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Travel and Tourism

Travel and Tourism

Coming Attractions

Mid-January is typically the slowest time for the region’s tourism sector. The holidays are over, and college graduations, summer, and the Big E are months away. But this January, and especially Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, will be different. Much different. Two massive happenings — the Red Sox Winter Weekend and the HoopHall Classic — will occur simultaneously, presenting an intriguing and hopefully lucrative mix of challenge and opportunity.

Mary Kay Wydra calls it the “perfect storm.” And she really hopes there isn’t an actual storm over those few days.

With those sentiments, Wydra, president of the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, spoke for a good number of people when it comes to what is shaping up to be a memorable and perhaps historic weekend for this region next month.

So did John Doleva, executive director of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, when he said, “this is what we’ve all dreamed about — weekends that were so busy that we’d be bursting at the seams.”

John Doleva says the upcoming weekend in January is the kind of multi-event development the city should welcome, despite the logistical challenges.

They were both talking about Jan. 16-20. Those are the dates for the 2020 Spalding HoopHall Classic, presented by EastBay. And in the middle of that, on Jan. 17-18, the Boston Red Sox will stage their Winter Weekend at MGM Springfield and the MassMutual Center. The annual fan fest, launched in 2015, had been staged at Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Connecticut, but moves to Springfield for 2020 thanks to a multi-faceted partnership agreement forged between the Red Sox and MGM back in the early spring.

While hard projections are difficult to come by, it’s estimated that, between the two events, more than 20,000 people could come to Springfield over those four days, with a good number of them — again, just how many isn’t known yet — staying a night or several nights.

“Every restaurant in downtown will be packed, and every hotel in the downtown will be packed. This will be one of the biggest parties the city has hosted in some time.”

This is that ‘bursting at the seams’ part.

Indeed, the two events occurring simultaneously will certainly test this region’s hospitality infrastructure and especially its inventory of hotel rooms — so much so that Doleva was candid and to the point when he told BusinessWest, “We’re thankful that we booked the hotel rooms first, because we wouldn’t want to be shut out.”

The Hall was able to do so because this is the 18th HoopHall Classic staged over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, if you will, meaning that there is an organizational machine in place for this event. That’s not the case with the Red Sox Winter Weekend, which, as noted, is new to Springfield.

Mike Mathis, president and COO of MGM Springfield, says Red Sox Winter Weekend will provide a unique opportunity to showcase the city and the casino.

Logistics for the event are being handled by both the Red Sox and the event’s official host, MGM Springfield. Mike Mathis, president and COO of the resort casino, said planning efforts are proceeding and accelerating as the event date approaches.

And what is emerging sounds like a dream weekend for ardent Red Sox fans — is there any other kind? — and area restaurant and hotel owners alike, especially with both events happening simultaneously.

“Every restaurant in downtown will be packed, and every hotel in the downtown will be packed,” he told BusinessWest. “This will be one of the biggest parties the city has hosted in some time.”

Like Doleva and Wydra, Mathis projects that this will be a very important weekend for the city, the region, the casino, the Hall, and countless hotels, restaurants, and other hospitality-related businesses. It will be a weekend to showcase the city and also what it can do when it comes to large events like these.

In short, it will be a real test, but also a very welcome test, especially since it comes at the very slowest of times for the region’s hospitality sector, said Wydra, adding that there are benefits on many levels.

“We’re experiencing compression — the downtown fills up, and it spills over into other communities,” she explained, referring not only to hotel rooms but related hospitality-related businesses as well. “We want to make sure, when people come for both of these events, that they see other things and we at least whet their appetite and try to get them back as a leisure visitor for another time.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at all that’s happening in mid-January and what it means for the region.

Staying Power

These certainly won’t be the first large-scale events to come to the Greater Springfield area.

Indeed, the region has played host to everything from enshrinement ceremonies at the Hall to the Women’s U.S. Open golf tournament back in 2004 (the Orchards in South Hadley was the venue); from the American Hockey League All-Star Classic roughly a year ago to a number of large conventions staged at the MassMutual Center, the Big E, or both.

And on an annual or semi-annual basis, it hosts EASTEC, the massive manufacturing trade show, as well as the Big E, which brings in more than 100,000 people on some of its weekend days, and college graduation ceremonies that are crammed into a few weekends in May, with the MassMutual Center often hosting a few such ceremonies a day.

All those gatherings have presented tests — and opportunities — for the region’s hospitality sector.

But the challenge coming in January may surpass all those in the past, in terms of everything from the sheer number of overnight guests to the logistics involved — for example, Main Street and a portion of State Street in Springfield will be shut down for roughly 48 hours to accommodate the Winter Weekend festivities.

But while that long weelend will test planners and hoteliers alike, all those involved with both events see as a tremendous opportunity to put Springfield and the region on the map and into the limelight.

That’s because there will be a good deal of media coverage — ESPN is coming to broadcast HoopHall Classic games, as it has for many years now, and NESN and radio giant WEEI are coming to provide blanket coverage of Red Sox Winter Weekend — as well as visitors who haven’t been to Springfield recently, if at all, especially Red Sox fans from the far corners of New England and beyond.

“We’ve seen the demographics from prior years, and we know that a large part of that population is coming from outside the region,” said Mathis, using ‘region’ to refer to Western Mass. “This is a great chance to expose new customers to the property and the downtown.”

Let’s break here to review just what’s on tap for those four days in January, starting with Winter Weekend.

This will be an intense two days of meet-and-greets, a town meeting with Red Sox brass holding court, autograph signings, a kids’ zone, and much more.

Fans of the team will get to see, meet, get an autograph from, and perhaps snap a picture with players from the present and past, well as executives (including recently hired Chaim Bloom, the team’s chief baseball officer), coaches, network broadcasters, and even the well-known mascots, Wally the Green Monster and Tessie. (Fans can even buy a package that includes breakfast or lunch with the mascots.)

At a recent press conference to announce Red Sox Winter Weekend festivities, Red Sox mascots Tessie (left) and Wally pose with, from left, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno; Cathy Judd-Stein, chairwoman of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission; Sam Kennedy, president of the Boston Red Sox; and Mike Mathis, president and COO of MGM Springfield.

Players set to appear will cover every decade since the ’60s, a list including Jim Lonborg, Luis Tiant, Fred Lynn, Dennis Eckersley, David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and dozens more.

There will be events in MGM’s ballrooms and at the MassMutual Center (word has it that every square foot of the facility has been booked), and tents will connect the two venues, enabling patrons to move freely from one to the other, said Mathis.

As for the HoopHall Classic, it will bring its own brand of star power to the region, Doleva said.

He noted that a number of top college coaches, including John Calipari (Kentucky), Mike Krzyzewski (Duke), and Patrick Ewing (Georgetown) will likely be on hand to scout many of the top young players from across the country. And that talent includes some famous last names — ‘Bronny’ James, son of NBA superstar Lebron James, and Zaire Wade, son of former NBA superstar Dwayne Wade, will play for the same team from California.

“Teams travel in from all around the country,” Doleva noted. “On Sunday and Monday, we have the top-ranked teams in the country; the top 10 or 15 prospects going D1 [Division 1] will be playing on the various teams. We have multiple TV events on Sunday and Monday, so if you can’t buy a ticket to Blake Arena at Springfield College, you can watch it on ESPN or ESPN2.”

Having a Ball

That’s what’s on tap. As for what it all means … those we spoke with said the simultaneous events could well set a new bar when it comes to bringing visitors, vibrancy, spending dollars, and, yes, challenges for the region’s hospitality sector.

Doleva noted that he expects the Hall’s event to consume 1,100 to 1,200 hotel-room nights when one factors in players, their parents, the college coaches coming to watch and recruit, and members of the media. And, as he noted, he’s happy he reserved hotel rooms early and managed to get large blocks of rooms in and around downtown Springfield and close to the Hall of Fame, where many of the HoopHall Classic events will take place.

Overall, though, hotels across the region will benefit, said Alicia Szenda, director of Sales for the GSCB.

“Patrons coming in for both events will be in Chicopee, Holyoke, and West Springfield properties, and into Connecticut as well,” she told BusinessWest. “I can’t remember a time when we’ve had two events of this magnitude happening at the same time; these are large fan bases that are coming to the area.”

Mathis told BusinessWest that the Red Sox players will be staying at MGM Springfield —most of the facility’s rooms have been reserved for weekend event — but he expects that attendees, media members, and others will be finding accommodations across the area, creating a sizable trickle-down effect.

Meanwhile, the twin events, and especially Winter Weekend, will present a huge opportunity to introduce the resort casino to new audiences, said Mathis, with the goal of making a very strong first impression and bringing them back for return visits.

“We always feel that, if we can get a new customer on the property to give us a trial, we have a very good chance of getting that customer back and start building loyalty,” he explained, adding, again, that the resort casino will be just one of many winners that long weekend.

“This goes well beyond the property and the city — the impact will be region-wide,” he went on, referring specifically to the Winter Weekend but the sum of the two events as well. “Springfield is hosting two major events on the same weekend; the compression and the energy that comes from that is testament to what we’re doing down here, that we’re starting to get double-booked on weekends.”

Doleva echoed those thoughts, and noted that there could be a good amount of crossover from the events.

“I think that many of the folks coming from out of town for our event might enjoy the Red Sox gathering,” he said. “And those here for the Red Sox will hopefully realize that they’re three minutes away from the Basketball Hall of Fame and come over and check it out. This is the perfect storm of good things.”

And, as noted earlier, this storm comes when it’s needed most for the tourism sector — the dead of winter.

Last year, the region and its hospitality sector got a boost from the AHL All-Star Classic, said Wydra, adding that, this January, there will be a much larger shot of adrenaline.

“We’re creating a reason to come here in the winter — and that’s always been a struggle not only for us, but for any New England city,” she noted, adding that perhaps the best news is that this will be the first of hopefully many Winter Weekends in Springfield, and the same goes for the HoopHall Classic.

Booked Solid

While almost all his time and energy are focused on the 2020 HoopHall Classic, Doleva has allowed himself to think a little about the 2021 edition as well.

It may well be staged at the same time as the Red Sox Winter Weekend again, which means there may be a more intense competition, if that’s what it is, for hotel rooms in the city.

“Next year, I’m hoping we all work together so everything happens in a cost-effective way,” he noted. “But, like I said, this is what we all hoped for and dreamed for — that the city would be on fire with tourism and events and people coming from out of town.

“We’ll find a way to coexist and celebrate the assets that we have in Springfield, and blow it out that weekend — and hopefully a number of other weekends as well,” he went on.

And with that, he once again spoke for a great number of people concerning a weekend destined to be a hot time — during the coldest month of the year.

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

Travel and Tourism

Shining Example

The MGM lion is the latest addition to the portfolio of displays at Bright Nights.

Judy Matt had been tracking the results daily, almost hourly, and then … she couldn’t any longer.

So, she’ll have to wait, like everyone else, to see how Bright Nights at Forest Park fares in this year’s USA Today competition to determine the top 10 holiday lighting shows in the country.

When she was last able to check the tabulations before the magazine stopped running a count — presumably to build suspense for the Dec. 13 announcement regarding this and some other contests — Matt noted that Bright Nights was running fourth, behind such vaunted displays as the Legendary Lights of Clifton Mill in Ohio, the Bentleyville Tour of Lights in Duluth, Minn., and Christmas Town USA in McAdenville, N.C.

“We were doing very well in the polling, and I think that certainly says something about Bright Nights, how far we’ve come, and how it can help put Springfield on the map,” said Matt, president of Spirit of Springfield, which manages the display. “We’re now certainly among the top displays in the country.”

But regardless of how it fares in the final vote, Bright Nights, now marking its 25th year, will always having something more to celebrate — the manner in which it has become a holiday tradition in this region, now already touching a number of generations of area residents and visitors alike.

“When we started out, we certainly weren’t thinking about winning any awards or anything like that,” said Patrick Sullivan, executive director of Parks, Buildings, and Recreation Management in Springfield and one of the architects of Bright Nights, while acknowledging that he has voted online every day in the USA Today competition, as the rules allow. “We just wanted to create a lighting display, something for families to enjoy during the holidays.”

To say that those involved have succeeded in that mission would be a huge understatement. Bright Nights has become one of the leading tourist attractions in the region, visited by more than 300,000 people and some 30,000 cars and buses annually. Those visitors come from around the corner, across the region, and well outside it, as license-plate-tracking efforts show.

Judy Matt says Bright Nights has become a cherished holiday tradition in the region, one made possible by a collaborative effort involving a number of players.

But while Bright Nights is a success story as a lighting display — as its showing in the USA Today poll shows — it is also a shining example (figuratively and quite literally) of the power of collaboration, said Matt. She noted that launching Bright Lights, keeping the lights on for 25 years, and continually expanding and improving the portfolio of displays (a leaping MGM lion is the latest addition) have been possible because of a powerful partnership between the city, Spirit of Springfield, the business community, and the public, which continually supports it each year.

“It takes a lot of people working together to make this happen,” she explained. “All the contributions are important, and we need every one of them to make this work.”

While Bright Nights is certainly a success story, Matt said, keeping the lights on is certainly a challenge. Margins are slim, and a few days lost due to bad weather (many of the other displays on the USA Today list are in warm climes) can be a disaster in terms of the bottom line.

“In many ways, we make it look easy,” she said of the Bright Nights operation. “It’s certainly not easy; it’s a tremendous challenge, and it takes a great amount of support, on many levels, to make this possible.”

Watt’s Happening

By now, most people know the story of how Bright Nights came to be. And if not, it’s retold in a commemorative 25th anniversary book that is, for the most part, a collection of cherished memories offered by residents from across the region.

In most ways, the saga begins with a brochure from a North Carolina-based outfit called Carpenter Decorating, a company that designed and built holiday lighting displays, that found its way onto Sullivan’s desk.

But actually, we need to go back several more decades, to a time when Sullivan can recall visiting Forest Park during the holidays and seeing wooden displays on the baseball field, a nativity scene in the zoo, and bells hung on wires over the main road. Those simple displays created lifelong memories, and the brochure from Carpenter Decorating spurred thoughts of creating something similar for different generations of area residents.

“In many ways, we make it look easy. It’s certainly not easy; it’s a tremendous challenge, and it takes a great amount of support, on many levels, to make this possible.”

Fast-forwarding quite a bit, the brochure was shown to Matt and others. Someone from Carpenter Decorating came to Springfield, toured the park, and eventually created a plan, if you will, to fill a small portion of the park with relatively simple displays of Santas throwing snowballs and playing baseball.

Matt, Sullivan, and others were thinking bigger. Much bigger. They were thinking of creating displays that would be regional in nature and pay tribute to Dr. Seuss and the characters he made famous; incorporate some of the games created by Milton Bradley (now Hasbro), a company founded in the city and by then located in East Longmeadow; and honor other figures from the city’s history. Meanwhile, their plan would make far more extensive use of Forest Park, designed by Frederic Law Olmstead, who also designed Central Park in New York.

“I had just become parks superintendent maybe 18 months prior,” Sullivan recalled. “And I felt strongly that the parks could be an asset to the Springfield community; I wanted to ensure that our parks complemented not only the neighborhood community, but also the business community by bringing people to the area.”

But that much bigger dream came with a huge price tag and a long list of logistical concerns. And that’s a big part of this story — overcoming all of these hurdles, and in roughly six months’ time.

Such efforts created a number of Bright Nights heroes, if you will.

They include the late Peter Picknelly, then chairman of Peter Pan Bus Lines, who signed the note for the Bright Nights financing. In what has become a bit of Springfield lore and legend, he is said to have told a Spirit of Springfield board of directors wary about taking on such a gamble, “if you don’t want to take the risk, I will.”

But there were other hurdles as well — everything from bringing electricity to a park that had power in only a few areas to piecing the massive displays together (more legend has it that the boxes carrying the displays started arriving with no instructions inside). And, of course, the biggest challenge was raising the money needed to turn the lights on.

And this is where the business community has come to the forefront. Indeed, a number of area companies have stepped up as sponsors and consistent supporters of Bright Nights and Spirit of Springfield, including MassMutual, Baystate Health, MGM, Peter Pan, and many others.

The Springfield Thunderbirds display is one of the latest additions to Bright Nights, which is celebrating 25 years of creating memories.

And the business community continues to provide a strong foundation of support, said Matt, adding that this was clearly on display at the annual Bright Nights Ball, an event that celebrated the first 25 years and all those who made them possible.

“Without the business community, Bright Nights wouldn’t happen,” she noted, adding that support on many levels is needed to keep Bright Nights in the black.

“There are a lot of expenses that go with this — insurance, the crew from the city that sets up the displays and takes them down, police details, park rental, payroll for nearly 60, marketing, and more,” she explained, adding that it costs more than $1 million to stage the lighting display each year. “And all of our [Spirit of Springfield] operating income comes from Bright Nights. So if we don’t have a good Bright Nights, it follows us all year.

“That’s why every day is so crucial,” she went on. “And that’s why we’re so grateful when we get sponsors and when we get the state to give us some funding because we need all of that; if we lost a few weekends due to bad weather, we’d be in trouble.”

As the ambitious initiative marks 25 years, there is much to celebrate, said both Matt and Sullivan, who noted that, while it has become one of the nation’s top lighting displays, for Springfield and the region, it has become much more.

It is a popular tourist attraction, they said, and also a revenue generator for Spirit of Springfield. But it has also become a point of pride for the city and now one of many factors contributing to the city becoming a real destination.

“It’s a labor of love because of what the event does for our community,” said Sullivan. “When we started this, there wasn’t a lot of good happening for the city, and this became a bright spot. Now, it’s one of many bright spots — we have the Museums, MGM, and many other attractions.

“When we started, there wasn’t much going on in Springfield,” he went on. “I really believe Bright Nights was a catalyst for some of the other successes we’ve had.”

Shedding Light

Those involved with Bright Nights don’t have to wait for the results from the USA Today competition to come in to know this lighting display has already made a name for itself — and for Springfield.

Indeed, it has already been ranked — along with the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes show, the Rose Bowl, and others — among the top-10 ‘Holiday Happenings,’ according to People magazine.

And beyond cracking those top-10 and best-of lists, they know that Bright Nights has accomplished something far more important.

It has become a tradition, one that continues to grow in size, stature, and relevance.

And that’s certainly worth celebrating as a region marks this milestone year.

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

Travel and Tourism

Taking Flight

When the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA) launched nonstop flights on Frontier Airlines from Bradley International Airport to Miami on Nov. 14, it marked yet another success in the airport’s goal of expanding destinations for customers, particularly budget, non-stop flights.

“We are excited to launch Frontier Airlines’ non-stop to Miami from Bradley International Airport,” said Kevin Dillon, executive director of the CAA.  “Frontier Airlines’ low-cost model is a key addition to our route structure. We are pleased to offer our passengers this additional travel option along with the high level of customer service that Frontier offers to its customers.”

The non-stop service will operate seasonally starting through April 2020 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, aboard an A320 Neo aircraft. The outbound flight departs from Bradley at 8 p.m. and arrives at Miami International Airport at 11:23 p.m. The inbound flight leaves Miami at 3:55 p.m. and arrives at Bradley at 7:04 p.m. 

Frontier Airlines also operates non-stop flights from Bradley to Denver, Orlando, and Raleigh-Durham. Non-stop flights to Orlando operate year-round, and the non-stop flights to Denver and Raleigh-Durham operate seasonally.

“We’re happy to expand our service at Bradley International Airport with non-stop flights to Miami,” said Daniel Shurz, senior vice president of Commercial for Frontier Airlines. “These new flights are an affordable and convenient option for travel to South Florida to explore the unique dining, sunny beaches, and endless activities. We appreciate the support of the community and look forward to continuing our outstanding partnership with the airport where we now offer four non-stop destinations.”

When the CAA took over operations at Bradley in 2013, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Now, that figure is more than 6.6 million.

Recent years have seen Bradley launch low-cost, non-stop service to Pittsburgh on Via Airlines, and to St. Louis on Southwest Airlines. Meanwhile, internationally, the daily Aer Lingus flight to Dublin introduced in 2016 has becoming increasingly popular with business and leisure flyers, and last year the airline committed to another four years at Bradley.

Passenger Experience

These developments, among others, have contributed to six straight years of passenger growth since the CAA began managing the airport in Windsor Locks in 2013. When the CAA took over operations at Bradley in 2013, it was handling roughly 5.5 million passengers a year. Now, that figure is more than 6.6 million.

And it’s not just flight expansion, but improvement in amenities as well. Bradley has added new eateries in recent years, such as Phillips Seafood and Two Roads Brewery. It also saw the opening earlier this month of Natalie’s Candy Jar, a self-serve candy store with more than 400 different sweet treats, beverages, and candy-related gift items.

“Natalie’s Candy Jar is a popular brand with a national footprint, making it a key addition to Bradley’s customer experience,” Dillon said. “The store’s unique and fun atmosphere, coupled with the high quality of candy, sugar-free treats, and gifts, will be well-received by travelers of all ages.”

Meanwhile, Travelers Aid International has begun serving Bradley’s passengers with a guest-service volunteer program. Travelers Aid currently operates similar guest-service volunteer programs at four other airports: New York JFK, Newark Liberty, Washington Dulles, and Washington Reagan.

These service-focused improvements have all helped Bradley International Airport earn a spot in the prestigious ranking of five best airports in the U.S. by Condé Nast Traveler three years in a row.

Dillon hopes readers keep the accolades coming for Bradley’s planned, $210 million ground transportation center, which recently broke ground for construction. When it’s open, passengers will be able to fly into Bradley and connect to the transportation center via a walkway from the terminal. All the rental-car companies serving Bradley will be located there, as well as 830 spaces of public parking.

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 New Haven with Springfield.

—Joseph Bednar

Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

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 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 a few dozen ideas to get you started.

June

Granby Charter Days
Dufresne Park, Route 202, Granby, MA
www.granbycharterdays.com
Admission: Free
• June 14-16: This annual town fair celebrates the adoption of Granby’s charter in 1768. This year’s event promises an array of local vendors and artisand, arts and crafts, contests, tractor pulls and an antique tractor show, an oxen draw, helicopter rides, a petting zoo, live music headlined by Trailer Trash, midway rides, a pancake breakfast, fireworks, and more.

Worthy Craft Brew Fest
201 Worthington St., Springfield, MA
www.theworthybrewfest.com
Admission: $35-$45
• June 15: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host two dozen breweries, live music, and food served up by Theodores’, Thai Chili Food Truck, and Nora Cupcake Co. 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.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: Prices vary
• June 19 to Aug. 25: Now in its 86th season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, featuring more than 50 dance companies from the U.S. and around the world. Participants can take in scores of free performances, talks, and events; train at one of the nation’s most prestigious dance-training centers; and take part in programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages.

Out! for Reel LGBT Films
274 Main St., Northampton, MA
www.outforreel.net
Admission: $7-$12
• June 22: Out! For Reel LGBTQ Films celebrates National Pride Month with a mini film fest at the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton. This year’s theme is “This American Lesbian Life: Uplifting (and Fun) Stories in Short Films.” Out! For Reel invites everyone in the community to enjoy these entertaining, inspiring, and award-winning films.

New England Food Truck Festival
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA
www.nefoodtruckfest.com
Admission: $6-$35
• June 22-23: The New England Food Truck Festival, on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition, is the largest event of its kind in New England, featuring close to 50 of New England’s premier food trucks, live music, and family fun. An array of entertainment is slated throughout the weekend, from local bands to face painting, to enjoy along with a taco, grilled cheese, or hundreds of other tasty options.​

The Capitol Steps
55 Lee Road, Lenox, MA
www.capsteps.com
Admission: $49
• June 28 to Aug. 30: Since they formed in 1981, political satirists the Capitol Steps have recorded more than 30 albums and can be heard four times a year on NPR during their “Politics Take a Holiday” specials. They will release their new CD, The Lyin’ Kings, in time for their annual summer residency at Cranwell Spa and Golf Resort. Cranwell performances are nightly excluding Tuesdays throughout the summer.

July

Old Sturbridge Village Independence Weekend Celebration
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
• July 3-4: 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 some friendly competition with games, and a reproduction cannon will be fired. On July 4, a citizen naturalization ceremony will take place on the Village Common.

Monson Summerfest
Main Street, Monson
www.monsonsummerfestinc.com
Admission: Free
• July 4: In 1979, a group of parishioners from the town’s Methodist church wanted to start an Independence Day celebration focused on family and community. The first Summerfest featured food, games, and fun activities. With the addition of a parade, booths, bands, rides, and activities, the event — now celebrating its 40th anniversary — has evolved into an attraction drawing more than 10,000 people every year.

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
• July 5-7: 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 18th year. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to stop by to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers, and take in a performance by ‘chamber-folk’ trio Harpeth Rising on July 6.

Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show
Route 20, Brimfield
www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free
• July 9-14, Sept. 3-8: After expanding steadily through the decades, the Brimfield Antique Show now encompasses six miles of Route 20 and has become a nationally known destination for people to value antiques, collectibles, and flea-market finds. Some 6,000 dealers and close to 1 million total visitors show up at the three annual, week-long events; the first was in May.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
• July 11-14: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2019: 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 eighth annual event always offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $139.99; Friday, $44.99; Saturday, $69.99; Sunday, $64.99
• July 12-14: 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 hot-air-balloon launches and Friday- and Saturday-evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.

Northeast Balloon Festival
41 Fair St., Northampton, MA
www.northeastballoonfestival.com
Admission: $7.50-$15; free for children under 13
• July 12-14: This annual event, held at the Three County Fairgrounds, features balloon rides, walk-in balloons, nighttime balloon glows, and pilot meet-and-greets, as well as a vendor expo, craft beer, live music, and more. More than 30 of New England’s top food trucks will offer an array of tastes, while amusement rides and a petting zoo have been added for the first time.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$18, free for children under 6
• July 20: Celebrating its 26th anniversary this year, 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.

Celebrate Ludlow
Ludlow Fish & Game Club
200 Sportsmans Road, Ludlow, MA
Admission: Free
• July 27: Celebrate Ludlow began in 2000 as an extension of a parade and picnic in 1999 to celebrate the town’s 225th anniversary, and has continued annually ever since. The event, held at Ludlow Fish & Game Club and put on with the help of numerous local nonprofit organizations, typically features live bands, food, games, activities for children, and fireworks to cap off the evening.

Hampden County 4-H Fair
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: Free
• July 28: More than 200 youth 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 scavenger hunt, raffle drawings, arts and crafts, and more.

August

High Hopes Music and Arts Festival
One MGM Way, Springfield, MA
www.mgmspringfield.com
Admission: $25-$35
• Aug. 3: Paddle Out Productions is partnering with MGM Springfield to bring a day of music, food, and arts to the Plaza at MGM Springfield. Renowned Queen tribute band Almost Queen will headline the bill and will be joined by Roots of Creation’s Grateful Dub, a reggae-infused tribute to the Grateful Dead; the Eagles Experience; and local acts Atlas Grey and Joon.

Kids Safety Expo
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA
www.kidssafetyexpo.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 3: Children and parents can combine fun activities with critical safety education during the 11th annual Kids Safety Expo at the Basketball Hall of Fame. Attendees will have meet-and-greets with area law-enforcement officers, popular characters, and local mascots, and the first 500 children who attend will receive complimentary bicycle helmets.

Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 10: The sixth annual event will offer a festive atmosphere featuring dozens of locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists. More than 10,000 people are expected to attend. This internationally heralded festival has become a powerful expression of civic pride, uniting the region’s diverse cultural communities through music, arts, education, and revelry.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 23-24: Downtown Chicopee will once again be transformed into a massive block party. Now in its fifth year, the event — which typically draws some 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall — will feature live music from nine bands, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and a 5K race on Aug. 24.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
• Aug. 23-25: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus. This year’s festival, expected to draw more than 10,000 people downtown, will include plenty of live musical performances, food and beverages from local restaurants, activities for children and families, and goods from local artists, crafters, and creators of all kinds.

Red Fire Farm Tomato Festival
7 Carver St., Granby, MA
www.redfirefarm.com
Admission: $5; free for children under 8
• Aug. 24: When the tomatoes are ripe and delicious in the August fields, Red Fire Farm hosts its annual Tomato Festival. Attendees can taste (and buy) a rainbow of tomato varieties grown on the farm and vote for their favorites. Bands play out back while visitors snack on food from local vendors, go on a wild edibles walk, pick cherry tomatoes, listen in on a cooking workshop, and more.

September

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
• Sept. 6-8: 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
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
• Sept. 7-8: Now in its 47th year, the Mattoon Street Arts Festival is the longest-running arts festival in the Pioneer Valley, featuring about 100 exhibitors, including artists that work in ceramics, fibers, glass, jewelry, painting and printmaking, photography, wood, metal, and mixed media. Food vendors and strolling musicians help to make the event a true late-summer destination.

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $48-$135 for three-day pass; free for children under 6
• Sept. 20-22: 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 Greensky Bluegrass, Calexico and Iron & Wine, Andrew Bird, Mavis Staples, Kronos Quartet, Tinariwen, Steep Canyon Rangers, and many more.

All Summer Long

Valley Blue Sox
MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke
www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$7; flex packs $59-$99
• Through. Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, two-time defending champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play 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
www.westfieldstarfires.com
Admission: $7-$10
• Through. Aug. 4: The newest baseball team to land in Western Mass., the Starfires, a member of the Futures Collegiate Baseball League, is playing its inaugural season at Bullens Field in a city with plenty of baseball history. The league itself has been expanding and growing its attendance in recent years, and 30 of its players were drafted last June by major-league organizations.

Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
www.berkshirebotanical.org
Admission: $12-$15; free for children under 12
• Through. Oct. 11: With 15 acres of public gardens, Berkshire Botanical Garden’s mission is to fulfill the community’s need for information, education, and inspiration concerning the art and science of gardening and the preservation of the environment. In addition to the garden’s collections, visitors can enjoy workshops, special events, and guided tours.

Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont
www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: Varies by activity
• Through. Oct. 14: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters.

The Zoo in Forest Park
293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA
www.forestparkzoo.org
Admission: $5-$10; free for children under 1
• Through. Oct. 14: The Zoo in Forest Park, located inside Springfield’s Forest Park, is home to more than 175 native and exotic animals representing a large variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitation, while offering special events like Zoo on the Go, guided tours, and discovery programs.

Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam, MA
www.sixflags.com/newengland
Admission: $46.99; season passes $75.99
• Through. Oct. 27: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Cyborg Hyper Drive, a spinning thrill ride in the dark. Other recent additions include Harley Quinn Spinsanity, the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, the looping Fireball, and the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings. And the Hurricane Harbor water park is free with admission.

Historic Deerfield
84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA
www.historic-deerfield.org
Admission: $5-$18;
free for children under 6
• Year-round: This outdoor museum interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850, and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts. Summer activities include educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period items and art.

 

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism

Hot Tips

Vacations are highlights of anyone’s calendar, and summertime is, admittedly, a perfect time to get away. But it’s also a great time to stay at home and enjoy the embarrassment of riches Western Mass. has to offer when it comes to arts and entertainment, cultural experiences, community gatherings, and encounters with nature. From music festivals and agricultural fairs to zoos and water activities — and much more — here is BusinessWest’s annual rundown of some of the region’s outdoor highlights. Have fun!

 

MUSIC, THEATER, AND DANCE

FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
www.freshgrass.com
Admission: $46-$119 for three-day pass; $350 for VIP ‘FreshPass’
Sept. 14-16: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the Fresh Grass festival is among the highlights, showcasing close to 50 bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Indigo Girls, Trampled by Turtles, Flogging Molly, Béla Fleck, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, and many more.

Green River Festival
One College Dr., Greenfield, MA
www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $129.99; Friday, $34.99; Saturday, $69.99; Sunday, $64.99
July 13-15: 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 hot-air-balloon launches and Friday- and Saturday-evening ‘balloon glows.’ The music is continuous on three stages, with more than 35 bands slated to perform.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket, MA
www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $25 and up
Through Aug. 26: Now in its 86th season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, featuring more than 50 dance companies from the U.S. and around the world. Participants can take in scores of free performances, talks, and events; train at one of the nation’s most prestigious dance-training centers; and take part in community programs designed to educate and engage audiences of all ages. This year’s highlights include a season-opening performance by the Royal Danish Ballet, a visit from the ever-popular Pilobolus, and an artist-curated program by New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht.

Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle St., Great Barrington, MA
www.mahaiwe.org
Admission: Varies by event
Year-round: The beloved Mahaiwe Theatre dates back to 1905 — continuously running programs since its opening — and underwent an extensive, $9 million renovation starting in 2003. Today, the theater seats just under 700 and hosts year-round arts programming, including music, dance, theatre, opera, talks, and movie classics. It’s leaders say Mahaiwe is a staple and a resource: its live performances inspire tens of thousands of audience members each year, its embrace of modern technology supplements programming with live, high-definition satellite broadcasts from around the world, and its year-round schedule enhances the quality of life for those who reside in and visit the Berkshires.

Old Sturbridge Village Craft Beer & Roots Music Festival
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
www.osv.org
Admission: $14-$28; free for children under 4
July 21: OSV’s craft beer festival is back, with more brews, bands, and bites than ever before. Eighteen 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 barbecue pork, brats, burgers, and more will be available. At five indoor and outdoor stages, more than a dozen musical artists will present the sounds of Americana, bluegrass, country, folk, and roots music.

Springfield Jazz and Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield, MA
www.springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 11: The fifth 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 hear sounds from a mix of well-known artists and up-and-comers. Headliners announced so far include Maceo Parker, Pedrito Martinez Group, and Jon Cleary, with more announcements expected soon.

Tanglewood
297 West St., Lenox, MA
www.bso.org
Admission: Varies
Through Sept. 14: Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, and like previous years, it has a broad, diverse slate of concerts in store for the 2018 season, including the Festival of Contemporary Music on July 26-30 and performances by the Boston Symphony and Boston Pops orchestras, ensembles of the Tanglewood Music Center, and internationally renowned guest artists from the worlds of classical, jazz, American songbook, Broadway, rock, pop, and dance.

Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown, MA
www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $60-$75
Through Aug. 19: Six decades ago, the leaders of Williams College’s drama department and news office conceived of an idea: using the campus’ theater for a summer performance program with a resident company. Since then, the festival has attracted a raft of notable guest performers, with this year’s names including Matthew Broderick (The Closet, June 26 to July 4) and Mary-Louise Parker (The Sound Inside, June 27 to July 8). The 2018 season’s seven productions will spotlight a range of both original productions and works by well-known playwrights.

HISTORY AND CULTURE

Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA
www.hoophall.com
Admission: $16-$24; free for children under 5
Year-round: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is home to more than 300 inductees and more than 40,000 square feet of basketball history. Hundreds of interactive exhibits share the spotlight with skills challenges, live clinics, and shooting contests. A $44 million capital campaign is funding a two-phase renovation project, with the first phase, including new dome lighting, a main lobby overhaul, and significant renovation of the Hall’s theater, now complete.

Glasgow Lands Scottish Festival
300 North Main St., Florence, MA
www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $5-$16, free for children under 6
July 21: Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, 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.

Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield, MA
www.stgeorgecath.org/glendi
Admission: Free
Sept. 7-9: 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.

Historic Deerfield
84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA
www.historic-deerfield.org
Admission: $5-$18; free for children under 6
Year-round: Historic Deerfield, founded in 1952, is an outdoor museum that interprets the history and culture of early New England and the Connecticut River Valley. Visitors can tour 12 carefully preserved antique houses dating from 1730 to 1850, and explore world-class collections of regional furniture, silver, textiles, and other decorative arts on display in the authentic period houses and in the Flynt Center of Early New England Life, a state-of-the-art museum facility. Check out the website for a packed roster of summer activities, including educational lectures, cooking demonstrations, and exhibitions of period decoration, textiles, furniture, and art.

Pocumtuck Homelands Festival
Unity Park, 1st Street, Turners Falls, MA
www.nolumbekaproject.org
Admission: Free
Aug. 4: This fifth annual celebration of the parks, people, history, and culture of Turners Falls is a coordinated effort of the Nolumbeka Project and RiverCulture. The event features outstanding Native American crafts, food, and live music, as well as demonstrations of primitive skills. The Nolumbeka Project aims to preserve regional Native American history through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation, and cultural events.

Shakerfest
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
www.hancockshakervillage.org
Admission: $65-$70 for all access; individual activities priced separately
Aug. 18: Hancock Shaker Village will present a day of music, ballads, storytelling, and dance — a place where musicians blend with the audience, and there’s no backstage. From food to free tours of ancient medicinal herb gardens, this festival offers numerous experiences to enjoy with the music, including afternoon harmony and dance workshop; an evening performance in the barn that combines traditional song and dance with new compositions, movement, and projections inspired by the Shakers who built the barn; and a rollicking barn dance.

Stone Soul Festival
1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield, MA
www.stonesoulfestival.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 31 to Sept. 2: 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.

Yidstock
1021 West St., Amherst, MA
www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $236; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 12-15: Boasting an array of concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2018: 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 seventh annual event offers an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots, music, and culture.

FAIRS AND FESTS

Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10
n July 6-8: 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 17th 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.

The Big E
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield, MA
www.easternstatesexposition.com
Admission: $10-$15; free for children under 5; 17-day pass $20-$40
Sept. 14-30: 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. But it’s not the only agricultural fair on the block. The Westfield Fair kicks things off Aug. 18-20, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 6-9, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 21-23, to name some of the larger gatherings.

Celebrate Holyoke
Downtown Holyoke, MA
www.celebrateholyokemass.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 24-26: Celebrate Holyoke is a three-day festival that made its return in 2015 after a 10-year hiatus, and typically draws more than 10,000 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.

Downtown Get Down
Exchange Street, Chicopee, MA
www.chicopeegetdown.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 24-25: Now in its fourth year, Chicopee’s downtown block party, which typically draws about 15,000 people to the streets around City Hall, will feature tons of live music, as well as attractions for children, local food vendors, live art demonstrations, and the Get Down 5K Race.

Franklin County Beer Fest
66 Thunder Mountain Road, Charlemont, MA
www.berkshireeast.com
Admission: $25 in advance, $30 at the door
July 21: Join fellow brew enthusiasts for an afternoon of food, music, and drink. The third 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. Online ticket buyers will receive a souvenir glass.

Mattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon Street, Springfield, MA
www.mattoonfestival.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 8-9: Now in its 46th 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.

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

River Celebration
350 Linden St., Brattleboro, VT
www.ctriver.org/celebration
Admission: $15; free for children 12 and under
June 16: The Connecticut River Conservancy will host this family-friendly event at the Retreat Farm in Brattleboro. Morning excursions including a pontoon cruise on the Connecticut River, a paddling adventure in the Meadows, a freshwater mussel ecology workshop, a fly-casting workshop, and more. Enjoy live music by River Rhapsody and lunch by Tito’s Taqueria and Vermont Country Deli. Additional activities include an ice-cream-making workshop and several demonstrations open all day: a stream table, a soil-infiltration table, a water-quality testing station, and more. Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman will moderate the “Farm/River Roundtable: Doing Right by Our Rivers.”

Worthy Craft Brew Fest
201 Worthington St., Springfield, MA
www.theworthybrewfest.com
Admission: $45 in advance, $50 at the door
June 16: Smith’s Billiards and Theodores’ Booze, Blues & BBQ, both in the city’s entertainment district, will host more than 25 breweries, with music by Feel Good Drift and the Radiators Soul and Rhythm and Blues Revue, and food served up by Theodores’, Mercado Food Truck, and Nora Cupcake Co. 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.

MORE FUN UNDER THE SUN

Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
www.berkshirebotanical.org
Admission: $12-$15; free for children under 12
Through Oct. 8: If the flora indigenous to, or thriving in, the Berkshires of Western Mass. is your cup of tea, try 15 acres of stunning public gardens at the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. Originally established as the Berkshire Garden Center in 1934, today’s not-for-profit, educational organization is both functional and ornamental, with a mission to fulfill the community’s need for information, education, and inspiration concerning the art and science of gardening and the preservation of the environment. In addition to the garden’s collections, among the oldest in the U.S., visitors can enjoy workshops, special events, and guided tours.

Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont, MA
www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: Varies by activity
Through Oct. 8: Wanna get wet? Crab Apple is a third-generation, multi-state family business that operates locally on the Deerfield River in the northern Berkshire Mountains of Western Mass. Its five separate rafting excursions range from mild to wild, full- or half-day runs, in rafts and inflatable kayaks. In short, Crab Apple offers something for everyone, from beginners to more experienced rafters.

Great New England Air & Space Show
57 Patriot Ave., Chicopee, MA
www.greatnewenglandairshow.org
Admission: Free; upgraded paid seating available
July 14-15: The 2018 Great New England Air & Space Show at Westover Air Reserve Base will feature popular attractions like the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, who last performed in Chicopee in 2008. But note the subtle change to the event title — ‘Space Show.’ That’s because the Air Force operates the largest space program in the world, and the Great New England Air & Space Show is entering a new phase by incorporating elements of space and cyberspace capabilities of military and civilian contractors.

Lupa Zoo
62 Nash Hill Road, Ludlow, MA
www.lupazoo.org
Admission $10-$15; free for children under 2
Through Nov. 4: Lupa Zoo brings the African savannah to Western Mass. residents. The late Henry Lupa fulfilled his lifelong dream of creating a zoo right next to his Ludlow house, filling it with hundreds of animals and instilling a warm, familial atmosphere. Visitors to the 20-acre can be entertained by monkeys, feed giraffes on a custom-built tower, and marvel at the bright colors of tropical birds. In addition to offering animal shows and animal-feeding programs, the staff at Lupa Zoo promotes conservation and sustainability.

Post #351 Catfish Derby
50 Kolbe Dr., Holyoke, MA
www.post351catfishderby.com
Admission: $10 entry fee
July 20-22: The American Legion Post #351 touts its 38th 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).

Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam, MA
www.sixflags.com/newengland
Admission: $57.99-$67.99; season passes $109.99
Through Oct. 28: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Harley Quinn Spinsanity, an extreme pendulum ride that sends guests soaring 15 stories in the air at speeds up to 70 mph. Other recent additions include the Joker 4D Free Fly Coaster, the looping Fireball, and the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings — in addition to a raft of other thrill rides. But fear not: the park has attractions for everyone along the stomach-queasiness spectrum, from the classic carousel and bumper cars to the giant wave pools and lazy river in the Hurricane Harbor water park, free with admission.

Springfield Dragon Boat Festival
121 West St., Springfield, MA
www.pvriverfront.org
Admission: Free
June 23: 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 new team-building opportunity, and provides financial support for the Riverfront Club as it grows and strengthens its presence in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

Valley Blue Sox
500 Beech St., Holyoke, MA
www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$7; season tickets $99
Through Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, defending champions of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, play close to home at MacKenzie Stadium in Holyoke. These Sox feature a roster of elite collegiate baseball players from around the country, including some who have already been drafted into the major leagues. Frequent promotional events like postgame fireworks and numerous giveaways help make every game at MacKenzie Stadium a fun, affordable event for the whole family.

 

 

 

Sections Travel and Tourism

‘Time to Step Forward’

An architect’s rendering of the renovated lobby area at the Hall

An architect’s rendering of the renovated lobby area at the Hall, complete with lockers bearing the names of some of the game’s greats.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will soon commence work on an ambitious, $15 million renovation and expansion that will dramatically change the look and feel of the shrine. While the project represents the future, it also speaks loudly to just how far the Hall has come since the dark days — and years — earlier this century.

John Doleva calls it a “spaceship.”

That’s what he and others at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame have come to call the individual lights that sit atop the dome that defines the shrine on West Columbus Avenue and change color with the seasons and the occasions.

That’s because they look like one, at least that ’50s sci-fi-movie take on what a spaceship looks like, a flat, roundish base with a circular bubble on top. There are 860 of these lights affixed to the dome, and maybe a quarter of them are in a condition approximating that of the one that Doleva has in his office — cracked, with the seals damaged, allowing water to get in and cause serious trouble.

This is the same ‘spaceship’ he takes with him when he talks to gatherings large and small about the planned $15 million to $16 million renovation of the hoop Hall. That’s because these fixtures will be removed and replaced with projection lighting that is, well, light years ahead of the old bulbs in terms of what can be done with the surface of the giant sphere.

“You can do incredible things with projection lighting,” said Doleva. “It will give us so much variability it terms of bringing the building alive, and the maintenance is so much easier.”

But the lights are really just a small, though highly visible, part of the ambitious undertaking at the Hall, noted Doleva, its president for nearly two decades now. Indeed, he said the current facility, opened in 2003, was designed and built just before digital technology was about to explode and change forever the way information is presented and stories, like those of the hall’s inductees and of the history of the game itself, are told.

John Doleva

John Doleva holds up one of the ‘spaceships’ that are soon to be history at the Hall.

“We have a lot of printed word here — exhibits that don’t necessarily interact and entertain, especially when you’re talking to a 12- or a 14- or a 17-year old,” he explained. “With the advent of all the digital content that’s out there now, we can bring Hall of Famers alive, and that’s what we intend to do; instead of a plaque on a wall and two and a half paragraphs of information, we’re going to bring James Naismith alive; we’re going to bring Bob Cousy alive.”

The renovation project will take part in two stages, with the dome lighting, a main lobby area overhaul, and significant renovation of the Hall’s theater comprising stage one. Work on it will start next month (the museum will remain open during construction), and it will all be finished in June, a few important months before MGM Springfield opens its doors in September 2018.

Phase two involves a substantial overhaul of the museum itself, what’s under the dome, said Doleva, noting that state-of-the-art, digitized presentations are currently being blueprinted. Phase two is slated to begin in January 2020, to be finished six months later, with the museum obviously closed for those six months.

And while this project and the campaign that will fund it — called “A Time to Step Forward” — represent the future of the Hall, they also embody just how far it has come in the years since the current building was put on the proverbial drawing board roughly two decades ago.

Indeed, the existing facility was built without a considerable amount of support from what Doleva collectively calls the “basketball community,” and it was opened with a large amount of debt that left the Hall in precarious financial condition for a number of years.

It has ridden out that storm, if you will, and has regrouped on many levels. The Hall has forged much stronger relationships with that basketball community and its many subcomponents, including inductees themselves (as we’ll see), and, as a result, the capital campaign has far exceeded initial expectations. Because of this, goals have been recalibrated.

“The initial goal of the campaign, $20 million, has been exceeded, and it now stands at $26 million,” said Doleva, adding that more than 90% of this total comes from the basketball community. A new goal of $30 million has been established, he went on, to not only fund the renovations to the galleries and visitor area, but also adequately fund an endowment.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Hall’s renovation project, and also at the forces that have made it — and a much more secure future for this Springfield landmark — possible.

Net Gains

There are a great deal of numbers associated with the Hall’s renovation project, its capital campaign, and its comeback from those dark years after the new shrine was opened 14 years ago.

And while all of them are significant, from the number of lights to be taken out to the projections on increased visitation — from the improvements, MGM’s opening, and other factors — maybe the place to start is with the number 5.

That’s how many of the Hall’s previous inductees turned out for the enshrinement ceremonies in 2000. (Actually, eight committed to come, and three of them backed out). And in many respects, Hall officials were lucky the number was that high.

That’s because the Hall didn’t pay to fly any of those inductees in, didn’t pay for their hotel rooms, and didn’t pay for anything, really, except their admission to the show — largely because it couldn’t afford to do so.

“We quickly concluded that, if we don’t have Hall of Famers on our side, if they’re not our ambassadors across the country and around the world, then we really don’t have a Hall of Fame,” said Doleva, adding that the Hall now pays such expenses, and the results of such a sea change have been dramatic.

Fast-forward to this past September, and there were 65 former inductees in attendance, a number that certainly helps explain the large number of autograph collectors camping out in front of the downtown Springfield hotels.

These Hall of Famers are now truly ambassadors, said Scott Zuffelato, vice president of Philanthropy for the Hall, adding that they regularly make appearances at Hall-produced events such as fund-raising golf tournaments and basketball events.

“They’ve become our foot soldiers,” he explained. “And this stronger relationship with the Hall of Famers has led us to stronger relationships with others in basketball as well, such as college coaches who take part in our events, and the NBA as well.”

And these improved, much stronger relations, resulting in part from getting coaches and officials in pro and college basketball more engaged in the Hall at many levels, has helped the institution secure a higher placed within the game, Doleva told BusinessWest.

Scott Zuffelato says the Hall has strengthened relationships

Scott Zuffelato says the Hall has strengthened relationships with many constituencies within the basketball community, including the Hall of Famers themselves, which is reflected in giving for the current capital campaign.

“We took the organization from a museum in Springfield where the game was invented,” he said, “to a global basketball brand with the mothership located in Springfield.”

This transformation, if you will, has certainly played a huge role in the enormous — and ongoing — success of the Hall’s capital campaign, which was launched more than two and a half years ago. Those who originally met to plan it did so with the initial mission of retiring lingering debt from construction of the new Hall at the start of this century — the roughly $2 million left from an original figure that approached $12 million.

But soon, the vision — and the campaign — took on new meaning.

“It soon became clear that we had a grander plan — and that was to redo the museum and bring it into the 21st century to again be the world’s finest sports museum,” said Doleva, adding that the campaign will raise far more than is needed for the planned renovations, which will enable the Hall to undertake those projects in a manner that couldn’t have been imagined back in 2000: by paying cash.

“The original goal was $21 million, and we saw that as a big challenge based on where we had been with the 2000 campaign,” he went on. “But very quickly, probably within 14 or 15 months, we hit $21 million. And like any good organization, with so many asks that were out there and so many opportunities that hadn’t been harvested, we decided to raise it to $30 million.”

As noted, the basketball community has responded to the Hall’s bid to step forward in a big way. The donor list is replete with the names of players, coaches, executives, and contributors to the game in various ways.

Zuffelato credited Jerry Colangelo, the Hall’s chairman, former owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns and WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, and currently a special adviser to the NBA’s Philadelphia 76ers, with inspiring many within the basketball community to give to the campaign.

Imagination on Display

What those traveling to the renovated Hall will encounter is a more modern, more visitor-friendly facility and museum that tells stories on a number of levels — both literally and figuratively.

Indeed, the renovated ground-floor lobby, the entry point for visitors, will feature a new, far less imposing ticket area (Doleva has a name for that, too — the ‘tugboat’ — and, more importantly, a number of new displays and attractions.

Overall, the lobby work, a significant portion of phase one, isn’t an expansion in the technical sense, said Doleva. Rather, it is a concerted effort to capture and make much better use of existing space in the lobby area.

“That concourse could really be any retail mall in America — when you walk into it, you don’t know that you’re in the Basketball Hall of Fame; you wouldn’t know until you look through the glass,” he said, adding that the renovations will make it clear to visitors just where they are. “This will be a very high-energy area.”

It will be dominated, he went on, by lockers bearing the names of some of the game’s greats, including Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Grant Hill, Jerry West, and others, who have donated to the capital campaign. These lockers — there are 16 planned, with the ability to expand to 24 — will highlight not only achievements on the court, but the work done by these players within their community.

Meanwhile, a renovated theater in the lobby area, complete with digital technology, surround sound, and an actual stage, will play a more prominent role in the typical Hall visit — and in the Hall’s operations in general.

“Many people don’t know there’s a theater there,” he said. One reason for this, he noted, is that the Hall has never had what he and others in this business call a “signature film” to show to visitors upon their arrival. But it will have one soon, and Doleva said this work in progress will set the emotional tone for one’s visit.

As for the museum, it will see all its galleries renovated and modernized. Doleva explained that such work is necessary not only to keep pace with other museums and sports halls, but to set a new, higher bar.

“We want to present Bob Cousy in a way that will enable people in their teens or 20s to know who he was, and know who Oscar Robertson was, or Kareem,” he explained. “We want to make sure we celebrate all the Hall of Famers, whether they played in recent times or way back; we want to make sure they get their fair share of digital education to the fans.”

Another key addition to the Hall’s lineup, if you will, is the 1891 Gallery, so named because that’s the year James Naismith invented the game.

The gallery will provide area companies that donate specified amounts to the campaign with an opportunity to gain visibility in that space, a company statement that links Naismith’s core values to their company’s values, and a host of other benefits.

Many area businesses have already signed on, including MassMutual, Balise Auto Group, Excel Dryer, Florence Savings Bank, the Chicopee Savings Foundation, and the Davis Foundation.

These renovation project, coupled with MGM’s opening and other forms of momentum at the Hall and across Springfield, are inspiring Hall officials to set some ambitious goals for visitorship — for 2018, and especially for 2020 and beyond.

“I would expect a 20% to 25% increase in attendance,” said Doleva, adding that MGM should have a huge influence on the facility simply by introducing it to people who may not have known it was there.

Court of Opinion

The name affixed to the capital campaign — “It’s Time to Step Forward” is simple, yet has meaning on a number of levels.

On one of them, it speaks to potential donors, inviting them to step forward and play a role in modernizing a Springfield landmark and helping it secure a solid future in a way it never really has.

On another, that name speaks directly to what the Hall is doing — stepping forward — in terms of everything from building a facility truly worthy of the phrase ‘state of the art’ to forging stronger, long-lasting relationships with the basketball community.

These are, indeed, big steps forward, and, to borrow a phrase from the game itself, they comprise a winning formula for years and decades to come.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

Happy Trails

A Ski Butternut instructor

A Ski Butternut instructor — one of many who teach lessons for a wide range of ability levels — helps a youngster improve on the slopes.

When operating in a competitive industry with far fewer customers than it boasted a few decades ago, expanding one’s operations carries some risk.

But Ski Butternut believes the niche it has carved out in Great Barrington — a moderately sized mountain that focuses on a family environment and boasts a robust learn-to-ski program — will translate well about 25 miles to the east, which is why it purchased the Blandford Ski Area earlier this fall and rechristened it Ski Blandford.

“It has a long history and a rich tradition; it’s been there since 1936,” said Dillon Mahon, Ski Butternut’s marketing director. “It’s also close to a large population in Springfield, and we’re hoping to attract quite a few people from that area.”

The Blandford resort, which has been owned by the Springfield Ski Club for the past 81 years, has struggled with declines in memberships and visits, and decided in July to sell the property to Ski Butternut owner Jeff Murdoch for $269,000.

“We purchased what was basically a private ski club,” Mahon said. “They didn’t advertise it, and a lot of people didn’t know it was there. We’re reopening it this year and making a lot of improvements, from renovating the lodges to upgrading snow-making equipment and grooming equipment.”

Also important, he added, is spreading the word that Ski Blandford will represent what Butternut does: a place that welcomes families and beginners and helps them navigate the world of skiing and snowboarding — and convinces them to keep coming back. Ski Blandford’s website has been redesigned in the style of the Ski Butternut site — only with less expensive pricing to persuade mountain enthusiasts to give the facility a try.

“It’s a great family atmosphere on a good-sized mountain close to home,” Mahon said, again touching on the emphasis that has kept Ski Butternut successful.

“That’s been a big part of why we’re successful,” he went on. “Butternut focuses on a family atmosphere and on learning, bringing people into the sport. It’s kind of a startup mountain that gives people great service. The ski school here is large and can accommodate large amounts of children and adults. Learn-to-ski weekends made Butternut successful, and it’s something we plan to mirror at Blandford as well.”

The First Time

It’s a critical element, he said, to bringing in new blood at a time when the popularity of skiing has been experiencing a slow decline. In a one-year period from early 2008 to early 2009, 11.24 million Americans took to the slopes, according to industry sources. Eight years later — from the spring of 2016 to early 2017 — the number was 9.78 million. And snowboarding has seen an even more precipitous fall.

That’s when people think about skiing. I can send people e-mails and Facebook posts all day, but when a fresh bunch of snow is on their doorstep, that changes people’s mindset toward skiing.”

One reason is that what’s known as the conversion rate, or the percentage of first-timers who embrace the slopes and return for more, currently stands at around 15% nationally. Mahon said Ski Butternut has made a conscious effort to boost it.

“There are a lot of barriers to entry,” he told BusinessWest. “We as a resort are trying to knock down those barriers, to make it a more accessible sport, make it easier for people to get into the sport.”

For instance, the resort has long offered a one-day beginner’s package that includes access to the milder hills, a group lesson, and equipment rentals, all for $75. After that, an all-mountain pass with a group lesson and rentals costs between $75 and $100, depending on age.

“We’ve had a lot of success bundling those offerings for beginners, giving them a smaller piece to bite off that might be more digestable than a season-long rental and saying ‘good luck,’ Mahon said.

For its part, Ski Blandford is rolling out beginner packages for between $70 and $80, and all-mountain packages of lift ticket, rentals, and lesson for between $70 and $85, depending on the day of the week — slightly less than at Butternut.

“For us as an industry, and especially at Butternut and soon at Blandford, that’s part of our overall strategy to attract more skiers as opposed to putting up more barriers,” he went on. “Basically, we want to hold their hand as they learn to ski and make it a better experience for them. When people try skiing for the first time, it’s hard. How do you choose equipment? How do you ride a lift? We’re doing our best to break down those barriers and make it affordable for beginners.”

After that, well, the challenge is getting visitors to come back. Several years ago, Ski Butternut undertook an extensive upgrade of its snow-making system to guarantee ski-worthy conditions no matter what kind of winter New England experiences.

“We’re open with or without Mother Nature’s cooperation. That’s the way things go,” Mahon said. “We have great snow-making equipment, and we’ll be updating with the equivalent at Blandford as well — more guns, higher capacity. We’re open hell or high water.”

That said, “it also helps quite a bit to get a bunch of snow,” he conceded. “That’s when people think about skiing. I can send people e-mails and Facebook posts all day, but when a fresh bunch of snow is on their doorstep, that changes people’s mindset toward skiing.”

The typical season brings well over 100 inches of snow, but some are drier. Even in those years, typically the weather will remain cold enough to consistently manufacture snow. Temperatures below 26 degrees are ideal for making snow, because the water that emerges from the nozzles in tiny droplets are almost instantly supercooled to create the best-quality snow.

Beyond the Slopes

Ski Butternut has also done well with its non-skiing activities, such as its popular tubing park, complete with a mechanized lift to keep riders energized for their two-hour sessions.

“Tubing is a different market in some ways,” Mahon said. “Everyone likes tubing, while not everyone skis. So it’s great for families with little kids — something to do for a quick day out.”

Meanwhile, the event calendar features plenty of activities, from race events to wine and beer tastings; from Saturday concerts on the lodge deck to a ‘ski and paint’ day on Jan. 28, which is exactly what it sounds like. In the summer, the mountain stays open to hikers and outdoor enthusiasts, and the resort is also the site of the annual Berkshires Arts Festival.

“Some of these events aren’t necessarily skiing-based events,” he noted. “We want to draw on the local community and give people a good experience so they keep showing up.”

He and the ownership team at Butternut hope for the same at Ski Blandford, which is why Murdoch is investing in painting the lodges, upgrading snow guns and grooming equipment, and, in general, letting people know the resort is on the way back.

“We’re making a lot of improvements over the next couple of years,” Mahon said. “It’s going to get better and better.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Strike Up the Bands

 

John Juliano and Anne-Alise Pietruska

John Juliano and Anne-Alise Pietruska say procuring musical talent for the Big E is a year-round challenge, and several acts have already been booked for 2018.

John Juliano has been booking entertainment at the Big E for almost 30 years, but his first job for the fair was a little less glamorous. Specifically, it was a part-time gig cleaning out horse stalls in 1982.

He didn’t mind, though, because it was money in his pocket, and a chance to be a part of a regional icon he’d loved from his childhood.

“It was always my favorite thing to do,” said Juliano, senior director of Sales, Marketing & Entertainment for the Eastern States Exposition. “When I was in junior high school, across the street in Agawam, I’d hop the fence and sit in the bleachers. My buddy would be chasing girls, and I was on the bleachers, waiting to see a show.”

Given his predilection for live music, it wasn’t surprising that Juliano moved on from the horse barn to a job in fair operations in 1984, and started booking acts five years later. It’s a role that affords him creativity and the ability to shape the musical atmosphere of the Big E, but also a challenging, year-round effort — some acts have already been booked for 2018 — that requires a good deal of hustle.

So, when fairgoers hear that Grand Funk Railroad, Cole Swindell, Cam, Smash Mouth, and Night Ranger will perform this year in the 6,300-seat Xfinity Arena, or peruse a list of 23 free concerts on the Court of Honor Stage, ranging from up-and-comers to big names like the Lovin’ Spoonful, Sheila E., and the Sugarhill Gang, they might not realize the amount of research, legwork, and networking it takes to secure them — particularly at a time when many artists are simply out of the Big E’s price range.

“Our budget, despite what most people believe, is not astronomical,” said Anne-Alise Pietruska, whose business card reads ‘brand content / entertainment,’ three words that don’t quite illustrate the number of hats she wears, from social-media marketing to graphic design to article writing. A few years ago, Juliano learned of her passion for — and knowledge of — the live-music realm, and welcomed her into his world — and gave her another hat.

If we feel an act will sell tickets, that’s somebody we’re going to go for. We sit here with issues of Pollstar and Billboard and go back and forth about every single act — where they’ve played, what their gross is, what their attendance is, and how they would play here. Some acts that wouldn’t play well in South Dakota will go over well here.”

“If we feel an act will sell tickets, that’s somebody we’re going to go for,” he said. “We sit here with issues of Pollstar and Billboard and go back and forth about every single act — where they’ve played, what their gross is, what their attendance is, and how they would play here. Some acts that wouldn’t play well in South Dakota will go over well here.

“We know our demographic pretty well. We’ll get an agent who’ll call and pitch us an act, but we know it wouldn’t work well. Or we’ll call them, and they’ll say, ‘that’ll work at the Big E?’ And I say, ‘yeah, I think it will work.’ We’re always trying to find something new,” he went on, singling out two of this year’s free acts — roots rocker Martin Sexton and R&B dynamos Vintage Trouble — as examples of artists who make up in stage presence what they may lack in the household-name department.

Even something as simple as last year’s decision to cover the Court of Honor stage with a tent is making a difference, as some acts would rather not play while exposed to possible — well, Pietruska almost said rain, before admitting that’s not a word folks like to say out loud in the Eastern States offices. She did call the tent a big hit, however, one that makes the venue more attractive to performers and attendees alike.

“It allows us to expand our lineup by bringing in more diverse bands covering all genres of music, and tap into artists who have strong followings in this area.”

But crafting each year’s musical lineup takes much more than a tent and some phone calls. It also requires plenty of foresight, a dollop of passion, and an occasional leap of faith.

The billboard at the West Springfield-Agawam line only scratches the surface of the variety of music on tap for this year’s fair.

The billboard at the West Springfield-Agawam line only scratches the surface of the variety of music on tap for this year’s fair.

Crystal Ball

The foresight and leaps of faith often collide, actually, in an annual game of ‘buying low’ on an act that’s just about to make it big.

That was the case with Cheat Codes, an electronic-music trio from California that was among the final acts booked for the 2017 fair; Juliano, who came across the band in Billboard, is convinced their fee will double by next year.

Sometimes, landing a band on the cusp of stardom for a reasonable price backfires. Take the country act Midland, with whom Juliano admits he became a little obsessed when he heard they would be at South by Southwest, the massively influential annual music festival in Austin, Texas (one of many he and Pietruska visit each year).

He scored a meeting with their manager, struck up a relationship, and nailed down a date for Midland to play in West Springfield. But two months later, their record label cancelled the gig.

“Their album was dropping the week they were going to perform at the fair, and the label would rather have them out at radio stations than playing before 6,000 people,” he recalled. “That was frustrating, to lose out on an act after putting in a lot of time and effort.”

Pricing itself has become frustrating in recent years, with some acts charging $50,000, $100,000, or more to play the fair, which is why the Big E — which, for generations, offered all concerts as part of fair admission — started charging extra for several shows each year (the vast majority remain free).

That said, as one of the most well-attended fairs in the country — typically ranking between fifth and seventh on that list each year — the Big E is a draw for many performers. A veteran of several music-association boards, like the Academy of Country Music, the Country Music Assoc., and the International Entertainment Buyers Assoc., Juliano knows from conversations with artists, managers, and agents that the Big E has plenty of credibility in their industry.

“If they didn’t want to play here, my phone wouldn’t be ringing off the hook,” he told BusinessWest, adding that performers are treated well, if not exactly in luxury, this being, after all, an outdoor agricultural fair. “We’re not a billion-dollar casino, so we can’t afford fancy dressing rooms, flatscreen TVs, and all those niceties, but when they come to the fair, we treat them like they’d want to be treated.”

In the end, however, it’s about the fan experience, and the Big E is tossing in a few extra wrinkles this year, like the Twine Country Fest in the Xfinity Arena on Saturday, Sept. 30, featuring four hot touring acts: Granger Smith, Parmalee, the Cadillac Three, and Lindsay Ell.

“It’s been exciting for me to add my marketing perspective and creativity and develop events that take on a life of their own under the Big E umbrella, and Twine is one of those,” Pietruska said. “Our country fans are so loyal.”

That loyalty to music can benefit the Big E in the long run, Juliano said, noting that more than  90% of fair attendees on any given year eventually come back. If the 17-day gala can draw a few newcomers because of a band they want to hear, perhaps they’ll have a good time walking around the fairgrounds, gorging on fried food, or perusing crafts and animal exhibits, and decide they want to be among that 90% who return.

“With any new show or event we bring in, we want to attract a new audience that might not typically come to the Big E, but might come for that particular entertainer,” Pietruska said. “And we’re seeing that pay off.”

Word of Mouth

Clearly, the Big E’s entertainment team members have put their hearts into a key aspect of New England’s famous fair, which is why it’s discouraging, Pietruska said, when critics read booking updates online and lash out as Internet trolls do; one, clearly unimpressed with the music slate, recently called Juliano “a waste of space.”

“Because I manage the social media, that can be painful for me,” she said. “But my focus is on making the Big E even more of an entertainment venue than it already is.”

Juliano agreed. “I get so much gratification from this, and we work so hard on this, you can’t let the critics get to you.”

Then it was back to the phones, chasing down 2018’s next big thing — before the price doubles.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Fright Stuff

Brennan McKenna says Warner Farm aims to provide scares for all ages each October.

Brennan McKenna says Warner Farm aims to provide scares for all ages each October.

Haunted houses and other Halloween attractions are nothing new, but they’re enjoying somewhat of a renaissance in America today, generating, by one estimate, more than $1 billion in revenues annually. Some are kid-friendly, while others are extreme enough to issue guests a safe word in case they need an early exit. But they all feed off people’s natural attraction to an often-intense adrenaline rush that’s totally safe — even though it might not feel that way at the time.

 

Brennan McKenna started working at Warner Farm at age 14, manning the strawberry stand. He returned every summer during high school and college, and started helping out with the farm’s renowned, artistic corn mazes in 2004; that year’s design was George W. Bush and John Kerry.

He’s had other jobs since, but he takes pride in his current role — pressed for a title, he came up with ‘haunted events manager’ — at the Sunderland farm.

“I tell people, ‘my job this week is to figure out how to scare people in the most efficient way, using some piece of farm equipment.’”

He’s not kidding — one scene in the haunted cornfield depicts an executioner’s chamber, where one poor character (not real, fortunately) is being chopped apart by — well, McKenna isn’t sure what it is, except that it’s an old farm implement stamped with the year 1875.

Adjoining this walk-through attraction is Mike’s Maze, an annual corn-maze attraction first created by farm owner Mike Wissemann and an artist neighbor 16 years ago; the theme for this year’s maze is “See America,” a tribute to the National Park Service. That remains a draw throughout each fall for visitors who enjoy navigating it by day and, with flashlights in hand, by night.

The neighboring haunted maze is a more recent addition, first developed three years ago. The farm has since added Zombie Night Patrol, where guests ride a wagon through a creepy village and shoot mounted paintball guns at the zombies who charge the vehicle.

“That’s a thrill,” McKenna said as he gave BusinessWest a tour of the village — like the haunted maze, silent during the day but ready to spring to life (or at least some undead state) thanks to a gaggle of paid actors in costumes and makeup. “Kids can do this and not get overly scared. The haunted corn maze is much scarier because walking through corn thinking someone’s going to pop out is inherently scary.”


See: Area Tourist Attractions


The Halloween attractions at Warner’s, collectively called Mike’s at Night, have been a boon for the farm, which aims for a complete family experience, complete with concessions, live music, and a children’s play area with slides, a jump pad, and pedal cars.

It’s also an example of how Americans have increasingly embraced the fun and pageantry of Halloween in recent years, evidenced by a proliferation of haunted houses and other spooky attractions.

Jeremie LaPointe and David Spear recognized that trend when they launched DementedFX in Easthampton two years ago. The haunted house they created drew 19,000 visitors over two seasons, and now they’re aiming higher with a new, much larger space on Main Street in Holyoke, with more room for the walk-through and an indoor bar area, serving beer and wine, that wasn’t possible before. But it wasn’t simply the need for more space that brought them to the Paper City.

“We went into this business venture thinking we wanted to get as close to the Five College area as possible,” LaPointe said. “We thought this was our demographic, but we came to find out, it really wasn’t.”

David Spear, left, and Jeremie LaPointe

David Spear, left, and Jeremie LaPointe say they don’t forbid kids from entering DemetedFX, but the intense scares are geared for adults.

The reasons aren’t totally clear, but he suggests a lack of money — today’s high-school and college students are struggling with a very difficult market for the kinds of jobs people their age used to have — may be a factor. Whatever the reason, the post-college crowd dominated the queue in Easthampton, with more sales to 36- to 50-year-olds than to the 14-to-18 crowd.

As a result, the revamped DementedFX is geared more toward adults, with some strong language, violent scenes, and ‘anatomically correct’ props, though nothing that could be considered sexual content. Children aren’t turned away, but their parents are warned, and refunds aren’t given if they decide to cut short their trip (which runs about 18 minutes, on average) by using a safe word.

“We don’t want to pander to the kids because we realized they’re not our demo,” LaPointe said. “My son’s 9, and I wouldn’t let him come here. But I’m not going to parent for people. We had a group of 5-year-olds go through with their parents the other day — and we’ve also had grown men cry.

“A lot of it has to do with your own level of anxiety, what your own fears are,” he went on. “We try to hit a lot of those fears. We use smells, which a lot of people find unpleasant. We use temperature changes, claustrophobia, light sensitivity — and it’s really loud. By the time you’re done, your anxiety level is high, so when you finally finish, it’s a moment of celebration, which is fun to watch.”

In other words, he said, getting scared is fun. Increasingly, people seem to agree.

Catching Fire

The Haunted House Assoc., an industry group, draws a distinction between Halloween attractions (hayrides, corn mazes, pumpkin patches) and haunted houses, but reports that, together, these destinations bring in more than $1 billion in revenue per year — and help keep many family farms afloat.

McCray’s Farm in South Hadley offers both types of attractions, thanks to Dan Augusto, a man who, a quarter-century ago, turned a love of Halloween and a collection of holiday-themed props into one of the region’s true seasonal success stories.

Seeking a place to display his collection, Augusto approached farm owner Don McCray, who was intrigued with the concept — originally, a simple hay-wagon ride out to the fields, into a heavily wooded area, where about 15 scary scenes were laid out, populated with both props and actors. “We probably had 30 volunteers — friends and friends of friends,” Augusto said.

There was only one problem — what was then a very limited parking area. “I told Don, ‘we need more parking; we’ll have vehicles up and down Alvord Street.’ He laughed and said, ‘settle down, city slicker.’ By the third weekend, I hopped off the wagon, and he came over and hugged me, smiling, saying, ‘Dan, I don’t know where we’re going to put these cars. You were right.’ But, at the time, it was a good problem to have.”

The second year, Augusto was paying the actors, and the event became more of a real business, with a payroll and workers’ compensation and liability insurance. Animatronic displays were added as well, and the path expanded as well to include more displays. “Every year, we said, ‘let’s try to put more and more into this space.’”

In the late 1990s, Augusto converted a large carport into the property’s first haunted walkthrough, which in recent years has become known as Massacre Manor, a full-blown haunted house, filled with animatronics and actors. This year, he added a second walk-through attraction, cheekily called DON — in reference to Don McCray, and also an acronym for Diagnostics Operation Nexus. “It’s a genetic research facility that’s had…” — here he paused for effect — “…some issues.”

DON is important in the evolution of what collectively has become known as Fear on the Farm, he explained, because now there’s truly something for everyone. The hayride aims to scare, but there’s security to be found in a big group aboard the wagon (and for those too young even for that, the farm offers milder daytime attractions for children). Massacre Manor increases the fright with a more close-up experience, and DON, aimed squarely at an adult audience, ramps up the intensity even higher.

Even the hayride is customizable depending on the crowd, and the actors will occasionally, and discreetly, break character to comfort a child or, better yet, give him a glowstick and tell him lighting it is the only way to keep the monsters at bay and save his parents — essentially, giving a sense of control back to a kid who might otherwise feel overwhelmed. Older riders don’t get the same treatment; the actors delight in targeting obviously frightened adults.

“I’ve seen some attractions where, if they see a kid crying and screaming, the actors will attack that poor kid,” Augusto said. “There’s nothing creative there; you’re terrorizing a little kid. We try to entertain that kid by going after his parents and the other people on the wagon.”

Rising Terror

As Halloween attractions have gained a greater following across the country in recent years, a strain of extreme terror experiences have popped up as well, like the popular Blackout haunted houses in New York and California, where guests are handled — often roughly, sometimes with a sexual connotation — and subjected to actual abuse. (One year, Blackout actually waterboarded people.)

Others have taken the concept further. Blackout requires a liability waiver, but also issues a safe word for those who want out immediately (and many do). San Diego’s McKamey Manor offers no safe word — and is known to last several hours, inflicting, by some accounts, real trauma on people who begged to be set free.

Dan Augusto

Dan Augusto, creator of the Fear on the Farm attractions at McCray’s, says he has long loved Halloween, a time when anyone can be anything they want.

The traditional haunted-house industry frowns on this trend, Augusto said. “It’s not creative. We might have a prop brush your leg, and your imagination runs with it. But physical touch is something I’m not interested in doing.”

LaPointe agrees, noting that DementedFX also has a no-touching policy.

“I want to classically scare you without physically touching you. It’s a lot harder. If I wanted to scare the s— out of you, I’d bind you up, take you to the basement, and throw you in a hole. That’s not what we’re trying to do here. We’re trying to get a clean scare out of you without going down that road.”

Augusto is also appalled that clowns have become associated with terror of the not-so-fun kind, thanks to myriad sightings in recent weeks that have law enforcement on edge. “One of the guys in the industry said it best: ‘if you want to dress up and scare people, come see us, and we’ll give you a job, rather than risk getting shot or arrested.’”

To maintain safety inside DementedFX, cameras are positioned in every area, constantly monitoring and recording. But there’s a second rationale behind those cameras.

“It deters people from doing malicious things, but we also watch the scares. We see if they’re successful or not. And if they’re not successful, we’ll demo out the whole thing and change it all. Using this scare knowledge, it keeps getting better and better,” said LaPointe, adding that he and Spear plan on adding another 2,000 square feet of currently unused space to the walk-through next year. “I never want to get stagnant. I’m not going to change everything out, but I want to continuously grow, bigger and better.”

Spear recalled the ‘spider house’ from DementedFX’s first year in Easthampton, a room that featured a mechanized spider that came shooting across a table. “The concept was incredible — it looked real — but it didn’t scare a lot of people,” he said. “So we got rid of it and changed the whole room over. That’s why we have the cameras, to see if people are getting bang for their buck. If we don’t like what we see, we change it. That kind of sets us apart. We’re not going to throw something together and just be happy with it. We always want to improve and be better.”

LaPointe, who noted that he and Spear conceptualize and build many of the props and animatronics (others are purchased), said they’re not making money off the undertaking — all revenues, after paying the actors, security, and other staff, are reinvested into the attraction — but they expect to be profitable within a few years. Meanwhile, they hope this year, with the big move complete, will allow them a little more family time away from what is, essentially, a year-round enterprise on top of their day jobs. “I can’t tell you how many soccer games, dance classes, dinners, Saturday and Sunday nights we missed because we were here.”

McKenna said improving Mike’s at Night each year is his goal as well, and he attends the TransWorld Halloween & Attractions Show, an annual trade event, to learn about trends and gather ideas. He also encourages changes mid-season if something isn’t providing the necessary scare. “We trust our actors to improvise and adapt to different groups. If something doesn’t work, change it and try to make it scarier.”

October Surprises

LaPointe and Spear make no bones about their goal to scare every guest, and they don’t tone it down for kids — they simply discourage them from coming. “I’ve seen kids leaving, and they’re just traumatized, and I feel bad for them,” Spear said. “But we ask them up front, ‘do you really want to do this?’”

For most guests, though, scary equals fun. Traditionally, about 1.5% of DementedFX ticket buyers opt for the safe word and an early exit — the percentage is running a touch higher this year — but most crave the adrenaline rush of facing their fears, making it all the way through, and exiting into the chill October air with smiles and shouts of relief.

“People don’t come to haunted houses looking for problems,” LaPointe said. “They’re here to have a good time.”

Augusto has also spent a lifetime embracing the fun of the season. He grew up poor in Holyoke, he said, but it never mattered on Halloween, the one day anyone could be anything they wanted for a few hours. That love of the holiday stayed with him into adulthood, when he wanted to give people a richer experience than the haunted houses that proliferated in the 1970s, “just black walls and no fire safety and cheap rubber masks. But it was still fun to do.”

Many of the actors have worked at McCray’s each October for the past 15 to 20 years, and have become a sort of family — and appreciate being able to provide an experience and memories that will stick with the families who dare to be scared.

“Every year, we lose more and more Americana,” Augusto said, adding that he hopes haunted houses and hayrides don’t go the way of the drive-in theater. He is encouraged, though. “Halloween, every year, is gaining on Christmas. Christmas is still the biggest money-generating holiday, but Halloween is right there. You see more houses decorated than ever before. America’s embracing it.”

McKenna agreed, adding that families regularly drop $30 or more on movies and popcorn, and welcome something a little different.

“Here, it’s real; it’s in person,” he said. “I think it’s the nature of the human psyche — they want the thrill, and knowing it’s a thrill that’s safe.”

Well, except for that poor guy caught in the antique farm implement. He didn’t look particularly thrilled. Or safe. Sweet dreams.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Scent-sational Attraction

Wade Bassett

Wade Bassett says more than a half-million people visit Yankee Candle Village every year, and many return to make new memories.

There aren’t many flagship stores on people’s bucket lists of places that they want to visit before they die.

But the Yankee Candle’s flagship location, which is also known as Yankee Candle Village, is one of them, and visitors from a wide variety of countries have planned trips and flown overseas just to see and experience the ‘scent-sational’ offerings in the 90,000-square-foot South Deerfield building that was designed to create memories, bring back the past, and inspire family traditions that have lasted for generations.

Indeed, the flagship is far more than a place where candles are sold; it’s filled with a number of unique areas where magic seems to come to life.

Animated figures sing and perform on stages year-round, and families stroll through diverse settings that include a Bavarian Christmas Village where it snows every four minutes on everything, including a 25′ tall indoor rotating Christmas tree; a Black Forest area that offers Christmas collectibles and a large selection of ornaments year-round; a Nutcracker Castle that contains Yankee Candle Toy; Santa’s Workshop, where he can be found almost every Wednesday through Saturday; a moat area with a 20-foot cascading indoor waterfall; a ‘Dept. 56’ section with fascinating displays of collectibles; and a fully outfitted Home Store where items for sale include candles, foods, cookbooks, kitchen accessories, clothing, designer bags, and jewelry.

Many of the activities, offerings, and merchandise are changed seasonally, so new experiences await guests of all ages who flock to South Deerfield on repeat visits.

“We see more than a half-million visitors a year at this location,” said Wade Bassett, director of Sales and Operations. “We opened in 1983, and since that time, our flagship has become a true destination. We understand that people’s experiences here have to be unlike anywhere else. Santa Claus is here year-round, we create new events all the time, and we make sure there are plenty of hands-on, interactive things to see and do.”

Although return visits are not tracked, many guests tell employees they visit frequently, especially during the holiday season, which has become an annual outing for families whose children have photos taken with Santa and Mrs. Claus, while parents shop for gifts to suit everyone on their list.

Santa Claus is in Yankee Candle Village

Santa Claus is in Yankee Candle Village year-round, but his arrival on a helicopter at the end of November draws about 5,000 guests each year.

Activities for children include a candle-making area called Waxworks where the small set can dip their hands in wax, make wax figurines and colored candles, and get a Glitter Too, which is the company’s version of a temporary, glittery tattoo.

There’s also a café and area to enjoy goodies such as homemade fudge, gourmet popcorn, or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, a treat which was recently added; and for those who prefer a full meal, Chandler’s Restaurant fits the bill, only a short distance away on the property.

“This location is our birthplace. It’s the platform to our brand, and what we do here translates to all of our other stores,” Bassett said, adding that families often spend two to three hours in the village.

Candles are the primary attraction, however, and the store contains more 400,000 in 200 original fragrances that change with the seasons. They come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes — jars and glass holders with multiple wicks, votives, wax melts, and scented accessories such as car jars, car vent sticks, room sprays, and more.

Eight to 10 new fragrances are added every season, and older ones are often retired, although scents such as Balsam Cedar, McIntosh Apple, Clean Cotton, and Home Sweet Home are traditional standbys.

“Our factory in Whately produces more than 200 million candles each year, and we have made more than a billion in the past five years,” Bassett said. “It’s a staggering number; we use 64 million pounds of wax each year, which equates to more than 175,000 pounds per day.”

The average guest spends $70 to $100 during each visit, but some purchases total in the thousands, and sales have come a long way from the company’s early years.

In the past, a small handbasket could accommodate the needs of most shoppers, but today, full-size, grocery-style shopping carriages are needed to hold a multitude of purchases.

For this issue and its focus on travel and hospitality, BusinessWest takes a look at one of the leading attractions in Western Mass., and examines not only what draws people to the flagship store, but what is done to ensure that visitors have new experiences that make them want to return time and time again.

Waxing Nostalgic

Yankee Candle’s history began in 1969 when 16-year-old Michael Kittredge decided to make a Christmas candle for his mother because he didn’t have money to purchase a gift for her.

A neighbor saw it and asked to buy the luminary before he gave it to his mother, and a new business was born that has grown to encompass more than 575 retail stores and 35,000 authorized dealers across the world.

Kittredge opened his first store in South Deerfield and eventually sold his company in 1998 to New York-based Forstmann Little, a private equity firm.

The company has had several owners since then; the newest is Newell Rubbermaid, which purchased the company from Jarden Corp. in July.

But despite changing hands, the way business is approached in terms of the customer experience hasn’t varied.

Yankee Candle’s busiest season begins when the leaves start changing color in the fall and runs to the end of December; the fourth quarter accounts for 65% to 70% of annual sales.

“We employ about 180 people in the store at this time of year, as well as another 70 in Chandler’s Restaurant,” Bassett noted.

Employees are carefully chosen, and personality plays a definite role in who gets hired, as the goal is to make guests feel so welcome they share their experiences with employees and feel free to make suggestions, which are written down and perused each week by executives in the firm.

“We encourage our employees to get to know our guests and feel a connection with them,” Bassett said, explaining that they hear many tales of joy as well as difficulties that lead visitors to South Deerfield for the warmth they find in the store.

To that end, employees have the option of choosing a visitor or group who seems especially deserving each day to receive what they call a ‘Golden Key.’

This newly created living room

This newly created living room on a 10-by-10-foot platform was designed to add interest to the store and show visitors how to use Yankee Candles to enhance their holiday decorating.

For example, last year a family told an employee they had saved for several years for a trip to Disney World, and in the excitement of leaving for the airport, the father left his wallet on top of the car. When they arrived at the airport, it was gone, so they didn’t go on the vacation, but ended up at Yankee Candle Village, where they had a fun-filled day.

All experiences inside the village are free to Golden Key recipients, which range from eating ice cream to making candles, and Santa does his part by making special origami Christmas ornaments for them to take home.

“It’s an incredible experience, and people have talked about it and thanked us via social media,” Bassett said, as he continued relating stories about Golden Key recipients.

But the Golden Key is only one of many things Yankee Candle does to entice guests to return to the flagship store. In addition to a seemingly endless array of scented candles, special fragrances are created that are collectibles and sold only in the South Deerfield location.

In addition, members of the company’s Visual Team create displays that change with the seasons; three weeks ago they launched a new living-room display on a 10-by-10-foot platform that was designed to inspire guests to use their candles to enhance their holiday decorating in an elegant setting.

“We try to create the feeling of home and bring it to life in the store with candles and accessories that people can purchase here,” Bassett told BusinessWest.

A professional photographer is brought in during every holiday season to take children’s pictures with Santa and Mrs. Claus, and an hour-long show leads up to the Santa’s arrival in a helicopter after Thanksgiving.

Other recent events created to draw traffic include fall photo shoots, pumpkin decorating, a Halloween Bash, and a concert by children’s musical artist Mister G planned for Nov. 5.

Two years ago, the village began hosting an after-hours event called Girls Night Out that includes local vendors, raffle prizes, and other incentives, including the opportunity to shop at a time when the store is not busy. It proved so popular, it is now held four times a year.

“We change continuously with the seasons; in summer there are displays with palm trees, sand, and beach-scented candles, and in the fall we bring trees into the store and build a scene around them,” Bassett noted.

Roughly 60% of the flagship’s merchandise consists of candles and fragrance-related items, and three buyers are employed to purchase the remaining inventory of gift items that make shopping in the store so interesting.

There is something to suit almost everyone, including sports memorabilia and Harley-Davidson signs inside a man cave that features a large, flat-screen TV, so men who don’t want to shop can enjoy their visit while their families take part in activities.

“A lot of people come here to find unusual gifts, and some get all of their Christmas shopping done in one weekend,” Bassett said.

Burning Brightly

When the flagship store opened, it consisted of 5,000 square feet that included space for the corporate offices, the store, the factory, and the loading docks.

Today, they are all separate — the manufacturing is done in Whately, while the corporate office, distribution facility, and store are in South Deerfield.

But a trip to the village is truly a sensory experience. On a recent day, adults picked up jarred candles, smelled them, then closed their eyes and inhaled deeply again; children’s eyes grew large with wonder as they peeked around a corner and saw Santa in his workshop; and cooks marveled at items they found in the Home Store.

As the holidays draw closer, business will continue to pick up, and new and old visitors alike will visit Santa and enjoy a day of merriment and wonder.

“We want to continue to evolve, so whether someone comes back once a month or every year, they will see and feel something entirely different,” Bassett said.

Such experiences have continued to generate a history of memories and traditions that people want to repeat in different seasons and different ways.