdoor and air-conditioned indoor exhibition spaces. The family-friendly event also features demonstrations, food, and live music.


Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson


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. This year’s parade steps off at 10 a.m. on Main Street, followed by activities, music, and a beer garden later in the day.


Southwick Pro Motocross National

The Wick 338, 46 Powder Mill Road, Southwick


Admission: $30-$395

July 8: The Southwick National is back on the schedule at the Wick 338. This historic racetrack makes its return to the circuit on July 8 and will serve as the sixth round of the 2023 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship, sanctioned by AMA Pro Racing. Gates open at 7 a.m., and ticket prices span a wide range of viewing opportunities, including preferred and VIP options.


Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show

Route 20, Brimfield


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.


Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival

300 North Main St., Florence


Admission: $5-$22; age 5 and under free

July 15: Held at Look Memorial Park, this 28nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features bagpipes, heavy athletics, Celtic dance, drumming, vendors, historical demonstrations, musical guests, children’s events, and much more. For the second straight year, guests can also attend a whiskey-tasting master class ($30) where they can sample and learn the differences and complexities of single-malt scotch whiskey, as well as learning the history of the spirit and how it is made.


Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival

Stearns Square, Springfield


Admission: Free

July 21-22: The annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival descends upon Stearns Square and surrounding streets this summer, offering a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend. The musical lineup will be announced soon on the website.


Springfield Dragon Boat Festival

121 West St., Springfield, MA


Admission (for spectators): Free

July 29: The sixth annual Springfield Dragon Boat Festival returns to North Riverfront Park. Hosted by the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, this family-friendly festival features the exciting sport of dragon-boat racing and will include music, performances, food, vendors, kids’ activities, and more. The festival is an ideal event for businesses and organizations looking for a team-building opportunity, and provides financial support for the Riverfront Club.


Brew at the Zoo

The Zoo in Forest Park, Springfield


Admission: $50-$75; designated drivers $25-$35

Aug. 5: Brew at The Zoo is a fundraiser at the Zoo in Forest Park, featuring unlimited craft-beer samples from local breweries, a home-brew competition, live music, food trucks, games, and, of course, animal interactions. The fundraiser supports the general operating costs of the more than 225 animals that call the zoo home, many of which have been deemed non-releasable by a wildlife rehabilitator for reasons relating to injury, illness, permanent disability, habituation to humans, and other factors.


Agricultural Fairs

Admission: Varies; check websites

August and September: As regional fairs go, the Big E (thebige.com), slated for Sept 15 to Oct. 1, is still the region’s main draw, and there’s something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food, livestock shows, Avenue of States houses, parades, local vendors and crafters, or live music. But the Big E isn’t the only agricultural fair on the block. The Middlefield Fair (middlefieldfair.org) kicks off the fair season on Aug. 11-13, followed by the Westfield Fair (thewestfieldfair.com) on Aug. 18-20, the Cummington Fair (cummingtonfair.com) on Aug. 24-27; the Three County Fair in Northampton (3countyfair.com) on Sept. 1-4, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield (fcas.com) on Sept. 7-10, and the Belchertown Fair (belchertownfair.com) on Sept. 22-24, to name some of the larger gatherings.



22 St. George Road, Springfield


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.


Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Mattoon Street, Springfield


Admission: Free

Sept. 9-10: Now celebrating its 50th 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


Admission: three-day pass, $64-$184; age 6 and under free

Sept. 22-24: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands on four stages over three days. This year, the lineup includes Dropkick Murphys Acoustic, Lukas Nelson + POTR, Sierra Ferrell, Rhiannon Giddens, the Devil Makes Three, and many more.


Old Deerfield Craft Fair

8 Memorial St., Deerfield


Admission: $7, age 12 and under free

Sep. 23-24: This award-winning show that closes out the summer tourism season 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.


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WEST SPRINGFIELD — The Big E announced Thursday that its food lineup for 2022 includes a number of new offering, including flame-grilled vegan options, sweet apple fries, bubble tea, noodle bowls, brunch options and more.

The line-up of new options includes:


New Locations

SoulFully, on New England Avenue: 100% vegan, flame grilled burgers, grilled hot dogs, loaded fries, and milkshakes;

Cha Feo, Young Building: various milk teas, boba teas and Thai teas;

Riceballs Arancini, East Road: beef, veggie, big mac, Philly, Italiano riceballs, Arancini;

Ferrindino Maple Farm, Better Living Center: maple cotton candy and maple cream;

Bakery on Brewer, New England Ave.: apple, apple bacon, blueberry and pumpkin fritters;

Sassys Sweet Potatoes, East Road: roasted root veggies, sweet potato tacos, sweet potato bread, sweet potato pie and Southwest sweet potatoes;

The Happy Dough Co., West Road: apple fries and apple fry sundaes;

Villa of Lebanon, Young Building: baba ganoush, baklava, kofta kabobs, falafel, hummus, kataif, kunapa, meat pies, spinach pie and tabouli

BoardWok Noodles, The Front Porch (Inside Gate 5): yakisoba noodles and rice bowls

The Place 2 Be, The Front Porch: breakfast all day: mini fruity pebble/berries and cream pancakes, Mini Nutella and coconut pancakes and milkshakes topped with waffles and pancakes;

Las Kangris Food Truck, Young Building: yellow rice with pigeon peas, baked pork, baked chicken, green bananas “al mojo,” and seafood salad;

Kulfi Ice Cream Taste of Persia, Food Court: Kulfi, a traditional Indian ice cream;

Frankie’s Famous Italian Frozen Lemonade, Young Building: Springfield’s iconic lemon Italian ice;


Chick-Fil-A, Springfield Road: chicken sandwiches, wraps and more

The West Side Grille Cider Garden, sponsored by Downeast Cider – Outside the Young Building: a selection of Downeast craft ciders Original Blend and Cider Donut in cans and on draft brewed in Boston; and

Ann Maries Candies, West Road: old fashioned candies, fudge and nuts.

Oldies with New Offerings

The Big E Bakery: For 2022, it introduces an exciting new flavor cream puff, chocolate;

Harpoon Beer Hall, located on New England Avenue will be debuting a completely revamped menu of pretzels including the Oh that’s Sweet pretzel coated in cinnamon sugar crust served with warm caramel dipping sauce;

Chompers on New England Avenue will feature a new chicken pot pie chomper, crunchy balls with chicken, potatoes, veggies, mozzarella and cheddar cheese with a roasted chicken gravy dipping sauce.

Visit TheBigE.com to see a complete list of new food offerings.

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SPRINGFIELD — MOSSO Brass Quintet will perform a free concert on September 4, at 3 p.m. at the historic White Church in Blandford. The performance is sponsored by the Recording Industry’s Music Performance Trust Fund.

The MOSSO Brass Quintet features Gerald Serfass and John Charles Thomas on trumpet, Lauren Winter on horn, Scott Cranston on trombone, and Stephen Perry on tuba. According to Perry, the program, which will be announced from the stage, will include classics by Bach, Brahms and Copland; pops and jazz by Ellington, Strayhorn and Lennon/McCartney. Perry added that the program is family-friendly and will last approximately 75 minutes.

MOSSO, which recently named Maestro Kevin Rhodes as its artistic advisor, is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization and is not a subsidiary of nor affiliated with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc. MOSSO has presented four orchestral concerts at Springfield Symphony Hall, a series of chamber ensemble concerts in Springfield, Longmeadow and at the Westfield Athenaeum, and participated in the Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival will this year be staged over two days, August 12 and 13, with a broad mix of music, arts activities, talks on arts, culture, and social justice, local pop-up craft, food and beverages.

The internationally heralded festival is the city’s premier annual event, featuring national stars and local talent playing jazz, blues, funk, Latin, and African music. Admission is free, but donations are appreciated. This year’s full musical line-up can be found at springfieldjazzfest.com.

The festival will also offer a sneak peek (or an unveiling depending on its progress) of the iconic Worthington Street Mural project celebrating Springfield history. The mural is being painstakingly restored by Springfield artist John Simpson who has studied old photographs of the building’s wall in an effort to accurately recreate as much of the original mural as possible.

Musical performances on August 12 feature Shor’ty Billups, a soul and R&B living legend who played with Ruth Brown, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Jackie Wilson, and Wilson Pickett among others. Also performing are valley legends FAT with Peter Newland and their special guest Scott Murawski from Max Creek, Valley blues/rock icon Mitch Chakour (who was Joe Cocker’s music director) and friends, popular Valley blues rockers The Buddy McEarns Band, and soulful blues belter Janet Ryan and her band.

The festivities on August 13 commence at 12:30 at the Springfield Museum with a parade led by the New Orleans celebrated second-line ensemble The New Breed Brass Band starting from the Wood Museum of Springfield History, where attendees will have free access to the ‘Horn Man: The Life and Musical Legacy of Charles Neville’ exhibit. The parade will end at the stage for the kick-off performance. The complete Saturday performer line-up can be seen at springfieldjazzfest.com.

In addition to the musical performances, the multi-faceted festival will feature various arts activities and presentations and workshops. Puerto Rican jazz trombonist William Cepeda will lead a workshop about traditional Afro-Puerto Rican music on August 12 at 5 p.m., at the Hispanic American Library. Cuban jazz vocalist, Dayme Arocena, will lead a workshop about traditional Afro-Cuban music at the festival on August 13. Attendees can also participate in a mural paint party (separate mural project from the one on Friday) and a presentation by Puerto Rican mural artist Betsy Casanas, and conversations connecting arts with food and climate justice.

The annual festival is presented by Blues To Green, a nonprofit, using music and art to center the cultures of the African diaspora within American culture, nurture personal freedom, strengthen multicultural community, and catalyze action for racial and climate justice. Inspired by famed musician Charles Neville and founded by his wife, B2G is led by Black Springfield community leaders. Learn more about Blues to Green and how the festival helps achieve social change at bluestogreen.org.

This festival is made possible by a grant from Springfield’s Neighborhood Economic Recovery and Relief Fund, other grant funders and local business sponsors, and donors.


In addition to the musical performances, the multi-faceted festival will feature various arts activities and presentations and workshops. Puerto Rican jazz trombonist William Cepeda will lead a workshop about traditional Afro-Puerto Rican music on August 12 at 5 p.m., at the Hispanic American Library. Cuban jazz vocalist, Dayme Arocena, will lead a workshop about traditional Afro-Cuban music at the festival on August 13. Attendees can also participate in a mural paint party (separate mural project from the one on Friday) and a presentation by Puerto Rican mural artist Betsy Casanas, and conversations connecting arts with food and climate justice.

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SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Thunderbirds were recognized for their business excellence in a variety of departments at last month’s AHL Team Business Meetings.

For their season-long #WeAre413 campaign, the Thunderbirds organization took home the league award for Marketing Campaign of the Year. The Thunderbirds returned to the ice in 2021 after opting out of the 2020-21 shortened season. This campaign messaging’s goal was to speak to the pride felt by each and every resident of the greater Western Mass region, as well as the longstanding hockey history of the city.

This marks the second time the Thunderbirds have been recognized for having the Marketing Campaign of the Year. The club also received the award following the 2018-19 season for its #RiseUp campaign.

#WeAre413 got underway with the team’s return to the ice on Oct. 16, with legendary NHL broadcast voice Mike “Doc” Emrick narrating the journey the Thunderbirds and the Springfield community experienced to get back on the ice. The full video can be viewed here.

“We wanted to establish a campaign that would speak to the rallying of our community for our triumphant return to play in 2021-22,” said Thunderbirds President Nathan Costa. “#WeAre413 showcased our fans’ passion for hockey and our players’ shared goal of bringing the Calder Cup back to Springfield. By the time the Calder Cup Finals arrived, Springfield was the center of the AHL world thanks to the unwavering support of this community. This award further validates our belief that Springfield is one of the best hockey cities in this league.”

In addition to the Marketing Campaign of the Year, the Thunderbirds achieved a pair of milestones in both the ticket sales and corporate sales departments. As part of the award recognition at the Team Business Meetings, AHL member clubs that hit benchmarks pertaining to tickets sold and corporate sponsorship revenue were honored.

The ticket sales team received honors for reaching 600 new full season equivalents (FSEs) during the 2021-22 season, where one FSE equates to one

Berkshire County Daily News Elder Care Events Sports & Leisure Tourism & Hospitality

NORTH ADAMS Last month, BFAIR staged its First Annual Summer Kick-Off Festival, which that raised more than $31,000. With support from 34 sponsors and 28 in-kind donations from local businesses, the agency able to offer a fun-filled day full of the musical stylings of Code Blue Duo, food from Adams Mason Food Truck, two mini-golf courses as part of the BFAIR-Way Mini Golf Tournament, and 15 games and activities. In total, more than $3,000 in prizes and raffles were distributed.

“Our first Summer Kick-Off Festival was an amazing way to get back into in-person events and further share the BFAIRmission with the greater community,” said Tara Jacobsen, Fundraising & Grants Manager. “Support that we receive through events like the Summer Kick-Off Festival and with other fundraising activities, helps us to provide essential and individualized care to persons with developmental disabilities, autism, and acquired brain injury. We are so grateful to all our generous sponsors for making this event possible, the volunteers who donated their time, and to all the guests who came out to the event. We are already gearing up for next year.”

Since 1994, BFAIR has been providing AFC, residential, in-home clinical services, employment and day services for adults and children with developmental disabilities, acquired brain injury and autism.

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WESTFIELD Tighe & Bond, Inter-Fluve, the Town of Falmouth (MA), and project partners have been recognized with two awards for the Coonamessett River Restoration and John Parker Road Bridge project.

The project team received the Bronze Engineering Excellence Award from The American Council of Engineering Companies of Massachusetts (ACEC/MA) and the Nicholas Humber Outstanding Collaboration Award from the Environmental Business Council of New England (EBC).

The awards recognize the successful transformation of 56 acres of abandoned cranberry bogs, which established a thriving, self-sustaining ecosystem supporting wildlife, increasing coastal resiliency, and providing educational opportunities. Numerous barriers to fish passage were removed including a dam, water control structures, a series of undersized culverts that were replaced with the new John Parker Road Bridge, and 5,560 feet of the river were reestablished to closely match the historic natural flow of the river. A river overlook is a gateway to miles of trail with interpretive signs about the natural history placed along the river that is protected by town and land trust conservation lands.

“The Coonamessett River restoration achieved its goals to be a nature-based solution to increase resiliency to climate change and community resiliency,” said Elizabeth Gladfelter, Falmouth Conservation Commission Member. “This project has increased awareness and stewardship of natural resources in Falmouth and both formal and informal educational programs.”

Project partners spanning local, state, and federal organizations collaborated with the technical engineering and construction teams to successfully complete this project. The restoration is serving as an example for other Cape Cod communities transforming former cranberry bogs across the region into thriving wildlife habitats and educational and recreational opportunities for all.

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SPRINGFIELD — After a three-year hiatus due to COVID-19, The Zoo in Forest Park is bringing back its popular Brew at The Zoo, presented by PDC Inc., on Aug. 6 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

The 21+ event features beer samples from local craft breweries, a home brew competition, food trucks, live music, games, a raffle, and animal interactions.

“We haven’t been able to host Brew at the Zoo since 2019, and we’ve really missed it,” said Sarah Tsitso, executive director at The Zoo in Forest Park. “This event brings together our incredible craft beer community, who all come out to support the 225 animals that call our zoo their home.”

Attendees can choose from four ticket types: VIP, VIP Designated Driver, General Admission and Designated Driver. Attendees with a VIP ticket will enjoy an extra hour of sampling beginning at 12 p.m., the opportunity to participate in up-close animal encounters, and grain to feed the animals. All attendees must be 21+.

The current list of breweries attending the event include Loophole Brewing, One Way Brewing, Vanished Valley Brewing Co., Broad Brook Brewing Company, Connecticut Valley Brewing Company, Berkshire Brewing Company, Rustic Brewing Company, Iron Duke Brewing, Two Weeks Notice Brewing Company, Brew Practitioners and New City Brewery, in addition to nine home brewers.

The Zoo will be closed to the public on Aug. 6. Advanced tickets are required to attend this event and IDs will be checked at the door. Tickets are limited and on sale now at www.forestparkzoo.org/brew.

For more information, contact Gabry Tyson at (413) 733-2251 ext. 5 or [email protected].

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SPRINGFIELD — The historic grounds of Springfield Armory National Historic Site is once again the stage this summer for live music.
On July 16 at 6 p.m., the Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestraled by Jeff Gavioli,  will perform. The Bad News Jazz and Blues Orchestra is a 19-piece orchestra that has been performing since 2012, playing swing music from the 1930s and 1940s.

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LENOX — The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, announced its 2022 Summer Lecture Series line-up. Now in its 29th year, the Summer Lecture series brings leading biographers and historians to the Berkshires. This year’s series includes journalist and New York Times bestselling author Kati Marton, Pushcart prize-winning poet Ravi Shankar, and Syrian/Jordanian thought leader Luma Mufleh, among other notable speakers. 

Lectures will be held outdoors under an open-air tent on Mondays at 4 p.m. and Tuesdays at 11 a.m., beginning July 11 through August 30. To view the full line-up and purchase tickets, visit EdithWharton.org.

“We have a fascinating mix of narratives about historical figures and contemporary underrepresented voices in this year’s lineup,” said Patricia Pin, The Mount’s Public Program Director. “We are looking forward to welcoming our community back to The Mount for what promises to be an engaging season of meaningful storytelling.” 

  • July 11 and 12: Grace M. Cho, author of Tastes Like War; 
  • July 18 and 19: Victoria Kastner, author of Julia Morgan: An Intimate Biography of the Trailblazing Architect 
  • July 25 and 26: Luma Mufleh, author of Learning America: One Woman’s Fight for Educational Justice for Refugee Children.
  • August 1 and 2: Ravi Shankar, author of Correctional: A Memoir;
  • August 8 and 9: Susan Branson, author of Scientific Americans;
  • August 15 and 16: Chad Williams on “The Voice of W.E.B Du Bois”
  • August 22 and 23: Ann McCutchan, author of The Life She Wished to Live;
  • August 29 and 30: Kati Marton, author of Chancellor: The Remarkable Odyssey of Angela Merkel.

For more information, visit EdithWharton.org

Creative Economy Daily News Events Luxury Living Sports & Leisure Tourism & Hospitality

SPRINGFIELD — MOSSO, the Musicians of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, will celebrate the film music of John Williams on July 21, at 7:30 PM in Springfield Symphony Hall. MOSSO will perform excerpts from Williams’ scores to ET, Schindler’s List, Superman, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and more. Some popular classics, including Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, Massenet’s Meditation from Thaïs, and Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite open the program.

Maestro Kevin Rhodes was music director and conductor of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra for 20 seasons before the pandemic. He returned to Springfield to conduct his musicians last October in front of a packed house at Symphony Hall, featuring many musical highlights from his tenure as their music director.

Rhodes was recently appointed Chief Conductor of the Slovak National Opera and Ballet in Bratislava, the capital city of Slovakia. In this role he will have a leading artistic position in a European city noted for its cultural diversity, while he continues to serve as music director for the Traverse Symphony Orchestra in Michigan, and as principal conductor of Boston’s Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra.

Rhodes has been a presence in the major musical capitals of Europe for over 25 years, with credits including The Paris Opera, The Vienna State Opera, The Berlin State Opera, La Scala of Milan, The Dutch National Ballet, The Verona Ballet, The Stuttgart Ballet, and many others.

Tickets for the concert, a MOSSO benefit, are priced at $60, $45, $25, and $10, and are on sale at: SpringfieldSymphonyMusicians.com. MOSSO sponsors include BusinessWest and Healthcare News, the Republican/MassLive, WWLP-22News & the CW Springfield, the Sheraton Springfield at Monarch Place, New England Public Media, and the Bolduc Schuster Foundation.

MOSSO is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, which is not a subsidiary of nor affiliated with the Springfield Symphony Orchestra Inc.

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AMHERST — The Amherst Business Improvement District has announced the lineup for the second annual Friday Night Summer Concert Series on the South Common. The series is sponsored by Encharter Insurance.

On July 22, the BID presents local artists Dawn Lepere and Jeff Starns opening for blues singer-songwriter Eric Lee (LINK). On July 29, UMass will return to the Common for the second year of Jazz in July in downtown Amherst, an event featuring UMass staff, students, and a couple of ‘ringers.’ On August 5, the Grammy-winning Children’s performer MISTER G will take the stage before The Soul Magnets appear. Wrapping up the series on August 12 will be the classic country act the Rosie Porter Trio, followed by the pop-rock Maxxtones.

These events will be free for all, starting at 6 p.m. These evenings will also host local brewery White Lion Brewing, local cider makers Artifact, and Black Birch Vineyards wine for the over-21 guests. Crème Bru.LA will be joining the fun, and there will have a charcuterie station.

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality

Things Are Heating Up

It’s really happening. After a 2020 summer season in which most recreational and cultural venues were shuttered, and a 2021 that made halting progress toward normalcy, with a mix of in-person and virtual offerings, most area attractions are planning a 2022 summer season with few, if any, restrictions, worrying less about COVID this year than the gas prices tourists will be paying to visit them. For those willing to brave the pump, Western Mass. offers a whole lot to do, from live music to theater and dance; from sporting events to Fourth of July festivities; from agricultural fairs to multiple ways to enjoy the Connecticut River. Here are some suggestions to get you started.


Adventure East

11 Bridge St., Sunderland


Admission: Varies

Year-round: People enjoy being out in nature, but planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming and challenging. So Adventure East handles the logistics of outings involving hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, shoeshoeing, and more — as well as the equipment — so participants can take in the region’s natural beauty without the hassle of figuring out the details. Its activities take place throughout the region’s forests, mountains, and waterways, with guided tours geared at a wide range of skill and experience levels.

The Big E

The Big E

The Big E

1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield


Admission: $10-$15; age 5 and under, free; 17-day pass, $20-$40

Sept. 16 to Oct. 2: As regional fairs go, 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, which in 2022 includes Nelly and the Dropkick Murphys. But the Big E isn’t the only agricultural fair on the block. The Westfield Fair kicks off the fair season on Aug. 19-21, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton on Sept. 2-5, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 8-11, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 23-25, to name some of the larger gatherings.


Bridge of Flowers

Shelburne Falls


Admission: Free

Through Oct. 31: The Bridge of Flowers connects the towns of Shelburne and Buckland. The seasonal footbridge, once a trolley bridge, has a garden of flowers covering it, which has long drawn visitors from both near and far. While admission is free, visitors may express their appreciation by offering donations in the kiosks located at both entrances. The Bridge of Flowers was recognized as a Franklin Favorite tourist attraction four years in a row (2018-2021) in a contest sponsored by the Greenfield Recorder.



Brimfield Antique Flea Market

Route 20, Brimfield


Admission: Free

July 12-17, Sept. 6-11: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Flea Market now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people who 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.


Concerts at the Drake

44 North Pleasant St., Amherst


Admission: Varies

Year-round: For decades, the Amherst community has clamored for a space for a live performance and music venue. The Amherst Business Improvement District and the Downtown Amherst Foundation listened, and the result is the Drake, a recently opened performing-arts venue in the heart of downtown Amherst, with a planned lineup of both legendary and emerging musical artists from Western Mass. and across the globe, as well as workshops and open-mic nights. Check out the website for a full lineup.


FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams


Admission: three-day pass, $54-$174; ages 6 and under, free

Sept. 23-25: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands on four stages over three days. This year, the lineup includes Gary Clark Jr., Old Crow Medicine Show, Tanya Tucker, Trampled by Turtles, the Del McCoury Band, Taj Mahal, and many more.


Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival

300 North Main St., Florence


Admission: $22; ages 6-12, $5; age 5 and under, free

July 16: Celebrating its 27th anniversary, the largest Scottish festival in Massachusetts, held at Look Park, 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. Featured performers this year include Enter the Haggis, Albannach, Sarah the Fiddler, and Charlie Zahm.


Green River Festival

Green River Festival

Green River Festival

One College Dr., Greenfield


Admission: Weekend, $170; Friday, $55; Saturday, $75; Sunday, $75

June 24-26: For one weekend every summer, 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 hot-air-balloon launches and evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 30 artists and bands — from Father John Misty to Waxahatchee to Asleep at the Wheel — slated to perform this year.


Independence Day Weekend at Old Sturbridge Village

1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge


Admission: $14-$28

July 2-4: Old Sturbridge Village will celebrate Independence Day weekend with a citizens’ parade, fife and drum music, cannon demonstrations, and more. Attendees can join in a game of old-fashioned baseball, watch a toy hot-air balloon flight, listen to a stirring reading of the Declaration of Independence, and hear excerpts from Frederick Douglass’s 1852 address “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July.” On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket


Admission: Prices vary

June 18 to Aug. 28: Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance. This season begins with the 90th anniversary gala on June 18, which precedes dozens of events, including “Eastern Woodland Dances” on June 22, Ted Shawn’s “Dance of the Ages” on June 23, Ronald K. Brown’s “Evidence” from June 29 to July 3, Caleb Teicher’s “Sw!ng Out” on July 6-10, Ballet Nepantla’s “Valentina” on July 13, and much, much more; check out the website for a full listing.


Lady Bea Cruise Boat

1 Alvord St., South Hadley, MA


Admission: $18-$25; kids 3 and under, free

All summer: Interstate 91 is not the only direct thoroughfare from South Hadley to Northampton. The Lady Bea, a 53-foot, 49-passenger, climate-controlled boat operated by Brunelle’s Marina, will take boarders up and back on daily cruises along the Valley’s other major highway: the Connecticut River. If you don’t feel like sharing the 75-minute narrated voyage with others, rent the boat out for a private excursion. Amenties include a PA system, video monitors, a full bar, and seating indoors and on the sun deck.


Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson


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, booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event — now in its 23rd year — has evolved into an attraction drawing between 10,000 and 13,000 people every July 4.


Shakespeare & Company

70 Kemble St., Lenox


Admission: Varies

This year marks Shakespeare & Company’s 45th season of performances, actor training, and education, taking place at two indoor venues and two outdoor spaces, including the 500-seat Spruce Theater, an amphitheater built just last summer. The two Shakespeare productions planned for 2022 include Much Ado About Nothing (July 2 to Aug. 14) and Measure for Measure (Aug. 19 to Sept. 18), while visitors can also take in plenty of contemporary plays, as well as comedy and other events.


Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England

Six Flags New England

1623 Main St., Agawam


Admission: $34.99 and up; season passes, $59.99 and up

All summer: Unlike most seasons, Six Flags has not announced a new ride for 2022, but is touting an improved visitor experience, adding single-rider lines on some of its most popular rides, including Batman the Dark Knight, Harley Quinn Spinsanity, Supergirl Sky Flyer, and more; as well as upgrading its Flash Pass system to a mobile app, offering mobile food ordering, and unveiling new dining options. The main park and the Hurricane Harbor water park are both open now.


Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival

Stearns Square, Springfield


Admission: Free

Aug. 12-13: This year, Springfield’s biggest music festival moves to the Stearns Square neighborhood, and Worthington and Bridge streets will be closed to vehicles to create a pedestrian area. The Charles Neville Main Stage will be located near Stearns Square, and the Urban Roots Stage will be located near Tower Square Park. The music lineup will include Bomba de Aqui, Albino Mbie, Curtis Haywood, Dayme Arocena, and the Haneef Nelson Quintet, with more announcements to come.


Star Spangled Springfield

Downtown Springfield


Admission: Free

July 4: What’s a better end to an Independence Day filled with food, family, and outdoor fun than taking in a spectacle of the skies? Springfield’s annual event will feature family-friendly entertainment, a flyover by the 104th Fighter Wing, and a dazzling fireworks display from the Memorial Bridge. But that’s hardly the only display on tap. Among the Western Mass. communities that have announced fireworks events are Holyoke (June 24); Chicopee and Northampton (June 25); Greenfield (July 1); South Hadley (July 2); Agawam (July 2-4); East Longmeadow (July 3); Amherst, North Adams, and Pittsfield (July 4); and Otis (July 9).


Summer Stage at Ski Butternut

380 State Road, Great Barrington


Admission: $24 to $28

July 16, Aug. 27. Sept. 17: For the first time this summer, Ski Butternut will present a family-friendly concert series. The cover bands span a range of rock styles and time periods and include Dean Ford and the Beautiful Ones: A Tribute to Prince (July 16), The Machine: Dark Side of the Moon and Greatest Hits of Pink Floyd (Aug. 27), and The Breakers: A Tribute to Tom Petty (Sept. 17). A variety of food, beer, and wine will be available for purchase.





297 West St., Lenox


Admission: Varies

June 17 to Sept. 4: This summer, for the first time since 2019, Tanglewood, the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, will offer a full season of concerts and events. With Ozawa Hall and the Linde Center for Music and Learning reopening to the public alongside the Koussevitzky Music Shed, Tanglewood will present a wide range of programs, including eight world and American premieres and 28 works by living composers, as well as 21 artists making their Tanglewood or BSO debuts. See the website for a full listing.


Valley Blue Sox

MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke


Admission: $5-$7; flex packs, $59-$99

Through July 30: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play the home half of their 44-game schedule close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and giveaways help make every game a fun, affordable event for the whole family.


Westfield Starfires

Bullens Field, Westfield, MA


Admission: $10; flex packs, $99

Through Aug. 6: Still can’t get enough baseball? The newest baseball club to land in Western Mass., the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, play a slightly longer schedule (56 games) than the Blue Sox. Now in its fourth season, the team plays at Bullens Field in a city with a rich baseball history, and peppers its games with plenty of local flavor and fan experiences.


The Zoo in Forest Park

The Zoo in Forest Park

The Zoo in Forest Park

293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA


Admission: $5-$10; children under 1, free

Through Oct. 10: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to a wide variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitations. The Zoo is open seven days a week, weather permitting, and, unlike 2020 and 2021, guests no longer need a timed ticket to visit. u

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality

Time to Shine

For the region’s large and very important tourism and hospitality sector, the past 24 months have been a long, grueling slog marked by COVID-forced restrictions, new variants impacting attendance, a workforce crisis, and large doses of uncertainty about what will come next. Pivoting has been the order of the day, and normalcy has been an elusive goal. But as winter turns to spring, with summer right on its heels, leaders of area attractions are talking optimistically about a year that seems loaded with promise. For this issue’s focus on tourism, we spoke with four of them — a casino, two cultural destinations, and an enterprise focused on the great outdoors — about why 2022 will be different, and why that matters for this region’s tourism economy.

Read the stories below:

Chris Kelly

• Amid Challenges, MGM Springfield Takes Strides Toward Normalcy

• Springfield Museums Moves Toward a Full Slate of Activities

• Shakespeare & Company Looks to ‘Sigh No More’ in 2022

•Adventure East Connects Locals with the Great Outdoors




Tourism & Hospitality

Staging Ground

Actors in last year’s production of King Lear, starring Christopher Lloyd (center), rehearse in costume on The New Spruce Theatre stage.


“Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more / Men were deceivers ever / One foot in sea, and one on shore / To one thing constant never.”

That’s a line from William Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. Three words in particular — ‘Sigh no more’ — have been adopted by Shakespeare & Company as its theme for 2022, and for good reason.

“We’ve chosen to signify we’re walking out of hard times, but they’re not far behind us,” said Jaclyn Stevenson, director of Marketing & Communications at the Lenox-based theater organization. “‘One foot at sea and another on shore’ — we’re moving on to greater things, but we’re not out of the woods yet.”

Cultural destinations across Western Mass. and the U.S. can certainly relate to that sentiment, navigating plenty of woods as COVID-19 shut down almost all live performances in 2020 and continued to hamper the craft in 2021. But Shakespeare & Company has one foot firmly planted on the shore of a post-pandemic world, and hoping it stays there.

“It’s been very challenging,” Stevenson told BusinessWest. “We went from having no performances at all to having outdoor performances last year — and it was a great benefit to have that option. Then, as things started to reopen, there’s that constant challenge of monitoring what the COVID-19 protocols for the public are, and on top of that, the protocols for actors are often different, so we’re looking at the safety of the patrons as well as the safety of our actors.”

Part of that process was creating a second outdoor space, the 500-seat New Spruce Theater, an amphitheater that went up in only 90 days last summer.

As the company’s two indoor venues reopened as well, changes ranged from an entirely new HVAC system, ensuring the best air quality, to ‘safety seating,’ which puts empty seats between each party. That means less tickets sold, but safety was paramount, Stevenson noted.

“This summer, we’re going to have performances on four stages, two outdoor and two indoor. Some people like the air-conditioned performance experience, and some people like to be outside. But the summer season will continue to be challenging because things are ever-changing.”

The two Shakespeare productions planned for 2022 include Much Ado About Nothing — “a lot of companies are doing it this year because it’s so celebratory; everyone’s happy to be back,” Stevenson said — and Measure for Measure, which involves “war and a madman and depression, so it’s very timely.”

This year marks Shakespeare & Company’s 45th season of performances, actor training, and education, Stevenson said, and while the shows are well-known, not as many people are aware of the other two pillars.

The actor training takes several forms: month-long intensive programs, weekend intensive programs, and a Summer Shakespeare Intensive modeled after the month-long program, which provides young actors — undergraduate theater students, recent graduates, and early-career acting professionals — the opportunity to immerse themselves in Shakespeare six days a week for four weeks during the summer performance season.

In addition, the Center for Actor Training offers a variety of specialized workshops throughout the year, exploring a full range of disciplines, including rhetoric, wit, clown, fight, voice, movement, public speaking, and more. The Center for Actor Training now offers many of its workshops and classes online, providing the opportunity for theater professionals around the world to study with its faculty.

The education side of the ledger is highlighted by the annual Fall Festival of Shakespeare, which brings more than 500 students from 10 high schools together each year for a nine-week, collaborative, non-competitive, celebratory exploration and production of multiple Shakespeare plays. “Our faculty members are working, professional actors,” Stevenson noted.

The program — which culminates in full-scale productions at their own schools and then on the main stage at Shakespeare & Company’s Tina Packer Playhouse — is the subject of Speak What We Feel, a 2021 documentary by Patrick J. Toole that won the Audience Award for Best Documentary Film at the 2021 Berkshire International Film Festival.

“The Fall Festival has persevered and continues to grow,” Stevenson said, though it was much scaled back in 2021. “Hopefully, this fall, we can go back to a typical setup.”

While Shakespeare’s plays are the heart of the organization’s mission, Stevenson was quick to point out that visitors can take in plenty of contemporary plays as well throughout the year, as well as comedy and other events.

Meanwhile, she noted, the campus itself is a recreational — or at least relaxing — spot. “We have a 33-acre campus and walkable, accessible grounds that include a full array of modern sculpture peppered in with buildings of many eras. It’s a beautiful campus — you can come here, park your car, walk around, and have a picnic.”

It’s all located in the heart of Lenox, which is why the company has collaborated with local restaurants, which have created Shakespeare-inspired cocktails and desserts.

“The idea is, you can order an ice-cream cone and be reminded that, right down the street, we’re offering productions during the day and evenings in a full array of modern and contemporary titles.”

Bridging the gap between classic and modern — that’s Shakespeare & Company, which hopes 2022 is the year it finally steps out from the sea of a pandemic and moves confidently up the shore, sighing no more.


— Joseph Bednar

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality

Taking Its Game to a New Level

Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva

Hall of Fame President and CEO John Doleva

John Doleva says that, when it comes to bar mitzvahs — and probably bat mitzvahs, for that matter — there has always been an informal type of competition among those young people (and their families).

“From what I understand, each bar mitzvah has to outdo the last one that your kid went to,” said Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. “And we think we have the right venue to outdo that last one.”

This phenomenon is just one of many factors working in the favor of the Hall as it tries to up its game when it comes to an always-important part of the business plan but one that has never really lived up to all its promise — events. Others include location, the popularity of basketball, and the lure of being in that sport’s shrine.

The biggest of these factors, though, is the refurbished Hall itself. Indeed, as the leadership team at the shrine blueprinted a massive, far-reaching, $25 million renovation of the facility, they did so with the goal of making it a more attractive venue for everything from those bar and bat mitzvahs to weddings; from corporate meetings to memorial services.

“When we the redid the museum, we designed it first to be a great museum experience, but we also looked at every gallery, every presentation, and every interactive with the opportunity to integrate it with someone coming in and doing a corporate fundraiser, a corporate meeting, a wedding, a bar mitzvah, you name it,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s a very important part of our business, and we want to see it grow.”

“You can really be different — it’s a fun environment. We can alter the lighting and do lots of different things. Rather than just the four walls of an institution, you have a special theme here.”

And while COVID-19 is certainly limiting the pace of progress when it comes to this all-important revenue stream in some obvious ways, especially with the emergence of the Delta variant, the early returns on the Hall’s status as an event venue are quite positive, and the outlook for the future — when COVID is far less of a hindrance — is quite bright.

“The facility lends itself to just about any kind of event,” Doleva said. “We’re in a great position to be ‘that place’ when we come out of all this and nonprofits need to have that all-important fundraising dinner or awards ceremony or celebration. I think the Hall of Fame is poised to be a very special place to do that.”

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest talked with Doleva about the Hall’s efforts to build this side of its business and how it is working to court many different kinds of event planners — literally and figuratively.


Points of Interest

Perhaps the best evidence of the Hall’s emergence as an event venue and its promise moving forward, Doleva said, came at the recent induction ceremonies for the class of 2021.

The actual enshrinement festivities took place at the MassMutual Center, but before that, there was a party for roughly 1,000 people at the Hall, one that became a sort of proving ground when it comes to the many steps taken to bring more events to the facilities on West Columbus Avenue.

John Doleva stands in Center Court at the Hall of Fame

John Doleva stands in Center Court at the Hall of Fame, outfitted with a new 14-by-40-foot video screen.

“We consciously forced people up into the museum rather than being in the lobby and on Center Court, where typically people would be,” he explained. “We wanted to show it off, so we expanded our food and drink offerings up into the museum, and it was a smash hit. It was so great to see everyone in the basketball community enjoying the Hall of Fame, enjoying the technology, the exhibits — just having a great time.

“We actually had a tough time getting people out of here and over to the MassMutual Center for the ceremonies — we had a couple of late buses leaving here,” he went on. “That just underscored the opportunity that we have ahead of us.”

Indeed, the game plan — yes, that’s another sports term — moving forward is to use all the facilities at the Hall, including a new Kobe Bryant exhibit and another new exhibit that enables visitors to virtually become part of TNT’s NBA broadcast crew, to attract a broad array of events.

That list of amenities includes a renovated theater, Center Court with its new 14-by-40-foot screen, the exhibits, catering from Max’s Tavern, and the full package that is now available to businesses, nonprofits, and wedding parties alike.

This is what the leadership team at the Hall had in mind as it blueprinted its renovations — a facility that would be a museum, first and foremost, but also a different kind of event venue.

“We saw the business develop with the old Hall of Fame, before our renovations,” Doleva said. “And we knew, with the redesign and the technology we had, that we could expand that business; with this iteration, it’s by design to be a function venue as well as a great sports-history museum.”

Doleva told BusinessWest that bookings have been solid over the past several months, but COVID has forced some event planners to pause and put some gatherings on hold. He mentioned a local healthcare provider that has rescheduled an event planned for this fall as one example.

Center Court at the Hall has hosted many types of events

Center Court at the Hall has hosted many types of events, including weddings, and with the recent renovations, the goal is to draw more of these receptions.

But, overall, the outlook is positive as event planners continue their quest for something new and different, even during COVID.

“I see smaller organizations wanting to bring people together, and do it in a different kind of venue that’s uplifting and exciting,” he said. “The Hall of Fame, being all brand-new, is very entertaining for people.”

That goes for wedding parties, he noted, adding that, while the Hall has hosted such receptions for years now — his niece was married there well before the renovations — there is now potential to handle more of them.

“You can really be different — it’s a fun environment,” he noted, adding that wedding parties can be, and often are, introduced in the same manner that NBA players are. “We can alter the lighting and do lots of different things. Rather than just the four walls of an institution, you have a special theme here.”


Net Results

It’s a theme that resonates with sports fans of all ages and especially young people, he went on, circling back to those bar mitzvahs, which the Hall is booking in ever-growing numbers.

“It’s a wonderful place to have a bar mitzvah because it’s sports-oriented, it’s very friendly for the kids, and there’s lots to do,” Doleva noted. “There’s lots of energy.”

That energy is projected to translate into more bookings, more business, and an overall improved game for what has always been part of the business plan at the Hall, but can now be a much bigger player.


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

Special Coverage Tourism & Hospitality

Get Back Here

It’s called ‘revenge spending,’ or ‘vacation retaliation’ — the idea that people who were unable able to spend money on travel last year will go all-out this year. Surveys say it’s a palpable sentiment among Americans right now; the question is whether they will actually follow through on those plans, and how safe they’ll feel doing so. When they’re ready, area tourism and hospitality leaders say, Western Mass. will be an ideal destination, boasting the variety of indoor and outdoor experiences and affordability that travelers seek — an ideal answer to all that pent-up demand.

Gillian Amaral (left) and Stacey Warren

Gillian Amaral (left) and Stacey Warren, co-founders of Three Chics Hospitality.

Mary Kay Wydra learned a couple new phrases over the past few months.

“The buzz term is ‘revenge spending,’” the president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB) said. “That is, ‘I’ll spend more on things I was denied because of COVID.’ Things like in-person entertainment, eating at restaurants next to people, and travel.”

The other buzzword making its way around the tourism industry is ‘vacation retaliation,’ and it means roughly the same thing.

She likes those phrases — or, more accurately, what those sentiments portend. “That bodes well for us as a region,” she told BusinessWest. “We are affordable and easily accessible — a destination with a lot to offer.”

Indeed, while COVID-19 has been far from a positive for the region, it did open many people’s eyes to what Western Mass. has to offer, particularly those who migrated here to escape New York City or Boston at the height of the pandemic. That’s evident in the surging real-estate market, but also in the optimism many in the tourism and hospitality sector are beginning to feel about what lies ahead.

It can be detected in Hampden County’s hotel occupancy, which was 39% in January — down from the 49% recorded a year earlier, but significantly higher than the statewide figure of 29%, and on par with national numbers.

“A great number of people are planning to travel, and Western Mass. is well-positioned to get summer travelers. We have that combination of indoor and outdoor attractions and all this green space for recreation.”

It’s also impacting surveys, like a recent ‘sentiment study’ conducted by American Express that found that 84% of Americans have travel plans in the next six months, the highest figure since the earliest days of the pandemic. And 69% of those intend to take advantage of ‘second-city’ destinations, Wydra noted — in other words, those outside of big cities and top tourist spots.

Places, she said, like Western Mass.

“A great number of people are planning to travel, and Western Mass. is well-positioned to get summer travelers,” she added. “We have that combination of indoor and outdoor attractions and all this green space for recreation.”

One more statistic from the survey: 61% of travelers intend to spend more than normal because they couldn’t go anywhere last year.

That’s music to the ears of Stacey Warren and Gillian Amaral, two veterans of the hospitality industry who recently launched their own enterprise, Three Chics Hospitality, which seeks to market its clients to group-tour operators.

“Our clients are group-friendly restaurants and attractions interested in having motorcoach groups come to their establishments or attractions; we offer consulting and marketing for them,” said Warren, who has worked in the hotel field for 17 years.

She called such connections “vital” to the region. “Every single bus that comes in may need 20 or 25 overnight rooms, then you have 20 to 25 dinners at different restaurants, attraction tickets … one bus is really a big impact on the economy.”

Amaral agreed. “Based on multiple tours we can bring in, the economic impact to the region will be huge,” she said. “And just based on conversations I’ve had with people, they’re ready to travel, they’re ready to get out, but they’re also ready to have someone else do that for them. People are like, ‘I just want to go on a tour; tell me where to go, make it easy for me, and take me there.’ That’s our business model. It just makes sense to be ready when the environment is ready for us.”

That moment isn’t far away, Warren added. “People are ready, and we want to be here to help the restaurants and attractions capture that business while they’re here.”

Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire, noted in a message to that organization’s members last week that sentiment around travel is starting to turn in a way that promises to benefit Western Mass.

“A year ago at this time, we were headed into two or three months of lockdown where nearly all economic activity ceased. A year later, we’re mostly headed in the other direction,” he said. “Vaccinations are finally beginning to add up, public-health metrics have improved, and statewide capacity and operating restrictions continue to be eased on an almost-weekly basis. Out-of-state travelers from neighboring states are now only subject to travel advisories, and within the next couple weeks, even those should continue to be relaxed.”

Sensing a changing tide, Butler noted, organizations like Tanglewood and Jacob’s Pillow (see story on page 39) both recently announced a return to live performances for the upcoming season, and will be joined by other institutions like Barrington Stage Co., Berkshire Theatre Group, and Shakespeare and Co. in bringing performing arts — and, in turn, visitors — back to the region.

“When you combine this exciting news with the continued momentum of the outdoor recreation economy, and our other major cultural properties operating closer to full capacity — now having a year under their belt in learning how to best operate during this pandemic — 2021 starts to feel far more exciting than a year ago.”


Taking the Long View

As director of Sales for Hampton Inn Chicopee/Springfield, as well as president of Hampton Inns of New England, Warren has her finger on the pulse of hospitality in the region, as does Amaral, an assistant professor of Management at Bay Path University who also runs Events by Gillian LLC, specializing in event management and consulting, and whose past event experience includes stints at the Eastern States Exposition, MassMutual Financial Group, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

The third ‘chic’ in their new enterprise’s name is, well, hospitality itself, represented by the image of a pineapple. And they feel like Western Mass. has become more of a household name in tourism and hospitality — with the potential for an even broader reach.

Mary Kay Wydra says Western Mass. is well-positioned

Mary Kay Wydra says Western Mass. is well-positioned to raise its profile in the tourism world.

“A lot of the tour operators that have been bringing groups here would just use this as a stopover because they’re from all over the country, and a lot of them just think of Boston and the Cape,” Warren said. “But they’re starting to think of Western Mass., too, and wanting to do things to add on, to offer new and fun ideas for their clients and keep them coming back.

“There are so many great things they can do right here,” she went on. “We can keep them here for a couple of days and reap the rewards, and have their clients leave here happy and wanting to come back.”

Amaral said the two of them have talked about building a business around this concept for years, and felt like this was the right time — even during a pandemic.

“We felt like there was a need. People would come to the Massachusetts area and always go straight to Boston, but what about us here in Western Mass.?” she asked. “Fast-forward to a pandemic we’re almost out of, and we thought, this is the time for us to be positioned for the influx of travel that will come with group tours.”

With their deep knowledge of the region’s tourism industry, she added, they’re able to craft itineraries tour operators can sell to clients, and it’s not too soon to start making those connections, even when the economy isn’t fully opened up.

“Every single bus that comes in may need 20 or 25 overnight rooms, then you have 20 to 25 dinners at different restaurants, attraction tickets … one bus is really a big impact on the economy.”

“Everyone is poised and ready at this point to just go — let’s hit the switch and move forward,” Amaral said. “That’s why now is the time to launch, versus in July, when things are opening up and people are feeling comfortable. At that point, you’re behind.”

Wydra agreed, noting that statistic about 84% of Americans with travel plans in the near future. “People are creating destination wish lists, and simply having a future trip planned makes people happy. We’re optimistic people are going to visit this year. We pushed pause on marketing last year, but hope to start spending again.”

She said the meeting and convention business will be slower to return, simply because large events are often planned years in advance, and an organization that cancels an event here may not be able to return for a few years. Last year, 164 groups canceled or postponed events in the region, with an estimated economic impact of $97 million going unrealized. However, about half those who canceled plan to come back in a future year, she added.

In the meantime, the GSCVB is engaging in some creative sales pitches for the region by planning virtual site visits at destinations like the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum, MGM Springfield, and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“We’re showcasing the attractions because these attractions set us apart,” she said, adding that the bureau is equally intent on highlighting the many different meeting spaces available. “We want to make sure Western Mass., as a brand, stays out there in front of meeting planners.”

Lindsey Schmid, vice president of Tourism & Marketing for 1Berkshire, recently told Berkshire Magazine about a multi-pronged marketing approach, promoting all there is to do virtually in the Berkshires, as well as continuing to feed travelers ideas and imagery that will inspire them to plan a Berkshire getaway now and more extensive travel later. Part of that message is the outdoor recreation opportunities that helped the region’s tourism sector stay afloat last summer.

It’s a widely understood selling point; U.S. News & World Report’s recent “Best States” feature ranked Massachusetts the ninth-best state in which to live, based on eight factors ranging from healthcare and education to public safely. In the category of natural environment, the Commonwealth ranked fourth.

“Our region leans on the combination of natural beauty and cultural offerings that serve as anchors to drive economic activity; right now, those anchors are preparing for big things in the summer of 2021,” Butler noted.

He added that “the pandemic has tempted us all to lean on pessimism when thinking about the future, but the progressing conditions around us truly call for more cautious optimism. We shouldn’t be so naïve as to think that the summer of 2021 will mark a return to pre-pandemic activity, but we should absolutely be preparing ourselves for a far more robust season than a year ago.”


Up in the Air

Certainly, optimism is in the air, although it’s still mixed with some uncertainty. Gathering limits are still a thing, most live performances remain firmly lodged in the future, and some attractions have given no definitive answers on when they’ll open, and to what extent.

For instance, Six Flags New England held a large hiring event last month to fill 3,000 seasonal positions, but the company has issued no definite opening date yet — though it is expected to decide soon, looking to state guidance and the realities of its own business model.

It will do so with heavily publicized safety protocols, like every other tourist destination — an element of the sector Wydra is particularly proud of.

“We’re climbing out of this with precautions still in place,” she said. “I’m very proud of our attractions, with all the protocols put in place, the cleaning and everything else they’re doing to keep visitors safe. You’ll see a lot of that continue.”

Warren said visitors will want to feel safe before the sector really opens up. “There are still some people who are nervous, but we’re able to show them what we can do — what plans the restaurants and attractions have in place to keep them safe when they come — and that’s making them feel very comfortable and ready to visit.”

Amaral cited research showing that people are more comfortable and apt to travel when adequate protocols are in place.

“Being knowledgeable about what to expect ahead of time puts them at ease,” she added. “And, of course, so many people being vaccinated is helping as well. The apprehension, even from six months ago, is much different than it is now. People are just ready to go — with caution, but nonetheless, they’re saying, ‘let’s go.’”

Wydra agreed. “There’s definitely some optimism as we move forward with the vaccines. We’re always hearing about new ones being introduced, and the government keeps making people eligible for it — that’s great news.”

Butler tempered that optimism with the other side of pandemic reality — which is, we’re not out of it yet, and people shouldn’t just abandon the common-sense behaviors that keep case counts down.

“Any increase in business needs to be done with public health and safety as the foremost consideration,” he said. “But all of the larger-picture conditions that have fueled growing visitor and economic activity throughout the past two decades are aligning well.”

Warren has been in the hospitality field long enough to ride a few economic cycles, but she’s never witnessed anything like last year — “and I never want to see it again,” she said. “I’ve never had to cancel so many groups and lose literally millions of dollars in revenue. So I’m looking forward to coming back strong this year and help everyone to bounce back.”

She’s heard from tour operators that they do, indeed, want to come back. But they’ll be returning to a changed tourist economy, and change isn’t always a bad thing, Amaral said.

“This has been a wake-up call to most businesses to think differently, which is exciting to me. Let’s not wait for a pandemic or tragedy to happen to think about a different way to do business or attract a target market or a different product line. If there’s anything we can take from this, it’s don’t get into the same rut. Think about different ways to improve your business.”

Amid the changes, of course, some normalcy is more than welcome.

“Who would have thought, a year ago, that we couldn’t go into a bar and have a drink?” Wydra said. “I want to meet friends after work for drinks. And I’m excited, because I think we’ve got some positive stuff happening in the future.”


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Tourism & Hospitality

Big Steps Forward

The productions at Jacob’s Pillow

The productions at Jacob’s Pillow for the 2021 season will all be outdoors, many at the Inside/Out stage, seen here.

For Jacob’s Pillow in Becket, the nation’s largest and longest running dance festival, 2020 was a lost year in almost every respect.

That’s almost, and we’ll get to that silver lining, if it can be called that, shortly. First, all those losses.

Jacob’s Pillow lost an entire season of live performances and all the revenue that comes with it, forcing a 50% reduction in the budget, layoffs, and other cutbacks. It also lost some momentum when it comes to fundraising, especially for a much-needed renovation of its main stage, the Ted Shawn Theatre, or the ‘Shawn,’ as it’s known. Then, in November, the company lost its smaller, more intimate performance space, the Doris Duke Theatre, or the ‘Duke,’ to a fast-moving fire, the cause of which has still not been determined.

But from the ashes, figuratively but also quite literally, Jacob’s Pillow has plans to roar back in 2021, said Pam Tatge, executive and artistic director. It will be a different kind of year, one with performances in outdoor settings only and to limited audiences, but one in which the company plans to lay a solid foundation for its 90th birthday in 2022, and for the decades to come.

Indeed, ambitious plans are in place to modernize the Ted Shawn Theatre, add air conditioning and new ventilation, and enlarge and improve the stage. Meanwhile, plans are expected to emerge for a new Duke, one that will be conceptualized and designed with input gathered from audiences and artists alike.

“We’ve embarked on a research study to really understand what audiences and artists loved about the Doris Duke Theatre, what they want to retain, and also what artists need for works being made in the 21st century,” Tatge noted. “We’re building a space, hopefully, for the next 90 years.”

While doing that, Jacob’s Pillow will also put on a season of live performances, the pieces of which are still coming together. It will run from June 30 to Aug. 29 and, for logistical reasons and lingering restrictions on travel, feature mostly performers based within driving distance of the 220-acre campus.

Audiences will be smaller and spaced apart for safety reasons, severely limiting in-person attendance. Which brings us to what would be considered the one bright spot for 2020, a schedule of 38 performances from years past — with new pre- and post-performance talks — presented virtually and to huge, global audiences, a development that made it possible for people who could never before get to Becket to take in a performance at the ‘Pillow.’

“We realized an audience for our virtual festival that had thousands more people than we could ever accommodate on the Pillow campus,” Tatge explained. “And 80% of those people were new to us — they had not been on our list before, and that was a great revelation; people know of Jacob’s Pillow, but they haven’t been able to make their way here. So in terms of accessibility and reaching people of different economic means and physical abilities, this was an amazing way to have the magic and joy that we experience on campus at the Pillow shared far more widely.”

For the 2021 season, most performances will again have virtual access internationally, a step to broaden audiences that Tatge called a “a big experiment.”

“We’ll want to see if the audience engagement is as great — it’s summertime, and things are opening again, so we’re going to see,” she said. “But I know a virtual platform has been in Jacob’s Pillow’s mission delivery, and it will continue to be a way that we deliver our mission into the future.”


Staging a Comeback

Tatge was at her residence in Connecticut when she got the phone call early in the afternoon on Nov. 16, delivering the terrible news that the Duke was on fire. She raced north as fast as she could and arrived in Becket just as the last remaining portions of the wooden structure were being consumed by the flames.

The loss of the beloved theater that hosted smaller productions seemed to provide a surreal ending to a terrible year that was all too real, and all too painful.

Looking back on it, Tatge said the Pillow, like every other live performing-arts venue, was severely tested by all the pandemic bought with it.

“With the cancellation of the season, we lost all of our earned-income potential — 40% of our budget is ticket income,” she explained. “We had to lay off 35% of our staff. Ultimately, we ended the year OK because we received a PPP grant. Without that grant, we would not have made it through as successfully.”

For 2021, there will be a new, very tight budget, hopes for a second round of PPP, and some high fundraising goals, Tatge went on, adding that there are many unknowns and considerable challenges ahead even as the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel when it comes to the pandemic draws closer.

Ted Shawn Theatre

At right, the Ted Shawn Theatre, which will undergo an $8 million renovation this year. At left, the Doris Duke Theatre, which was gutted by fire in November. Input is being sought on a replacement, and an architect is likely to be chosen later this year.

“Because our performances are going to be shorter, we won’t have the earned-income potential to bridge the gap between expenses and revenues,” she explained. “So we really need a subsidy, and we really need our community’s support to invest in putting artists back to work — who must get back to work if our field is going to survive this — and bring audiences back together.”

Overall, though, there is considerable optimism moving forward, and Tatge said that, for her, it’s fueled by the tremendous response she’s seen from the community, a broad term she uses to describe constituencies ranging from performers to patrons who take in their work.

“What has been impressive to me is the range of people who have contributed to Jacob’s Pillow so far, from artists themselves, who don’t have much but want to share something with Jacob’s Pillow, to alumni, to our board members and our members,” she said. “Jacob’s Pillow members are a devoted bunch, and they have stepped up, and we’re going to need that to continue until we get to 2022.”

“Our first priority is to bring people back together safely, so we have rigorous protocols that are in place — for audiences, performers, and staff.”

Optimism also abounds concerning the 2021 season of performances, which, as Tatge noted, will take place outdoors — at the Inside/Out stage and other settings around the sprawling campus.

“Our first priority is to bring people back together safely, so we have rigorous protocols that are in place — for audiences, performers, and staff,” she explained, adding that these protocols are being developed in conjunction with — and will be shared by — other performing-arts institutions in the Berkshires, such as Barrington Stage, Tanglewood, and other venues.

This collaboration is in many ways unprecedented, but also quite necessary, she went on, if the the tourism-dependent Berkshires region is to battle back from an incredibly difficult 2020.

The schedule calls for all activities — performances, workshops, and pre-performance talks — to take place outdoors or under a tent, said Tatge, adding that, in addition to the Inside/Out stage, the Pillow boasts a number of other ‘natural stages’ around the campus that will enable visiting companies to stretch their collective imaginations.

“There are so many parts of our campus that we’re going to be inviting audiences to discover,” she told BusinessWest. “And artists are crafting works particularly for our site, and that’s exciting.”

These performances will also be filmed, as most have been over the years, and presented virtually — an opportunity, as she noted earlier, to greatly expand audiences.

While the shows will go on in 2021, the Pillow is also looking to make huge strides with efforts to modernize and renovate the Shawn, opened during the 1940s, and replace the Duke.

The former, an $8 million project, has been in the works for several years, she said, adding that the pandemic has only reinforced the need for air-conditioning and improved ventilation. And this simple reality helped convince the board of directors that, despite the difficult and uncertain times, the Pillow needs to push ahead with a capital campaign conceived to raise the remaining $2 million needed for the project.

Pam Tatge says the ‘Pillow’ has put a horrendous 2020 behind it, but stern challenges remain for this Berkshires institution.

“We quickly realized that the Ted Shawn Theatre will not be viable as a theater in a post-COVID world without a ventilation system and air conditioning,” Tatge said. “It’s not a viable space at present, and we made the decision to take the Shawn offline this summer so we could move ahead with the renovation, which actually began in January, with pre-planning.”

Ultimately, the plan is to have the renovated theater ready for that 90th-anniversary year in 2022.

As for the 30-year-old Duke, that research study she mentioned has been completed, with the next steps in the process being to research architects and ultimately select one, determine the full scope of the project, and pinpoint just how much money will have to be raised beyond what is covered by insurance.


The Next Act

Moving forward, Tatge is focused on 2021, obviously, and bouncing back in a big way from a dismal 2020.

But she’s also focused on the future — not just the 90th-anniversary celebrations that will dominate 2022, but the years and decades to come.

The Pillow is a National Historic Landmark and a tradition in Western Mass., and the ultimate mission for staff and board members is to make sure it can serve future generations.

The pandemic severely tested the mettle of this institution, in every conceivable manner. But it has been made stronger by that test and, hopefully, even more resilient.

In short, the Pillow is ready to take big steps forward in 2021 — on stage and in every way.


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

Tourism & Hospitality

Gene Cassidy stands in front of what will soon be the midway sign that Big E visitors know very well.

Production of the Big E Takes a Village, and We’re Not Talking About Storrowton

As the clock ticks down the start of another Big E, an elaborate and well-choreographed effort is underway to get everything set for opening night. As it turns out, this is just one of the myriad traditions synonymous with this annual celebration of New England.

Eugene Cassidy likens the process of getting the Big E ready for opening day to choreographing a dance number. In short, a large number of people have to work in sync and in cooperation with one another to get the desired result.

Preparations for the 17-day long fair, which starts Sept. 13, begin 18 months before it happens, and there are countless moving parts that need to come together — properly and on time — to not only have the fair ready for prime time, but to ensure that each day of The Big E is a success.

“Even though we’re now just a month away from the 2019 fair, we’re well into planning for 2020,” said Cassidy, president and CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, while explaining how the jig-saw puzzle that is the 2019 fair comes together.

“Everybody is probably on pins and needles as we get ready,” he went on. “Coordinating the fairgrounds is really like being a dance instructor. There are so many little things that need to be considered, like what gets placed first. The choreography that’s required is very important.”

And this year, there is more to be choreographed than merely the tents, displays, rides, and flower gardens.

Indeed, while managing the traffic to and from the fair has always been a matter of import (and a stern test) this year there is a much higher degree of difficulty to those maneuvers.

That’s because the Morgan-Sullivan Bridge, which connects Agawam with West Springfield and borders the western end of the fairgrounds, is roughly one third of the way through a three-year renovation project.
The four-lane bridge is down to two, and as anyone who has ever tried to cross the bridge during Big E time knows, four lanes are not nearly enough.

Strategies are being developed to address the matter, said Agawam Mayor William Sapelli, adding that he is working with both the Big E and the town of West Springfield to devise ways to mitigate tieups.

“We discussed the traffic concerns and how we’re going to mitigate some of those issues,” he said. “The Big E has been very, very cooperative. There’s going to be a lot of coordination between the two police departments… it’s kind of like an orchestrated dance; we have our side and they have theirs.”

So it seems there will be a lot of dancing going on, figuratively, before and during this edition of the Big E, which will look to top last year’s record attendance mark of 1,543,470 people.

Organizers believe they have the lineup to do just that, as we’ll see, and, as always, are keeping their fingers crossed on the weather, which is one puzzle piece that can’t be choreographed.

For this issue and its focus on tourism and hospitality, BusinessWest talked at length with Cassidy and others at the fair to gain some perspective on this year’s edition and also how these fairs come to life.

Gene Cassidy says the carnival rides and games, brought in by the North American Midway Entertainment right after Labor Day, all go up in a matter of days.

Parts of the Whole

Cassidy has been coming to the Big E since his youth, and he has many vivid memories from his visits. Among them is his first view of an elephant when he was 7.

Today, it’s his job — and his mission — to make lasting memories for others. He’s been doing this for eight years as president and CEO, and 26 years of working for the exposition in various capacities.

These memory-making duties are rewarding, but also quite challenging at this time, said Cassidy, listing everything from new and different hurdles being faced by agriculture fairs, especially from animal-rights groups, to mounting competition for the time and attention of families — competition that certainly didn’t exist when the fair was launched, to the aging infrastructure of the Big E itself, with many buildings approaching 100 years in age.

These facilities are “capital intensive,” according to Cassidy, who said donations to the fair are modest because some people do not recognize the Eastern States as something that is worthy of making charitable contributions to.

“Because the fair is so successful, we’re sort of a victim of our own success,” he said. “We produce tremendous agricultural events that draw interest across North America, and we make enough income in order to support those events, but we do not have enough income to recapitalize the facility.”

This makes things difficult when updating the older buildings that hold some of the fair’s most beloved traditions. Over the past seven years, Cassidy said, the corporation has spent about $30 million fixing up the buildings.

“My goal is to raise awareness of the importance of the Eastern States in order to stimulate the interest of our region’s businesses in order to raise money to help recapitalize the facilities,” he said, adding that this awareness-raising process comes down to many factors, including the task of putting on a good show each year.

Brynn Cartelli, Longmeadow native and winner of season 14 of The Voice, is set to perform at The Big E on Sept. 13-15 on the Court of Honor stage.


And this involves choreography, but also a blending of the traditional and the new in ways that will draw audiences of all ages. And Noreen Tassinari, director of marketing at the Eastern States Exposition, believes this has been accomplished with the 2019 edition of the fair.

“The Big E is, across generations, a tradition here in Western Mass., Connecticut, and throughout New England — people come for many reasons, and some of the reasons are their favorite family traditions,” she said, adding that for many, the fair is a yearly stop in their calendar, which is why it’s so important to keep adding new items to the extensive list of things to do at the fair.

“We like to have a fresh approach each year, so we like to introduce new entertainment and features and certainly new foods so people are buzzing about what’s going on at the Big E this year,” she said. “We want people thinking ‘we can’t miss the fair.’”

Among the new additions for 2019 are a star-studded entertainment lineup with three stages featuring big-name stars like Loverboy, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Brynn Cartelli, as well as other local artists. Other entertainment includes everything from Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula Showcase, a cultural, educational, trade and tourism showcase featuring products from the Emerald Isle, to the Avenue of States, a unique display of buildings representing each New England state.

John Lebeaux Commissioner of the Mass. Department of Agricultural Resources, believes that The Big E might not have as significant of an impact as it does today without the unique representation from all New England states.

“It’s one of the top 10 biggest agricultural fairs in the United States,” he said. “I don’t think we would have been able to achieve that were it not for this regional aspect.”

This extended reach and regional flavor makes the Big E more than a fair and a tradition, said Cassidy, adding that it also a force within the local economy.

“A lot of our mission is to create and build a local economy,” he said, adding that the lastest economic-impact study, conducted in 2014, showed that the annual impact regionally totaled $479 million.

In Cassidy’s seven years as CEO, five have set new records for attendance. If the record is broken again, that will be a good problem to have, in most respects, because of what promises to be a trying year traffic-wise.

As a result of the bridge-construction work, left turns from River Road onto Memorial Ave. are “no longer allowed,” according to The Big E website, and fair-goers are being asked to use Baldwin Street to get to the Eastern States instead.

This will no doubt create lengthier travel times for many people traveling to and from the area, but both Agawam and West Springfield are doing what they can to minimize the inconvenience.

Sapelli said The Big E is making sure that any larger vehicles, including horse trailers and delivery trucks, are using a specific route with better access rather than coming through Agawam and having to make a tight turn onto the bridge. In addition, the fair partnered with King Ward Coach Lines, which will be shuttling people from various locations, including the Enfield Mall, to cut down on the number of vehicles that need to come in for parking.

With realistically only two ways to get to Memorial Avenue, and one of them under serious construction, West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt says delays are, unfortunately, inevitable.

“We’re working with each other and then the state to make sure there are enough resources,” he said. “I think, unfortunately, there’s just going to be traffic going that way because we went from four down to two lanes.”

Sapelli agrees and asks that people be patient while waiting to get into the fair.

“We’ll all get through this, it’s a wonderful fair,” he said. “They do a lot for the economy and the surrounding communities.”

Fair Game

Despite the likely traffic jams, the fair is likely to draw record-breaking crowds. Again, that has been the trend. For now, it’s crunch-time for the Big E staff who have to choreograph another major production.

Between the entertainment artists, the Avenue of States, the seemingly-endless food vendors, and everything in between, it’s easy to see why this fair has become a tradition for families across the Northeast and even beyond.

“You almost need more than one visit to do it justice,” said Tassinari. “We really have the New England flavor and feel, and that’s part of our mission.”

Tourism & Hospitality Uncategorized

Katie DiClemente says the openness of the meeting spaces at the Sheraton is one of the biggest selling points for people looking to stage conventions.

Sheraton Springfield Takes Steps to Stand Out in the Marketplace

Stacy Gravanis acknowledged the obvious when it comes to the convention and meetings market in the Northeast, and the country as a whole — there is no shortage of competition.

And in this climate, the assignment is also obvious — to find a way, or several ways, as the case may be, to stand out in this crowded marketplace.

The Sheraton Springfield has been doing that since it opened more than 30 years ago, said Gravanis, general manager of the facility, and it keeps looking for new, innovative, and, well, cool ways of continuing that practice. Cool as in a Ding-Dong cart. Indeed, the nostalgic summertime staple, sometimes seen patrolling neighborhoods and often seen parked at pools and lakes, became part of the landscape at the downtown Springfield landmark during the first week in August.

It was parked on the grounds, providing a unique opportunity to cool down during what has been an oppressive summer to date — for guests and downtown workers alike. And it became another way to bring value and something different to visitors, said Gravanis, who told BusinessWest that this is all part of the work to not only stand out — as important as that is — but also to help build relationships and turn customers into repeat customers, a critical assignment in this industry.

One of the stops on the Sheraton’s ice cream truck tour was MGM Head Start in Springfield.

“The goal is to find that connection to them and build loyalty,” she told BusinessWest, adding that the Ding-Dong cart is just one example of programs, products, and services that go into the connection-building process.

Katie DiClemente, assistant director of Sales and Marketing for the Sheraton agreed. She said that conventions and meetings comprise a large slice of the business at the Sheraton, one where building relationships and generating repeat business is essential.

DiClemente noted that the facility hosts dozens of convention groups a year, such as the Pancretan Association of America, which was in town from June 28 to July 3 and brought 475 people to the hotel. Meanwhile, its assorted meeting spaces host a wide array of gatherings, from company retreats and annual meetings to team-training sessions, to educational seminars.

The hotel’s portfolio of facilities and its unique layout (more on that later) are attractive selling points, she said, as is the region and its many attractions.

Both Gravanis and DiClemente said an already attractive mix of attractions, from Six Flags to the Dr. Seuss museum, has been significantly bolstered by MGM Springfield, which they expect to help bring new convention business to the 413.

For this issue and its focus on meetings and conventions, BusinessWest talked with Gravanis and DiClemente about the Sheraton’s ongoing work to stand out in the market, and how it is creating new flavors of customer service — figuratively but also quite literally.

Getting the Scoop

One of the largest facilities of its kind in the region, the Sheraton boasts 325 hotel rooms, more than 36,000 square feet of meeting space, including a ballroom and eight meeting rooms on the third floor, six meeting rooms on the second floor, and two additional meeting rooms on the fourth floor, leaving plenty of space for large conventions.

DiClemente says the 10,000 square foot ballroom can hold up to 1,000 people depending on the type of event, with a 500-person cap for a banquet-style event.

But size is not the only attractive quality. Indeed, DiClemente said the setup of the meeting spaces at the Sheraton Springfield is unlike most other hotels.

“The flow of our space is something that definitely attracts people to our hotel,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re not a conference-style hotel where you’re walking down a long hallway and going to your meeting rooms and finding it that way. We’re an atrium style, so if your meeting room is on the second floor, you can look down and see where you need to go. The natural light shines through the atrium.”

This natural light, and all that comes with it, has attracted a number of groups to the Sheraton — and Greater Springfield. The Pancretan Association of America (PAA), a national organization comprised of members who support and perpetuate Cretan culture through scholarship, educational, cultural, and philanthropic programs for those in the United States, Canada, and Crete, is an example of the how the region and the hotel are drawing local, national, and even international groups.

And bringing them here is a collaborative effort, said Gravanis, adding that the hotel works closely with the Greater Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), keeping in daily contact with Director of Sales Alicia Szenda.

“We have a really great relationship with her being the director of sales,” said DiClemente. “If the convention center has a lead where they need overnight rooms, that’s sent to the [GSCVB] and Alicia is that middleperson between the MassMutual Center and the hotels in the area.”

Once that lead is sent out to the hotels, they bid on the piece of business, which is sent directly to Szenda. Of course, this region is usually competing against several other cities in for the right to host specific conventions, which brings us back to that notion of standing out — and building relationships.

Again, the Ding-Dong cart was just part of it.

Aside from the ice cream runs, Gravanis said the hotel staff works to stay in touch with clients — be they groups or individuals — through birthday and anniversary cards and other touch points to build a relationship and, hopefully, a long-term relationship.

“Whether it’s a local client or a client out of a different city, it’s so important to build that relationship with them and that’s something we do every day,” said DiClemente. “It’s really a top priority for our sales team.”

Gravanis added, again, that the area itself is a huge selling point for the Sheraton, and it is becoming more so through the addition of MGM Springfield, which has the potential to bring a wide array of meetings and conventions to the city, many of which will require large amounts of hotel rooms and other facilities.

Staying Power

Since it opened nearly three decades ago, the Sheraton has been one of the key players in the region’s large and important hospitality sector.

It has been one of the important pieces in the puzzle when it comes to the infrastructure needed to bring meetings and conventions, and, therefore, revenue and vibrancy, to the region.

It has maintained this position by being innovative and always finding ways to stand out. And the Ding-Dong cart, as cool as it is, is just the latest example.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Tourism & Hospitality

Rolling Out the Welcome Mat

Mary Kay Wydra (left) and Alicia Szenda

Mary Kay Wydra (left) and Alicia Szenda say the GSCVB works closely with area hotels as part of efforts to draw conventions and other events to Greater Springfield.

There’s more than one way to look at a number. That’s especially true when it comes to hotel occupancy rates.

Take Greater Springfield’s occupancy rates through the last six months of 2018. At almost 67%, they’re 5% higher than they were over the same period in 2017.

That’s good news on its own, but especially positive when considering the capacity added over the past 18 months, from Holiday Inn Express on State Street in Springfield to Fairfield Inn & Suites in Holyoke; from Tru by Hilton in Chicopee to, of course, the hotel at MGM Springfield, the resort casino which is perhaps the region’s top tourism development in decades.

“We’ve definitely seen growth,” said Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB), adding that the average daily room rate also rose by $3 over that time frame.

“The fact that we added inventory and we’re still able to grow rate and grow occupancy is a really good thing,” she noted. “In analyzing that, a lot of it is the MGM factor, and it’s conservative because MGM didn’t open until the end of August. We don’t even have a full year’s picture of them being fully operational, but in just those four months, it’s helped.

“And by charging a higher rate for their rooms,” she added, “it allows everyone else in the marketplace to go up a little bit, which from our perspective is really good because, before they got here, we weren’t moving that needle.”

“The fact that we added inventory and we’re still able to grow rate and grow occupancy is a really good thing. In analyzing that, a lot of it is the MGM factor, and it’s conservative because MGM didn’t open until the end of August. We don’t even have a full year’s picture of them being fully operational, but in just those four months, it’s helped.”

But MGM is just one factor in drawing visitors to the region and increasing demand for hotel rooms. In fact, the relationship between hotels, tourist attractions, convention business, leisure travel, and a host of economic benefits that follow in wake of all that is the result of a coordinated dance between the various players — a dance that has continues to pick up the tempo.

Go for the Juggler

Greater Springfield still runs slightly below the national average in hotel occupancy rate — 63.6%, to be exact, compared to 66.2% nationally. And it doesn’t compare to a city like Boston, which hovers around 79% occupancy.

“Remember, hotels serve the leisure traveler, conventions, bus tours, corporate travel, and also having businesses surrounding you. Boston has growth from the companies being built. It’s not all tourism. It’s business travel as well,” Wydra said. “There’s clearly corporate travel in our area too, probably not to the extent that a major city like Boston has. We’re more focused on other things: the conventions, the leisure, the bus tours, sports.”

The GSCVB has, indeed, seen an uptick in conventions in recent years, and believes MGM is just one more perk to draw in convention groups looking for a vibrant scene, which Western Mass. offers, especially during the summer.

The new Tru by Hilton in Chicopee

The new Tru by Hilton in Chicopee is one of several hotels that have recently opened in the region.

“You’ll see that with some of the national conventions we work with,” said Alicia Szenda, director of Sales for the GSVCB. “We’ve hosted the National Square Dance Convention, the International Jugglers Association … those events take place in the summer, and people participate in them not for their job, but for their leisure activities, their hobbies, so they look forward to that week every summer, and that’s their family vacation.

“So they’re here,” she went on, “and they’re participating in educational seminars and shows and the dancing or whatever it is, but they’re also going to Six Flags, they’re going to Yankee Candle, they’re going to the museums, and doing some sightseeing while they’re here. A lot of the conventions we work with build that social component into their event schedules, so people get to experience the area they’re in. So the more attractions we have, the more variety of hotels, the more attractive we are to different groups.”

And a dynamic hotel scene is, indeed, a key element, which is Wydra is happy to see new names on the scene and planned renovations as well, such as Tower Square Hotel’s plan to return the Marriott name to its complex.

“I think one of the good things about new properties coming into the market is it keeps everybody in a position of having to keep up,” she said. “You’ve got to be reinvesting in your property and making changes; it’s survival of the fittest.”

As part of her role in recruiting conventions to the region and guiding them through the process (more on that later), Szenda also works directly with hotels, asking them to quote rates and block off a certain inventory of rooms, sometimes three years out.

“What the hotels give back depends on where they’re located, what other business they have, and whether they want to roll the dice and let other hotels get the group business,” Wydra said. “They might say, ‘I don’t want that. I’m going to roll the dice and see if I get the leisure visitor.’ They can charge leisure travelers a higher rate — because Alicia’s going to beat them up and say, ‘I want the best rate I can get for my group.’”

Besides attractive hotel rates, the GSCVB might find local ties to entice a convention group, Wydra said, giving the hypothetical example of bringing in a convention of railroad hobby enthusiasts and trying to set up a tour of the CRRC rail-car manufacturing plant in Springfield. “We try to tie in local business with the groups that we have.”

Holding Hands

But there’s far more to the equation, Szenda noted.

“Some groups come to me and say, ‘this is everything I need.’ But a lot of groups I work with don’t have that. It might be their turn to host, and they’ve never planned a national convention before. I sit with them and go through everything they need. Then I send those leads out to our members. Depending on what they need for space, the lead could go to Eastern States, or the Mullins Center, or the MassMutual Center, all three.”

Then she gets to work finding the aforementioned local connections, setting up reasonably priced hotel options, and assembling tourism information about the region.

“Really, it’s the destination a lot of times that’s going to sell that piece of business,” Szenda said, “because you’re trying to convince that one person to bring thousands of people here. They have to make sure each person has something to do that interests them. And, once we win that piece of business, we continue to hold their hand through the process.”

“I think one of the good things about new properties coming into the market is it keeps everybody in a position of having to keep up.”

Part of that is a hospitality program that many similar-sized cities don’t offer, she said, which includes everything from airport pickups and hotel greeters to downtown maps and goodie bags.

“A lot of the business we get is repeat business because we’ve done a good job from the very beginning — meeting them, listening to what they need, giving them what they need, and holding their hand until the event occurs,” Wydra said. “And while the event occurs, we don’t disappear. Even with groups we’ve hosted for years, we never want to rest on our laurels and say, ‘well, we’ve got them.’ It’s a very competitive business, so we want them to know how much we appreciate they’ve selected Western Mass.”

And it’s not just repeat business from that convention group at stake, she added. Oftentimes family members tag along, extending the trip with some family time.

“You never know which of those participants might want to come back,” Szenda said. “They might belong to another association and want to bring a group here or come back with the family. A lot of people to do that.”

It’s always interesting to see what impresses event planners, Wydra said. Once, Springfield was competing with a city in New Hampshire, and when the group heard that welcome signs would be hung downtown, it was a game changer. The planner had previously walked the streets of unfamiliar downtowns, getting permission as she went to tape up handmade signs.

“She didn’t want to do that; she had a day job,” Wydra said. “The minute we take that out of their hands, make it easy, the results are often good for us.

“We work hard to get the groups, so at the very least we want to keep them,” she went on. “We want repeat business. Alicia loves when someone signs a multi-year contract, and we can count on them for years to come.”

What’s in a Name?

If Tower Square does bring back the Marriott name — and makes the upgrades required to do so — that will be another note of progress for the region’s expanding hotel scene, Wydra said.

“Brands are important,” she noted. “I think a brand kind of promises something, if the property does it right. People know what they’re going to get. They know they’re going to get a certain style room, they’re going to get a free breakfast, affinity programs, whatever it is they want.”

Greater Springfield is a brand of sorts, too, even though it can be a tough sell during the winter, which is why events like the recent AHL All-Star weekend are so desirable, driving room nights during a challenging time of the year for the hospitality industry.

But there’s still plenty of room for hotels to flourish, Szenda said, as evidenced by the challenge of cobbling together enough rooms when multiple conventions and event planners want to swoop in during the same weekend — typically between spring and fall.

“During the summer months, we do quite well on weekends, with Six Flags and other activities,” Wydra said. “It’s always midweek that we’re trying to find business, and especially in the winter.”

But a rising tourism brand, buoyed most recently by MGM Springfield — and increased convention volume, much of which promises to become repeat business — is certainly changing the demand picture for the better.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Tourism & Hospitality

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

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.


Pioneer Valley Beer & Wine Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

1021 West St., Amherst
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


West Side Taste of the Valley
Town Common, West Springfield
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


Stone Soul Festival
1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield
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
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
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
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.

22 St. George Road, Springfield
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

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.”

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.”


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.”

List of Airlines serving Bradley Aiport

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]