Home Sections Archive by category Travel and Tourism

Travel and Tourism

Travel and Tourism

Call of the Wild

Kayakers paddle on the Connecticut River

Kayakers paddle on the Connecticut River with Mount Toby in the background. (Photo by Alexander Terrill)


Feeling burned out by a career in health finance, Brian Pearson and his wife went on an adventure, backpacking through South America for seven months.

They liked it so much, they stayed there for well over a decade, settling in Santiago, Chile, where he built a travel company. But when international travel was halted by the pandemic in early 2020, he came home to Massachusetts and launched Adventure East, with the goal of helping locals in Western Mass. access the great outdoors.

“I decided it was a great opportunity to take advantage of all the outdoor interest coming out of the pandemic,” he told BusinessWest. “People wanted more time outdoors when there was nowhere else to go.”

The idea, he said, is that people enjoy being out in nature, but planning an outdoor adventure can be time-consuming and challenging. So Adventure East handles the logistics of outings involving hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, canoeing, skiing, shoeshoeing, and more — as well as the equipment — so participants can take in the region’s natural beauty without the hassle of figuring out logistics, and be shuttled back to their car to boot.

The model has remained a strong one even with indoor tourism opening back up in late 2020 and through 2021. For one thing, the health benefits of being outdoors became more widely discussed during the pandemic. And more people simply came to realize — and are still realizing — how much the region has to offer in that regard.

“We’re providing access to the outdoors, providing information about where to go, guides that are knowledgable … they’re very experienced people, passionate about what they do. We have experts in a lot of different areas.”

While its activities take place throughout the region’s forests, mountains, and waterways, Adventure East’s headquarters is in Sunderland, across Route 116 from the Connecticut River boat ramps there.

“That nine-mile stretch from Turners Falls to Sunderland is really wonderful; there are farms and residential homes along the river, but the state has done a fantastic job over the years building the Connecticut River Greenway,” Pearson said, noting that paddlers are always impressed by the sights of Mount Toby and Mount Sugarloaf, and of bald eagles flying about.

The company has been expanding its activities in the corporate and education sectors as well, he said, with clients including Baystate Health, Amherst College, UMass Amherst, the Bement School, and Hartsbrook School.

“We’re already working with large companies like Baystate and UMass, getting their employees outdoors. I wouldn’t call them full-blown corporate retreats, but more having people enjoy a walk or hike and unwind and be in nature, share a meal … we do farm-to-table activities in connection with local farms in Sunderland, Whately, and Hatfield.”

On the education side, Adventure East has gotten Sunderland grade-schoolers outdoors during winter vacation, and brought kids from Mohawk Trail Regional School canoeing on Ashfield Lake when it’s warmer, he added.

“At the colleges, we’ve gotten more outdoor programs onto their radar, and we’re looking to do more outdoors with students, showing them what they have in the Valley. We continue to provide information on the walking trails right out their back door. It’s really fantastic.”

Pearson said the guided hiking tours are geared at a wide range of skill and experience levels, with access to trails on both state and private conservation lands, ranging from trail walks with naturalists to snowshoeing; from bird watching to yoga and ‘forest bathing’ — a form of mindfulness where participants “soak up the energy of the forest and take that with them,” he explained.

“It’s been scientifically shown that 40 minutes in the forest can reduce stress, reduce cortisol levels … there’s a real therapeutic aspect to nature. It’s not complicated. You don’t need us to experience it, but we love to share it and support people getting out there.”

And when people appreciate nature, he added, that leads to greater respect and even conservation efforts, “to preserve the outdoors for future generations to do the same types of activities.”

As tourism begins to open up fully after two pandemic-hampered years, Pearson envisions Adventure East evolving into a destination company that works with other operators like itself and destinations throughout the Northeast.

“It could be up in Maine or the White Mountains or Vermont, really connecting these types of experiences into multi-day itineraries, which is exactly what I was doing in South America,” he noted. “There is a segment of the population that really appreciates the exact type of service we offer and enjoy not having to deal with details. We want to connect with people and provide a personalized experience.”

It’s work Pearson finds gratifying.

“When I was in Chile, many local Chileans would call me up: ‘we’re going to such and such a place this weekend; what does Brian recommend?’ It was an honor to help Chileans appreciate their own country.”

The Pioneer Valley is a lot like that too, he said, filled with outdoor opportunities to explore that many locals really don’t know about.

“It’s about being out there, experiencing it, having a real appreciation,” he said. “I enjoy doing that, whether it’s teaching kids to ski for the first time or showing people magical spots in the woods, 10 minutes from Route 116. There’s so much in our valley.”


— Joseph Bednar

Travel and Tourism

Looking for Better Odds

Chris Kelly

Chris Kelley says MGM Springfield is ready and waiting for the state to give the green light to sports betting.


As he talked with BusinessWest for this issue’s focus on travel and tourism, Chris Kelley was lamenting a huge opportunity lost.

He was talking, of course, about March Madness, the college basketball tournaments that grab and hold the nation’s attention for two weeks. Even more specifically, Kelley, president and chief operating officer of MGM Springfield, was referring to the gambling and related activity that goes with that madness — everything that can’t happen at his facility because Massachusetts has yet to legalize sports gambling while most all the states surround it have.

“It’s the largest sports event, bar none, around the country, and to be now literally surrounded by states that offer that experience — most poignantly, in the case of MGM Springfield, Connecticut — is just an extraordinary challenge for the city, for our workforce, for our guests, and for the property,” he explained, adding that, while he continues to have conversations with state legislators about passing a sports-betting bill, when it comes to March Madness, he can only wait until next year.

Fortunately, though, that is not the case with most other aspects of his multi-faceted business.

Indeed, there are plenty of positive developments at the casino complex on Main Street that are creating an optimistic outlook for 2022 as the tourism sector and the region in general look to put COVID in their collective rear view.

For starters, there was the Massachusetts Building Trades Council’s annual convention, staged a few weeks ago at MGM. This was the first large-scale gathering of its kind at the resort casino since before the COVID, said Kelley, adding that there are a number of other events on the calendar as businesses, trade groups and associations, and other entities return to in-person events.

“We hadn’t had an event like that in two years, where we had people engaging with our convention and ballroom areas, staying in the hotel, eating in our restaurants … it was a very positive thing for the property to see us come back to life.”

Such events are a big step in the return to normalcy and, of course, comprise a huge revenue stream for the casino operation.

“We hadn’t had an event like that in two years, where we had people engaging with our convention and ballroom areas, staying in the hotel, eating in our restaurants … it was a very positive thing for the property to see us come back to life,” he explained.

Meanwhile, on the entertainment side of the ledger, there are similar steps toward normalcy, or what was seen prior to the pandemic, said Kelley, noting there are a number of shows slated at the casino, the MassMutual Center, and Symphony Hall, featuring performers such as Jay Leno, Chelsea Handler, John Mulaney, Brit Floyd, and many others.

“Entertainment is coming back in a much bigger way in 2022 than we saw the past few years,” said Kelley, adding that, in addition to those events at the larger venues, MGM Springfield is bringing back its popular Free Music Friday in the casino’s plaza, something that was started last summer.

“It was an opportunity to say ‘thank you’ to folks and give the community a reason to come back together, but it was such a success that we’re going to bring it back again. And, obviously, the price is right,” he said, adding that program provides an opportunity to showcase local talent.

Overall, the past two years have been a difficult, often frustrating time for all those in casino industry, which had to pivot and adjust to new ways of doing business during the pandemic, said Kelley, adding that it was also a learning experience, one that is yielding dividends and will continue to do so as MGM eases back to something approaching normal.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride in every sense of the word,” he said in summing up the past 24 months. “Our ability to adjust quickly and be agile in the way that we operate, as well as our ability to provide an environment for health and safety that our guests felt comfortable engaging with — those were all unique challenges relative to a business that is not accustomed to closing and had never really experienced the types of changes that COVID required, whether it was six-foot-high pieces of plexiglass or the inability to serve drinks on the floor, or a face-mask policy.

“But all of that being said, I think we’ve come out of this a stronger operation than we were when we went into it,” he went on. “Just look at technology … we’re now able to offer everything from digital menus to digital check-in, our guests’ ability to interact with us through technology has increased exponentially, and that’s just one example of what I mean by coming out of this stronger. We’ve become a much more agile team now, and that’s to the benefit of the guest experience.”

As for sports betting, Kelley said the conversations are ongoing, and he’s optimistic that something can get done — hopefully before March Madness 2023. In anticipation of such a measure, the casino has added new amenities, including a large viewing area, a sports lounge on the floor of the casino, and a VIP viewing area in TAP Sports Bar.

“We’re ready to move forward the minute we see a green light on this issue,” he said, adding that he’s hoping, and expecting, that the light will change soon.


— George O’Brien

Special Coverage Travel and Tourism

Fun in the Sun

Last year may not have been a total washout when it came to outdoor recreation and events, but many well-loved attractions and destinations had to dramatically scale back operations — if they opened at all. This year, with May 29 marking the end of most gathering restrictions in Massachusetts, there’s once again plenty to look forward to. You can read about some of them on the following pages: two local collegiate baseball teams back in action, the return of a beloved music and craft festival in Greenfield, and — as a shoutout to the governor — a baker’s dozen other options. There’s much, much more to look forward to, so get online and check out what else is happening near you, during a summer that promises to be a long-awaited breath of fresh air.

Berkshires Arts Festival

380 State Road, Great Barrington


Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10

Aug. 13-15: Ski Butternut plays host to the Berkshires Arts Festival, a regional tradition now in its 20th year. When Gov. Charlie Baker announced the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions as of Aug. 1 (since revised to May 29), event organizers moved the dates of this year’s festival to mid-August. 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 from across the country, in both outdoor and air-conditioned indoor exhibition spaces. “With its relaxed atmosphere, great food, exceptional art, and fine crafts, puppet shows, and live music,” the Berkshires Visitors Bureau notes, “it’s a great weekend for the entire family.”


The Big E

1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield


Admission: $8 and up; free for children under 5; 17-day pass $20-$40

Sept. 17 to Oct. 3: Yes, it’s happening. And as regional fairs go, it’s still the big one, with something for everyone, whether it’s the copious fair food or the livestock shows, the Avenue of States houses and parades, the local vendors and crafters, or the live music. Musical highlights this year include Machine Gun Kelly in concert on Sept. 17, and Brad Paisley performing in the arena on Sept. 24, marking the 20th anniversary of the first time Paisley played the Big E.


Crab Apple Whitewater Rafting

2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont


Admission: Varies by activity

All summer: 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. Starting May 29, the company will accept reservations for all group sizes. Meanwhile, waivers will be sent in advance to guests for e-signing to ensure a touch-free check-in process, hand-washing stations have been added at all building entrances, and transportation to and from the river will be offered in vans and buses.


Drive-in Concerts at the Wick

The Wick, Legion Road, Southwick


Admission: $25 to $45

June 11, July 9, Aug. TBA: The national touring and recording artists Beatlemania Again will headline a summer series of live drive-in concerts on to benefit the Southwick Civic Fund, which creates and produces events that provide a sense of community spirit, celebration, and civic pride. The concert will be held at the Southwick MotoX Track (the Wick) on Legion Road in Southwick on June 11 at 7:30 p.m., and will follow all current CDC and local health department guidelines. Each vehicle will have a space next to it for the occupants to set up lawn chairs or blankets to enjoy the show. A modest PA and lighting will provide a real concert feel. Upcoming concerts in the series include Foreigners Journey (July 9) and an August show to be announced.


FreshGrass Festival

1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams


Admission: $50-$150 for three-day pass; free for children under 6

Sept. 24-26: The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art is known for its musical events, and the FreshGrass festival is among the highlights, showcasing dozens of bluegrass artists and bands over three days. This year, the lineup includes Dispatch, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Béla Fleck My Bluegrass Heart (featuring Michael Cleveland, Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, Mark Schatz, and Bryan Sutton), Watchouse, Sarah Jarosz, and many more. FreshGrass features bluegrass traditionalists and innovators on four stages and platforms throughout the museum’s 16-acre campus. Festival programming also includes FreshScores, a silent film with original live music; FreshGrass commissions and world premieres; instrument and industry workshops; pop-up performances and retail; and local Berkshire food and spirits vendors.


Fresh Paint Springfield

Downtown Springfield


Admission: Free

June 5-13: Fresh Paint Springfield, the mural festival that began in 2019 in downtown Springfield and transformed large exterior walls into art, will return with 10 new murals downtown and in Mason Square. This year’s festival will involve members of the community in the design and painting of all 10 murals, which will result in opportunities for more than 1,000 Springfield residents to actively participate in the beautification of the city. The murals will use a technique that employs giant paint-by-numbers canvases on special polytab mural fabric for members of the community to paint at COVID-safe outdoor paint parties during the festival. New this year, the Community Mural Apprentice program will pair 10 local artists with established muralists to learn how to independently engage with the community in designing and painting large, professional murals.


Historic Deerfield

84B Old Main St., Deerfield, MA


Admission: $5-$18; free for children under 6

All summer: 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. Due to COVID-19, access to the historic house museums is still restricted, but at least one historic house will open for touring each day, with wider access possible later on. Visitors should inquire on the day of their visit which house is open for touring that day.


Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival

358 George Carter Road, Becket


Admission: Prices vary

June 30 to Aug. 29: Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the country’s premier showcases for dance, and this year’s festival returns with live, in-person events, but much more as well. “We will share the restorative and uplifting power of dance in person at our campus in the Berkshire Hills, on the road in our communities, as well as through live and on-demand events online to reach audiences across the world,” its directors say. “Our offerings will include commissions, premieres, Pillow debuts, talks, and workshops that take into account COVID-compliant protocols to ensure the health and safety of our community. The festival will put artists back to work after the devastation of the pandemic and remind us all of the power of dance to positively impact communities.”


Mattoon Street Arts Festival

Mattoon Street, Springfield


Admission: Free

Sept. 11-12: Now in its 48th 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. Admission is free, as is parking at the TD Bank lot. Located just three blocks from I-91, this family-friendly event is ideal for holiday shopping, seeing new craft ideas, or just walking on a beautiful Victorian street.

Pedal ‘n’ Party

Brunelle’s Marina, 1 Alvord St., South Hadley


Admission: $30 for 60 minutes, $15 for 30 minutes

All summer: Want to have some fun out on the water? Rent an individual hydrobike, which can be use to explore the Connecticut River and the streams that feed into it. This eco-friendly, pedal-powered vessel moves at a comfortable 4-6 mph with easy effort. From its stability to its high visibility on the water, the hydrobike is engineered for a safe, reliable ride. Its pontoons were scientifically developed by a professional canoe designer for optimum buoyancy, speed, and maneuverability, ensuring a smooth ride even in very choppy water. Stable enough to dive from, the hydrobike can also handle rough water conditions, including five-foot swells. Rent it for a beautiful day on the water, a workout, or a fun group activity.


Pioneer Valley Ballet

Park Hill Orchard, 82 Park Hill Road, Easthampton


Admission: $20, $10 for children and seniors

June 4-5: It’s been a year and a half since Pioneer Valley Ballet (PVB) last performed for a live audience, but that will change in June as the company welcomes spring with an outdoor, site-specific performance of one of Shakespeare’s most popular and treasured works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. After having to cancel all of its 2020 performances, PVB is once again taking to the stage — only this time the ‘stage’ is Easthampton’s Park Hill Orchard, where for two afternoons small groups will wind through the fields, discovering scenes from the Midsummer story at sites throughout the picturesque orchard. A new audience will enter every 30 minutes. The first performance of each day will be a non-roaming, single-location performance for anyone with mobility concerns.


Six Flags New England

1623 Main St., Agawam


Admission: $29.99 and up; season passes $49.99

All summer: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Supergirl Skyflyer, a spinning, high-speed thrill ride. The main park is now open, and the Hurricane Harbor waterpark opens Memorial Day weekend. “We are beyond thrilled that we can reopen our theme park with a full complement of our more than 100 rides, attractions, and unique experiences,” park President Pete Carmichael said recently. “Now more than ever, families need an escape that is safe, accessible and fun.”


The Zoo in Forest Park

293 Sumner Ave., Springfield, MA


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 a wide variety of species found throughout the world and North America. Meanwhile, the zoo maintains a focus on conservation, wildlife education, and rehabilitations. The Zoo is open seven days a week, weather permitting, but all guests, including members, currently need a timed ticket to visit. Recently, state Sen. Eric Lesser and other local lawmakers announced $125,000 in pandemic recovery funding for the zoo to continue its mission of education, conservation, and rehabilitation.



Travel and Tourism

Play Ball!

Kate Avard says the Blue Sox have maintained strong relationships

Kate Avard says the Blue Sox have maintained strong relationships with programs that have delivered key players in its past few successful seasons.

Kate Avard first discovered the Valley Blue Sox as a summer intern with the club in 2016, while working toward degrees in sport management and kinesiology at UMass Amherst, and she was excited to return to the franchise as its general manager in 2020.

It wasn’t the experience she had hoped for, to say the least. But she’s happy to see the team finally taking the field in 2021.

“We didn’t get to play last year, and I think everyone across the league — players, staff, and interns — are all very excited to be able to play this season,” Avard told BusinessWest.

Last year’s lull particularly smarted for the Blue Sox, who were coming off three outstanding seasons — New England Collegiate Baseball League championships in 2017 and 2018 and a nailbiter loss in the division finals in 2019.

“We’ve gotten tons of interest from players wanting to get back out there for us,” she said. “The same thing with interns — we pull interns from across the U.S. Everyone wants to get back out on the field, and that goes for all the organizations in our league.”

Chris Thompson had a different pandemic experience last year. The co-founder of the Westfield Starfires was grateful that the Futures Collegiate Baseball League actually went through with a season, albeit one with strict pandemic protocols and limited fans. He, too, is looking forward to a more normal campaign in 2021.

“It’s an opportunity for kids to come together and kind of celebrate the social gathering once again.”

“We’re proud to be part of such an innovative and forward-thinking league,” he said. “In the last year, we were able to manage the intricacies of multiple states and municipalities to pull off a season — some of the only baseball played in North America. We’re pretty proud of that — of showcasing our team and being able to provide a safe, positive experience for fans at Bullens Field.”

In fact, the Futures league not only played last year, but managed to grow its footprint during the pandemic, welcoming two new teams, the Burlington (Vt.) Lake Monsters and the Norwich (Conn.) Sea Unicorns, into the fold, which speaks well of continued interest in baseball, Thompson noted. “We’ve been able to attract new ownership groups, which is really exciting for us.”

Despite the lost season of play last year, Avard said the Blue Sox’ director of Baseball Operations, John Raiola, was able to maintain relationships that have long fed Holyoke’s summer franchise. “He knows all the recruiting very well, so he was able to stay in contact with a lot of programs and schools that we’ve previously drawn from. We definitely didn’t go silent last year.”

Meanwhile, the Starfires have been in contact with college coaches around the country as well, Thompson said, though national recruiting is a little more difficult because Westfield is among many teams that have put host-family programs on hold during the pandemic. “Teams are taking a more local and regional roster approach for 2021.”

The Blue Sox, on the other hand, have continued to solicit host families to house the college players this summer.

“We rely on our host families to welcome them and show our players why Western Mass. is so great,” Avard said, while those players, in turn, help the team provide low-cost, family-friendly entertainment for local fans.

She added that the team is following all state health mandates for capacity and social distancing at MacKenzie Stadium — restrictions that were significantly loosened days before press time. Still, the park will be equipped with hand-washing and hand-sanitizer stations in a nod to the fact that the pandemic hasn’t gone away.

“It’s America’s pastime,” Thompson added. “We’re going to have a great atmosphere at Bullens Field. It’s an opportunity for kids to come together and kind of celebrate the social gathering once again, while following all the CDC protocols.”

The Starfires, which were named after a fighter jet once stationed at Barnes Air National Guard Base, will open the season with a new mascot, a black squirrel named Stanley Starfire, who shares a namesake with Stanley Park. “We continue to pay homage to the city of Westfield.”

Thompson is also excited about a partnership with Amherst Brewing Co., which created a new Starfires IPA for sale at the park and at the local Hangar Pub & Brewery. But he’s mostly excited about baseball. “The players are fired up and looking forward to getting back on the field.”

The two local collegiate teams — which both start play in the coming days and continue into August — aren’t the only options for fans, of course. The Hartford Yard Goats, the double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, still draw impressive crowds just down I-91 in Dunkin’ Donuts Park, while the Red Sox moved their triple-A affiliate to Worcester, where they recently kicked off play in Polar Park.

“I personally think baseball is integral to this area,” Avard said. “We have so many different teams in so many different levels, and I’ve seen so much support from the fans. People were reaching out to us in January, asking about the season, asking if we’d be back at MacKenzie.

“Baseball is one of the biggest sports around here,” she went on. “Everyone is so excited to be back on the field. As an outdoor activity, it’s a great way to start bringing things back to normal this summer.”


—Joseph Bednar

Travel and Tourism

Better Late Than Never

Femi Kuti & the Positive Force

Femi Kuti & the Positive Force entertain the crowd at the Green River Festival in 2018. (Photo by Douglas Mason)

Since its inception in the late 1980s, the Green River Festival had never been canceled. Until last year.

And Jim Olsen wanted to give it every chance to return in 2021, even if it meant moving the date from mid-July to Aug. 27-29 — which turned out to be unnecessary, but hey, better safe than sorry.

“It was definitely a challenge to plan on so many levels,” said Olsen, president of Signature Sounds, the Northampton-based company that produces the annual festival in Greenfield.

“It became apparent in January that July wasn’t going to fly — at least, it didn’t seem that way at the time,” he went on, a perception that speaks volumes about how far the state and the nation have come with COVID-19 case rates and a massive vaccination effort. At first, the move seemed prescient, especially after Gov. Charlie Baker announced the state would fully reopen, without gathering restrictions, on Aug. 1.

No one knew the governor would eventually shift that date to May 29, but Olsen doesn’t mind an extra month to get the Green River Festival right, even if the planning got a little thorny.

“We had already booked all the musicians for July, and we had to scrap that and start over again for August,” he said — a feat in itself, since musicians tend to book a series of shows in succession, and it’s not always easy to shift dates around.

“These musicians are dying to get back out there. They depend on being on the road.”

But shift they did, and this year’s festival features about 30 bands, headlined by the likes of Jon Batiste, Shakey Graves, Ani DiFranco, Valerie June, and Drive-By Truckers over the event’s three days. Check out greenriverfestival.com for the full lineup and plenty of other information.

Speaking of changes, the festival also had to find another venue after 33 years at Greenfield Community College, which announced earlier this year it would be closed for the summer. The new host is the Franklin County Fairgrounds, which actually offers more space, Olsen said. “It’s a great site, and we’re really excited about it. I feel it’s going to be a new and exciting chapter for us.”

He’s not the only one who’s excited. Musicians have struggled badly during the pandemic like few businesses have — and, make no mistake, music is a business, one that relies on live performance.

“These days, you really don’t make much money recording,” Olsen said of a market that has radically de-emphasized physical product in favor of streaming. “It’s all in the live shows. These musicians are dying to get back out there. They depend on being on the road.”

While they’re enjoying this year’s stop along that road — the event will feature music on three different stages throughout the weekend — the festival will also feature plenty of what fans have loved in the past, from Berkshire Brewing Co.’s beer and wine tent to food trucks hailing from across the Northeast to the Makers Market, a collection of regional artisans selling handmade crafts, jewelry, clothing, and more.

“We’ve worked very hard building a world-class crafts market,” Olsen said. “We like to represent the best of Western Mass. at the Green River Festival. That’s why we continue to do so well.”

Tickets cost $139.99 for the weekend, but patrons can attend Friday only for $44.99 or Saturday or Sunday for $69.99 each day. Camping is available, but RV passes are already sold out.

“Our ticket sales have been very, very strong, from the minute we announced it,” Olsen said. “There’s so much anticipation among people to get back to life, to get back out and enjoy the stuff we love. I’ve always felt like this was a big community party — and this year, it’s going to be supersized.”


—Joseph Bednar

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.


Granby Charter Days
Dufresne Park, Route 202, Granby, MA
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
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
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
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
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
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.


Old Sturbridge Village Independence Weekend Celebration
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge
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
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
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
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.

1021 West St., Amherst
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
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
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
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
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.


High Hopes Music and Arts Festival
One MGM Way, Springfield, MA
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
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
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
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
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
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.


22 St. George Road, Springfield
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!



FreshGrass Festival
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA
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
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
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
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
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
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.

297 West St., Lenox, MA
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
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.


Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1000 Hall of Fame Ave., Springfield, MA
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
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.

22 St. George Road, Springfield, MA
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
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
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.

1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield, MA
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
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.

1021 West St., Amherst, MA
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.


Berkshires Arts Festival
380 State Road, Great Barrington, MA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.


Berkshire Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge, MA
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism

Instruments of Progress

Peter Salerno

Executive Director Peter Salerno on the steps of Symphony Hall

As it enters its 73rd year, the Springfield Symphony Orchestra does so knowing that, to remain relevant, it must be creative and willing to assume risks as it strives to cultivate new audiences, especially the younger generations. Peter Salerno, who has twice served as interim director of the SSO and took the helm on a permanent basis earlier this year, says the institution is more than up for that challenge.

Peter Salerno said the phone call seemed to come out of left field … or from the 20-yard line, as the case may be.

On the other end was someone from the New England Patriots’ marketing department. She wanted to know if the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, which Salerno was serving then as interim executive director, could have 50 or 60 of its musicians at Gillette Stadium in 24 days for a performance that would celebrate the team’s fourth Super Bowl victory, earned six months earlier, and usher in the 2015 season.

It was an extraordinary request on many levels, and Salerno, who has since dropped the word ‘interim’ from his title, knew he couldn’t say ‘yes’ at that moment, as much as he wanted to, knowing what this opportunity would mean for the venerable institution in terms of invaluable and incalculable exposure. Indeed, he would have to consult with Maestro Kevin Rhodes and other members of the team to see if this was even logistically feasible, and then get approval from the SSO board, because this was a venture far outside the orchestra’s traditional mission — and comfort zone, for that matter.

He got the nod from both parties and promptly called the Patriots back, thus setting the wheels in motion for perhaps the most memorable night in the orchestra’s 73-year history.

It was certainly the biggest stage, at least in a figurative sense. Indeed, while the actual performing area was a trifle snug, more than 70,000 people at the stadium and another 35 million watching NBC’s broadcast of the Thursday-night game against the Pittsburgh Steelers saw and heard the orchestra perform “O Fortuna,” the Patriots’ so-called tunnel song, and eventually shared the stage with the rapper T-Pain.

Go HERE for a list of Tourist Attractions in Western Mass.

“It was quite an upbeat moment for us,” said Salerno, using both wordplay and understatement to get his point across. “I recognized this is an opportunity for us to perform, and be relevant, in an area that we never thought we could before.”

In many respects, that performance at Gillette almost a year ago effectively speaks to the aspirations, goals, and challenges that define the SSO moving forward. It was a dramatic attempt to move beyond what would be considered traditional (in terms of both the venue and performing with a rapper), attract new and larger audiences, and greatly improve visibility beyond the confines of Symphony Hall.

There will be a lot more of that — although certainly on a smaller scale — in the months and years to come, as a look at the 2016-17 calendar reveals.

One of things I’m teaching, but also learning at the same time, is that our orchestra must respond to different genres of music to remain in the forefront of the people’s minds.”

In addition to the classical offerings — a Tchaikovsky Gala on opening night (Sept. 24), Brahms’ “Double Concerto” on Nov. 19, and Beethoven’s “Emperor Concerto” on Jan. 21 — the SSO will share the stage with the Irish Tenors two weeks before St. Patrick’s Day, and will wrap up the season on May 13 with something called Video Games Live!

As that name suggests, this will be an immersive concert that features the musical scores from the greatest video games of all time — as those games appear on large screens around the hall, with synchronized lighting and other special effects.

Those unique events, and especially the final one, are designed to draw more diverse audiences, particularly young people, a stern challenge now facing all arts institutions.

SSO and its conductor, Kevin Rhodes

Peter Salerno says the main challenge for SSO and its conductor, Kevin Rhodes (pictured), is audience development.

To meet this challenge head-on, the SSO must do something not exactly within its character, historically, and that is to be far more willing to take risks, said Salerno, adding quickly that the board has essentially greenlighted such an approach to business, and so has long-time conductor Rhodes and the rest of the orchestra’s team.

“One of the things I’m teaching, but also learning at the same time, is that our orchestra must respond to different genres of music to remain in the forefront of the people’s minds,” he explained, adding that this is the mindset driving the SSO and forging its schedule for the coming year.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at how the SSO is looking to expand its playing field, in all kinds of ways, and put every definition of the term ‘score’ into play.

Developments of Note

Looking back on the 24 days after that fortuitous phone call came in from Foxborough, Salerno used all kinds of descriptive phases to characterize them — from ‘long’ to ‘exhilarating.’

“Those were 60-hour weeks,” he said, smiling as he did so because, while the work was sometimes tedious — involving everything from drafting contracts with the Patriots and NBC to insurance matters and a mountain of logistics — it was also very exciting.

This was, after all, the proverbial opportunity of a lifetime, and the SSO was going to do everything in its power to seize the moment.

“This was a surreal moment for our orchestra, and it showed the versatility of our people,” said Salerno as he showed a video of the performance, with the SSO clearly visible to fans amid fireworks and low-lying fog, adding that perhaps the biggest obstacle was creating a sheltered performing area for the orchestra, something the Patriots organization pulled together. And demand for it was warranted because it rained in the hours leading up to the performance and stopped only moments before it was set to begin.

In many respects, dealing with cloudy forecasts and unsettled skies — in a figurative sense — has been a part of doing business for the SSO in recent years. Like all arts venues, it has seen its traditional audiences age, and with that demographic shift a need has emerged to embrace change and, as mentioned earlier, risk.

The Patriots performance was, again, a significant manifestation of this trend — this was believed to be the first time a full symphony orchestra had performed at such an NFL ceremony and perhaps the first time an orchestra of this type had appeared with a rapper — but there have been others, with more planned for the year ahead.

“We’re participating in the creation of new horizons for symphonic sound,” he said, adding that orchestras across the country are facing the same challenges. “And we’re going to keep pushing, and bringing world-class talent to the Springfield arena.”

Leading the orchestra through this intriguing period is Salerno, now 75 years old, who brings a wealth of experience in business, work with nonprofit institutions, and the SSO itself, having been a trustee for many years and serving not one, but two stints as interim executive director.

Described by many as a stabilizing influence to the operation, he succeeds Audrey Szychulski, who left the SSO in the spring of 2015 after less than two years at the helm.

Salerno brings a diverse résumé to the post, including everything from stints as COO of Providence Hospital and president and CEO of Brightside to work coordinating new retail stores for Taylor Rental Corp.; from a short stint running an operation that managed college bookstores to his own business, PTS Consulting, launched nearly a decade ago.

Over the years, he’s taught several graduate-level business courses at Bay Path University and Clark University in Worcester, with a focus on business strategies for nonprofit organizations, marketing, and finance.

In his latest role with the SSO, he’ll be applying the lessons that he teaches, especially as they apply to the most pressing challenge facing the institution — audience development.

Drumming up Interest

There are many components to this assignment, he said, listing everything from imaginative artistic events to new and different types of talent that will share the stage with the SSO, to a variety of touches that will make SSO performances true happenings.

With that, he took out a copy of the schedule for the coming year and started running his finger down the listings.

His first stop was the holiday concert, set for Dec. 3, although Salerno said ‘concert’ doesn’t go far enough, so the actual wording on the schedule is Holiday Extravaganza.

It was chosen to encapsulate the theme — “It’s a Wonderful Life” — and describe the sum of the activities and events, including a Christmas tree outside Symphony Hall, a visit from Santa, perhaps a reindeer if one can be secured, and more.

“We want to make coming to the symphony not just an event, but an entire presentation,” he explained. “We don’t want it to just be sitting in the audience for two hours.”

Elaborating, he said the SSO will again coordinate visits whereby ticketholders gather at spots in area communities, are then bused downtown for dinner at various downtown restaurants, and then taken to Symphony Hall.

“We’re trying to make it convenient for people to come to us,” he explained. “And we view this as an opportunity to attract more people to Symphony Hall.”

Kevin Rhodes is seen here with rapper T-Pain

SSO conductor Kevin Rhodes is seen here with rapper T-Pain at the performance last fall at Gillette Stadium to usher in the Patriots’ new season.

His next stop, schedule-wise, was several months later, in early March, when the Irish Tenors, well-known to PBS audiences, will take the stage.

Similar to the holiday performance, this will be more than a concert, said Salerno, adding that it will be more like a celebration of Irish heritage, one featuring many moving parts.

The full itinerary is still a work in progress, he said, but in the days leading up to the performance, there will likely be an Irish-style dinner featuring luminaries and elected officials of Irish descent, and other touches, such as a possible discussion of the 1916 uprising.

“We’re trying to build the activities and the service level to a higher plane than we have in the past,” he explained, adding, again, that the goal is to move beyond the music and create experiences.

That will certainly be the goal for the season finale, Video Games Live!, which is the most dramatic example to date of the orchestra’s efforts to attract young people.

“Some of our donors have expressed interest in efforts to create continuity with younger audiences and thus lower the demographic age of our attendees,” he noted. “And we determined that one of the areas where we could start making an impact was with junior-high and high-school students.”

To that end, the SSO will contract with a California-based organization to bring the music from video games, orchestral sound, and a host of special effects together in the same venue on May 13.

“There are so many opportunities to show off our talents, and this might be a good one,” he said, adding that the show, similar to others staged in other cities in recent years, should prove to be an impactful vehicle for introducing young people to the orchestra and beginning the process of turning them into life-long audience members.

The other performances on the schedule will bring some of these elements to the table, said Salerno, adding, again, that developing new audiences and remaining relevant in the years and decades to come will require the SSO to continue to push the envelope.

“The board has allowed us to take more risk in terms of encouraging us to look at new genres and new methodologies,” he said. “I think it’s essential that we take advantage of the strengths that we have and marry them to the interests of our population, while at the same time preserving the outstanding classical performances that attract people from all over.”

Reaching a Crescendo

Returning to that now-famous phone call one more time, Salerno acknowledged that he allowed himself to think about why the Patriots were calling the SSO, and whether this was the team’s first call.

But only for a brief moment, and not in a deep manner, he told BusinessWest, noting that doing so would be counterproductive at a time when the sentiment should be, ‘why not call the SSO first?’

“One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” he joked, before taking the discussion to a much higher plane.

“If we ask that question — ‘why us?’ — we’re probably not thinking of ourselves as being as good as we really are, so I didn’t ask that question,” he explained. “Instead, I said, ‘let’s just make this happen.’ When they called us, I just assumed they wanted us number one; I believe in this orchestra.”

These sentiments — not to mention the ‘let’s just make this happen’ remark, which refers to far more than a performance at a football game — could only be described as a winning attitude, one where the orchestra is, quite literally, taking the ball and running with it.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

Ready to Take Off

Aer Lingus

The Aer Lingus flights scheduled to begin at Bradley International Airport in September are expected to attract a mix of business and leisure passengers .

As they talked about the Aer Lingus flights set to begin at Bradley International Airport late next month, Kevin Dillon and Keith Butler used strikingly similar language as they discussed what the service means to their respective organizations.

Indeed, Dillon, executive director and CEO of the Connecticut Airport Authority (CAA), which manages Bradley, and Butler, chief commercial officer for the Dublin, Ireland-based airline, said the timing for this venture is ideal, that the flight represents a key component of their respective growth strategies, and that it could be a catalyst for more developments of this type.

And they were in agreement on something else, too: that a firm commitment from the region’s business community — with ‘region,’ in this case, meaning what has come to be called the Knowledge Corridor — is necessary for this venture to, well, get off the ground.

“The success of this flight relies heavily on business travel,” said Dillon. “We know that this is going to be an extremely popular route in the summer months — we’ll have a lot of leisure travelers on this flight — but in order to retain a flight, it has to be successful year-round.”

Added Butler, “we’re expecting good volumes of both leisure and business travel, but support from businesses will obviously be a key to success in Hartford.”

Looking ahead, both the airline and the airport believe they will get such a commitment, in large part because their research — and especially the CAA’s — tells them there is considerable demand for such a service (more on that later).

Kevin Dillon

Kevin Dillon

The Aer Lingus flight will depart Bradley just after 6 p.m., local time, and arrive in Dublin at 5:20 the next morning, meaning that someone could be in London (via a connecting flight) for the start of the workday there, said Butler. The return flight will leave Ireland at 2:20 p.m. and arrive in Hartford at 4:20.

“You can essentially do a day’s work in Connecticut, hop on a plane, and immediately the following day do a full day’s work in London — if that’s what you wanted to do,” said Butler.

The flights will be on a Boeing 757, with 12 business-class seats and 165 in economy. Those aren’t big numbers, but the impact of this flight could be enormous, said both Butler and Dillon.

For Aer Lingus, now the fastest-growing airline in the world in terms of trans-Atlantic business, the Hartford flights represent another spoke in the wheel when it comes to a broad growth strategy that has seen the company add flights in several U.S. cities in recent years.

“We’ve nearly doubled our trans-Atlantic capacity over the past five years,” said Butler, while quantifying the growth of Aer Lingus, now part of IAG, which also owns British Airways. “We’ve expanded our business model; we don’t just fly people between the U.S. and Ireland — we’re increasingly flying more people into Europe via Dublin, and we’re looking to continue to grow.”

As for Bradley, the impact could be even bigger, largely because of what Aer Lingus has done in terms of broadening its reach, said Dillon, noting that, while the airport is, indeed, an international airport, that term is narrow in scope and limited to this continent. With the Aer Lingus flight, the definition will become much broader.

Keith Butler

Keith Butler

Indeed, while the service will connect business and leisure travelers alike to the Emerald Isle itself — and there is ample demand for that — it will also bring convenient connections to dozens of other cities across Europe, meaning that travelers can begin their journey to those destinations by driving to Windsor Locks, not Boston, New York, or Newark, which represents a tremendous opportunity for the airport.

“Passengers from Hartford will be able to connect to at least 24 European cities,” Butler explained. “That includes London, Paris, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Frankfurt, Munich, and many cities in Great Britain. Our flights won’t just connect people to Dublin, but all of Europe.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the Aer Lingus service out of Bradley, and at what it means for the airport, the airline, and, most importantly, this region.

Soar Subject

When asked for a timeline on the Aer Lingus service and a quick explanation of how it came about, Dillon ventured back to 2012 and the creation of the CAA, which brought what he called a “dedicated focus to aviation in this region.”

As part of this stated mission, the organization undertook extensive outreach to the Hartford-Springfield business community, with the goal of identifying ways to improve service to that vital constituency, said Dillon, adding that, while the results were not exactly surprising, they did provide the CAA with confirmation of what was wanted and needed, and thus a specific direction in which to move.

Actually, several of them, as things turned out. He noted that one of the stated desires within the business community was for non-stop service to the West Coast, a need addressed through a partnership with American Airlines, which in June began service out of Bradley to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).

Go HERE for a list of Tourist Attractions in Western Mass.

“So far, it’s proving to be a very popular service,” said Dillon, adding that the flight not only provides business and leisure travelers with better, easier access to the West Coast, but also to Asia, which has become an increasingly popular destination for both constituencies.

But in many ways, the bigger stated priority was for trans-Atlantic flights, said Dillon, citing some eye-opening numbers gained through the CAA’s outreach.

“We worked with 23 companies representative of those across our catchment area,” he said, meaning the Hartford-Springfield corridor. “What we found is that those 23 companies were spending more than $43 million annually on trans-Atlantic travel. And we said, ‘if we could get just a piece of that, we could have a very successful trans-Atlantic route.”

Bradley has long sought such service as a growth vehicle and means to make it the proverbial airport of choice for people in this region. And it had such service nearly a decade ago, when Northwest Airlines introduced non-stop flights to Amsterdam, but that venture was doomed by poor timing — sky-high fuel prices and then the Great Recession — and the service ceased in September 2008.

Since then, Bradley and the CAA have been relentless in their quest to bring Europe back within its direct reach. But that sentiment hardly makes it unique.

“There are a lot of airports that are very hungry for European connections — the competition is actually quite fierce,” said Butler with a laugh, noting that Aer Lingus, now celebrating 80 years in business, has had many suitors, and many attractive options, as it has weighed proposals for continuing and accelerating its strong pace of growth.

Airports that want to prevail in that competition have to present opportunity in the form of a package of location, attractive conditions, ample opportunities to effectively market the service, and suitable demographics, meaning a mix of both leisure and business travelers looking for something more convenient than the available options.

Hartford presented just such a package, said Butler, adding that it became an attractive addition to the airline’s existing Northeast-corridor service in and out of New York (JFK), Boston, Newark, and Washington (Dulles), for many reasons.

“Hartford came about because it represented an opportunity to strengthen our position in the Northeast,” he explained. “It has strong cultural ties to Ireland, but also business relations. At the same time, we were also looking to try something different, and go into a secondary city.

“Bradley fits, and Hartford fits, into a broader plan we have for expansion,” he went on, adding that the airline has also recently added service to San Francisco, Toronto, and Los Angeles, among other destinations. “We’re growing quite rapidly.”

Indeed, the airline now flies to almost every major city in Europe — with 18 flights daily to London alone — as well as many destinations on this side of the Atlantic.

The timing for such additions is appropriate, he went on, adding that economic conditions globally have improved greatly since the recession, and that is especially true in Ireland, meaning more people are flying out of airports there for destinations on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for the Hartford flights, there will be four per week during the winter months, which Butler defines as October to March, and daily flights (all seven days) the rest of the year to accommodate greater leisure travel.

Dillon told BusinessWest that the initial response has been quite solid, and he expects demand to remain steady, because of the high level of connectivity to European cities that Aer Lingus provides, and also the airline’s ability to provide pre-clearance for its passengers heading back to the U.S., a service that could save them a two-hour trip in the line at customs.

The task at hand is to extensively market and promote the new flights and drive home to the business community the great opportunities that they provide.

“We’ve spent a significant amount of time out in the business community educating them about the flight,” he explained, “and trying to put them in touch with Aer Lingus to hopefully provide commitments to the airline for use of the service. Because if that support is not there, it’s going to be very difficult to make this flight work.”

Plane Speaking

As mentioned earlier, while they were talking from much different perspectives, Butler and Dillon used markedly similar language about the service set to start Sept. 28.

They both used the phrase ‘this makes perfect sense’ when talking about the flights, and for good reason. They add another dimension to the growth strategies for both organizations and open the door to new opportunities.

Not only to the airport and the airline — but the region and its diverse business community.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Sounds of Summer

Stearns Square

Each summer concert in Stearns Square may attract between 1,000 and 5,000 attendees, depending on the artist.

Chris Russell says the performers at this year’s CityBlock Concert Series will appeal to a wide variety of musical tastes.

“The outdoor concerts have been a popular event for many years, and we worked hard last year to diversify the offerings,” said the executive director of the Springfield Business Improvement District, or BID, which stages the series. “But we think we’ve done an even better job this year.”

The summer lineup includes a range of genres and showcases well-known groups whose music ranges from pop, rock, and folk to country, Motown, and blues.

“We offer regional and national acts that most people have to pay to see,” Russell told BusinessWest, noting that performances are held on Thursday nights in Stearns Square in the heart of downtown.

They begin at approximately 7:30 p.m., and Russell said area restaurants definitely benefit from the events: they are filled before and after the concerts, which is particularly beneficial because the summer is a time when business usually slows down.

“The restaurants get very busy on the nights of the performances. The concerts are one of the driving economic forces for their weeknight summer business, and they are very important to them. They report a big uptick during the events,” he noted, adding that the concerts attract about 20,000 people each season, with attendance varying from 1,000 to 5,000 each night, depending on the weather and what group is playing.

Word has spread about the free attractions, and the BID begins receiving requests as early as December from groups that want to be part of the concert series in Springfield.

“We try to get national touring acts, so putting schedules together can be challenging,” Russell noted, adding that, although the BID stages the events — which includes hiring the acts, taking care of all operations, and producing the series — the sponsors provide critical funding.

This year, MassMutual Financial Group is CityBlock’s presenting sponsor, followed by other businesses that include Williams Distributing, Sheraton Springfield, the Eastern States Exposition, and United Personnel.

Diverse Talents

Although all of the concerts feature well-known groups, a few are expected to be especially popular. They include the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, which will appear July 21.

“We’re expecting a very large turnout that night,” Russell said.

The Machine is the most popular Pink Floyd show in the nation and has been playing for 25 years. They employ elaborate stage displays and dramatic lighting and have appeared in theaters, large clubs, and casinos across North and Central America, Europe, and Asia, along with playing at many renowned music festivals.

The American country-music group Natalie Stovall and the Drive, which will appear July 28, is also expected to attract a large crowd.

Stovall began playing the fiddle professionally at age 10 and made her Grand Old Opry debut at age 12. She puts on about 200 shows every year and has performed at the White House as well as on the Oprah Winfrey Show, and supported non-country acts like Switchfoot, the Doobie Brothers, Styx, and Safetysuit.

The Springfield BID staged the first CityBlock Concert Series 15 years ago, and the annual events have continued since that time, boosting business downtown and bringing people to the city who might not otherwise visit on a weeknight.

BID ambassadors are stationed on a number of streets, and the architectural details of many historic buildings are highlighted, thanks to special lighting installed by the BID, which runs from the MassMutual Center along Main Street to Lyman Street.

Extra police details patrol the area during the concerts, although Russell says Springfield is one of the safest cities of its size in the region.

And although many communities offer free summer music events, Springfield’s CityBlock series differs due to the local and nationally acclaimed acts, which are made possible by the support of local businesses.

“The concerts take place rain or shine and are a big undertaking,” Russell said, adding that vendors offer food and alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages to concertgoers, although many choose to frequent downtown restaurants before and after the shows.

The first concert will take place June 30 and will feature FAT, a rock band from Springfield that toured as the opening act for the Allman Brothers after their first album was released, and has sold out the MassMutual Center Ballroom.

“They’re a local favorite and always draw a huge crowd,” Russell said.

Their performance will be held in Court Square instead of Stearns Square, but there will be no street closures, and parking will be available in the Civic Center and 91 South garages, as well as on the street.

In addition to FAT, the Machine Performs Pink Floyd, and Natalie Stovall and the Drive, other concerts include:

• Ricky Nelson Remembered on July 7;
• Forever Motown on July 14;
• Terry Sylvester on Aug. 4;
• Max Creek on Aug. 11;
• Blessid Union of Souls on Aug. 18; and
• The Shadowboxers on Aug. 25.

Russell said the American rock band Max Creek is expected to draw a large and diverse audience. The group has been playing for more than 40 years, and its music incorporates rock, country, reggae, soul, jazz, and calypso, as well as their own songs. Guitarist Scott Murawski, keyboardist Mark Mercier, and bassist John Rider have been with Max Creek since the mid-’70s, and are accompanied by the drums and percussion team of Bill Carbone and Jamemurrell Stanley.

A performance by the Shadowboxers, which will mark the end of the season and is being paid for by the Big E, is also expected to bring large numbers of people to Stearns Square. Their first full-length album, Red Room, produced by Brady Blade (Dave Matthews, Emmylou Harris) was featured in the New York Daily News “Top 10 Picks in Music,” and the band’s cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Pusher Love Girl” attracted nearly 200,000 YouTube views as well as recognition on Twitter from Timberlake and Pharrell Williams.

In addition to the main acts, the Eastern States Exposition is sponsoring a weekly opening-act performance. These acts will be finalists in the exposition’s Masters of Music Competition, and the overall winner will perform at the Big E and receive $1,000 and a trip to Nashville for two band members.

“The concerts provide a fun night in the city,” Russell said. “But we have to give a lot of credit and thanks to our sponsors, and we are very grateful for their support.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

What Summertime Blues?


In the mood for some live music or theater? Or are art shows and antiques more your style? How about clambering through the trees or soaring on roller-coaster tracks? Whatever your taste, Western Mass. boasts plenty of ways to enjoy the summer months, making any day potentially a vacation day. Here are 25 ideas to get you started, in a region that’s home to many, many more.


> Berkshires Arts Festival
Ski Butternut, 380 State Road, Great Barrington
(845) 355-2400; www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $7-$14; free for children under 10

July 1-3: 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 15th 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, as well as experiencing theater and music from local and national acts. Founded by Richard and Joanna Rothbard, owners of An American Craftsman Galleries, the festival attracts top artists from across the U.S. and Canada.

1Fireworks>Fireworks Shows Various Locations

July 1-4: Independence Day weekend is brimming with nighttime pageantry throughout the Pioneer Valley. The Valley Blue Sox in Holyoke kick things off with fireworks following its July 1 game. July 2 brings displays at Beacon Field in Greenfield, while on June 3, Michael Smith Middle School in South Hadley and East Longmeadow High School get into the act. July 4 will bring the spectacle to Riverfront Park in Springfield and McGuirk Stadium at UMass Amherst. And Six Flags in Agawam will light up the night on July 2, 3, and 4.

> Brimfield Antique Show
Route 20, Brimfield
(413) 283-6149; www.brimfieldshow.com
Admission: Free

July 12-17, Sept. 6-11: 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. The Brimfield Antique Show labels itself the “Antiques and Collectibles Capital of the United States,” and — judging by its scope and number of visitors — it’s hard to disagree.

2GlasgowLands-2> Glasgow Lands Scottish  Festival
Look Park, 300 North Main St., Florence
(413) 862-8095; www.glasgowlands.org
Admission: $16; $5 for children 6-12; free for kids under 6

July 16: This 23nd annual festival celebrating all things Scottish features Highland dancers, pipe bands, a pipe and drum competition, animals, spinners, weavers, harpists, Celtic music, athletic contests, activities for children, and the authentically dressed Historic Highlanders recreating everyday life in that society from the 14th through 18th centuries. Inside the huge ‘pub’ tent, musical acts Enter the Haggis, Soulsha, Albannach, Screaming Orphans, and Charlie Zahm will keep toes tapping in the shade. Event proceeds benefit programs at Human Resources Unlimited and River Valley Counseling Center.

> Pioneer Valley Beer & Wine Festival
Look Park, 300 North Main St., Florence
(413) 584-5457; www.lookpark.org
Admission: $35 in advance, $40 at the door

July 30: Hungry — or thirsty — for something to do as the dog days of summer take hold? Look Park presents its first annual Beer & Wine Festival at the Pines Theater from noon to 4 p.m. Attendees (over age 21 with ID) will get to sample local beer and wine from the Pioneer Valley, live music, and food vendors including Local Burger, La Veracruzana, and Sierra Grille.


> Pocumtuck Homelands Festival
Unity Park, 1st Street, Turners Falls
(413) 498-4318; www.nolumbekaproject.org
Admission: Free

Aug. 6: This 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 by Theresa ‘Bear’ Fox, Mohawk (Wolf Clan), ‘wave artist’ Mixashawn, the Medicine Mammals Singers, and Kontiwennenhawi, the Akwasasne Women Singers. Also featured will be the Black Hawk Singers, the Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition Singers, a Penobscot hoop dancer, round dancing, elder teachings, craft activities, storytelling, and traditional dances. The Nolumbeka Project aims to preserve regional Native American history through educational programs, art, history, music, heritage seed preservation, and cultural events.


> Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
(413) 303-0101; springfieldjazzfest.com
Admission: Free

Aug. 6: The third annual Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists, dance and theater workshops, local arts and crafts, and plenty of food. More than 5,000 people are expected to attend and enjoy the sounds of jazz, Latin jazz, gospel, blues, funk, and more. Featured performers include Taj Mahal, Eric Krasno Band, Joey DeFrancesco Trio, Terri Lyne Carrington Group, Samirah Evans and Her Handsome Devils, Rayvon Owen, Heshima Moja and Ofrecimiento, and Jose Gonzalez and Banda Criolla. The festival is produced by Blues to Green, which uses music to bring people together, uplift and inspire, and help build a more equitable and sustainable world.

> Agricultural Fairs
Various locations and admission costs; see websites
www.thewestfieldfair.com; www.theblandfordfair.com; www.3countyfair.com; www.fcas.com; www.belchertownfair.com

Starting in late August and extending through September, the region’s community agricultural fairs are a much-loved tradition, promoting agriculture education in Western Mass. and supporting the efforts of local growers and craftspeople. The annual fairs also promise plenty of family-oriented fun, from carnival rides to animal demonstrations to food, food, and more food. The Westfield fair kicks things off Aug. 19-21, followed by the Blandford Fair and the Three County Fair in Northampton on Sept. 2-5, the Franklin County Fair in Greenfield on Sept. 8-11, and the Belchertown Fair on Sept. 23-25.


> Stone Soul Festival
Blunt Park, 1780 Roosevelt Ave., Springfield
(413) 636-3881; www.ssfestival.weebly.com
Admission: Free

Sept. 2-4: Stone Soul began in 1989 as a community reunion picnic aimed at gathering together the Mason Square Community. It has since evolved into a three-day event, and New England’s largest African-American festival. Stone Soul aims to provide family-oriented activities, entertainment, and cultural enrichment, and is a vehicle for minority-owned businesses to display their wares and crafts. Entertainment includes gospel, jazz, R&B, and dance. Sunday’s free picnic includes ribs and chicken cooked by talented pitmasters, as well as barbecued beans, cole slaw, and more, with the backdrop of an afternoon of live gospel music performed by local and regional choirs.

4MattoonStreet> Mattoon Street Arts Festival
Mattoon St., Springfield
(413) 736-0629
Admission: Free

Sept. 10-11: Now in its 44th 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.

> Glendi
22 St. George Road, Springfield
(413) 737-1496
Admission: Free

Sept. 9-11: 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, various vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and a joyful atmosphere the whole family will enjoy.

> Fresh Grass
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
(413) 662-2111; www.freshgrass.com
3-day pass: $99 for adults, $89 for students, $46 for ages 7-16

Sept. 16-18: 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 Old Crow Medicine Show, Glen Hansard, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, The Devil Makes Three, Rosanne Cash, the Infamous Stringdusters, and many, many more. Also on tap are new-artist competitions (with prizes totaling $25,000) and bluegrass workshops open to festival attendees.

All Summer Long

> Berkshire
Botanical Garden
5 West Stockbridge Road, Stockbridge
(413) 298-3926
Admission: $15; free for kids under 12

Through Oct. 10: 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.

> CityBlock Concert Series
Worthington and Bridge streets, Springfield
(413) 781-1591
Admission: Free

Through Aug. 25: Downtown Springfield’s annual Thursday-evening summer music series is again studded with a mix of national touring acts and local lights, starting with FAT on June 30 in Court Square. The shows then move to Stearns Square for the rest of the summer, and include Ricky Nelson Remembered (July 7), Forever Motown (July 14), the Machine (July 21), Natalie Stovall and the Drive (July 28), Terry Sylvester (Aug. 4), Max Creek (Aug. 11), Blessid Union of Souls (Aug. 18), and the Shadowboxers (Aug. 25). The presenting sponsor for the shows is MassMutual, and the series is presented by the Springfield Business Improvement District. See article on page 27 for more information.

> Crab Apple
Whitewater Rafting
2056 Mohawk Trail, Charlemont
(413) 625-2288; www.crabapplewhitewater.com
Admission: $110-$116 through Sept. 11; $99 after Sept. 11

Through Oct. 9: 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.

> Hancock Shaker Village
1843 West Housatonic St., Pittsfield
(413) 443-0188; www.hancockshakervillage.org
Admission: $8-20; free for children 12 and under

Through October: In 1774, a small group of persecuted English men and women known as the Shakers — the name is derived from the way their bodies convulsed during prayer — landed in New York Harbor in the hopes of securing religious freedom in America. Nearly 250 years later, their utopian experiment remains available to the public in the restored 19th-century village of Hancock. Through 20 refurbished buildings and surrounding gardens, Shaker Village illuminates the daily lives of its highly productive inhabitants. After spending a day in the recreated town, visitors will surely gain a greater appreciation of the Shakers’ oft-forgotten legacy in the region.

JacobsPillowSuchuDance-BRuddick-2008> Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
(413) 243-0745; www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $25 and up

Through Aug. 30: Now in its 84rd 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 events introduce a quirky, charming company from Germany, the explosive footwork of South American gauchos, inspiring ballet companies from across the U.S., astounding flex dancers from the streets of Brooklyn, and 12 high-flying men from Algeria — plus, more live music than ever before. See article on page 25 for more information.

> Lady Bea Cruise Boat
1 Alvord St., South Hadley
(413) 315-6342; www.brunelles.com
Admission: $10-$15; free for kids 3 and under

Through Labor Day: If you’re in the mood for a scenic meander up and down the Connecticut River, consider the Lady Bea, a 53-foot, 49-passenger, climate-controlled boat operated by Brunelle’s Marina, which typically runs Thursday through Sunday between South Hadley and Northampton. If you don’t feel like sharing the 75-minute narrated voyage with others, rent the boat out for a private excursion. Amenties include a PA system, video monitors, a full bar, and seating indoors and on the sun deck — but the main attraction is the pristine water, sandy beaches, and unspoiled views along the river.

6Mahaiwe> Mahaiwe Performing
Arts Center
14 Castle St., Great Barrington
(413) 528-0100; 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 family and educational events are vital to the region, 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.

> Nash Dinosaur
Track Site and
Rock Shop
594 Amherst Road, South Hadley
(413) 467-9566; www.nashdinosaurtracks.com
Admission: $3 for adults; $2 for children

Year-round: Walk where the dinosaurs walked, literally. It’s hard to believe that the first documented dinosaur tracks found in North America were on the shores of the Connecticut River, in 1802, near today’s site of Nash Dinosaur Track Site and Rock Shop in South Hadley. Over the years, thousands of dinosaur tracks have been discovered; many were sold to museums and private individuals all over the world, but many more can be seen due to the extensive work of Carlton S. Nash. Visit the site and learn about some of this region’s earliest inhabitants, and also about the geology of the area.

7PeacePagoda> New England Peace Pagoda
100 Cave Hill Road, Leverett
(413) 367-2202
Admission: Free

Year-round: A Peace Pagoda is a Buddhist stupa, a monument to inspire peace, designed to provide a focus for people of all races and creeds, and to help unite them in their search for world peace. Most peace pagodas built since World War II have been built under the guidance of Nichidatsu Fujii, a Japanese Buddhist monk. Fujii was greatly inspired by his meeting with Mahatma Gandhi in 1931 and decided to devote his life to promoting non-violence. In 1947, he began constructing peace pagodas as shrines to world peace.

> Ramblewild
110 Brodie Mountain Road, Lanesborough
(844) 472-6253; www.ramblewild.com
Admission: $69 for adults, $59 for youth

Year-round: Aerial parks are an outdoor activity in and among the trees that offer excitement, challenge, and personal growth for families and adventurists of all kinds. At Ramblewild, the focal point is a central wooden platform about 10 feet above the ground from which eight aerial obstacle courses originate, meandering from tree to tree at various heights through the forest. Each course consists of 15 to 17 elements (high wires, ziplines, balancing logs, rope ladders, cargo nets, suspended bridges, etc.) that meander through a pristine hemlock forest. These tree-to-tree challenge courses are designed to have a profound impact on visitors’ self-confidence — while having lots of fun, of course.

8SixFlags> Six Flags New England
1623 Main St., Agawam
(413) 786-9300
Admission: $61.99; season passes $91.99

Through oct. 31: Continuing an annual tradition of adding a new major attraction each spring, Six Flags New England recently unveiled Fireball, a looping coaster, and rethemed Bizarro to its original Superman motif, adding a virtual-reality component (via goggles) to boot. Other recent additions include the Wicked Cyclone, the 420-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer swings, the 250-foot Bonzai Pipeline enclosed waterslides, and the massive switchback coaster Goliath — 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 wave pools and lazy river in the Hurricane Harbor water park, free with admission.

> Valley Blue Sox
Mackenzie Stadium
500 Beech St., Holyoke
(413) 533-1100
Admission: $4-$6; season tickets $79

Through Aug. 1: Western Mass. residents don’t have to trek to Boston to catch quality baseball. The Valley Blue Sox, members 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.

> Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown
(413) 597-3400; www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $40 and up

Through Aug. 21: 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. This season will spotlight a range of both original productions and plays by well-known lights such as Tennessee Williams (The Rose Tattoo) and Wendy Wasserstein (An American Daughter), as well as a number of other programs, such as post-show Tuesday Talkbacks with company members.

Joseph Bednar can be reached a  [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Choreographing a Game Plan

Jacob’s Pillow

Pamela Tatge says an invite to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal set by choreographers across the country and around the world.

There are 10 weeks to the season at the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival each summer, and two main theaters hosting productions. That means 20 dance groups get to appear during those extended weekends between late June and the end of August.

But that’s a tiny fraction of the number that would like to book a trip to the picturesque campus in the Berkshire County hamlet of Becket, noted Pamela Tatge, who said that to be chosen for one of those 20 spots represents what she called a serious “vote of confidence” for the troupe in question.

“This is a very powerful brand — to get to Jacob’s Pillow is a goal that choreographers across the country and around the world share,” said Tatge, who recently took over as director of ‘the Pillow,’ as it’s known, succeeding Ella Baff. “It is a gold standard.”

Choosing which groups get this vote of confidence is a team effort, but something at or near the top of a lengthy list of her job responsibilities, said Tatge, who arrived in April.

Others include everything from fund-raising to marketing; from preservation (this is a National Historic Landmark) to overseeing acclaimed education and residency programs; from so-called audience engagement (welcoming attendees to those aforementioned performances, for example) to working with the institution’s large board of directors to create a vision and set a tone, artistically and otherwise, for the Pillow moving forward.

And recently, there have been some additions to that list, or at least matters that have taken on a new sense of urgency.

These include efforts to work in greater collaboration with other Berkshire-area attractions and institutions to make the region an even greater destination, and work to develop new and different ways to diversify the audiences at those performances and, especially, engage more young people in dance, the Pillow, and the arts in general.

Tatge, who comes to the Becket campus from a lengthy stint as director of the Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, embraces every line on that job description and the broad, overarching challenge of continuing a proud, 84-year-old tradition.

“I knew how precious this institution was,” she said while explaining this career move, “and what an incredible opportunity it would be to be invited to lead it.”

For this issue and its special Summer Happenings section, BusinessWest talked at length with Tatge about the Pillow, her vision for its future, and how she intends to carefully choreograph a game plan for this venerable institution for the decades to come.

The Next Steps

Tatge said she couldn’t recall how many times she had taken in performances at Jacob’s Pillow over the years, but made it clear she didn’t need directions to the Becket campus, located just off Route 20.

Created by Ted Shawn, one of the first notable male pioneers of American modern dance, in 1933, the Pillow has been not only a place to take in fine dance, she explained, but also a scholarly retreat, both literally and figuratively, in many respects, providing a window into the past, present, and, in some ways, the future of contemporary dance.

“Jacob’s Pillow has been in my consciousness ever since I was a dance presenter,” she said, adding that she considers her work with dance to be perhaps her signature accomplishment at Wesleyan. “It’s the place I looked to discover emerging artists, to see international work that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to see because I didn’t have the travel resources at my institution, and for its resources — the archives are so extensive and so important for dance curators like me to access.”

So when a headhunter called last fall inquiring about whether she would be interested in succeeding Baff, Tatge offered an enthusiastic ‘yes,’ thus setting the wheels in motion for what would become a much different kind of visit to the Becket campus.

Fast-forwarding to this past April, Tatge said that, upon arriving on campus, she set out to immediately fill the calendar with meetings involving a variety of stakeholders, from the staff to board members to the managers of other arts institutions in the Berkshires with which the Pillow collaborates.

She described them all as learning experiences that will be of great benefit as she goes about tackling all the responsibilities within that description.

She said her meetings with board members have been especially enlightening and eye-opening.

“They are palpably passionate about this dance form, and they are here all the time,” she explained, adding that she’s met with 21 of the 23 members. “I wanted to understand their connection, hopes, and dreams for the Pillow individually.”

Looking forward, she said she has a number of goals for the institution, and generally, they can be described as efforts to continue and strengthen traditions that have been in place for decades.

“I want to continue and deepen our investment in choreographers and the development of new work, using the campus at Jacob’s Pillow as a research site for artists,” she explained. “And think of the many ways we can leverage the assets we have at our magnificent site and our archives for the benefit of artists. I also want to continue our commitment to international work, making sure our audiences witness the world here, as they always have.”

Getting into greater detail, she said one of her goals is to continue work she described as cross-disciplinary.

Indeed, at Wesleyan, Tatge became known for work that brought different arts forms together in unique ways. In one, she brought a Japanese artist and a Wesleyan history professor together for a course on the history of the atomic bomb — the former through the work of artists in postwar Japan, and the latter handling the science and history.

Such work dovetails with initiatives already in place at Jacob’s Pillow, she said, listing, as just one example, a partnership with MASS MoCA in North Adams that brings dance and modern visual arts together.

“I’m fascinated by the intersection of art forms,” she explained. “And a lot of the work we will do at MASS MoCA will involve artists who are working at the crossroads of visual arts and dance, and I’m delighted to have that platform for that kind of work.”

Rallying the

Pamela Tatge

Pamela Tatge says she embraces all of the many lines on her very lengthy job description as director at Jacob’s Pillow.

Meanwhile, another priority will be work to broaden audiences — and the Pillow’s membership base — and draw more young people into the arts at all levels. This is not a challenge unique to the Pillow, she said, noting that arts institutions across the country face the same hurdle, nor is it a recent phenomenon.

Indeed, the Pillow has been engaged in a number of initiatives in this realm, everything from incorporating more live music into performances to taking its act (and acts) off site and into area communities.

As an example, she said the group scheduled to perform in mid-August, Brooklyn-based FLEXN, will conduct an advance visit to the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield. It will include a dance-off (practitioners from across the region will be invited to participate), with members of the group taking part. The young dancers will be invited to take in one of the group’s performances in Becket.

“To engage new audiences, we need to leave our site and take dance into many different parts of our county,” Tatge explained, “as a way to expose audiences, on their turf, to what it is we do, and then invite them to come to our house after we’ve gone to their house.”

There are many other initiatives in this realm, she said, listing everything from visits to area schools to more intense use of social media to market the Pillow and its performances, to free admission to the so-called Inside/Out Stage, where groups beyond those chosen 20 perform each week.

As for that aforementioned work to decide which 20 groups get to come to Becket for a given season, Tatge said this is a challenging assignment as well, given the number of groups, or projects, wanting to get that vote of confidence she described, as well as the need to satisfy many different tastes for dance and its various genres, all while maintaining an international flavor.

She described the process of meeting that challenge with a single word — balance — and a commitment to creating it.

“I want to make sure that all of the appetites of our audience have to be taken care of,” she explained, adding that she is in the thick of creating the schedule for 2017 and is already thinking about 2018.

Elaborating, she said this assignment involves a mix of proactively seeking out choreographers and companies whose work represents “the intention and aesthetic I’m excited about for our audiences” as well as fielding entreaties from agents and groups about existing projects they would love to bring to Becket.

“What’s wonderful about the current Pillow program is how broad it is in terms of genre and geography, and I want to maintain that,” she told BusinessWest. “We’re a national center for dance, so we need to make sure that we’re being geographically represented when we’re considering U.S. artists, while continuing our commitment to international work.”

A look at the 2016 schedule, which includes groups from Stuttgart, Germany; Chicago; New York; Santa Fe; Seattle; and a host of other cities, reveals this geographic diversity, said Tatge, adding that this is certainly a tradition that will continue.

Beyond the Routine

When asked how she intended to make her mark, or put her stamp, on Jacob’s Pillow during her tenure, Tatge said one obvious answer would be the manner in which the schedule for those 10 weeks each summer is filled.

But from a larger-picture perspective, the answer lies in how, and how successfully, she addresses each of the many lines in her job description — from broadening the audience to creating those collaborations with other arts institutions, to securing a solid future for this eight-decade-old tradition.

When it comes to that assignment, Tatge has been given her own vote of confidence, and she intends to make the very most of that opportunity.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Great Escape

The Berkshire region

The Berkshire region has become known for its outdoors and foodie tourism.


The Berkshires have always been a haven for tourists and a region in many ways dependent on the dollars those tourists spend. And throughout history, this has been largely a summer phenomenon. But in recent years, the state’s westernmost county has been devoted to making itself a year-round destination, with those efforts yielding solid results.

In the late 1800s, society’s well-to-do waved farewell to ‘the season’ in the Berkshires — the summer months — with elaborate parades, featuring horse-drawn carriages.

In the 1910s and 1920s, vacationers returned in the warmer months to venues like the Colonial Theatre in Pittsfield, for a chance to see the stars — Ethel Barrymore, Al Jolson, and Sarah Bernhard, to name a few — basking in the glow of General Electric’s newfangled footlights.

And in the 30s, the first picnickers began flocking to Tanglewood’s grounds, bringing increasingly over-the-top spreads with them to listen to music outside and engage in a bit of neighborly competition.

Today, all of these attractions — even GE’s switch-board-operated footlights, though not in operation — still help define a vibrant summer and early-fall season that offers a number of historic cultural opportunities. Across Berkshire County, however, leaders of destinations of all kinds agree that year-round development is the key to continued success. To that end, they’re allocating dollars, developing partnerships, and highlighting hidden talents, with the common goal of welcoming visitors during all seasons, not just ‘the season.’

Dinner and a Show

Lindsey Schmid, director of Marketing at 1Berkshire and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau, said this includes calling attention to all the area’s specific strengths: farm-to-table culinary experiences, year-round outdoor recreation, and several different types of lodging opportunities, from bed and breakfasts to boutique inns to large hotels.

“The Berkshires will always be a cultural mecca, but the rolling hills and open space not filled with cars is part of that culture,” Schmid said. “More and more people are viewing us as a year-round escape, and we’re working to call attention to the different things visitors are escaping to.”

That includes a rich ‘foodie’ culture that extends from fine dining to locally produced niche items, such as spirits from Berkshire Mountain Distillers, cheese from Cricket Creek Farm, craft beer from Big Elm Brewing and Wandering Star Brewery, and bread from Berkshire Mountain Bakery.

1Berkshire staff

1Berkshire staff pose with #intheberkshires signs — just one aspect of a larger effort to brand the region as a year-round destination for travelers of all ages.

The Berkshire theater scene, often thought of in terms of summer stock, has evolved to offer readings of plays in progress, musical-theater labs, and new works that have started at venues such as Barrington Stage Co. in Pittsfield, Shakespeare and Co. in Lenox, and WAM Theatre, a professional company that produces plays and events across Berkshire County with a focus on female theater artists and stories of women and girls.

“There’s so much to do all year round, we often remind even local residents of the value that is in their backyard,” said Schmid. “Many theater productions that got their start here have gone on to present off- and on-Broadway following successful showings in the Berkshires. That’s a point of pride for us.”

For instance, Schmid called WAM Theatre (the acronym stands for Where Arts and Activism Meet) “a start-up that also brings a new level of theater” to the Berkshires. Now in its seventh year in business, WAM continues to find new ways to extend its influence — and its season. Artistic Director Kristen van Ginhoven announced plans for the company’s 2016 season in February — including performances and events scheduled from February into October and a new collaboration with the Berkshire Theatre Group (BTG), an organization created in 2010 by the merger of two of Berkshire County’s oldest cultural organizations: Berkshire Theatre Festival, founded in 1928 in Stockbridge, and the Colonial Theatre, built in 1903 in Pittsfield.

Click HERE for a chart of the region’s tourist attractions

“I’m delighted to announce the programming we’ve planned for WAM Theatre’s seventh season,” said van Ginhoven. “We have a dynamic lineup of events that fulfill our vision of creating opportunity for women and girls.”

She will direct WAM’s main-stage production, the American premiere of The Bakelite Masterpiece by Kate Cayley, in September and October this year, outside of the more traditional summer season. The play will be co-produced with BTG and performed at the Unicorn Theatre in Stockbridge.

“The play came to me via a close colleague in Canada who acted in the original production,” she noted. “I immediately envisioned it at the Unicorn and approached Kate Maguire [Berkshire Theatre Group artistic director and CEO], who loved the play. WAM Theatre is very excited that the Berkshire Theatre Group has opened their doors to make this a co-production.”

A Walk in the Woods

Schmid noted that she’s seen the region’s marketing dollars spreading across the entire calendar more and more in this way — traditional seasons lengthening, the ‘off-season’ shortening, and an overall, collaborative effort afoot to position the Berkshires as an escape for all types of travelers, rather than simply an historic or cultural destination.

“In the past, there’s been a lot of marketing of the summer and fall, because that’s when we had traffic. In the last couple of years in particular, though, we’ve focused more branding dollars on the shoulder seasons,” she said, adding that the tourism industry on the whole is seeing a trend toward travelers looking for unique outdoor experiences, and that’s something on which Berkshire County can capitalize.

“It’s not just taking a hike outdoors — there are adventure opportunities like aerial parks, as well as things designed to make nature feel more accessible to people who aren’t used to it,” she said, listing mountain biking, white-water rafting, mountain coasters — including North America’s longest, the Thunderbolt at Berkshire East in Charlemont — and the burgeoning trend of forest bathing, through which groups are guided through the woods, traveling short distances but taking in the scenery, among the options.

Lindsey Schmid

Lindsey Schmid says the region’s farm-to-table culinary experiences, outdoor recreation, and lodging opportunities make it a year-round destination.

“The outdoor activity message in the Berkshires is allowing us to talk to a slightly younger audience,” she said, “but also to address other hurdles, like museum fatigue among group tours. That’s something so many cultural facilities are experiencing … and here, they can stay outdoors, experiencing the natural beauty and enjoying a cultural experience at the same time; that sets us apart.”

Indeed, Berkshire County is home to several outdoor cultural venues. In addition to Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer home in Lenox, Jacob’s Pillow in Becket offers world-class dance performances outside on a 220-acre parcel of land that is also a national historic landmark. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge includes 36 acres of largely walkable space, as does adjacent Chesterwood — once the summer home of sculptor Daniel Chester French — which regularly offers modern sculpture walks on its campus.

Conversely, the region’s outdoor destinations, including its mountain resorts — among them Berkshire East, Ski Butternut in Great Barrington, Jiminy Peak in Hancock, and Bousquet Mountain in Pittsfield — have taken a page from the cultural venues, offering a greater variety of things to do throughout the year. Now in its 15th year, the Berkshires Arts Festival is hosted at Ski Butternut in July. Jiminy Peak has had some late-autumn success with its 13 Nights of Jiminy haunted attraction, and Berkshire East opened Thunder Mountain Bike Park just last year.

Sherry Roberts, who owns Bousquet, noted that a number of upgrades have been made at the mountain in recent years, all with an eye toward year-round operation.

“We’ve made a lot of renovations to our banquet space, allowing us to open the lodge up for private functions,” she said. “We’re contacting schools and booking them now for summer adventure camp, as well as different parks and recreation groups.”

Roberts said the adventure-camp business, along with other offerings such as a waterslide, adventure park, zipline, and go-karts, serve Bousquet Mountain well — necessitating a full-time office staff during the summer months as well as ski, snowboarding, and tubing season.

“We do try to book most of the summer,” said Roberts, noting that the mountain resort community feels the importance of year-round business acutely, especially following a particularly slushy winter ski season that never quite guaranteed even a full week of strong sales. “When you have a group coming at a specific time and date, there are no surprises — not like opening the doors in January and seeing pouring rain.”

With all of New England seeing record warmth, Roberts said this season was particularly short.

“There were no snowstorms in the forecast, so we were very careful with the money we spent on snow making,” she said. “But we continued right to the end of the season, and I have a tremendous staff that is young and full of ideas. Whether it’s private functions, groups, or what we offer to the public, we’re always trying to build on it.”

All for One

Continuing to build on the idea of cooperation across all types of tourism outfits in the Berkshires, Schmid said 1Berkshire is working more and more with its members to create group opportunities such as cooperative ad buys, sponsorships, and other member benefits that help stretch the marketing budget across 12 months. To woo a younger audience, the region has also taken to putting its many attractions under one social-media umbrella: #intheberkshires, which is added to everything from billboards to Facebook updates.

“We’re branding all year round, and we’re better honed in than ever on specific messages about what our members offer,” she said. “The overall push is that, whoever you are, you can imagine yourself in the Berkshires.”

While that daydream might include a late-season picnic at Tanglewood, a night at the theater, and a farewell to the season with flower-festooned carriages, it can also include a modern meal, an arts walk, or even a high-wire zipline. Whatever the season, the Berkshires are open for business.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Treasure Trove

Shows are held in May, July, and September

Shows are held in May, July, and September, and unusual statues are among the many items for sale.

Patricia Schultz’s New York Times bestseller 1,000 Places to See Before You Die includes the Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show, and, as a result, the world-renowned event has been put on many people’s bucket lists.

“I had a lady call from Michigan last week who is coming in May just for that reason,” said Lenny Weake, president of the Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce, which fields an untold number of calls every year about the show that began 57 years ago and features about 6,000 vendors on 1,200 acres of privately owned property that stretch along a one-mile strip of Route 20.

The event is held three times a year, and the first show of 2016 will take place May 10-15. Many people make reservations a year in advance, and local hotels and motels from Springfield to Sturbridge take bookings from all over the U.S. and as far away as England, France, and Korea.

“Anything you could ever dream of can be found here,” Weake said. “It’s not just small items and trinkets. There are life-size statues, vintage ice-cream stools and counters, all types of period furniture, antique signs, toys, clocks, trains, jewelry, old magazines, movie posters, and buttons so intricate you need a magnifying glass to see the mosaics on them.”

But he admits it can be a test of endurance when a dedicated collector is in search of a specific item because vendors are not grouped by the type of merchandise they sell or the fields where they are located. In fact, there is no map to help locate a particular vendor, which makes it especially important for people to get receipts with names and phone numbers when they make a purchase, in case they want to return to the booth.

It takes days to walk the properties, and Weake advises people to dress comfortably and bring a backpack or wagon to hold their purchases because their vehicle may be parked six fields away from where they find what they want.

Some fields are open only on selected days, and because there is an endless bounty of things to see, many shoppers browse Wednesday through Sunday, including avid antique enthusiasts and collectors determined to be among the first on hand when a new field opens.

Over 1 million people attend the three annual outdoor showcases, which will be held this year May 10-15, July 12-17, and Sept. 6-11. However, the May show typically contains the most merchandise because dealers buy pieces all winter and often bring so much, they need to rent more than one spot to put it on display.

David Lamberto began helping the owner of Hertan’s Antique Show 25 years ago. That’s the name of the field he eventually purchased and runs today. He explained that the words ‘field’ and ‘show’ are used interchangeably, but the reality is that each show is its own entity and run by the person who owns the property.

The town of Brimfield is not involved with the event, although property owners must get permits, and Massachusetts state tax is collected on purchased items.

Vendors plan for the events far in advance, and many have been returning for decades, setting up their wares in booths next to their friends.

“They regard it as more than an opportunity to sell things,” Lamberto noted. “They also come to buy and network. It’s almost like a convention of antique dealers from all over the country.”

Expanding Horizon

Auctioneer Gordon Reid staged the first notable Brimfield antique show in 1959 after he purchased a piece of property on Route 20. It featured 67 dealers, attracted about 300 people, and was so successful he held a second one the same year.

Lenny Weakes

Lenny Weakes says people come from all over the world to buy and sell at the Brimfield Outdoor Antiques Show.

By the time Reid died in 1974, the 25 acres dedicated to his show had become home to about 800 vendors, and many marked the annual events on their calendars. After he passed away, his daughters, Jill Lukesh and Judy Mathieu, took over and changed his business name from the Gordon Reid Company to J & J Promotions.

Word spread about Gordon’s success, and when they began turning dealers away due to lack of space, many started knocking on neighbors’ doors, and the show expanded as owners of adjoining properties cashed in on the opportunity.

Every show or field charges for parking, and a few, including J & J, charge the first day they open, but many have no admission charge. In addition, a plethora of food vendors are spread out over the mile-long strip so visitors don’t have to worry about where to eat. Most dealers have porters that can help with large, bulky items.

And although the Brimfield Outdoor Antique Show is a venue unto itself, local businesses including restaurants, gas stations, hotels, motels, and bed-and-breakfast operations benefit from each seasonal show and have come to rely on it for part of their annual revenue.

The Quaboag Hills Chamber of Commerce receives endless calls about where to stay and what there is to do in the area, since families and spouses often attend together, but not everyone likes to shop. Weake and his staff work hard to educate them, promote their members, and tell callers about area historical or tourist attractions they might enjoy.

He added that transportation is often a critical part of a discussion because many visitors arrive at Bradley International Airport or on Amtrak and need to rent a vehicle. “People from places like New York City can’t envision what the show is like or the geography of it is like,” Weake explained. “They’re flabbergasted when I tell them there is no public transportation or taxi service in Brimfield.”

But the event is definitely an economic driver for the area, and Weake’s goal is to get people to stay at least an extra day. Many do, and visit attractions that range from the Basketball Hall of Fame and Springfield Museums to Yankee Candle and Old Sturbridge Village, while others drive to see historic sites, such as the 14 milestones Benjamin Franklin erected in 1767 when he was assistant postmaster general of the U.S. and mail was delivered to towns along the Old Boston Post Road.

The owners of properties who rent space formed the Brimfield Show Promoters Assoc. some time ago and advertise the event via the Internet, TV, and print media. They also belong to a number of different chambers and visitors and convention bureaus that help to spread the word. And some, including J & J Promotions, do their own advertising.

Social media has also helped raise awareness, and five years ago, Gretchen Aubuchon of Aubuchon Hardware started a tent for designers at Hertan’s by advertising it on Twitter. It was well-received, and for three years, busloads of designers from across the country gathered in a beautifully decorated private tent outfitted with chandeliers and a bar where they relaxed, compared notes, and stopped to rest during shopping sprees.

The tent ceased to exist two years ago after Aubuchon moved to a different job, but designers still band together, and last week Lamberto received a call from a Chicago group that will attend the May event. There are also celebrities and buyers from many different places, including local antique shops that rely on the show to boost their inventory of sought-after items.

“Ralph Polo sends a team to find things to decorate their stores, and we see people like Barbra Streisland and Martha Stewart every year,” he told BusinessWest.

The popular TV show Flea Market Flip usually stages a taping in Brimfield at least once a season, and Weake said the newest, most-sought-after items include repurposed furniture and building materials that have been transformed into lights, wine racks, and other one-of-a-kind pieces.

Collecting Memories

When eBay first became popular, business decreased slightly, and although people still use their cell phones to compare prices and haggle, there is nothing like the joy of finding something unexpected, being able to touch it, and bringing it home that same day.

“Our father was a visionary. He pioneered the show, did beautifully with it, and we hope we are making him proud,” Lukesh said.

Leake is happy it draws so much attention to the Quaboag region and also benefits area businesses.

“It’s the place to be, and people come here from all over the U.S. as well as from other countries,” he said. “We want them to have a good time, and they do. It’s a beautiful area and a treasure hunt; there is everything under the sun, and you never know what you will find.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

Steeped in History


Kate Preissler says she wants history to come alive for Wistariahurst visitors.

Throughout its history, the property now known as Wistariahurst Museum — which draws guests for myriad events and individuals who simply enjoy stepping into the past — has been referred to as one of the “showplaces in Holyoke.” The museum’s director says she wants to make history fun, and the visitor count — up to 14,000 annually — suggests she’s succeeding at her goal.

Throughout its history, the property now known as Wistariahurst Museum has been referred to as one of the “showplaces in Holyoke.”

Indeed, during the holidays, the former home of silk manufacturer William Skinner and his wife, Sarah, is truly a sight to behold with its enormous curved stairway draped with holiday garland and Christmas trees twinkling throughout its 22 spacious rooms where lofty ceilings and elaborately detailed architecture speak to a bygone era.

Tickets were sold out weeks in advance for performances of “Nutcracker & Sweets” staged by the Massachusetts Academy of Ballet, which ran Dec. 11-13. The annual event captures the magic of the holidays in the spacious Music Room that Belle Skinner, daughter of William and Sarah, built to house a collection of musical instruments after her parents’ deaths.

“This season’s performance of the Nutcracker was set in Holyoke, rather than Russia, and there were references in it to the city’s history. The father figure was cast as William Skinner, and his daughters Belle and Katharine were also depicted,” said Museum Director Kate Preissler.

Although the event is extremely popular, December is actually a quiet time for Wistariahurst, which stages a plethora of programs throughout the year that appeal to children, families, adults, and people of varying interests.

“The Nutcracker is our biggest holiday event, but we’re owned by the city of Holyoke, and our mission is preserving the history of Holyoke and inspiring an appreciation of history and culture through educational programs, exhibits, and special events,” Preissler told BusinessWest, adding that, over the past decade or so, those events have shifted from museum tours and formal affairs to a wide variety of offerings.

For example, last month Holyoke Wellness Coordinator Julia Wilkins began holding strength-training classes for city employees in the Music Room, while a few weeks later an elegant event called Winter Festivitea 
was held in the same space, and guests sat at elegantly decorated tables and sipped tea while they were entertained by live music.

“We are complex and use the physical space to provide as much value as we can,” Preissler said, as she conducted a tour through two of the home’s three stories, including a visit to the Leather Room with its leather wallpaper, a noteworthy library, Belle’s bedroom, the conservatory where a stained-glass peacock window is believed to be a Tiffany original, the dining room next door with two fireplaces, and the grand, sweeping staircase Belle added to the home.

Kate Preissler
Kate Preissler says Wistariahurst, donated to the city of Holyoke by the Skinner family, has become a real community asset.

“We hold a wine tasting here in February, and our annual gala takes place in June in the gardens,” Preissler noted. “It’s our primary fund-raising event, and people come outfitted in period dress and dance to live music in Belle’s Music Room. Last year it was held on a beautiful night at sunset, and you could see people throughout the garden in ’20s clothing who were probably imagining what it would have been like when the Skinner family lived here.”

The museum greets 12,000 to 14,000 visitors a year, and most come for events, rather than tours of the home. About 15 wedding ceremonies take place in the Music Room each year, and some couples hold their receptions in tents on the manicured grounds.

“We’re an exclusive venue for people looking for a historic place to get married in; Wistariahurst offers an intimate and beautiful setting,” Preissler said, adding that photos are often taken on the grand staircase, and harpists, classical guitarists, and pianists have been hired to play before and after ceremonies.

There are also seasonal holiday teas and a Mother’s Day Tea, which Preissler said give people an opportunity to have fun in the museum.

“Last fall we held a Mad Hatter Tea which was really popular. It attracted a lot of people who had never been here before, and many came in costume,” she noted. “They enjoyed a formal tea in the Music Room, played croquet on the lawn, and did crafts. It was a multi-generational event that was meant to be a way for kids and families to relax and enjoy themselves here.

“There is always the feeling of being in a historic home where Belle Skinner entertained her guests, but it’s important for our visitors to have fun,” she went on, repeating the word that she used frequently to describe what goes on inside Wistariahurst today.

Links to the Past

Curator and City Historian Penni Martorell said William Skinner emigrated to the U.S. from England in 1874. “He was a skilled silk dyer and established a silk-manufacturing and dyeing business on the Mill River in Haydenville,” she noted.

Penni Martorell

Penni Martorell says Belle Skinner took a real interest in the gardens of Wistariahurst and added a rose garden and Japanese tea house.

The business was destroyed when the river flooded following a dam breach in 1874, and Skinner relocated the operation to Appleton Street in Holyoke. He also relocated his Haydenville home, which had been designed by William Fenno Pratt, who also designed Northampton City Hall and other noteworthy structures. “Skinner had the home dismantled and moved to Holyoke,” Martorell said.

His second wife, Sarah, was an avid gardener, and although photos from 1875 show the home surrounded by barren grounds, her letters and diaries are filled with references to the plantings and trees she established on the site, which include the renowned wistaria vines that still bloom profusely every May.

They became widely acclaimed for their beauty, and their flowering was reported in local papers, which eventually led to the home’s name.

After William and Sarah died, their two unmarried children — Ruth Isabelle (“Belle”) and her brother William — inherited the home and used it as a summer residence.

“They entertained quite frequently, and Belle added onto the home,” Preissler said, including the addition of a sweeping staircase so she could make a grand entrance at parties, as well as the magnificent Music Room to house her collection of antique musical instruments.

“Belle’s collection was well-known and contained a spinet reputedly owned by Marie Antoinette and a Stradivarius violin,” Preissler added. “It was donated to Yale University and resides there today.”

The home and grounds remained in the family until 1959, when Katharine Skinner Kilborne, the youngest child of William and Sarah Skinner, and her heirs donated Wistariahurst to the city of Holyoke for cultural and educational purposes.

It operated as a museum under the auspices of the Holyoke Public Library for many years, but today a private foundation called Historic Holyoke at Wistariahurst supports its programming, events, and communications.

Click HERE to download a PDF chart of area tourist attractions

“The annual operating cost is $200,000, and the city pays $170,000 of that amount, while the remainder comes from fund-raisers, membership programs, and donations,” Preissler said, adding that the facility has two full-time employees, three part-time employees, and a large, dedicated staff of volunteers.

Martorell said a lot goes on behind the scenes.

“We have a docent program, and the collections we house are an important part of Holyoke’s history. They include letters, photographs, records of businesses, the Skinner family’s collection of correspondence, and records for Skinner and Sons Manufacturing, as well as the Carlos Vega Collection of Latino History in Holyoke,” she told BusinessWest, adding that the Vega collection was established in 2012 and is significant because nearly 50% of Holyoke’s population is Latino.

The museum also houses a textile collection containing many Skinner silk and satin wedding gowns and period clothing, and the archives are used by the Five College community and local genealogists.

“We want to use the past to inspire residents and visitors and give them new perspectives on life,” Preissler said. “History doesn’t have to be boring. People understand it better when it is presented in a way that allows them to be active participants, and our goal is to have them leave feeling that they want to come back and experience more.”

To that end, a Pumpkin Glow was held in October. Teens from the city and professional artists carved faces and designs on a large number of pumpkins, which became an outdoor exhibit that was viewed by about 250 people.

“The pumpkins were lit in the gardens at dusk, and a lot of families and people who had never been here before came to see them,” Preissler said. “It’s the combination of activities that gives us our identity, and we try to provide opportunities for different interests. For example, we hold a historical lecture series as well as Family Fun Days.”

Concerts are staged inside and outside Wistariahurst on its beautiful grounds that have been restored over the past decade. “They provide a lot of green space that is open to the public at no charge from dawn to dusk,” Preissler continued. “The gardens were inspired by designs created by Sarah Skinner and the three acres contain a beautiful rose garden, an azalea garden, 53 types of trees, 43 types of hosta and our signature wisteria, which was planted in the 1880s and grows up the side of the house. People come here to read books or walk the grounds; families bring picnics and we have had kids playing tag in the roses. It’s a particularly magical place for children where they can run around, feel safe and have fun.”

Martorell said the museum also houses a gallery that exhibits works by local artists that change every two months. In 2016 the facility will host a landscape show staged by Holyoke Art League and a spring program titled ‘Nuestras Abuelas de Holyoke,’ which is Spanish and translates to “our grandmothers.”

It will include photos and oral histories of residents and will be put on by curator Waleska Santiago and invited guests, she noted. “There will also be an exhibit by students from Holyoke Community College and a Rotary collection that will put on display from our archives.”

Preissler noted that Wistariahurst wants to become known as a premiere cultural venue, so it strives to hire exceptional musicians and performances.

“We’re planning a curated music series for next year and have brought musicians here that have a distinct sound that is new and fresh in the area,” she said, adding that performers have included jazz musician Michael Sheridan, gypsy music from the Roma culture performed by The Bohemian Quarter, and banjo music played by Cynthia Sayer.

“We are supported by the community, so it’s important for our programs to improve the quality of life and involve things that people can enjoy and respond to,” she added.

Bright Future

Preissler said the programming at Wistariahurst has evolved in conjunction with events held at other historic homes and museums. “There is a realization that we need to have more participatory experiences where visitors are actively engaged,” she noted.

Next year a member of the board of directors, a grandson of Katherine Skinner and the last living descendant to live in Wistariahurst as a child, will give a number of guided tours. In addition, there will be plenty of fun-filled events to round out the agenda.

“We will continue work to engage our audiences in new ways,” Preissler continued.

Which is exactly what Belle Skinner did when she built rooms in Wistariahurst to house her collections and entertain guests in a grand style.

So, the tradition of transforming Wistariahurst to bring it into the present will continue long after the holiday season is over in a home resplendent with history that sits quietly right in the heart of Holyoke.

Sections Travel and Tourism

Plane Speaking

Janice Webb

Janice Webb says that the strong dollar, coupled with a desire among Baby Boomers to see the world, is the prevailing force when it comes to travel in 2016.

Janice Webb says three area couples put down their deposit for a trip to Paris for next April on the morning of Nov. 13, just hours before news of the terrorist attacks across the City of Light first broke on CNN.

Webb, owner of Emerald City Travel in Springfield, circled back with the group the next day to see if they had any questions or concerns — or intentions to change their travel plans.

They had some of the former, certainly, but none of the latter, she told BusinessWest, adding that the prevailing attitude was that, while the attacks that killed 130 people were alarming, they were not enough to prompt cancellation of a trip, which would continue with a river cruise to Amsterdam, that those involved have been looking forward to for most of their lives.

“They all e-mailed back and said, ‘let’s do this and hope for the best,’ and that appears to be the common sentiment,” said Webb, a 30-year industry veteran who noted that the various forms of turmoil in Europe are colliding head on with a potent package — a weak euro combined with a powerful desire among retiring Baby Boomers and others to get out and see the world, or at least the homes of their ancestors.

The latter is, by and large, the much stronger force at the moment.

“People want to travel, and they’re not going to let this stop them,” she said, using ‘this’ to describe the sum of the international and domestic turmoil. “They’re going to be more cautious, certainly, but they’re still going to travel.”

Paul O’Meara agreed. He’s the business development manager for the Globus family of travel brands, which includes Avalon Waterways, Cosmos, and Monograms. He told BusinessWest that, since 9/11, and even moreso in recent years, international travelers have adapted to what he called a “new norm.”

Roughly translated, this equates to expectations — for longer lines and tighter security at airports, armed soldiers at many popular tourist destinations in Europe, and, yes, possible incidents involving terrorism.

“People are more experienced now, they know what to expect, and they’re more aware of their safety and more aware of their surroundings,” he said, adding that such travelers would certainly take notice of the recent global travel alert issued by the U.S. State Department (in effect until February), but they would not be intimidated or frozen by it. “This is not 1985 or 1965; travelers are more sophisticated now, and they’ve adjusted to this new norm.”

As for the attacks in France’s capital city and their impact on travel there, he summed things up with a line he would utter more than a few times.

“Paris is Paris — there’s a reason why 30 million people go there every year,” he said, adding that his company books more visits to that city than any other except Rome. “We have about 500,000 people booked on various trips to Paris, and fewer than a dozen have cancelled.”

But an attitude of defiance when it comes to not letting terrorism get in the way of a long-planned, long-dreamed-about trip to Europe also extends to Berlin, London, Venice, Belgium (despite the fact that Brussels was locked down for several days last month), and, to a lesser extent, Istanbul, although some cruise lines and travel companies are changing some itineraries in Turkey.

“The knee-jerk reaction to what happened in Paris or in Brussels is that people aren’t going to travel there,” said O’Meara. “But that’s not what’s happening.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how recent events are spawning concern, but they’re not keeping travelers from reaching their destination — whatever that might be.

Cruise Control

As he talked about travel to Europe and why he doesn’t expect it to be seriously dented by the attacks in Paris and other terrorist actions in that part of the world, O’Meara started his explanation by detailing one of his company’s current offerings.

It’s a package known as ‘Italian Vista,’ and it features eight days with stops in cities like Rome, Florence, Milan, and Venice, and includes hotel stays, meals, and guided tours. The price this fall was an already-attractive $1,999, and for next year, it’s a jaw-dropping $1,449.

“That’s all due to the weak euro and the attractive exchange rates,” he told BusinessWest, adding that such sticker prices on trips across the continent help explain why bookings for 2016 are running roughly 13% ahead of the pace for last year, despite the attacks in Paris, the bomb that brought down a Russian airliner, the refugee crisis, and other forms of turmoil.

“This is the time to book, and people are doing it,” he said. “The prices are attractive, the dollar is strong … these are great opportunities, and people don’t want to miss out on them.”

the City of Light

The terrorist attacks in Paris were unnerving, but thus far, they do not appear to be a deterrent for those making plans to visit the City of Light.

That’s not to say that the terrorist attacks in Paris are not having an impact in that city or others. Indeed, the general manager of the Palace Hotel Park Hyatt Paris-Vendome and Park Hyatt’s vice president for France recently told The New York Times, “Naturally, occupancy is drastically decreasing in the wake of the attacks … we noticed a lot of cancellations right after the attacks for the following days and weeks, with the decrease more significant on bookings from the leisure traveler segment than the business one.”

But overall, O’Meara says travelers are simply pausing before traveling to Paris and other destinations, and the sentiment within the travel industry is that they won’t be pausing for long, unless there are more incidents.

Webb agreed. She said fall is the time when travel companies put out deals designed to fill cruise ships and hotels for the coming season, and thus far, travelers have not been shy about snapping them up.

“They offer these deals, which include airfare sales, percentage discounts, and past-passenger discounts, to get the product rolling,” she said, adding that these discounts are typical of what’s been offered the past several years. “And I’ve had a lot of people make reservations starting the first week in October; it’s been steady since, and it’s mostly European product.”

She said there are many factors at play when it comes to the ongoing surge in international travel — and travel in general. They include the strong dollar, which is now worth almost as much as a euro, when three years ago the rate was almost 1.4 dollars to the euro.

But there’s more to the equation. Bad winters, especially the one in 2015, have promoted many to conclude that, to endure such punishment, they need to break it up with a week or 10 days someplace warm, usually coinciding with February school vacation.

Adventure-packed destinations are still very much in vogue, which means Costa Rica is still hot, said Webb, adding quickly that many people young and old have already been there and done that, and now, most are just looking for a good deal and a good beach.

Then there are the aging Baby Boomers, many of them with disposable income, and others as well, who want to visit places they’ve heard about or the country their family calls home.

For many in this region, that means Italy or Ireland. “It seems like there’s lots of Irish and Italians in the Springfield area,” said Webb, who is booking lots of trips to both countries.

But there is still another factor in all this, she went on, noting that, overall, events like those that took place in Paris have only a temporary impact on travel — if other conditions are favorable, such as the economy — and usually not a deep impact.

An exception to that rule was 9/11, Webb added quickly, noting that the industry suffered greatly as business was frozen by uncertainty. But even then, there were groups and individuals who were undaunted and determined to seize opportunities.

“People were generally fearful at first,” she said of the days and weeks following 9/11. “But there’s one contingent of people who travel right away because they know the prices are going to be low, and they’re going to book the bargains. And then, a second contingent of people come right behind them, because they’re just tired of not doing what they want to do, and at that point, they perceive the risk to be worth taking to see what they want to see or live the way they want to live.”

Whether this pattern continues in the wake of this tumultuous fall remains to be seen, but all indications are that it will.

But while travelers will be undaunted, for the most part, they will also be more cautious, Webb predicted. She predicted that some may opt to travel with a group rather than visiting a city or region on their own, which is good for cruise-ship lines and tour operators.

Meanwhile, others may seek out destinations deemed to be safe, or at least safer.

“Sometimes a travel warning like this will push people to cruising,” Webb explained, “because if a port is deemed unsafe, the cruise line won’t go there; they’ll just substitute another port, and so people feel confident that, if the cruise lines go there, it’s a safe place to go.”

Not Tripped Up

Even within the confines of that ‘new norm’ O’Meara described, the terrorist attacks in Paris were certainly unsettling — for travelers and the travel industry.

Thus far, though, it appears that the package of attractive fares, a strong dollar, a desire among Boomers to see the world, and ‘Paris being Paris’ is creating opportunities well worth the sum of the risks involved.

Like those three local couples bound for Paris next spring, people are booking, and hoping for the best.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism

Fair Forecast

Big E Crowd

Since taking over as CEO of the Eastern States Exposition in 2012, Gene Cassidy has overseen record-setting attendance during the 17-day Big E fair and a robust series of year-round events that, together, generate nearly a half-billion dollars in economic impact. But that success is no fluke; it’s a result of year-round work and the ability to plan years down the road. That road will soon bring several challenges, from increased competition for dollars (notably from a Springfield casino) to a very worrisome highway reconstruction. But with a century of history behind it, the Big E seems poised for a promising future.

Gene Cassidy buys groceries just like everyone else, but he doesn’t look forward to it.

“I’ve said this before: There are very few places to work, places you can establish yourself as a professional, where your patrons look forward to supporting you,” said Cassidy, CEO of the Eastern States Exposition (ESE). “Don D’Amour [CEO of Big Y] is a good friend of mine, but, as much as I like Don, I hate grocery shopping. But people want to come to the fair. So we have to work 24/7/365 to make sure this stays relevant in people’s minds and they come to support us.”

That year-round effort — which is intensifying this month as the Big E, the ESE’s flagship, 17-day agricultural fair, prepares to open on Sept. 18 — has resulted in record-setting attendance figures every year since Cassidy, who has been with Eastern States since 1993, took the reins from Wayne McCary in 2012.

Gene Cassidy

Gene Cassidy says record-setting attendance for the past three fairs is a result of year-round planning.

“Obviously, our goal is to set records,” he said. “We want to create an event that people want to be a part of, and we really operate 365 days a year with that in mind. We want people to buy into the whole product that is the Eastern States Exposition.”

And they do, he continued. But it’s fun with a purpose.

“We’re geared toward families and geared toward fun, but we have a mission,” Cassidy told BusinessWest. “We are stewards of a nonprofit organization that’s charged with the promotion of agriculture and industry for the six New England states.”

Cassidy reveres the fair’s founder, Joshua L. Brooks, an industrialist so concerned that agriculture was losing ground in New England at the turn of the last century — with so much being produced out of the Midwest and South Central states — that he persuaded the National Dairy Show to move its annual event from Chicago to West Springfield in 1916, christening the new event the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition.

“That name was so cumbersome that, in 1923, Mr. Brooks shortened it to Eastern States Exposition,” Cassidy said. “But he was an industrialist; he wanted to make sure we pay attention to industry in our region, and that’s something that’s easily lost in translation to the average fair patron. Even residents of West Springfield may not associate Eastern States with industry, but we play a significant role in supporting educational endeavors to that end.”

As treasurer of the Regional Employment Board of Hampden County (REB), Cassidy has long been involved in efforts to meet the workforce needs of area industries by supporting education and training programs. “We need to make sure we have the resources to keep building a workforce for the future.”

He noted that trades aren’t taught in high schools like they were 25 years ago, having been replaced by an emphasis on preparing students for a liberal-arts education in college, and that shift has contributed to a skills gap area companies grapple with today.

From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder

From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder to anything that can possibly be deep-fried, the Big E offers food for every taste.From Maine lobster to Rhode Island chowder

“The machine-tool industry will need 44,000 more people in the next 10 years, and at the rate we’re educating these kids, we can only produce half that number,” he said. “We have to change the way we’re doing things today if we want to keep these core industries relevant in our economy. Otherwise, those companies will move somewhere else.”

The Big E has long played a role in raising awareness of industry in the region, but that has become an increasingly difficult task.

“We’ve struggled with that,” Cassidy said. “There was a time at the fair when there were more elements of industry; we had big trucks and combines, machine-tooling equipment on display. In this age, there are now trade shows that satisfy those specific markets, and they advertise on the Internet.”

Years ago, he explained, companies like Westinghouse and General Electric would introduce new products at the Big E, and Nash Motors would put brand-new models on display. “In this contemporary age, fairs don’t fill that need anymore; there are other means by which companies communicate with customers.”

To fill that gap, Cassidy and his team bring as many niche trade shows as possible to the fairgrounds throughout the year, but the Big E itself has had to evolve past its industry-centric roots. No worries, though — there’s still plenty on tap.

Farm System

Agriculture, for instance.

“The lion’s share of our revenue goes to supporting best practices in agriculture production,” Cassidy told BusinessWest, and it’s an effort that extends throughout the year.

“Because of the way agriculture has changed over the past 100 years, our reach goes way beyond New England,” he added. “Last week, we had a youth sheep show that attracted people from 20 states, including Michigan, Missouri, and Oklahoma.

“Our agriculture schedule takes place all year,” he went on. “Obviously, it’s very important for us, as it was to our founder. We play a material role in subsidizing the horse-show industry. Two of the oldest horse shows in the country are produced during our fair. It’s historically important — a part of our DNA.”

But Cassidy admitted that plenty of people attend the Big E for the wide array of food.

“We’re always searching for new food products, and that search goes on every day,” he said, noting that the recent food-truck festival held on the fairgrounds — which featured 41 trucks and attracted almost 30,000 attendees, double the expected turnout — reflects how important food offerings are to the success of the fair. “And nowadays, the food trailers have incredible technology; they can cook virtually anything.”

Still, he added, “it’s not easy to get into the Big E. We’re very, very concerned about people’s health. We work very closely with the town of West Springfield’s health inspector, and we also have an independent health inspector on our own payroll to make sure the food products are second to none,” he said, noting that, for example, all frying oil must be changed daily, where restaurants might reuse a batch for two or three days.

In a time when an incident can spread across social media with viral speed, the Big E takes its reputation seriously.

“Food safety is extremely important to all of us,” he added. “All you need is one person to get sick, and that’s the end of you. You’ve got to be diligent with refrigeration. It’s not inexpensive to be a food purveyor on the fairgrounds because we insist on high standards.”

The animal shows and competitions also feature much more behind the scenes than patrons realize, he added.

“We have very high ethical standards on our agricultural programming; in fact, the code of ethics at Eastern States has been copied by other agricultural entities across the country. If you’re competing at that level, people will drug their cattle, so we have to do a lot of animal testing. Just like with steroids in baseball, we make sure they’re not chemically tampered with.

“We take that stuff seriously,” he went on. “Just this week, the headlines in the agriculture industry were that all the people showing cattle at the Indiana State Fair last year were stripped of their ribbons after it was determined there was some drugging going on. We wouldn’t want our cattle show to be compromised. That’s our frontline reputation, same as if someone got sick with salmonella at a food stand.”

This year has brought another threat — breakouts of avian flu, which is lethal to poultry.

“The avian flu is a big issue for us. That’s why this is the first year in maybe 60 years we won’t have a chick hatchery,” Cassidy explained. “We just can’t take a chance of contributing to the spread. It doesn’t harm humans, but we don’t want to take any chance of spreading avain flu to other birds.

“People won’t like that,” he said regarding the hatchery closing. “They do look forward to it. But we’ll have an exhibit about poultry, educating people about avian flu.”

Music, Music, Music

Musical entertainment has been a staple of the Big E for generations. But every year, Cassidy noted, it has become more expensive to book top acts, so several years ago, the Big E started charging for a top musical act or two while charging fair attendees nothing for the rest.

The midway lined with carnival rides

The midway lined with carnival rides is typically a big hit with the younger set at the Big E.

“You have to budget for a profit so you can pay your bills, but you have to invest in your product so people can enjoy their experience. We give away a lot of entertainment, so that everyone can participate at no extra cost,” he said, noting that this year’s live concerts include Kansas, Ace Frehley, Bridgit Mendler, the Charlie Daniels Band, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Anita Ward, and about a dozen more, including a visit from DJ Paris Hilton, who, it turns out, enjoys spinning records when she’s not earning tens of millions annually in the fashion world.

“Now, as we speak, in the early weeks of August, we’re really focused on 2016,” Cassidy said, adding that John Juliano, the Big E’s long-time special-events director, is already working on securing entertainment contracts for next fall. “He’s constantly building his contact network so we’re able to attract good-quality talent. So much of our ability to promote ourselves is connected to these big names.”

He added that the Big E has a strong reputation in the entertainment industry for managing talent, which is critical. “We make it so these people have a great experience here, so we can attract the next batch. And we have to be really good at it, because we’re competing in a very difficult marketplace.”

It’s a constant battle, he went on. “Within three days of the fair closing down, John is in Nashville, meeting with talent agents, and the management team from Eastern States will be fully engaged, out at national conventions, looking for exhibitors and vendors. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot of work. You have to get 2016 booked up; if you don’t have everyone lined up by May 1, you’re in trouble.”

There’s plenty at stake when planning a successful fair, he noted. According to a report the ESE produced last year, the 17-day Big E, plus all the other events that take place on the fairgrounds each year — which feature exhibitions for animal lovers, car enthusiasts, gun owners, campers, and dozens of other groups — benefit the region with an annual economic impact of $479 million.

The tax revenues alone include $3 million in income tax, $1.4 million in sales tax, $427,000 in hotel tax, and $3.3 million in food and beverage tax. More significantly, events generate $299 million in gross regional product and account for 3,000 jobs in Hampden County that generate $91.9 million in personal income. The exposition’s impact on the rest of New England and New York include 2,000 jobs generating $134 million in personal income. In all, 2.5 million visitors stop by the fairgrounds each year, well over 1 million for the Big E alone.

“A lot of my time is dedicated to discovering more non-fair events, trying to draw people to the region year-round with trade shows and other stuff,” he said. “It’s a means by which to promote the region, get more people here to our hotels, drive people to our airports, and create a mechanism for commerce.”

Home Stretch

Of course, most of the staff’s attention is acutely tuned to the Big E — everything from the big picture to the smallest details.

“We’re making sure the fairgrounds are tuned up,” Cassidy said. “Everything has to be tested — door locks, fire suppression, make sure the drains are clear. We do a lot of maintenance during the year, but this is the time everything gets tested.

“If we didn’t start setting up the fair until very late, we’d have way too many people working way too many hours, and mistakes would happen,” he added. “So, right now, we’re a steam locomotive going downhill.”

That preparation mingles with a healthy dose of hope — mostly for favorable weather, as a weekend of steady rain can wreak havoc with revenues. But weather isn’t the only challenge. As Cassidy mentioned, the entertainment market has been crowded in recent decades by the two Connecticut casinos (and more to come in Massachusetts, including MGM Springfield right across the river in 2017), civic centers, and other venues.

showcase for local talent from schools and clubs

The annual fair also provides a showcase for local talent from schools and clubs.

“The addition of the [Springfield] casino is terrific in terms of a rising tide lifting all boats,” he told BusinessWest. “I’m looking forward to a time when we can help them with promotion and some talent, and maybe they would be interested in helping us as well. Working in unison, they can benefit from the traffic we drive to them, and people experiencing their facility for the first time may learn about the existence of the Eastern States Exposition.”

That casino might not open until 2018, however, thanks to a major highway reconstruction project that will shut down a portion of I-91 in downtown Springfield for more than two years.

“The highway job scares the hell out of me; it really, really does,” Cassidy said. “This could extend beyond two fairs, and it’s something we have very serious concerns about. Frankly, everyone in the region who is in business needs their awareness raised about this. Once it’s done, it will be a marvelous thing, a terrific improvement. But between now and then, it’s going to tax businesses — and the ability of facilities such as ours to attract people.”

But, when it comes to such challenges, he’s accustomed to planning ahead, because that’s how a century-old institution remains vital in the public’s mind.

“In a 100-year-old organization, I have to be thinking 25 years out,” he said. “This place has got to be as relevant in 2040 as it is in 2015. Mr. Brooks, when he conceived of this place, he was thinking way into the future.”

The fairgrounds have seen plenty of change; Cassidy recalled how the site was once an ice-hockey mecca before the rink was eliminated in 1992. And he showed BusinessWest detailed plans for how the Big E grounds might have been used for several Olympic events in 2024, including cycling and cross-country — plans that are now defunct, obviously, since Boston is no longer competing to host those Games. But the effort demonstrates how Eastern States Exposition leaders need to think outside the box to remain relevant in the next 100 years.

“We have a responsibility to families to maintain ourselves as a place that provides a family environment an outlet for socializing and learning about agriculture and industry, and I think those things won’t change; those are staples of American society,” he said. “There’s a sense of community at Eastern States, and fewer and fewer places have that sense.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism

Walk on the Wild Side

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth

Joan Lupa shows off a baby two-toed sloth, one of many exotic animals that have found a home at Lupa Zoo.

It’s early in the morning at Lupa Zoo.

And while visitors have yet to arrive, the creatures that live there are doing all they can to make their presence known.

Laughing kookaburras have been screeching since 4 a.m. to announce a new day, macaws are squawking loudly, monkeys chatter excitedly as they execute gracious leaps in their cages, and the braying of donkeys echoes throughout the entire 15-acre park.

But the sounds don’t penetrate into the community; although the sanctuary houses more than 300 species that include a giraffe, llamas, two camels, a menagerie of monkeys, a black leopard, a large reindeer, a zebra, arctic foxes, bears, and oddities such as capybaras (large rodents from South America), it’s a hidden treasure that cannot be seen or heard from the front gate on Nash Hill Road in Ludlow.

When visitors pass through the gate, they travel along a long driveway that leads to a spacious parking lot. The roadway is peppered with cages that house strutting ostriches and other animals, and when they leave their vehicles, guests enter an exotic world created by Henry Lupa and his wife Joan, who painstakingly carved out a habitat for animals in the deep woods behind their home with enclosures that mimic what each creature would find in its natural environment.

Joan glows as she talks about their venture into the unknown and its success, and is tearful when her late husband Henry is mentioned.

They were married for 48 years before his passing two years ago, and the zoo was a dream he nurtured for years before they brought it to reality in a way that exceeded their wildest imaginations. “Henry wanted to create a natural habitat for animals that would serve the community,” Joan recalled, as she spoke about her husband’s living legacy, adding that it’s a very good place for children as well as adults, who stroll along the shaded brick walkways and relax on benches as they watch the animals and learn about species from all over the world.

Her pride in and passion for the venture is evident as she talks about the school groups it hosts and the excitement the zoo generates in visitors, how her son brings some of the animals into inner-city schools and nursing homes to educate people and make them happy, and how the family does everything possible to keep entrance fees affordable so the zoo is accessible to everyone.

It’s no easy feat, because the annual operating costs for the privately owned operation are $400,000, which doesn’t include the cost of snowplowing and other services provided by the family’s company, N.L. Construction, which started out as Henry’s landscaping business and morphed into a larger entity, thanks to hard work by him and Joan, who always played a major role in the business.

That same company, which specializes in commercial projects, including schools, fire stations, and other municipal buildings, provided the bulk of the money needed to build the zoo and the funds needed to maintain it.

And although Joan refers to it as a “hobby,” much of the endless labor required to keep the zoo open is donated by family members who don’t earn a salary. They include Joan; the couple’s son Wally, who is a veterinary assistant; his wife Ewa, who does the bookkeeping; and Joan’s two grandsons.

“Our son Stanley is the only family member who gets paid,” Joan said, explaining that he’s in charge of educational programs and oversees personnel, which include a zookeeper and two staff members. “But everything else is accomplished by a great staff of volunteers, an annual fund-raiser, and grants, which have made a significant difference.”

The business community also plays a small role in the upkeep: some companies sponsor an animal, while others send volunteers to do much-needed work.

“Last year, 30 volunteers from Keller Williams Realty painted the cages, benches, tables, and entranceway and did a fabulous job,” said Joan. “And this year, volunteers from Big Y in Ludlow helped us plant flowers in all of our gardens; it was a huge help.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at how Henry Lupa’s dream became reality, and how his family continues to keep that dream alive.

Near and Deer

Joan and Henry grew up on small farms in Poland that were self-sustaining. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1964, married a year later, purchased a 32-acre parcel in Ludlow in 1976, then bought their house and an additional three acres when the adjacent parcel became available, then added 13 more adjoining acres in 1991.

They had grown up with animals, and by the ’70s, Henry was raising pheasants and miniature horses.

“They were our pets, and he did it for our family’s enjoyment,” Joan said, noting that, by the ’90s, the neighborhood children and their sons’ friends made a habit of visiting frequently to see their small menagerie.

After Henry emigrated, he started a landscaping company, which he grew into the highly successful N.L. Construction business, in which Joan played an active role. They were very busy with their business, home, and family, so she was shocked one day when he told her he wanted to open a zoo.

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa

Lupa Zoo’s giraffe enjoys some branches fed to him by Joan Lupa, who stands on a high platform built so guests can enjoy the experience.

“I thought he was off the wall,” Joan recalled. But she agreed to try it, since the initial application was inexpensive, and before they knew it, they were deep into the complex licensing and permitting process. “It was a challenge to put everything together, but we wanted to serve the community, and in 1996 we received a license from the Mass. Wildlife and Fisheries Department and the United States Department of Agriculture, and starting buying exotic animals. The rest is history.”

It’s a storied history well worth recounting, as the couple turned an idea that seemed … well, nearly impossible, at least to Joan, into a reality that grew beyond anything they envisioned. “You start something, and when you come to the point where it is well-received by the community, you just can’t stop and go back. You have keep going,” Joan said. So, although the construction company continued to thrive, after Henry retired due to health issues, he devoted himself entirely to the zoo, and Joan continues to work there year-round.

But talking about the past takes away from the excitement of the zoo, so she jumps up, eager to show off its occupants.

Her first stop is inside one of their two heated barns, which are backed up by generators and used to house many of the animals during the winter. She heads straight for her newest favorites, twin baby two-toed sloths.

“I’m going to take the female out; the male tends to bite,” she said as she reached inside and removed a baby who stuck its head out, then buried it in the towel she held beneath it.

A short distance away, she stopped at a cage containing squirrel monkeys which leapt from bar to bar to get close to her as she called out to them. “They think I’m going to give them a banana,” she laughed, explaining that this is something she does in the evening. “They recognize me, but it’s all about the food.”

Joan told BusinessWest that visitors are allowed to feed the hoof stock with compressed hay and grain they buy on the premises and place in tubes, but no one is allowed to have direct contact with any of the animals. However, an exception is made for their most famous resident — a 20-foot-tall giraffe they’ve owned for 15 years.

A special staircase was created so patrons can climb to see its face and feed it carrots and branches from nearby trees, and it takes his time and chews slowly as Joan offers it a handful of food.

Paws for Effect

After leaving the giraffe’s enclosure, she pointed out other animals, providing details about their personalities.

She knows them all, and even though the zoo houses many endangered species, every creature in it was carefully chosen. “You have to study where it comes from to figure out the kind of environment it will need and the size of its cage; we do whatever we can to make our animals comfortable, and we do it for all the right reasons,” Joan explained, adding that their exhibits mimic the species’ natural environments.

Since the ability to hide is important to the health and well-being of many of the creatures, sometimes visitors have to take time to look closely to discover where they are.

The zoo’s newest additions are a pair of Asian river otters. “We got them this spring, and they’re very, very playful,” Joan said as she stood near their enclosure and watched them roll over and over near a fast-moving water slide.

She told BusinessWest that the upkeep of the zoo and maintenance of the facility is never-ending. But the work the family has done and continues to do is a labor of love and has less to do with meeting government regulations than ensuring that the animals and patrons are happy.

But she admits it’s not easy to comply with the USDA codes required for different animals, and they are closely monitored. “We’re also inspected several times each year by the Board of Health; they keep an eye on all exhibitors,” Joan said. “We’re doing a very good job, but the government wants to be sure that animals are taken care of according to their needs.”

As she walked, she added that the cost of building the zoo was mitigated in part by the fact that the family’s construction company used recycled materials it obtained when it demolished old structures to build it. Joan pointed them out during the tour; they ranged from bricks used to create the walkways to large boulders inside cages, to a railing taken from the grounds of a school in the Berkshires.

“We used all of our resources, and instead of throwing away lumber, we recycled it; most of the fencing comes from job sites, and a lot of it was donated by local contractors,” she noted.

Many of the extras in the zoo are paid for by grants, such as the signs outside each cage that contain the name of the animal inside, a map showing its natural habitat, and printed information about its lifestyle and habits.

“We bought them with a grant we received seven years ago from the Community Foundation,” Joan explained. “They’ve had to be replaced since then, but they are important so children can identify each animal and where it comes from by looking at its name, a picture of it, and the map.”

State grants distributed between the Commonwealth’s three zoos also help; last year Lupa Zoo received $60,000, and this year it was given $46,000.

“We really hope Governor Baker doesn’t cut these funds because they help us keep the admission price low. It’s only $6 for each child in a school group as well as their chaperones, and we do everything in our power to keep it affordable because many of the students who come here are from low-income families,” she noted.

Living Legacy

Joan and her family are happy the zoo has flourished and hope it will serve the community for generations to come. It contains a playground that was added six years ago and is bordered by a beautiful raised garden; an area with fiberglass animals that children can sit on and have their photos taken; and also a concession stand, gift shop, educational center, and two large pavilions with picnic benches where people can relax and enjoy a snack in the shade.

There is also a replica of a blacksmith’s shop because Henry’s father was a blacksmith in Poland, and a small area with a miniature merry-go-round and other pint-sized rides.

But the main attraction is the animals, which is exactly what Henry hoped for, and the entire zoo is a living legacy that continues to grow.

The success of the endeavor has been astonishing, especially to Joan.

“In my wildest dreams, I never thought this would become such a popular place. The initial permitting process was difficult, but it you are determined to do something and have a good intention, you can get it done,” she said. “Henry’s dream is a reality, and we will do our best to keep it going as the patrons who come here really enjoy it.

“The chores will always be there,” she added, “but we made the right choice, and we hope the zoo will be here for many, many years to come.”

Sections Travel and Tourism
Seuss Museum Expected to Provide Boost for Quadrangle, City


Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Top: an artist’s rendering of one of the scenes to unfold on the first floor of the planned Dr. Seuss museum, set to open in June 2016. Above: kids visit Ted Geisel’s statue in the outdoor sculpture garden.

Holly Smith-Bove says that, over the years, the bulk of the phone calls and inquiries from visitors to the Springfield Museums — maybe 80% of them by her estimate — have concerned the “Dr. Seuss Museum,” even though there isn’t one.

There is a sculpture garden featuring Seuss characters, as well as the author himself, on the museum grounds, which helps explain all those inquiries, she said. Still, many assume there is a museum attached to that hugely popular attraction. Meanwhile, there’s also an image of the Cat in the Hat on the museums’ logo, creating additional expectations.

But another huge factor is simply the strong international pull of Theodor Seuss Geisel, the most famous children’s author of all time — an estimated 600 million copies of his various works have been sold in 95 countries around the world — and knowledge of his many connections to Springfield, his birthplace, said Smith-Bove, president of Springfield Museums. And thus it is with a good deal of relief — and anticipation — that such questions will now be given a different answer.

Specifically, that the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum will open its doors in June 2016 in the William Pynchon Memorial Building, which once housed the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum.

The new facility will be highly interactive and have a strong literacy component, said Kay Simpson, vice president of Springfield Museums, who spearheaded the Seuss museum project.

She told BusinessWest that the first floor of the Seuss museum, some 3,200 square feet of exhibition space, will house “The Amazing World of Dr. Seuss,” a permanent, bilingual exhibit deigned to introduce children and their families to the stories of Geisel, promote joy in reading, and nurture specific literacy skills.

“The exhibit is really focused on Ted Geisel growing up in downtown Springfield, and how the sights that he saw and some of the characters he encountered later appeared in his books,” said Simpson, noting that there are many connections, including Mulberry Street, just a few blocks from the Quadrangle, which was the focus of his first book, And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.

The second floor, meanwhile, which is due to open roughly a year later and is what Simpson called a “work in progress,” will house additional exhibits, including a planned re-creation of Geisel’s studio, an exhibition about the making of the sculpture garden, and other related displays.

“We’re calling it ‘Ted’s Room,’” said Smith-Bove. “It might include his writing desk — setting up his studio as if he just left it.”

The new museum is expected to generate perhaps a 25% boost in overall visitorship to the Quadrangle (currently about 400,000 annually), said Smith-Bove, adding that the attraction has strong potential to bring a number of economic benefits to the City of Homes, especially if the museum concept can be built upon in ways to include other city landmarks.

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson

Holly Smith-Bove, left, and Kay Simpson say the new Dr. Seuss museum will bring many benefits, including a boost in sales of Seuss items in the gift shop.

Indeed, museum officials are already pondering such possibilities as Seuss walking or driving tours that could possibly include his childhood home on Fairfield Street (currently on the market), his alma mater, Classical High School, the site of his maternal grandparents’ bakery on Howard Street, and other sites.

They also envision packaging a Seuss experience with other facilities honoring artistic and literary figures, such as the Mark Twain Museum in Hartford, the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst, and others.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at plans for the Seuss museum and talks with those involved about how it might prompt visitors to explore not only the worlds Geisel created, but the city that inspired so much of what he drew.

Rhyme and Reason

Simpson told BusinessWest that discussions concerning a Seuss museum began in 2002, not long after the Dr. Seuss National Memorial Sculpture Garden opened, and it became immediately apparent just how powerful a draw the children’s author and his famous characters were.

“It was a huge attraction the day it opened to the public, and it still is today,” said Simpson, noting that, because people don’t have to purchase admission to visit the garden, it is hard to keep an accurate account of visitorship, but she estimates at least 100,000 people a year.

From a qualitative standpoint, she said the sculpture garden has been a hit with people of all ages, and it has attracted cars bearing the license plates of nearly 50 states.

“When the kids come onto the Quad, the minute they see the sculptures, they immediately run toward them — it’s very meaningful for people,” Simpson noted, adding that, while it is mostly a spring and summer phenomenon, weather doesn’t stop many of the faithful.

“I’ve gone out onto the Quad even during the chilly autumn,” she noted, “and you’ll see someone in the middle of a rainstorm with an umbrella just reading the text from the sculpture that represents Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”

And many of those visitors, as Smith-Bove noted, want to know where the Seuss museum is.

While there has long been a desire to create one and meet that recognized need, Simpson explained, many pieces had to fall in place for such a facility to become reality.

Such pieces included physical space, a problem that was solved when the various collections in the Pynchon building were moved to the new Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History in 2009, freeing up that square footage. Another was gaining the blessing of Geisel’s widow, Audrey, and Dr. Seuss Enterprises, an organization that zealously promotes and protects the Seuss name and brand, while still another was funding.

In many respects, Simpson said, those challenges were woven together.

“We had a conceptual plan for the first floor of the Pynchon building, which had received approval from Dr. Seuss Enterprises, but they had a condition,” she explained. “And the condition was that we had to raise all the money that we needed to execute that conceptual plan before we started any construction or fabrication.

“It’s been like a patchwork quilt,” added Simpson of the efforts to create the museum, adding that a key stitch came from a $1 million appropriation from the state, which, when added to roughly $600,000 and other donations, including a $150,000 gift from the Institute of Library Services, gave the Museums more than the $1.5 million needed to greenlight the project and begin work.

Following an extensive RFP process that yielded responses from firms across the country, the Springfield Museums contracted with a design group comprised of 42 Design Fab, based in Indian Orchard, and 5 WITS Productions and Boston Productions Inc., both based in Norwood, to create the interactive elements for the first floor.

The new Seuss museum

The new Seuss museum will focus on the many connections between the author and Springfield, including early vehicles produced in the city.

Visitors will enter the exhibition through a large entry hall designed to simulate elements of And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street. In succeeding galleries, they’ll explore a series of environments that replicate scenes from Geisel’s imagination and encounter life-sized, three-dimensional characters and places from the books.

Character Witnesses

Overall, what’s planned for the two floors of the Pynchon Building, a Georgian Colonial Revival style structure, is a celebration of the author, his works, and his many connections to Springfield, said Simpson and Smith-Bove, adding that childhood literacy will be an important component of the facility.

That’s because one of Geisel’s primary motivations for his many children’s books was to get young people excited about reading, said Simpson.

Indeed, starting with The Cat in the Hat, published in 1957, he launched what became known as the I Can Read It All By Myself Beginner Book Series, which would also include The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish, Green Eggs and Ham, Hop on Pop, and many others.

“We’re going to be a resource for the community in terms of emphasizing reading and the importance of reading,” she said of the new museum. “And our exhibits will have literacy built into them.

“For example, the interactive displays will teach kids how to rhyme and have really fun rhyming games,” she went on. “They will teach letters of the alphabet, and they provide places where families can read together — little reading nooks. There will be a focus on vocabulary with a ‘word wall.’”

As for Springfield connections, there are many, said Simpson, noting that, while the author never lived in the city following a brief return after doing graduate work at Oxford, his birthplace was always important to him, and many of its landmarks, as well as the inventions and products with which the city is most identified, can be seen in his works.

It’s all explained in a number of informational panels on the author now on display in the history museum.

One cites the stunning resemblance between the towers in the armory building on Howard Street (set to become part of the MGM casino complex) that sat across the street from his maternal grandparents’ German bakery, and a tower in The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.

Another panel speculates on how the Knox automobiles and Indian motorcycles manufactured in the city early in the 20th century may have influenced vehicles presented in his books, while another cites how his paternal grandfather’s brewery, the Kalmbach & Geisel Brewery, may have inspired some of his drawings. And still another informs readers of how the animals in the Forest Park Zoo — which Geisel’s father served as superintendent after Prohibition torpedoed the family brewery — inspired the many creatures in his books.

“Ted grew up on Fairfield Street, which was not far from Forest Park; he used to go over to the park as a boy, and he always had his sketchbook with him,” said Simpson. “He would go to the zoo, and he would draw all those animals — he would spend hours doing that — and it’s believed that seeing all those animals inspired him to create all those crazy creatures you see in his books.”

These myriad connections help explain why the Seuss family and Dr. Seuss Enterprises determined that, if there was to be a museum devoted to the children’s author, it should be in Springfield, said Smith-Bove, adding that it will be the only facility of its kind dedicated to his life and work in the world.

And while it will be launched in the Pychon building, there are expectations that it may be expanded down the road, said Smith-Bove, adding that, in the meantime, the other facilities in the Springfield Museums could be utilized to provide a broader Seuss experience.

“We have five museums on our campus that can hold thousands of people,” she explained. “It’s up to us to make sure that we program each of the other buildings. In the art museum, we can have Seuss’s artwork; in the history, we can talk about his life; for the science museum, there’s the Lorax … there are many possibilities.”

These extend well beyond the Quadrangle itself, said Simpson, adding that Springfield Museums and city officials should work together to use those connections between Geisel and his hometown to bring more attention — and visitors — to the museums and the city as a whole.

“Ted really knew downtown Springfield — he went to Classical, he used the main branch of the city library [on State Street], and some of his books actually to refer to what was then called the municipal auditorium, Symphony Hall,” she explained. “So we were thinking that we could do a walking tour, which goes to the idea of cultural tourism.

“We’d be making connections between the museums and other sites in downtown Springfield,” she went on, “and would really get tourists walking around the city.”

When asked about the projected impact on the Quadrangle from the new museum, Smith-Bove and Simpson again flashed back to when the sculpture garden opened. The first few years it was open, it was a huge draw, they said, adding that visitorship to the museums grew by roughly 25% over that time.

A similar increase is expected from the new facility, along with a corresponding increase in the museums’ overall economic impact on the city, currently pegged at roughly $28 million.

And for the Springfield Museums themselves, in addition to the surge in visitorship, there is an expected trickle-down to facilities like the gift shop, where sales of Seuss-related items — from books to Cat in the Hat hats to plush toys — account for more than 25% of total revenues.

Chapter and Verse

The health and vitality of both the Seuss name and brand is evidenced by the coverage given the news of the planned Seuss museum, said Matt Longhi, the museums’ director of marketing and public relations, who tracks such things.

He said stories or notes have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Daily News, Time, Entertainment Weekly, and even the South African Art Times and Al Jazeera’s New York bureau.

More significant than the press is the manner in which the Seuss brand continues to grow — in scope and also in terms of revenue, said Simpson, adding that the Seuss name, and the books, have enormous staying power.

“Other book series just seem to fade out over time,” she explained. “But he just keeps getting more popular.”

In addition to staying power, it is expected that the celebrated author will have drawing power — in a figurative sense — which will bode well for the museums at the Quadrangle, the city itself, and all those who want to celebrate the life of Springfield’s most famous resident.

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

Sections Travel and Tourism
Berkshire East Positions Itself as Outdoor Adventure Center

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster

Berkshire East’s new mountain coaster opened last October and has earned the distinction of being the longest alpine mountain coaster in North America.

In the fall of 1976, Roy Schaefer drove his family from Michigan to Charlemont to look at Thunder Mountain Ski Resort, which was about to go bankrupt.

Although it was failing, Schaefer was optimistic that he could bring it back to life, and he and a partner purchased it from Greenfield Savings Bank for $1, plus a debt of several hundred thousand dollars.

Schaefer renamed the resort Berkshire East, and although his hard work and dedication paid off, he dedicated only the fall and winter months to the operation.

“My father and his partner operated a ferryboat company in the summer on Mackinaw Island in Michigan, and when the ski area ended, all of their energy shifted there,” said Roy’s son, Jonathan Schafer, who co-owns Berkshire East Mountain Resort with his family.

However, Roy and his partner kept the area alive, and it became a place where generations of families learned to ski. But, because it was a seasonal operation dependent on weather, he battled Mother Nature for decades. However, his commitment and belief that outdoor recreation is a sustainable model for economic growth not only helped area businesses and provided seasonal employment, but was passed on to his four children.

Today, the resort is undergoing a $5 million transformation and is ushering in a bevy of recreational activities designed to transform it into a year-round destination that offers not only alpine skiing, but snow tubing, ziplining, mountain biking, whitewater rafting, and the opportunity to ride North America’s longest mountain coaster.

The family also added overnight accommodations to the resort last September by purchasing the nearby, 530-acre Warfield House Inn and Farm, a bed and breakfast located just over a mile from Berkshire East that operates as a working farm complete with llamas, cattle, chickens, and gardens.

Jonathan has worked alongside his father for years, and says he and his brothers developed their own vision for expanding the family ski resort into a year-round retreat years ago.

“We were all ski racers who traveled the world, and due to our racing, we got to see a lot of things: bungee jumping in New Zealand, mountain biking, and other amazing activities,” he said. “We knew that we wanted to bring them to Charlemont and also realized that the Berkshires compare to any mountain range anywhere.

“We never had a written master plan, but we knew where we wanted to go with the resort due to our shared experience,” he went on, “and our goal now is to become the number-one family, four-season resort in Southern New England.”

The vision morphed into reality in 2008, when Jonathan’s brother, James, who lives in New York City, bought out his father’s business partner in Michigan.

Change began almost immediately, and in 2009, Berkshire East installed its first new recreational venue, Zipline Canopy Tours, that would change its status from a winter resort into one that offered year-round activities.

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest looks at the many changes and additions at Berkshire East, and how the resort is now at the top of its game — in more ways than one.

Reaching New Heights

The expanded venue has been a success, and people can choose three different zipline options that begin with a ride up the mountain on a chair lift that offers panoramic views of the Deerfield Valley. The descent is exciting, moving from platform to platform through mountainous terrain, and Zipline Canopy Tours was named by USA Today as one of the top 10 ziplines in the nation.

“The tours are guided and were built to fit in with the landscape. It’s a great adventure that lasts two to two and a half hours,” Jonathan said.

The Schaefer family has always strived to be in tune with nature, and in 2011 they installed a wind turbine, followed by a 10-acre solar field in 2012.

“We were the first ski area to produce all of our own electricity, and we remain the only ski area in the world to produce renewable energy on site,” Jonathan told BusinessWest.

Berkshire Whitewater

Berkshire Whitewater will begin offering rafting trips in May, with a variety of excursions designed for people of different ages and abilities.

The wind turbine powers the pumps that transform water into snow, and from 2009 to 2013, Berkshire East made dramatic upgrades to its snowmaking operation. “We also added a mountaintop pond, which allowed us to double our snow guns and open earlier each season,” Jonathan said, adding that the resort contains 160 skiable acres. “We opened the last weekend in November, and this year is our longest season ever.”

Another new attraction has increased business and added to the operation’s year-round status. It’s a 5,400-foot, all-season mountain coaster that opened last October on Columbus Day weekend.

“It was built as a diversification against the weather; ski weekends can be wiped out due to cold and snow, so we needed a way to drive business and give people a great experience,” said Jonathan. “The things we have done allow us to be open 365 days a year, and we built a 12,000-square-foot addition onto our lodge last year. It’s beautiful, as it’s made from hand cut timber.”

He noted that the lodge has two floors, two restaurants, and a bar, and has been a tremendous boost to the property. “Many couples book their weddings here, and now their guests will be able to enjoy the activities we offer year-round.”

The mountain coaster is one of them, and it’s a noteworthy attraction. “It is the longest mountain coaster in the nation and the third-longest in the world. It’s powered by our wind turbine and solar panels, and is an inviting way for people to enjoy the outdoors, as there are no fitness or skill requirements,” Jonathan said.

The coaster’s construction proved to be an extraordinary engineering feat, because each section had to be designed to adapt to the contour of the mountain with minimal impact to the landscape. The sections were installed in 10-foot lengths, and each car is towed up the mountain by a stainless-steel cable and strategically released when it reaches the top.

“Each car is independent of the others and has its own braking system, which allows people to slow down or speed up by pulling on the handles,” Jonathan said. “However, if one car gets within 80 feet of another going down the mountain, the brakes automatically stop it.

“The track twists and turns down a mountainside of cliffs and trees, so it’s a wild ride on a dynamic hillside,” he added. “Anticipation builds in riders who are going up, as they can see others coming down because the course crosses uphill four times.”

The new attraction has attracted coaster enthusiasts from across the nation, and groups have already booked trips there this summer.

Growing Venues

Berkshire East enjoyed a cooperative partnership with Moxie Outdoor Adventures for years, and recently acquired its Deerfield River rafting operation. It has been renamed Berkshire Whitewater, and although it kept most of Moxie’s river guides, Berkshire East purchased 10 new rafts designed exclusively for the river, along with other state-of-the art equipment.

“We have 60 spots on the river, plan to open in May, and will continue the rafting trips until it gets too cold to run them in the fall,” said Jonathan. “We can’t add 1,000 vertical feet to the ski area, so we are adding world-class activities to show off what a beautiful spot we have here.”

Trips will be available five days a week and will begin when the hydroelectric Bear Swamp Generating Station releases water, which is done on a regular, scheduled basis. Since it stores approximately 1.7 billion gallons of water almost 800 feet above the river, when it is released, it turns the river into an ideal spot for rafters, kayakers, and downriver canoeists.

A variety of adventures along different sections of the river are planned for different age groups and abilities, but all rafters will receive a 20-minute safety lecture before they leave. A picnic lunch is provided for people who opt for one of the easier excursions, while another, more advanced course ends with a barbecue.

Each trip lasts four or five hours, and there are options to satisfy everyone, including a leisurely, half-day float trip that families with children ages 5 and up can enjoy.

“They float along in a whitewater raft, and there are places for them to get out, splash around, and swim,” Jonathan noted.

In addition, guided kayaking trips will be offered daily, and children ages 5 and up can accompany an adult in a boat on the four-hour adventures.

Since some people have already rafted on the Deerfield River, Jonathan said, Berkshire Whitewater is offering trips on the Millers River, east of Greenfield, and the West River in Jamaica, Vermont. “But they all start here, and people are taken to those sites in vans,” he told BusinessWest.

skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East

Despite the resort’s all-season changes, skiing remains a major part of Berkshire East’s roster of offerings.

The Schaefer family is also building a new mountain-biking park and commissioned a group from Whistler Mountain, whose track record includes building the largest and most dynamic bike trail in the world, to construct 10 miles of trails down the mountain. “We plan to open the park in early July and will have a major focus on beginners, with a learn-to-ride program,” Jonathan said.

Meanwhile, because the Schaefers know that many people want to enjoy their resort for more than a day, the purchase of the mountaintop complex that contains the Warfield House Inn will allow them to offer overnight lodging.

“It was a logical move because there was no housing at the ski area and this was a beautiful facility that needed new life. We thought it would be a great complement to our business,” he said.

The bed and breakfast, which was recently renovated, contains a meeting facility, restaurant, and pavilion with mountaintop views. “It’s a gorgeous place to get married,” Jonathan said, adding that the farm is also known for its maple-sugaring operation, producing about 1,000 gallons of the sweet treat each year.

Endless Possibilities

Over the past few years, Berkshire East also installed a new Sky Trac Quad chair lift, with the help of a helicopter and an army of loyal employees, that can deliver 2,400 people an hour to the top of the mountain to ski, mountain bike, hike, and enjoy other outdoor activities.

“For many years, we were just a ski area, and we have continued to expand the skiing and offer a lot of learn-to-ski programs for children,” Jonathan said. “But it’s a sport that takes skill. There is a learning curve, and it requires equipment, so we wanted to add other year-round activities that would give families the experience of a lifetime.”

He added that his brother Bill, who lives in Iowa, is part-owner of the whitewater-rafting business and has purchased rental properties in the area; his brother Tom, who lives in California, has also purchased rental properties; and he, his brother James, and their father run the day-to-day operation of the resort and remain committed to providing healthy, recreational outdoor activities.

Today, the family is excited about the expansion, and their goal is for Berkshire East to become known as “New England’s Outdoor Adventure Center,” Jonathan said.

“We think it is possible,” he noted, “because we have added attractions that will drive business and give people a great experience here 365 days a year.”

Features Sections Travel and Tourism

Clark Art Institute Reopens After Major Renovation

The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown celebrated the grand reopening of its 140-acre campus on July 4. It has been transformed by a $145 million renovation designed to give visitors a more coherent and expanded view of art and nature.

“It’s a whole new Clark; we have recast the public profile of the institution,” said Thomas Loughman, associate director for programs and planning. “We have maintained the beautiful, intimate experience we are known for, but created a better way to experience it so visitors can connect with the great pinnacle of human creation, which is art.”

Reflecting pools greet visitors to the Clark.

Reflecting pools greet visitors to the Clark.

The changes, which include new architecture and the newly built Clark Center, the main entryway into the campus, are breathtaking and have attracted rave reviews. The building was designed by Pulitzer Prize-winning architect Tadeo Ando to direct people’s views as they enter through walls of glass and three-tiered reflecting pools outside, where trees and hillsides are mirrored in water that comes right to the edge of the glass. In addition to their aesthetic value, the pools are advanced water-management systems that will reduce the Clark’s potable water use by 1 million gallons a year.

“Ando is truly dedicated to the idea that great architecture needs to be in harmony with the landscape, and the reason the Clark Center has so much glass is because it was meant to bring the outside in,” Loughman said.

“The glass was installed to create a connection, historically and visually, with views to the left and right,” he continued, as he sat in a room backed by glass that looked out onto another pool of water. “The materials used in this building frame one’s view of the landscape, whether it is man-made and orderly or partially wild, with gradations in between.”

New ways to circulate between the buildings have also been created, which include a bridge outside and a hallway between the Clark Center and the museum. It has glass on one side, which changes as people travel along it, redirecting their view from a lily pond on the left to the reflecting pools on the right. Exhibit space has also been increased within the museum building itself, which had been closed for three years before the grand reopening last month.

Sally Majewski, manager of public relations and marketing, said reaction to the transformation has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had an incredible response to what has been done, which has been very gratifying.”

She added that, when the museum building closed for the renovation, 75 French paintings from the Clark’s collection were sent on a three-year international tour in 11 cities. “They returned just in time to be reinstalled before we reopened,” Majewski told BusinessWest, noting that the international tour drew more than 2.6 million visitors.

In addition to the Clark Center and renovated museum building, other changes have been made, and the entire campus has become so inviting that locals can be seen walking their dogs along miles of pathways in the verdant landscape and pausing to sit beside the reflecting pools, while people from all over the world view art, study, and conduct research inside the buildings.

Ambitious Plan

Loughman said the expansion plans were first conceived in the late ’90s, when it became clear that the facilities at the Clark were too limited for their program, but they had ample room to grow.

Thomas Loughman says the design of the Clark and its surroundings help visitors make the connection between the beauty of nature and art.

Thomas Loughman says the design of the Clark and its surroundings help visitors make the connection between the beauty of nature and art.

“The population of the town is only 5,000, but we have a very big impact on the region and on the global mission of portraying the history of art,” he said. “The fellows who do research here come from all over the world, and we have exchange relationships with museums around the world in terms of lending and borrowing. And although we had 140 acres, we were hunkered down in two old buildings. So we commissioned Cooper Robertson and Partners in New York City to create a master plan. They told us we needed to change the circulation of the campus, which included moving the parking to one spot, and responsibly crossing two brooks via a bridge to allow access to the rest of the campus.”

In 2002, an architectural competition was launched, and Ando was chosen to design two new buildings. The first — the 42,600-square-foot Clark Center — includes more than 11,000 square feet of gallery space for special exhibitions, a multi-purpose pavilion for events, a dining area, a museum store, family spaces, and an all-glass museum pavilion that creates a new entrance to the original museum building.

The second new structure is the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, which houses smaller exhibits and contains a new art classroom, a seasonal café on a terrace that offers a sweeping view of the landscape, and the Williamstown Art Conservation Center’s facilities.

Phase 1 was completed in 2008 and included the Lunder Center, a new bridge, and a free shuttle service provided between that building and the main campus. Phase 2 involved the construction of the Clark Center with its reflecting pools, site work to the parking lot, and renovations to the museum building and Manton Research Center.

Consideration was also given to the environment, and the terraced reflecting pools that cover an acre were part of Ando’s master plan. They unite the museum’s campus by providing a peaceful view from inside and outside of Stone Hill Meadow, Christmas Brook, and its wetlands.

But they are functional as well and have helped position the Clark at the forefront of the museum world as a leader in sustainability and energy conservation.

Loughman said all the rainwater from the roofs and terraces is channeled into the pools and used to flush the toilets. “It’s a huge advance to have our stormwater-management system and gray-water system tied together in a sustainable fashion,” he told BusinessWest, as he gazed at the sheet of water, which is about 12 inches deep and has a bottom composed of Berkshire river rock and fieldstone.

Funding for the project came entirely from donations, with the exception of $1 million from the Massachusetts Cultural Facilities Fund, and financial vehicles were created to keep it moving forward. “People care deeply about our mission, which is to bridge the distance that separates the general public from what is happening in art history,” Loughman said. “We try to connect our guests with ideas and objects, and our new facilities let us do this better.”

Unification Efforts

Each of the four buildings on the campus has a distinct character. “The museum, which was built in the ’50s, is clad in white marble and looks like a Greek temple or mausoleum, while the Manton Research Center, designed in the ’60s, is clad in purple granite and built in New Brutalist style,” said Loughman, pointing out some of the differences.

But today, thanks to Tadeo Ando Architect and Associates, Selldorf Architects, and Reed Hilderbrand and Gensler, materials used in the Clark Center mirror those used in the museum and Manton Center.
The museum’s interior has also undergone change. The building gained 15% more exhibit space, which equates to about 2,200 square feet. That was made possible by moving the loading docks, mailroom, and other service spaces. “It allows us to put a substantially greater number of works on view, many of which were held in storage,” Loughman said.

New lighting and environmental controls were also installed, and three small galleries were created to showcase silver and porcelain as guests move west to east throughout the building. “In the past, we had very primitive displays, but the new cases give us so much more space,” he continued. “There is also a purpose-built gallery for American paintings in the former mailroom that allows us to show off our great collection of Winslow Homer and George Inness. We originally had two of Inness’ works in our collection, but two years ago, we were given eight more of them. Now, we have a place to display them.”

Other changes made to the museum building included raising and reconfiguring the height of the academic gallery to mirror the Impressionist artwork on display there. In addition, new walls were erected to create small showcases within the larger gallery, and the color in some areas was changed to create a more spacious feel.

A new small room with special lighting allows the museum to showcase pastels, and is one of three areas carved out to spotlight select pieces of art. “Ando and the curators tried to create moments of surprise by creating them so they could highlight a small number of works,” Majewski said.

There has also been a change, which began seven years ago, in the type of work put on display. “We wanted to challenge ourselves to show things beyond what people expect to see at the Clark,” Loughman said.
In the past, that was a collection of great 19th-century French and American paintings. But today, the Clark has exhibitions of 20th- and 21st-century art as well as non-Western art and antiquity.

“What we’ve done on these fronts seems very provocative, but we have created immersive experiences that include contemporary art,” Loughman noted, referring to a number of exhibitions, including “Circles of Influence,” which showcases the work of the abstract expressionist Georgia O’Keefe and the modernist Arthur Dove.

Today, a show called “Unearthed: Recent Archaeological Discoveries from Northern China” is on display in the new Clark Center, while an exhibit titled “Raw Color: The Circles of David Smith” can be seen in the Lunden Center.

The multi-million-dollar, multi-phase project that began 15 years ago is almost complete, and a video presentation near the new entrance to the museum building documents the undertaking. Although it has taken time, the end result is a seamless experience, due to the work of four internationally renowned architects who added more than 13,000 square feet of gallery space, demolished the former physical plant building to make way for the new Clark Center and its three reflecting pools, upgraded major utilities, added a series of new geothermal wells, planted 1,000 new trees, and created new ways to circulate among the four buildings on the campus.

Unified Atmosphere

Other changes include upgrades and expansion of the walking trails, a new entry drive, and parking areas with water-permeable surfaces that lead to the rainwater-collection system.

A renovation of the Manton Research Center will complete the project. “The lobby will be turned into a public reading room. It’s one of the greatest art-history libraries in the world, but it has been behind doors, so it is critical to bring it out,” Loughman said.

Although this is important, he added, what has been already accomplished is extraordinary.

“The transformation allowed us to leap over something very old and non-functional and become something that is a generation ahead of our peers in terms of design and sustainability,” he said. “It was difficult to do everything at once, but our project was driven by unity and the historic connection to the earth, which is really art.”

Sections Travel and Tourism

The Big E Continues to Be an Economic Engine

Eastern States Exposition CEO Gene Cassidy and the man who inspires his work, fair founder Joshua Brooks.

Eastern States Exposition CEO Gene Cassidy and the man who inspires his work, fair founder Joshua Brooks.

Joshua L. Brooks was a man who got things done. And Gene Cassidy, CEO of the Eastern States Exposition, doesn’t let anyone forget it, hanging a large portrait of Brooks, the fair’s founder, at the front of the conference room where he meets with his staff.

“Mr. Brooks was concerned about agriculture,” Cassidy told BusinessWest. “He was an industrialist, but he saw that agriculture was losing ground in New England at the turn of the last century, with so much agriculture being produced out of the Midwest and South Central estates. So he established the Eastern States Agricultural and Industrial Exposition.”

Specifically, he got the National Dairy Show to move its annual event from Chicago to West Springfield in 1916, but only after he transformed a bare plot of land into a property where the expo could be staged.
“There’s a great story of how he capitalized the fairgrounds and got people to donate incredible sums of money,” said Cassidy, citing, as an example, the night of Feb. 1, 1914, when a major blizzard hit the Pioneer Valley. A fund-raiser was scheduled for that night, and Noyes Fisk, owner of Fisk Tire Co. in Chicopee — which later became Uniroyal — was given the responsibility of raising $750,000. “Even in that blizzard, with limited attendance, he was able to raise $450,000. That was the initial capital providing resources to build these facilities, including A Barn, B Barn, and C Barn.”

All three of those barns, including several other structures built in the early years of the fair, still stand today, while the fairgrounds has added many others over the years. More importantly, however, the fair — its name eventually shortened to the Eastern States Exposition and known colloquially as the Big E — has built a nearly century-old legacy that’s measured by more than its impressive regional economic impact (more on that later).

“The impact of Eastern States is dramatic, and it’s important to the region,” said Cassidy, who joined the Big E 20 years ago as chief financial officer and took the reins from longtime CEO Wayne McCary. Cassidy’s first two fairs as CEO set records for attendance, but he has been equally successful with another mission: bringing the expo’s history to life, partly by decorating the expo’s offices with dozens of posters, documents, and artifacts from the past 98 years, including more than one celebrating the work of the man he respectfully calls Mr. Brooks.

“Since I became CEO, my goal has been to reconnect and resurrect, if you will, the spirit of our founder, Mr. Brooks,” Cassidy said. “This building was pretty sterile before, but I think the history is important, and it’s important for all of us who work here to be reacquainted with why we’re here — and what, really, is the purpose of the Eastern States Exposition.”

As the 99th edition of the Big E gets set to roll out in two weeks, Cassidy sat down with BusinessWest to answer that question in a number of ways.

Animal Attraction

Although the words ‘agricultural’ and ‘industrial’ are no longer in the fair’s name, Cassidy said, it would be a mistake to underestimate their importance to what the Big E is all about.

“Yes, entertainment drives people’s interest, and we make a big deal about food; that drives people’s interest as well. And certainly the midway is an attraction, so making sure we have a good, clean, safe, attractive midway is key,” he explained. “Behind the scenes, though, we’re engaged in producing an event that serves the agricultural industry and the commodities industry for all of New England. Those are less exciting things for some people, but we get very excited about them.”

He said the fair has become known over the decades as a prime showcase for what he called the “bovine, equine, and swine” categories of livestock shows, as well as for produce and other food products. “If you win a blue ribbon at the Eastern States Exposition, whether it’s for cheese or cattle or goats, whatever it is, that gives you national cachet, national attention. Most fairgoers aren’t cognizant of that, but it’s very important for both the agriculture and industry that drives a large part of the New England economy.”

The fair has always educated people about livestock and agriculture, and Cassidy feels that mission is more important than ever, with so many Americans, particularly of the younger generations, unaware of what goes into putting their food on the table.

“So much time has passed from 1916 to today, and people are so distant from production agriculture. In many cases, animals [at the show] are viewed as if they’re domestic pets and not domestic food products. Youth today have no connection, no understanding of where their food actually comes from,” he said, adding that this disconnect isn’t limited to the agricultural side, and he’d like to see more fair offerings that teach people about food processing as well.

In addition, “it’s a continuing battle with animal-rights organizations,” Cassidy noted. “We get blowback from rogue groups that raise money on the Internet, anonymously, and they influence our programs in a way that’s detrimental to the general public.”

For example, “my office is two miles from the house where I was born and raised,” he continued. “When I was a kid, the Eastern States Exposition had a carcass exhibit, and a butcher butchering beef cattle and explaining the different cuts of beef. People would be mesmerized, and would learn where the loin comes from, the shoulder, and so on. In this day and age in New England, you could never have an exhibition like that, and it’s sad.”

Just like today, fairgoers have long been able to peruse and buy the latest products at the Big E.

Just like today, fairgoers have long been able to peruse and buy the latest products at the Big E.

While maintaining as much of the expo’s agricultural focus as possible, Cassidy said he would like to strengthen the connections the fair has to other notable industries, such as machine tools, using the fair as a platform to grow those businesses and generate jobs as well. He also believes promotion of consumer products still has a place.

“Companies used to use fairs as a means of promoting their new products,” he noted. “With the advent of television, fairs became less attractive for, say, Westinghouse or General Electric to launch their latest washing machine or other product. But we’re working very hard here to create opportunities for companies to re-engage people on the one-to-one level.”

This year’s fair will showcase the Ford Mustang, which made its debut at the New York World’s Fair 50 years ago. The Big E will display one of the Mustangs that was actually on display in New York in 1964, and Sarat Ford has produred a few rare special-edition Mustangs to display as well. “In many ways, we’re celebrating the World’s Fair,” Cassidy said. “It’s a throwback feature, which I’m really excited about.”

Eat, Listen, Love

Cassidy told BusinessWest that he fully understands the fair’s appeal to tradition and nostalgia that repeat visitors enjoy — everything from the livestock shows to the parades and circuses to the state buildings, where the six New England states promote their most popular foods, crafts, and other products. The challenge, of course, is maintaining those traditions while keeping the fair fresh.

Entertainment is a large part of that, and the Big E has long offered free concerts to visitors — this year’s extensive lineup features up-and-comers like The Voice winner Cassadee Pope and veterans like Eddie Money — while mixing in a few bigger-name shows that require an extra admission fee, including Darius Rucker, Little Big Town, and ZZ Top.

“I’ve been trying to get ZZ Top for 10, maybe 15 years, and I finally got them, so I’m very excited,” Cassidy said, adding that financial changes in the entertainment-booking world have made charging for some acts necessary.

“You’ve got to have good entertainment — that’s the thing that puts the buzz in the air. But that’s extremely difficult to do, and every year, it’s harder and harder. When I started here in 1994, we could book the biggest acts in Las Vegas for $40,000 or $50,000, and they would do two shows a day. Now, in the current age, we can’t afford these acts,” he said, noting that booking Reba McEntire in 2011 cost $335,000. “So we’ve been forced to charge now for the biggest acts, and we do our best to find solid acts we can give away.”

He credited John Juliano, the long-time special-events director for the Big E, with always being able to book talent on the rise, from Beyoncé before Destiny’s Child was popular to Hunter Hayes last year to Pope next month.

Still, for many fairgoers, music isn’t the number-one attraction; they’re more interested in finding out how many foods can be successfully deep-fried.

“Talent is such an important way of keeping people interested, but the other way is gastronomically,” Cassidy said of the Big E’s extensive selection of fair food. “I love cheese curds, and this is the only place in the world I get cheese curds. But we also have to continually discover new products and find means by which to bring new products to the fairgoing public.”

After all, the vitality and continuing popularity of the Big E has a direct economic impact on the region. According to a report the Eastern States Exposition produced this year, the 17-day Big E, plus all the other events that take place on the fairgrounds each year — which feature exhibitions for animal lovers, car enthusiasts, gun owners, campers, and dozens of other groups — benefit the region with an annual economic impact of $479 million.

The tax revenues alone include $3 million in income tax, $1.4 million in sales tax, $427,000 in hotel tax, and $3.3 million in food and beverage tax. More significantly, events generate $299 million in gross regional product and account for 3,000 jobs in Hampden County that generate $91.9 million in personal income. The exposition’s impact on the rest of New England and New York include 2,000 jobs generating $134 million in personal income. In all, 2.5 million visitors stop by the fairgrounds each year, well over 1 million for the Big E alone.

“We need all the stakeholders — which include the fair patrons, business leaders from throughout the region, and our own board of trustees — to be able to draw a direct link toward the Eastern States as a mechanism to drive the economy and jobs,” Cassidy said. “The fair has a broad impact on agriculture worldwide, but has its most important role in this region. It plays a very important role in generating business on a grand scale, and that ripples throughout the economy at many different levels.”

Into the Next Century

At one point, Cassidy pulled out an old, worn book filled with stock certificates that Brooks sold to some of Greater Springfield’s most notable citizens in the fair’s early days — then later bought back so that no individual or group could set the event’s agenda.

To continue Brooks’ legacy for the next 100 years, Cassidy knows that the fairgrounds need some attention, starting with those century-old buildings. Renovating the large B Barn, otherwise known as the Coliseum, is a $60 million endeavor, and that’s just one structure. Last year, the fair generated about $5 million in profit — a success, of course, but not the kind of revenue flow needed to sustain multiple improvement projects.

“We need to continue to grow, not just because we’re a 100-year-old facility with a great deal of deferred maintenance, but to re-educate the fair-going public,” he said. “I think we’re the most successful fair in the country; we’re recognized nationally as a best-practices organization. We’re one of the largest fairs, and the largest fair that’s not state-subsidized, which is really remarkable. But we need to put a lot of attention into this 100-year-old plant.”

To do that, Cassidy says it’s crucial to generate regional philanthropy, like Brooks did when he reached out to his wealthy friends to launch the exposition in 1916. “We’re a 501(c)(3) public charity, and financially, we’re a very stable organization, but we need to reinvigorate our stakeholders — not just to sustain ourselves, but we owe it to the region to grow, so the region grows.”

As board treasurer of the Regional Employment Board of Western Mass., Cassidy is keenly aware of the region’s need to retain talent to grow a number of its industries, and he feels like the Big E and its myriad activities can play a role in that, if only by improving quality of life in the Pioneer Valley.

“We have access to the best education in the world, and we’re exporting our graduates. Any company executive who scoffs at that is not being responsible in their duty to grow the economy and make their mark on the general citizenry,” he told BusinessWest. “It’s all about quality of life. My hope is that the Eastern States Exposition adds to quality of life for people in West Springfield and all of Greater Springfield.”

It’s an easy thing to get excited about, Cassidy added. “People pay to get in, and they’re predisposed to happiness. There are very few jobs in the world where the person coming through the gate is coming in to have a good time. You go to the grocery store because you have to, or go to the tire store because you need tires. You don’t have to come to the Big E.

“Our job,” he concluded, “is to deliver a product that makes you want to be here. If we can take our presence here and use it as a multiplier to drive industry in the local economy, we’ve succeeded.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Mark Your Calendar with These 20 Happenings


In the mood for some music or theater? Enjoy art or antiques? Feel like trying out some different kinds of food?
The Pioneer Valley offers myriad opportunities to enjoy the summer, so if you’re feeling stir-crazy — or the kids say they’re bored — check out these 20 summer destinations, which only scratch the surface of what’s available in Western Mass. Whether you’re into baseball or fireworks, concerts or dogs, you’re sure to find plenty to do.

Taste of Amherst
Town Common, Amherst
Admission: Free
June 19-22: Kick off the summer by eating your fill during the four days of the 2014 Taste of Amherst. In addition to food offerings from about 20 town restaurants — most for $5 or under — the event will feature live entertainment by the River, 93.9 FM, as well as fun family events. The Taste runs from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, noon to 10 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, and is presented by Atkins Farms Country Market, with sponsorship by the Amherst Business Improvement District, Amherst College, Hampshire College, and UMass Amherst.

Stearns Square Concert Series
Worthington and Bridge streets, Springfield
(413) 781-1591; www.facebook.com/stearnssquare
Admission: Free
Starting June 26: Thursday evenings heat up in downtown Springfield for another season of concerts in Stearns Square, starting with a visit from Black 47 on June 26, this summer’s kickoff concert. And the bands — from notable local lights to internationally acclaimed acts — just keep coming, including FAT (July 3), the Spin Doctors (July 10), Roomful of Blues (July 17), Diamondback (July 24), Truckstop Troubadors (July 31), Maggie Rose (Aug. 7), John Eddie (Aug. 14), Doug Demings and the Jewel Tones (Aug. 21), and the Smithereens (Aug. 28). All concerts begin at 8 p.m., and there are no opening acts this year. What began 14 years ago as a way to liven up downtown Springfield — it was originally held in the Court Square area — has become a weekly destination for music lovers, people watchers, and scores of motorcyclists. The series is sponsored by the Springfield Business Improvement District.

Williamstown Theatre Festival
1000 Main St., Williamstown
(413) 597-3400; www.wtfestival.org
Admission: $15 and up
July 2 to Aug. 17: Sixty years ago, the leaders of the Williams College drama department and news office conceived of an idea: using the school’s theater for a summer performance program with a resident company. Since then, the festival has attracted such performers as E.G. Marshall, Blythe Danner, Colleen Dewhurst, and Christopher Reeve. This summer, the program will present a range of both classical and original productions, plus other programs like the interactive workshops, post-show Tuesday Talkbacks with company members, and ‘A Festival 4th,’ when actors will celebrate the Fourth of July by gathering at the Williams College Museum of Art to read the Declaration of Independence and the British reply before viewing the college’s noted Founding Documents collection. Williamstown’s classic small-town parade then kicks off on Spring Street at 11 a.m. and ends at the Clark Art Institute for the grand opening of its newly expanded campus.

Clark-ArtClark Art Institute
225 South St., Williamstown
(413) 458-2303; www.clarkart.edu
Admission: Free on July 4; otherwise $20 for adults, free for under 18 and students
Starting July 4: Immediately following the Williamstown parade, enjoy hot dogs, live music, balloons, and other family fun on the museum’s East Lawn before the Clark — which has been closed for an extensive renovation — officially reopens at 1 p.m. Admission is free on grand-opening day. Galleries will be open until 9 p.m., and the Eagles Band will perform at 7 p.m., followed by fireworks at 9. Founded in 1936, the Eagles Band is the oldest continuing performance ensemble in the Berkshires, performing music from the late ’30s through the early ’50s, in styles ranging from traditional brass to contemporary and pop arrangements. Guests are welcome to return throughout the summer (admission $20, students and under 18 free), with new exhibitions including “Make It New: Abstract Paintings from the National Gallery of Art,” which will include Jackson Pollock’s “Lavender Mist,” opening Aug. 2. Perhaps the most impressive work of all is the Clark’s new, 42,650-square-foot Visitor Center — designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Ando, who is known for incorporating landscape into his design. The center boasts new dining facilities, a museum shop, outdoor terraces, and 11,070 square feet of additional special exhibition space. And if you can’t make it to Williamstown on July 4, there’s always…

Monson Summerfest

Main Street, Monson
(413) 267-3649; 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 was held at the church, featuring food, games, and fun activities. With the overwhelming interest of nonprofit organizations in town, the event immediately grew, and relocated onto Main Street the following year. 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. The festivities will be preceded this year by a town fireworks display on June 28.

Star-Spangled-SpfldStar Spangled Springfield
Downtown Springfield
(413) 733-3800
Admission: Free
July 4: Speaking of fireworks, what’s a better end to an Independence Day filled with food, family, and outdoor fun than taking in a spectacle of the skies? Springfield’s annual show, starting at 9:30 p.m., is a welcome tradition, but it’s hardly the only one. For example, South Hadley and East Longmeadow have slated their displays for July 3, Old Sturbridge Village will light up the night on July 4, and Westfield and Greenfield have events scheduled for July 5. Many other cities and towns are planning fireworks as well; check with municipal offices for times.

Berkshires Arts Festival
Ski Butternut, 380 State Road, Great Barrington
(845) 355-2400; www.berkshiresartsfestival.com
Admission: $5-$13
July 4-6: Now in its 13th year, the Berkshires Arts Festival has become a regional tradition. Thousands of art lovers and collectors are expected to descend on the Ski Butternut grounds to check out and purchase the creations of more than 175 artists and designers, as well as experiencing theater, music, and dance from local, national, and international acts. Founded by Richard and Joanna Rothbard, owners of An American Craftsman Galleries, the festival attracts top artists from across the U.S. and Canada. Visitors can also participate in interactive events like puppetry and storytelling, all the time enjoying a respite from the sun under tents and in the ski resort’s air-conditioned lodge.

297 West St., Lenox
(617) 266-1200; www.bso.org
Admission: $21 and up
Starting July 5: Tanglewood has been the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra since 1937, and like previous years, it has a well-stocked slate of concerts in store for the 2014 season, including an All-American Opening Night Gala Concert on July 5 and a special gala concert on July 12, a dance-inspired program featuring both the Boston Symphony and fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center, the BSO’s prestigious summer music academy. This season, Tanglewood will offer a special focus on American music with orchestral, opera, and film presentations in the Koussevitzky Music Shed, and opera, chamber music, and recital programs in Ozawa Hall, which marks its 20th anniversary season in 2014. Check out the website for the extensive roster of shows and events, including a number of non-classical shows, such as Tanglewood regular James Taylor, who perform in the Koussevitzky Music Shed on July 3 and 4, with both performances followed by fireworks displays.

BrimfieldBrimfield Antique Show
Route 20, Brimfield, MA
(413) 283-6149; www.quaboaghills.com
Admission: Free
July 8-13: What began humbly — when a local auctioneer decided to hold open-air auctions on his property, and grew into a successful flea market — eventually began including neighboring properties as it grew. It expanded in the ’80s and ’90s to a one-mile stretch of Route 20 on both sides, and these days, the Brimfield Antique Show is a six-mile stretch of heaven 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, and the third runs Sept. 2-7. The Brimfield Antique Show labels itself the “Antiques and Collectibles Capital of the United States,” and — judging by its scope and number of visitors — it’s hard to disagree.

Green River Festival

Greenfield Community College, One College Dr., Greenfield
(413) 773-5463; www.greenriverfestival.com
Admission: Weekend, $75; Saturday, $49.99; Sunday, $34.99
July 12-13: For one weekend every July, Greenfield Community College hosts a high-energy celebration of music; local food, beer, and wine; handmade crafts; and family games and activities — all topped off with four hot-air-balloon launches (rides are available) and a spectacular Saturday-night ‘balloon glow.’ The music is continuous on three stages, and this year features Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Josh Ritter and the Royal City Band, Lucius, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Trampled by Turtles, Grant Lee Phillips, and more than two dozen other artists. Children under 10 can get in for free, as the family-friendly festival features children’s music performers, a kid’s activity tent, games, circus acts, a Mardi Gras parade, and other surprises. New for 2014 is the Maker’s Market, a collective of fine artisans from across Western Mass., offering an impressive array of handmade crafts and jewelry. The festival began in 1986 as purely a hot-air-balloon affair, but quickly integrated musical entertainment into the event. Now, its one of the most eclectic events in the Valley.

Hampshire College, 893 West St., Amherst
(413) 256-4900; www.yiddishbookcenter.org/yidstock
Admission: Festival pass, $145 for members or $185 general admission; tickets may be purchased for individual events
July 17-20: Boasting an array of films, concerts, lectures, and workshops, Yidstock 2014: The Festival of New Yiddish Music lands in Amherst in mid-July. The third annual Yidstock festival will bring the best in klezmer and new Yiddish music to the stage at the Yiddish Book Center. The festival pass includes admission to all concerts, lectures, and workshops.
The weekend will offer an intriguing glimpse into Jewish roots and jazzy soul music through popular Yiddish bands like the Klezmer Conservatory Band, Klezmatics, Frank London’s Klezmer Brass All-Stars, and more. Friday and Saturday feature dance workshops as well.

New England Collegiate Baseball League All-Star Game
MacKenzie Stadium, 500 Beech St., Holyoke
(413) 533-1100; www.valleybluesox.com
Admission: $5-$8
July 20: The Valley Blue Sox (formerly the Holyoke Blue Sox) continue to bring plenty of baseball excitement to Holyoke and its surroundings, playing in a league that attracts some of the top collegiate talent each summer. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for these guys to really showcase their talent in a professional setting,” General Manager Hunter Golden said. “Major League Baseball is a big believer in our product and the caliber of players we bring. Watch the College World Series, and chances are you’ll see half our roster.” This year MacKenzie will host the league All-Star Game, starting at 12 noon on July 20, but the club will play plenty of other home games into early August — usually featuring giveaways and other promotions — to provide families with a fun, affordable evening out.

Bang on a Can Plays Art
1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams
(413) 662-2111; www.massmoca.org
Admission: Festival pass, $75; individual concerts, $15-$24
July 26 to Aug 2: The Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival, a residency program for composers and performers, will take place from July 15 through Aug. 4 at MASS MoCA. The heart of this three-week workshop is a week-long series of 14 concerts running from July 26 to Aug. 2, highlighted by two major Saturday events in the museum’s Hunter Auditorium. The first is David Lang’s “death speaks” on July 26 at 8 p.m., featuring the Bang on a Can All-Stars with special guest Shara Worden. Lang combed through every song by Franz Schubert and pulled out just the moments when Death is a character, speaking directly to us, and then set those texts to new music. On Aug. 2 at 4 p.m., the museum will present the six-hour Bang on a Can Marathon with special guests Steve Reich and Glenn Kotche of Wilco. The festival finale will include more than 50 musicians and composers from around the world, and will feature Steve Reich’s newest composition “Radio Rewrite,” a remix of two songs by Radiohead. Another highlight will be a rare performance of Edgar Varese’s riotous masterpiece “Ionisation,” the first piece ever written for percussion ensemble.

Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival
Court Square, Springfield
(413) 303-0101
Admission: Free
Aug 9: Following in the footsteps of the Hoop City Jazz and Arts Festival, which drew more than 20,000 people to downtown Springfield, is the inaugural Springfield Jazz & Roots Festival, intended to celebrate the emergence of Springfield’s Cultural District and promote an arts-driven, community-oriented, and sustainable revitalization of the city. The event will offer a festive atmosphere featuring locally and internationally acclaimed musical artists, a variety of ethnic cuisines and local food producers, and more. This inclusive event aims to bring people from Springfield and the surrounding region together to foster connection, stimulate the local economy, and highlight positive initiatives contributing to the betterment of Springfield’s residents, and uniting the city with the rest of the Pioneer Valley. The festival is being produced by Blues to Green, a nonprofit organization led by Kristin Neville, wife of legendary jazz musician Charles Neville. The organization’s mission is to use music and art to celebrate community and culture, build shared purpose, and catalyze social and environmental change.

Dog Shows at the Eastern States Exposition
1305 Memorial Ave., West Springfield
(413) 737-2443; www.thebige.com
Admission: Free
Aug. 20-24: The Big E fairgrounds certainly haven’t gone to the dogs, but it will seem that way for five days in August, when dog shows take over the Better Living Center. The Elm City Kennel Club Dog Show will be in town on Aug. 20 and 24, the Newtown Kennel Club Dog Show will take over on Aug. 21 and 23, while the Northwestern Connecticut Kennel Club Dog Show will make an appearance on Aug. 22. Come see dogs in all breeds compete for best in class and best in show.

Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival
358 George Carter Road, Becket
(413) 243-0745; www.jacobspillow.org
Admission: $50-$150
Aug. 23: In its 82nd season, Jacob’s Pillow has become one of the premier venues for dance in the U.S. Dance enthusiasts will surely marvel at the dozens of free and ticketed recitals performed by celebrated companies from around the world, not to mention Jacob’s Pillow’s other offerings of photography and art exhibits, seminars, discussions, and film screenings. The season concludes on Aug. 23 with the Festival Finale, featuring a performance by the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet or LeeSaar. The ticket also includes entry to a festive after-party, with drinks, desserts, photo-booth fun, and DJ BFG spinning live at the ultimate dance celebration. Proceeds benefit the community programs of Jacob’s Pillow.Jacobs-Pillow2

Three County Fair
41 Fair St., Northampton
(413) 584-2237; www.threecountyfair.com
Admission: $8-$10
Aug. 29 to Sept. 1: In 1818, the Hampshire, Franklin & Hampden Agricultural Society was formed, with the purpose of promoting agriculture, agricultural education, and agricultural science in the Commonwealth. The society relied on exhibitions, displays, competitions, and demonstrations to fulfill its purposes, awarding prizes in agricultural and domestic categories. Almost 200 years later, the society’s original purpose still provides the umbrella under which the Three County Fair is presented to the public. Over time, however, various entertainment events became part of the annual fair, from carnival rides and games to thoroughbred horse racing, horse demonstrations, crafts, and, of course, plenty of food. “Taste the past, enjoy the present,” fair organizers say, and visitors will certainly experience a good deal of both.

Blandford Fair
10 North St., Blandford
(413) 848-0995; www.theblandfordfair.com
Admission: $5-$10
Aug. 29 to Sept. 1: Not much has changed in the 145 years of the Blandford Fair, but that’s what makes it so charming. This Labor Day weekend, at the 147th edition of the event, fairgoers can witness the classic rituals of the giant pumpkin display, the pony draw, and the horseshoe tournament, plus more modern additions, like the fantastically loud chainsaw-carving demonstration and the windshield-smashing demolition derby. With many more exhibits and attractions to offer, a weekend at the Blandford Fair is an ideal way for families to close out the summer.

SturbridgeOld Sturbridge Village Family Fun Days
1 Old Sturbridge Village Road, Sturbridge, MA
(800) 733-1830; www.osv.org
Admission: Adults, $24; children, free
Aug. 31 to Sept. 2: Bring the whole family to Old Sturbridge Village on Labor Day weekend, when the largest outdoor history museum in the Northeast opens its doors to children for free (normally, youth admission is $8). Guests are invited to play baseball the way early New Englanders did, make a craft, join a game of French & English (tug of war), meet the oxen in training, try their hand at marbling paper, see a puppet show, watch a toy fire-balloon flight, visit the Freeman Farm, stop and see craftsmen at work, and much more. In addition, the weekend will feature appearances by Bob Olson, performing 19th-century magic, as well as the Old Sturbridge Village Singers and the Old Sturbridge Village Dancers. Let your kids step back into the 1830s and enjoy the last summer weekend before school.

St. George Cathedral, 22 St. George Road, Springfield
(413) 737-1496; stgeorgecath.org
Admission: Free
Sept. 5-7: 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, various vendors from across the East Coast, icon workshops, movies in the Glendi Theatre, cooking demonstrations, and a joyful atmosphere that the whole family will enjoy.

Sections Travel and Tourism
Six Flags New England Reaches Higher — Much Higher


Jennifer McGrath

Jennifer McGrath says the 400-foot-tall New England Sky Screamer will take the classic theme-park swing ride to the extreme.

Just cross the South End Bridge in Springfield and look south, and it’s easy to see how Six Flags New England already towers over the Connecticut River. On a clear day, Bizarro, Scream, Goliath, and the Cyclone are clearly visible in the distance.

The tallest of those, the award-winning Bizarro rollercoaster and the Scream drop ride, reach about 200 feet into the air, offering breathtaking — and, for some riders, nerve-wracking — views of the river, Mount Tom to the north, and Connecticut to the south.

Now imagine being twice that high.

Actually, visitors won’t have to imagine once the park unveils its newest attraction, the New England Sky Screamer, this summer. Lifting patrons 400 feet up and then swinging them around for two minutes at 35 mph, it’s touted as the world’s tallest swing ride.

Clearly, Six Flags has come a long way in the 15 years since the chain acquired historic Riverside Park, adding it to its international stable of destinations, adding numerous major rides and a bustling water park, and effectively doubling the property’s size. And now, it’s touting a new height record to boot.

“It’s taking that swing ride we know and love and adding every possible element of thrill and fear into it,” said Jennifer McGrath, communications manager for Six Flags New England. “Your arms and legs are exposed in the air, your swing is on chains, just like that classic family swing ride — except this is not classic.”

The ride, which is painted red, white, and blue, will glow with color-changing LED lights at night, she added. “We don’t feel it’s just a new ride for Six Flags New England; we feel it’s a new icon, something people will identify with Western Mass. You can see it from the Springfield area and well into Enfield and Suffield. Six Flags loves breaking records, and they feel this ride is something special, and they know Six Flags guests are going to love it.”

As a prominent chain in a highly competitive industry, Six Flags is always looking to the future, mapping out a national strategy of park additions to keep the buzz high at its 13 parks in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. Not every park gets a major addition on the level of a Sky Screamer every year, but Agawam has received plenty of recent attention, adding the Bonzai Pipeline slides in the Hurricane Harbor water park in 2013, the Goliath switchback coaster in 2012, and the Gotham City Gauntlet mouse coaster in 2011.

“It’s amazing what we’ve evolved to, and we continue to grow,” McGrath said, noting that it’s a cornerstone of the Six Flags brand to continually invest new capital in its properties.

“In true Six Flags fashion, we’re going even bigger in 2014 with our new attractions,” added Jim Reid-Anderson, the chain’s chairman, president, and CEO, in a press statement. “Our promise to you is to bring something new to every single park every year.”

Work and Play

Economic-development and tourism officials have long pointed to Six Flags New England as a major economic engine for the region. While the park, as a publicly held company, does not release attendance figures, it easily outdraws the number-two tourist attraction in Western Mass., Yankee Candle Village, which records 1.5 million guests per year.


Six Flags officials say they’re committed to introducing something new at all the chain’s parks every year.

“Six Flags has been a wonderful neighbor to Agawam. They’re one of the top five taxpayers in the community, they work closely with all our departments, and they are a huge economic boon to the Pioneer Valley as a whole,” Agawam Mayor Richard Cohen told BusinessWest. “And it’s a regional tourist attraction, so it’s not just great for Agawam, but for the whole Valley.”

Six Flags is a significant employer as well, with more than 100 year-round employees, about half of whom work in maintenance. In the offseason, they’re busy enhancing the grounds, from new painting and signage to landscaping and structural improvements.

In addition, the park hires more than 3,000 seasonal workers annually, giving a major boost to the region’s efforts to employ high-school and college-age individuals, who are facing an historically lean market for summer jobs.

“They’re one of the largest hiring employers in the summer for seasonal purposes, which is great in these economic times,” Cohen said, referring to not only young people, but older individuals who might be unemployed or between jobs. “They really are good neighbors, and we’re really proud to have them in Agawam.”

He noted that the public ownership group that bought Six Flags in 2010 has been much easier to work and communicate with than Premier Parks, which operated the chain from 1998 until its Chapter 11 bankruptcy and restructuring a decade later. That’s important, he said, when planning a project like the Sky Screamer, which has the potential of drawing bigger crowds to the park, but is also a significant change to this small town’s skyline.

“They came to us early, in a very timely manner, and answered all our questions,” the mayor said, adding that Agawam residents were largely supportive of the project. “There were some people — not many — afraid that this would change the landscape of the area. But we already have cell towers. And they did this in patriotic colors. They took our concerns into consideration, and it was done tastefully. I have not had many — if any — complaints at all.

“Everything was done expeditiously — the public announcement, meetings, permits,” he reiterated. “They don’t wait until the last minute. Since the new regime took over, they work well on the local level, answering the concerns that people have. The relationship is much healthier, and communication has been much better.”

That’s not to say the park hasn’t been growing all along. Since becoming a Six Flags property in 1998, it has introduced a raft of thrill rides, including Bizarro (formerly Superman: Ride of Steel), winner of five Golden Ticket Awards from Amusement Today as the nation’s top steel coaster, in 2000; Flashback, a switchback coaster, also in 2000; Batman: the Dark Knight, a floorless coaster, in 2002; Pandemonium, a kid-friendly spinning coaster, in 2005; and, of course, the recent additions.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Harbor, which now totals 33 waterslides in addition to a lazy river, two wave pools, and other watery fun, opened in 1998 as part of the Six Flags makeover.

The entire property now comprises more than 270 acres, and ranks as both the largest amusement park and largest water park in New England.

Food for Thought

Other recent changes are less flashy, but are significant to many patrons. For example, McGrath said, restaurant menus will add food items, including more vegetarian fare — a shift that guests had been asking for. Once again, the park will offer a $99 dining plan along with its popular season-ticket options, allowing guests one lunch and one dinner per visit throughout the season.

As for the season tickets, they are priced at different tiers — higher tiers include free parking all year, among other amenities — but tend to pay for themselves within two or three visits, making Six Flags an affordable recreation option for area families, McGrath said. That’s important in a stressed economy, when many families can’t afford to fly to vacation destinations. “This is a day trip for anyone, all the way up to Maine — down to Pennsylvania, even.”

Many of those visitors are parents and grandparents taking their kids to Six Flags and sharing their fond memories of Riverside Park, which existed as an amusement park alongside the Connecticut River for about 90 years.

Some relics remain on the grounds, McGrath said, from the 1909 carousel to the antique automobiles that rattle along a metal track and give youngsters the chance to experience driving a car. Then there’s the Thunderbolt, the 1941 wooden coaster — standing 70 feet tall and traveling up to 40 mph — that has been called a landmark by American coaster enthusiasts. Six Flags preserves rides like this, McGrath said, because the company understands the special memories they have for many.

No matter what a ride’s age, she noted, maintenance teams check each attraction daily, often from as early as 5 a.m. “Our staff is diligent in regard to checking safety, and it’s a main focus — before the park opens, during, after, every potential minute for our guests, it’s a thorough process.”

Besides its obvious link to families, Six Flags involves itself in the community through charity events as well, working with more than 3,000 organizations annually across its 13-park footprint. Locally, that includes school-supply drives and coat drives for children, as well as Cause for Paws, an event that raises money for the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society, and an annual skin-cancer-awareness event.

But the main buzz right now is clearly on the rides, which opened to their first guests of the 2014 season on April 12. New England Sky Screamer will open a bit later in the season, and though it’s expected to be a hit, it won’t be the last one, McGrath said.

“Right now, we are well into the planning process of 2015, even though we are executing 2014,” she told BusinessWest. “When it comes to building a new attraction for the park, we listen to our guests, of course, and what they would like to see in the future. We want to entertain those of all ages.”

After all, at the end of the day, it’s all about reaching new heights of entertainment — literally and figuratively.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Historic Deerfield Opens a Door to 18th-Century New England


Philip Zea

Philip Zea says his mission at Historic Deerfield is to bring the heritage of the Connecticut River Valley to life.

For Historic Deerfield President Philip Zea and his staff, the yearly mission is not simply to preserve the heritage of the Connecticut River Valley, but instead to bring it to life.

And they do so with an intriguing, and always evolving, blend of education and entertainment.

“We’re a lot like a professional sports team in the sense that what we do for a living is other people’s recreation,” said Zea as he worked through an interesting analogy. “We want everyone who comes here to have a great time, but also an informative time.”

Once a bustling destination along the 18th-century Boston-to-Albany road, the 104-acre property is now one of the state’s most popular outdoor history museums. Zea, who has enjoyed two stints at Historic Deerfield, first as chief curator for 18 years and later as president — a position he has held for 11 years — oversees a staff of 47. His passion for researching history and sharing it with others has allowed the museum to steadily increase its attendance over the past five years, thus boosting the bottom line at a time when many museums struggle to gain the time and attention of families with plenty of entertainment options.

And Zea and his staff have a positive outlook for the museum, which saw its total income increase by more than $328,000 from 2012 to 2013 (excluding $510,000 awarded to the museum in 2012 through business-interruption proceeds disbursed as a result of Tropical Storm Irene; more on that later). The solid rebound year generated total revenues of more than $4 million for the facility, said Zea, noting that the biggest challenge facing his staff in future years is to continue to evolve and improve to better serve the community’s needs.

“We want to provide people with a sense of confidence that, if they invest their time and money in us, then they are going to come here and have a good time,” he said. “We’re constantly reinventing ourselves and learning more about the history of the area to ensure the public has a great experience here.”

Education is a primary focus for the museum staff, which hosts thousands of students each year from throughout Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Along with Plimoth Plantation and Old Sturbridge Village, Historic Deerfield ranks at the top of the field-trip list for teachers looking to bring their students to an outdoor history museum. Boasting 54 buildings and an expansive campus, students can view everything from hearth-cooking demonstrations to architectural woodworking.

“We have a very robust education program here. In addition to field trips, we also provide programs to help Girl Scouts earn their badges,” said Laurie Nivison, Historic Deerfield’s director of marketing. “We’re looking into arranging programs for the Boy Scouts as well.”

Drawing new visitors is an annual priority for the staff. Zea said the museum has seen an increase in school field trips since 2012, but family trips and private tours in the summer and fall months have also accounted for a significant percentage of visitors. While Historic Deerfield largely remains a hidden New England gem — residents of New England states represented just half of the museum’s total visitors in 2013 — national and international interest has picked up, with 10% of last year’s guests visiting from foreign countries.

The museum’s collection of early-American furniture, ceramics, textiles, and metalwork is a key draw for many guests. The collection was expanded in 2013 with the acquisition of 178 rare objects, including 48 items from the William T. Brandon Memorial Collection of American Redware and Ceramics. All but 30 of the items acquired this year were gifts to Historic Deerfield.

“What’s great about working here is that the setting is the story, with the meadows and village and buildings all adding up to be our biggest artifact,” Zea said. “We like to focus on what people’s lifestyles were like back in the 18th century, learning not only from the physical environment but also the temporal environment.”

Added Nivision, “depending on what your interests are, there’s something here for everyone.”

History Lessons

With ongoing research conducted daily by staff members, there’s something new to learn about the region’s history with each visit. From Benedict Arnold’s arrival in Deerfield to recruit troops (before his turncoat days) to the significance of Barnard Tavern as a political and social hub of the community, new knowledge is just waiting to be discovered at a very old place.

As early as the 1800s, Historic Deerfield, site of the infamous Indian raid of 1704 that claimed the lives of 50 settlers, was attracting history buffs, Zea said, describing letters in the museum’s research library that document Mount Holyoke College students traveling to the campus in the 1830s.

But in order to preserve and present history, the staff at Historic Deerfield must address a number of challenges — everything from Mother Nature (this is an outdoor facility) to that aforementioned competition for the time and dollars of 21st-century families.

For starters, said Zea, the staff must embrace the innate challenge of maintaining the buildings where history was made. Major renovations of two prominent buildings have topped the list of priorities in recent years. The Deerfield Inn, which was damaged by floodwaters during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, was dramatically transformed, including a completely renovated kitchen, the installation of a new fireplace in the dining room, and significant upgrades to the terrace room. Built in 1884, the building continues to serve travelers as it did 130 years ago.

“Reactions to the new interior design have been overwhelmingly positive,” wrote Anne Groves, chair of Historic Deerfield’s board of trustees, in a letter for the museum’s annual report. “The project team did an exemplary job in managing the renovation and the financial analysis involved in bringing the Inn back online.”

Meanwhile, Barnard Tavern is in the process of undergoing an extensive makeover, which includes repairing the foundation, stabilizing the chimneys, restoring wall paneling, replacing the heating system, and reconstructing the stairway and railings. Completion of the project is scheduled for 2015, 220 years after the tavern was first constructed in 1795.

Meanwhile, attendance is an ongoing challenge, and the staff at the museum addresses it by establishing new and engaging programs and exhibits.

Last year, for example, introduced a three-day workshop called “Every Dish Has a Past,” focused on research of historical recipes — a program that concluded in tasty fashion, with participants cooking the meals they researched.

Moreover, the theme of the museum’s 2014 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will be sports and recreation in New England. Taking place June 20-22, the annual seminar will include presentations on hunting, fishing, hiking, climbing, marksmanship, horsemanship, and the paths to popularity of sports like hockey, baseball, and basketball. Lectures will also be given on the history of sports record keeping and statistics, as well as the evolution of sports apparel.

Along with these new additions to the museum’s lineup, Historic Deerfield will return many of its beloved events and activities from past years, beginning on April 26, when a Patriots’ Day re-enactment will feature a cannon-firing display, a parade, and colonial craft activities. The museum will also host its annual Columbus Day antique show, presented by the Antiques Dealers Assoc. of America.

“The Patriots’ Day event is always fun for families, usually drawing at least 300 people,” Nivison said. “It’s a great chance to come out and see several different groups take part in the re-enactment.”

Another goal for the staff in 2014 is to not only educate visitors about the setting and the historical events that have taken place in Deerfield, but to also accentuate the stories of the people who made those events significant.

Zea said it’s imperative to emphasize what people’s lives were like so visitors will have a better understanding of their motivations and interests. The rise of Deerfield as a cultural and political hub, for example, was contingent on geography and the arrangement of roadways, with Deerfield marking the intersection between the Boston-to-Albany road and the north-south Hartford-to-Hanover (N.H.) route, an 18th-century equivalent to the junction of I-90 and I-91.

“It’s important to focus on community history and also domestic history by sharing how people lived and traveled and encountered locations like Deerfield in the first place,” said Zea.

It Takes a Village

The phrase ‘living museum’ has come into use in recent years to categorize facilities like Historic Deerfield, and it’s an apt term.

It accurately describes how such museums show how people lived, but it also suggests that such facilities are constantly evolving and finding new ways to not only transport people back in time, but to help them understand what they’re seeing and put it into historical perspective.

It’s all a part of making the past come alive, said Zea, adding that Historic Deerfield’s imaginative work of the past several years will ensure a solid future for this key regional tourist destination.

Sections Travel and Tourism
Area Vintners Are Seeing the Fruits of Their Labor

Larry Godard

Larry Godard says a close-knit network of vintners has sprung up organically across the region.

Larry Godard acknowledged that he considers them somewhat backhanded compliments. But he loves hearing them anyway.

“They’ll taste one and look at me and pause and say, ‘this is really good,’ and they emphasize the ‘really good’ part as if they are surprised at the high quality,” said Godard, referring to comments about the labels, including Red Hen Red, he’s now producing at Mineral Hills Winery at the Red Hen Farm in Florence.

Elaborating, he said that many of the growing number of visitors to Mineral Hills are from Connecticut and New York. They are wine connoisseurs, and they’ve been to many small wineries across the Northeast. But Western Mass. is a relatively new destination for many of them, and this is one of the reasons behind many of those ‘really good’ comments.

And Godard’s not the only one hearing them.

Gary and Bobbie Kamen

Millennials are a promising new customer base for Gary and Bobbie Kamen at Mount Warner Winery.

Indeed, he is the sole proprietor of one of a growing number of what could be called start-up vineyards and wineries across the Valley, including Black Birch Winery down the road in Southampton, Amherst Winery in Amherst, Mount Warner Winery in Hadley (which overlooks the UMass Amherst campus), Pioneer Valley Vineyard in Hatfield, Les Trois Emme Vineyard & Winery in New Marlboro in the Berkshires, and several others.

They are all part of something called the Massachusetts Wine & Cheese Trail, overseen by the Mass. Farm Wineries and Growers Assoc. (MFWGA), to which Godard belongs, but could eventually comprise a separate wine trail in the four western counties.

In the meantime, Godard and others like him — individuals with a passion for wine and the means and the inclination to go into business making and selling it — are creating what could be described as a community of vintners, and a close-knit one at that.

“A wine trail is already happening by default,” Godard said, explaining that he’ll send his guests to Black Birch and Amherst Winery, and they will in turn send their visitors along to the other wineries in the area. “We have a nice little cluster right here. In fact, Ian Modestow [partner with Black Birch Winery] came over one day to borrow a cup of yeast, like a neighbor borrowing a cup of sugar.”

Mary Hamel, a partner with Black Birch Winery, also noted the fellowship among the region’s wine makers. “That’s one thing about the wine industry that I think is very cool,” she noted. “You don’t feel like you’re in competition with anyone because we support each other, and the more wineries there are, the better it is for all of us.”

More wineries would seem to be a likelihood in every state because demand is growing, and there are many aging Baby Boomers eyeing wine making as a bridge to full-time retirement. According to the 2012-13 “State of the Wine Industry” report by Silicon Valley Bank, a California financial institution specializing the U.S. wine industry, Millennials and Baby Boomers are the two largest sectors of wine consumers, and consumption rates are growing most rapidly among Millennials and men.

And while a burgeoning wine trail will help the region’s vintners, an official trail will certainly be a boon to the Greater Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau (GSCVB).

Michele Goldberg, director of marketing for the GSCVB, told BusinessWest that, while the Connecticut Vineyard and Wine Assoc., with its established wine trail, is a longtime member, Western Mass. wineries fall perfectly into the emerging ‘farm-to-table’ movement in the tourism industry.

Ed and Mary Hamel

Ed and Mary Hamel of Black Birch Winery have doubled their visitation for wine tastings through great word-of-mouth referrals.

“From a tourism perspective, wine tasting is incredibly popular with groups and for ‘girlfriend getaways,’ and a future wine trail would be a welcome addition to our diverse list of things to do in the Pioneer Valley,” said Goldberg, adding that the tourism bureau is constantly fielding inquiries from meeting planners looking for unique after-hours activities for convention attendees.

For this issue and its focus on tourism, BusinessWest visited with several area vintners to talk about their businesses and their outlook on how wine can become a prominent part of the region’s economy and tourism sector.


Heard It Through the Grapevine

The stories beyond the wineries taking root in the Valley all vary, but there are many common denominators.

They were started, in most cases, by professionals who decided to turn a hobby into a business venture. These entrepreneurs had some struggles getting things both in the ground and off the ground, but they’re now seeing the fruits of their labors — in more ways than one. And they all will inevitably use the phrase ‘an art and a science’ to describe the process of making a fine wine.

Godard, former vice president at MassMutual, with his wife, Susan, a schoolteacher, is a great example of today’s vintner whose passion for making wine became his ‘second-life’ business.

They established their 60-acre Mineral Hills farm in 1984, and for years they had a well-established honor-system farm stand offering apples, blueberries, cider, and honey products from Susan’s bees. Soon their hobby grew to include a variety of flavors of wine made from apples, blueberries, and grapes. It was only after Godard retired from MassMutual in 2009 that he decided to “go pro,” as he called it, and turn the winemaking hobby into a full-time venture, launching Mineral Hills Winery in the fall of 2010. Godard now produces wines from French-American hybrid grapes, but also imports European vinifera grapes from California for his reds.

At Black Birch Winery, two couples share various duties to run one of the newest wineries in the area. Florence dentist Ian Modestow is the vintner, while construction and home-inspection-company owner Ed Hamel manages the two acres of new vineyards, with five more acres soon to be cultivated.

Modestow’s wife, Michelle Kersbergen, and Hamel’s wife, Mary Hamel, both dental hygienists, manage the marketing and outreach, but all four partners pitch in wherever needed.

Because the vineyards at Black Birch were planted in 2010 and are young (they still have about two years of maturity until they can be harvested), the proprietors currently source their grapes from Southeastern Mass. or the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Since June 2012, they’ve doubled their visitation, from 650 tastings to 1,480 this August, with wines priced between $16 and $20.

Hamel was one of the many who put ‘art’ and ‘science’ in the same sentence as she talked about wine making. “That’s why Ian is so good at it, because that’s what dentistry is, too,” she explained. “A dentist has to know the science, but has to be an artist to get your tooth to look exactly as it did before.”

The owners of Mount Warner Winery in Hadley — Gary Kamen, a UMass professor of Kinesiology who is in ‘phased retirement,’ and his wife, Bobbie, a strategic planner with AARP — agreed.

“I think the reason I enjoy grape growing and making wine is because they are both part art and part science, probably because of my science background,” said Gary Kamen. “Each person who gets into this business enters it with a different perspective.”

Like Godard and the partners at Black Birch, the Kamens started growing grapes with six cuttings, or vines, in their field in 2000. Soon they were making wine, and, like Godard, they decided to ‘go pro’ in 2010, opening their winery in June 2012. Now, with 725 vines per acre, they have six wines, including two dessert wines priced between $14 and $20.

Les Trois Emme Winery in New Marlborough, owned and operated by Wayne and Mary Jane Eline, is located just south of Ski Butternut in Great Barrington and minutes from the Norman Rockwell Museum and Tanglewood. While the rural town has a residential population of 1,400, it swells to more than 3,000 with tourists and second-home residents from New York.

Wayne Eline is a former chemistry teacher and high-school principal who, like Godard, took his hobby to a whole new level after retirement in 1999. The Elines set their first vines in the dirt in 2000, and by 2003, they were open for business.

“If you’re going to get into it, you’ve got to make it into a real business, rather than just playing games. It didn’t take long to go from where it was to where it is now,” he said, adding that he has tripled his yield over the past decade due to “getting really earnest” about the business in 2009.

The venture now produces 11 to 13 wines, with Stingy Jack Pumpkin, a white wine with a fusion of pumpkin spices, emerging as the most popular.


Age-old Tradition

Godard described wine tasting as a very personal experience — for both the taster and the winemaker — and something he’s getting used to as visitation numbers continue to climb.

But he admits that some comments, including those spiced with ‘really good,’ leave him amused and often surprised.

He recalled one visitor from California who commented, “your wines aren’t like our wines,” to which Godard jokingly replied, “that’s like saying your chicken isn’t like our duck.”

The difference, he said, is between French hybrid grapes that grow best in the Northeast, and European vinifera grapes that area vintners source from California, and the two very different climates in which they grow.

“Our wines are different, and they [people from California] should have learned their lesson, because they were treated the same way by the French until the French had their eyes opened when the California wines started taking gold medals at international wine competitions. And that’s happening here now.”

All four wineries have won awards regionally for their wines, and this is perhaps one reason why they’re seeing and meeting a number of avid wine lovers from Connecticut, venturing past that state’s wine trail.

To help bolster visitation, the MFWGA has been promoting the annual Massachusetts Wine Passport Program, which offers a $2 passport to 15 participating wineries in the state. Once the visitor has all 15 unique passport codes from each winery, they are eligible to enter a drawing to win a cellar full of Massachusetts wine.

For Goldberg and the GSCVB, anything that promotes regional ‘buy-local’ efforts is beneficial, and a Western Mass. wine trail would certainly help bring more people to the western counties.

“Eventually, having a number of successful wineries could lead to a Pioneer Valley Wine Trail, wine festivals, and harvest festivals,” she noted.

Western Mass WineriesA number of wineries already feature their labels at area farmers’ markets, thanks to the Massachusetts Farm Winery Bill, backed by the MFWGA, which allows vintners in the Commonwealth to sell their wine at such venues.

Keeping with the theme, the Kamens’ philosophy is to make wine only from grapes and fruit that they grow.

“We intend to make a Massachusetts product out of a Pioneer Valley product.” he said, adding that his winery regularly attends the Amherst and the South Hadley farmers’ markets, while Hamel said Black Birch Winery has seen definite growth and awareness of their wines through their appearances at the Northampton Farmers’ Market.


Juicy Futures

Just this summer, the Wine Marketing Council, working with the Nielsen Co., released its annual statistics regarding the global wine market, and found that Baby Boomers spend the most on wine, but with more than 15,000 Millennials coming of age per day, a new target market is emerging. Bobbie Kamen is definitely seeing more young people at Mount Warner Winery.

“Millennials are very eager to try a lot of different things; it’s an exploration for them,” she said.  “And if they like it, they’ll buy it.”

Hamel said Black Birch also sees a number of Millennials, which she considers somewhat surprising, but very promising for the future. “On our Facebook likes, the Millennials age group is the biggest,” she said, adding that, while they may not yet have the disposable incomes that Baby Boomers do, they appreciate fine wine and are establishing themselves as solid customers for decades to come.

While advertising will be important, trust in the valued word-of-mouth endorsement will become even more important to this younger generation in learning about the next new thing in wine.

“Word of mouth is really important for us no matter what age, because, yes, we’re in the business of wine,” Hamel stated, “but we’re also in the business of giving people a great experience.”

And at the moment, this is a business laden with potential — not only to spur economic development and jobs, but also to provide a big boost to a host of efforts to put Western Mass. on the map for many different types of visitors.

In other words, when it comes to wine and wineries, the region’s producers have grape expectations.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Sections Travel and Tourism
Springfield Seeks State Designation for a Cultural District
Kay Simpson

Kay Simpson says creation of a cultural district will help Springfield brand its many attractions, while spurring economic development.

Evan Plotkin equated it to a business hanging out a sign that reads “under new management.”

Though he quickly acknowledged that the analogy isn’t perfect — the city hasn’t actually changed leadership at the top, and won’t for at least a few more years — he went ahead with it anyway, because he considers it an effective way to talk about what the creation of a cultural district in Springfield can and likely will do for the community.

“Business owners put out an ‘under new management’ sign on a restaurant, for example, when they want to change the dynamic,” said Plotkin, president of NAI Plotkin and a prime mover in ongoing efforts to revitalize and promote the city’s downtown. “They do it because they want people to know that something has changed, something’s different, something’s better — that people should want to come there again.”

Creating a cultural district can do very much the same thing for Springfield, he went on, noting that it will help the city brand itself and its many cultural attractions and, in many ways, give people a reason to give the community a look — or another look.

Kay Simpson agreed. She’s the vice president of Springfield Museums and one of the primary architects of a proposed cultural district that would cover several blocks downtown and include everything from the Armory Museum to the Paramount; from the Community Music School to the five museums in the Quadrangle; from Symphony Hall to the clubs on Worthington Street.

The formal application for creation of the district was sent to the Mass. Cultural Council (MCC) on Aug. 15, said Simpson, who literally knocked on some wood as she talked about what she considers decent odds that the city will join Pittsfield, Easthampton, Lowell, Gloucester, and other cities gaining state designation for a cultural district.

“This is a great tool for promoting the arts,” she said, adding that, beyond building awareness of the city’s attractions, creation of a cultural district will also better position the city for funding from such organizations as the National Endowment for the Arts, and also spur economic development. “A district can stimulate business, especially creative-economy businesses.”

Her optimism about the proposal’s chances is based on comments made by MCC officials who have walked the planned district already and provided input on the application and how it should be written, and also on the large volume of attractions and institutions packed into the multi-block area identified in the map to the right.

Springfield Cultural District Map loRes 5“It’s remarkable when you consider how many major cultural institutions are located in the downtown area,” she said. “This is not a huge geographic area, but there is a dense concentration of cultural assets.”

David Starr concurred. The president of the Republican and chair of the city’s Cultural Coordination Committee described the planned district as a “true gem,” and said its creation will provide new and potent opportunities to increase awareness of the city’s cultural amenities and build on that foundation.

“The problem has always been that these institutions never got the outside recognition that they deserved,” he explained, referring to the museums in the Quadrangle, the symphony, and other organizations. “A cultural district will help sell them and help brand them to not just the local area, but people outside this region.”

For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes an in-depth look at the proposed cultural district and what its architects believe it can do for the city and its ongoing efforts to revitalize the downtown area.


Mapping Out a Strategy

The MCC’s Cultural Districts Initiative was authorized by an act of the state Legislature in 2010 and launched in 2011.

It was inspired by mounting evidence that thriving creative sectors stimulate economic development, said Simpson, noting that the prevailing theory has been that such districts attract artists, cultural organizations, and entrepreneurs, while helping specific communities create or strengthen a sense of place.

“By having the cultural-district designation, you’re creating an environment where all kinds of businesses can come into an area,” she explained. “These creative-economy businesses include everything from art galleries to graphic-design enterprises to coffee shops and restaurants.

“You’re creating a brand for a community,” she went on, “so that people from outside that community know that, if they go to the cultural district in Springfield, there’s going to be a lot for them to do. They can go to museums, see historic monuments and sites, and have lots to do in terms of both the visual arts and the performing arts.”

There are currently 17 cultural districts across the state, with more being proposed. They have been established in Barnstable, Boston, Cambridge, Concord, Easthampton, Essex, Gloucester (which has two), Lowell, Lynn, Marlborough, Natick, Orleans, Pittsfield, Rockport, Sandwich, and Shelburne Falls.

Springfield’s proposed cultural district would be bordered by East Columbus Avenue, Bliss Street, Stockbridge Street, High Street, Federal Street, Pearl Street, Dwight Street, Lyman Street, and Frank B. Murray Street, according to a prepared summary.

That section is home to number of cultural attractions and institutions, including the Springfield Armory National Historic Site, the Quadrangle, the historic Mattoon Street area, the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall, CityStage, the Paramount, and the Community Music School, said Simpson, adding that it also includes several parks, some retail areas, and a number of restaurants, clubs, and hotels.

One of the required traits of a district, as set down by the MCC, is that it be walkable, said Simpson, noting that, while this comparatively large area — which officials originally thought might encompass two districts — constitutes a “good walk,” it meets that stipulation.

Most of the existing cultural districts have names that identify a specific neighborhood, landmark, or street. Easthampton’s, for example, is called the Cottage Street Cultural District, a nod to the many former mills and storefronts on that thoroughfare that have become home to arts-related businesses and agencies. Meanwhile, Lowell’s Canalway District takes its name from an historic section of that former textile-manufacturing center, which has also become a center for the cultural community, and spotlights the city’s most enduring character trait — its canals.

Those leading the drive for Springfield’s district recently ran a contest to name it; submissions are currently being weighed by a panel of judges, and a winner is to be announced soon.

By whatever name the district takes, it is expected to become a point of reference for Springfield, a vehicle for branding the City of Homes, and a source of momentum as the community seeks to build its creative economy and, overall, bring vibrancy to a long-challenged section of the city, said Plotkin.

In a big-picture sense, the broad goal behind the cultural district is to change the conversation about Springfield, he went on, adding that, in recent years, most of the talk has been about financial struggles (the city was run by a control board for several years), crime, poverty, and high dropout rates in the city’s high schools.

“This cultural district will build a sense of community,” he noted. “It will help break down some of those walls that people have about Springfield, including the sense that we’re a broken city with low self-esteem.

“We have to break out of that and build some pride and some community,” he went on. “We have to start doing things that will really change the city, and I believe a cultural district will do that. Doing this can help to start changing the conversation about Springfield and about what we really are culturally and what we have here.”

It can also help make a community more visible — and attractive — to those looking for landing spots for a company or sites for everything from day trips to meetings and conventions, said Simpson, who said creation of a cultural district in Boston’s Fenway area has apparently done all that.

“In the Fenway, they’ve said they have seen an increase in occupancy rates in office buildings and storefronts since the cultural district was created,” she said, noting that the area, home to several museums and other attractions, is in many ways similar to downtown Springfield. “Meanwhile, it has created for them the sense that they’re more recognized in terms of gaining political support.”


Sign of the Times

Springfield will probably find out sometime this fall if its proposal for a cultural district has been accepted by the MCC, said Simpson.

If all goes as those behind this initiative believe it will, then the city will soon have a new vehicle for marketing itself and perhaps making some real progress in ongoing efforts to change some of the perceptions about the community.

In other words, the ‘under new management’ sign can go on the door. It will then be up the city to make the most of that development. n


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


Sections Travel and Tourism
The Carle Celebrates a Decade of Connecting Generations

Eric Carle

Eric Carle spends time with a mother and child at one of the museum’s many book signings.

Eric Carle may be legendary for his picture books for children, but kids aren’t the only ones welcome at the museum he founded in 2002.

“It’s a very unique concept in that it’s not a children’s museum,” said Alexandra Kennedy, executive director of the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art in Amherst. “It’s an art museum that celebrates picture books and really welcomes children. There are a lot of things to do here.”

What’s most gratifying, she told BusinessWest, is the way the museum cuts across generations.

“One of our favorite things is when families come in — grandparents, parents, and children — and each have a different reaction to what they’re seeing,” Kennedy said, noting that older visitors wax nostalgic for the books of their youth, while children experience the “immediacy” of having a world of literature opened up to them.

“Children’s literature has a unique place in everyone’s heart,” she continued. “And educationally, it’s a perfect thing; it embodies both storytelling and art making. It’s about children’s first experiences — being read to, reading, looking at art, making all those observations. There’s almost nothing like it in terms of an educational or emotional experience; there’s nothing like sitting on the lap of someone you love, being read a story. Every parent has experienced that.”

The goal of the Carle, then, is to reflect that sense of wonder and connection, and to inspire a love of art through high-quality picture books.

“The idea for creating the museum came directly from Eric and Barbara Carle; they had traveled extensively in Europe and Japan and had seen many picture-book art museums — especially in Japan,” Kennedy said, noting that the island nation boasts at least 20 such museums of different sizes. “They came back from one of those trips and started thinking, ‘why don’t we have a museum here in the U.S. to celebrate picture-book art? Maybe that’s something we can do.’ So they thought about it long and hard and started working on developing a museum.”

The Carle opened in November 2002 alongside the Hampshire College campus, and has been marking its 10th anniversary with a yearlong celebration that began last fall.

The Carle

The Carle was an immediate success when it opened in 2002, far surpassing first-year attendance expectations.

“They really thought it through,” Kennedy said of the Carles. “They were very careful; they wanted to make sure people got to experience picture books in a lot of different ways — the idea being, they’d go to galleries to see a lot of original art, go to studios and use the same materials and techniques the artists use to make the books, come into the library to find their favorite books or listen to story time, and visit the auditorium for lectures about picture books and artists.”


Delicate Subjects

The museum has no permanent exhibitions; the displays are typically works on paper, which are sensitive to light in the long term, so they’re switched out regularly and replaced by other items from the museum’s vast collection.

The facility is divided into three galleries. The east gallery hosts rotating exhibits of major artists or major themes, while the central gallery is a place to celebrate one specific book at a time. “It’s a wonderful way for people to understand what the process is like for making books,” Kennedy explained, noting that a Charlotte’s Web exhibit earlier this year featured drawings from E.B. White’s original publication. The gallery is currently celebrating Robert Zakanitch’s A Garden of Ordinary Miracles, and later this year it will spotlight drawings from Louise Fitzhugh’s classic Harriet the Spy.

Meanwhile, the west gallery features rotating exhibitions of Carle’s work — a must, since many guests travel to the museum, often from long distances, specifically to enjoy the work of its founder. He has given a great deal of art to the facility, and there’s more coming — at 84, Carle has a book release scheduled for this fall, and he continues to produce abstract art as well, as evidenced by the four massive, colorful murals gracing the museum lobby.

But it’s the participation of other authors and artists — and, in the case of deceased illustrators, their families — that has taken the Carle to its current level of prestige, Kennedy said.

“When Eric and Barbara were working on the concept of the museum, they probably didn’t anticipate what the response would be from artists and their families to the collection. Now we have more than 10,000 pieces in the collection, including large bodies of work from William Steig, Leo Lionni, Arnold Lobel — all major artists.”

Many current writers and artists, she explained, appreciate the idea of a place where their work can be both safely preserved and also occasionally displayed. One of those is Mo Willems, the Northampton resident and Caldecott Award-winning author and illustrator of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!, Knuffle Bunny: a Cautionary Tale, and the Elephant and Piggie books. He was the subject of an extensive exhibition at the Carle this year, and donated a bright red Elephant sculpture to the outdoor patio.

“We had a really big response to our Mo Willems exhibition. He’s definitely one of the most popular young picture-book authors here now, especially judging by kids’ reactions,” Kennedy said, noting that Willems visited and hid pigeons throughout the gallery, which young visitors were encouraged to find and exchange for temporary pigeon tattoos. “Mo is so playful, and his characters are so universal in their appeal. It has been the summer of the pigeon here.”

In addition, “he has been incredibly supportive bringing attention to the museum,” she noted. “When the Today show profiled him this summer, he said, ‘why don’t we shoot the segment at the Eric Carle museum? Suddenly, we were on the Today show. We’re fortunate that artists are very generous in sharing their own success with us; we’ve really appreciated that.”


Two-way Street

In return, the Carle has shared its own success with the community, notably through two National Endowment for the Arts grants funding year-long art-education projects in the Maurice A. Donahue School in Holyoke, featuring guest visits from nationally noted illustrators. The first such project took place in 2011, and the second will begin this fall. “The grants really allow us to bring our work to other schools that may not be able to have it,” said Sandy Soderberg, the museum’s marketing manager.

One visiting artist, Jerry Pinkney — whose works include the Caldecott-winning The Lion & the Mouse, among others — spent two days in a classroom in 2011, exposing children to the art of illustration through hands-on, interactive activities.

“The best way for a museum to get involved in the classroom is to be there,” Kennedy said. “That’s what is most exciting for the schools and kids.”

She told of one boy in Holyoke who had kept a sketchbook at home. “It was something few people knew about; it wasn’t part of his public life. And suddenly, he’s in a class where that’s being celebrated. Maybe one day he’ll want to be an illustrator.

“The goal of the program,” she continued, “is to make kids feel comfortable with books and how they’re made, to be able to look at them and think about the artist, think about the writer. In our world, where everything is happening so fast, that’s a pretty thoughtful experience to have in the second grade.”

In addition, the Carle has made an effort to increase the participation of artists and writers at the museum itself, from book signings to activities for children. “One of the things I love is having an artist or writer come and do story time in the library,” Kennedy said. “Some of them make it really special; they bring in an easel and do something interactive with the kids.”

With just seven gallery exhibitions per year, those events, as well as auditorium lectures, are another way to include more artists and writers, she explained. “Of course, guests love it; they have an intimate experience here, getting to know a professional children’s-book artist.”

Meanwhile, “we’re traveling our work more, going into more places,” she noted, noting that the Carle has shown parts of its collection as far away as Korea and will bring an exhibition to Japan soon. “It’s important, not just because it raises the visibility of what we do here at the Carle, but it’s also germane to our mission. We think the museum should be displaying this work. We want to draw in young families and create that next generation of young museum-goers.”


Immediate Hit

Since its opening, the Carle has drawn more than a half-million visitors from around the world, including about 30,000 children on school-sponsored visits. The museum benefited from an opening-year buzz in 2002 and 2003 that surprised even the facility’s main proponents.

“They had unprecedented visitation the first year, far beyond what they expected,” Kennedy said. “We’ve now settled in around 40,000 to 45,000 per year, which is what they thought it would be.”

This past year, however, has seen a jump in visitation, which may have something to do with publicity from 10th-anniversary events, or other factors may be in play. “It’s always hard to guess why we’re seeing an increase, or even a decrease. I’m guessing it has something to do with the recovering economy.”

Meanwhile, a Boston-based group called the Highland Street Foundation, which sponsors Free Fun Fridays at museums across the Commonwealth, hosted a free event at the Carle recently that drew 1,470 people; typically, Kennedy said, if 800 people come through the door, that’s a big day. “So many people who had never come to the museum before said, ‘I always wanted to come here.’”

Hopefully, she said, many of them will return.

“I think so many people feel that art museums are intimidating in some way, that they have to have some special knowledge about art to appreciate it. We want to take away that concern,” she said, noting that the Carle emphasizes the experience of interacting with the art, rather than just the work itself.

“To see all these families connecting over books, unplugging for storytimes,” Soderberg said, “I don’t think we could be more proud of the museum right now.”

That’s a happy ending indeed to the Carle’s first decade — with much more of the story yet to be written.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at  [email protected]

Cover Story Sections Travel and Tourism
Holyoke’s Happiness Machine Marks a Milestone

CoverBW-0513bThe Holyoke Merry-Go-Round marks 20 years in operation at Heritage Park this December.
Thus, this is a time of reflection and celebration in Holyoke, concerning both the remarkable story of how residents and businesses in the city rallied to keep the attraction within the community, and the success enjoyed since: more than 1 million riders, hundreds of events staged at the facility, restoration of nearly half the ride’s hand-crafted wooden horses, and the creation of untold memories for generations of area residents.
There will be many opportunities to rejoice and look back this year, with the highlight being a huge fund-raising gala at the Log Cabin Banquet and Meeting House on Sept. 19, an event that is expected to severely test the facility’s fire-code capacity.
But for those most closely involved with this landmark, known to them as PTC 80 (the 80th carousel built by the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.), this is a time for much more than celebrating — although they will do plenty of that. It’s an occasion to do some strategic planning and take important steps that will ensure there are many more anniversaries to celebrate down the road.
And it’s a time, said Angela Wright, to do some difficult, yet very necessary, succession planning when it comes to management of what those in the city call the ‘happiness machine.’


Friends of PTC 80, as it’s called, will mark its milestone anniversary with an eye toward ensuring that there are more of these celebrations for decades to come.

Difficult, noted Wright, who was co-chair of the group that raised the money to keep the carousel in Holyoke and has been its volunteer director since it opened, because that’s the only word to describe what it will be like to “let go.”
“We’re reluctant to give up something that is close to all of us, and something that we worked so hard at —  it’s been a labor of love for all of us,” she said, referring to a strong corps of volunteers that has been with this project from the beginning and seen some of their ranks pass away in recent years. “We don’t want to let go of this, but it’s something we know we have to do.”
Elaborating, she said the Friends of the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, as this group is called, is engaging in discussions about hiring a full-time executive director for the facility, an individual who will assume many duties currently carried out by those volunteers, from fund-raising to marketing, while also taking on the primary assignment — maintaining the relationships that have enabled this city treasure to survive and thrive, and creating new ones.
Hiring a director is one of many suggestions forwarded during strategic planning sessions staged recently with a consultant, Jeff Hayden, former city development director and current director of the Kittredge Center, said Maureen Costello, administrative manager of PTC 80.
Others include everything from recruiting additional board members to developing and implementing a marketing plan; from multi-faceted efforts to increase visitation to a host of initiatives to increase revenues, especially the scheduling of more birthday parties and other events.
These steps are in various, but mostly early, stages of implementation, said Costello, noting that one important step — a doubling of the price of a ride to $2 after more than 18 years — was undertaken in 2012.
“That was a difficult decision for us, because we had prided ourselves on keeping the ticket price at a dollar since we opened in 1993,” she explaned. “But it’s been very well-received by our visitors; many people said, ‘it’s about time you did this.’”
There will be more difficult and far-reaching steps taken in the months and years to come, said Jim Jackowski, business liaison and customer service and credit manager for Holyoke Gas & Electric and current president of the Friends board. He noted that, while the attraction’s first two decades in operation could be deemed an unqualified success, these are tenuous times for independently operated carousels like this one.
The challenges are many, and include everything from the high cost of insurance (carousels have historically had high mishap rates, although this one hasn’t recorded any) to the escalating competition for the time of young children (the ride’s lifeblood) and their parents.
“There are just a lot more things for kids and families to do today,” said Jackowski. “We have to respond to that by promoting ourselves and doing what we’ve always done — providing a truly unique experience.”
Wright agreed. “Many carousels are closing — hardly a week goes that we don’t hear of one of them shutting down,” she said, noting that she and others read about such casualties in industry publications like the Carousel News & Trader and Merry-Go-Round Roundup. “These things are becoming very expensive … our liability insurance is extremely high. Between insurance, staffing, maintenance, upkeep, promotions, and marketing, they’re becoming simply too expensive for many operators to run.”
For this issue and its focus on travel and tourism, BusinessWest takes a quick look back at how PTC 80 remained a Holyoke institution, but a more comprehensive glance ahead to the challenge of making sure the happiness machine will be there to create memories for future generations of area residents.

Turns for the Better

‘Middle horse #5’

‘Middle horse #5’ is next in line for a complete restoration. To date, nearly half of the horses on the carousel have been refurbished.

It’s known simply as ‘middle horse #5.’ And that says it all — if you know this carousel.
It has three rows of horses (there are 28 in all, both ‘standers’ and ‘jumpers,’ with two chariots), with the largest animals on the outside and the smallest on the inside. This particular specimen is fifth in a sequence known only to those intimately involved with this attraction. And it is showing some definite signs of wear and tear, much of it caused by the buckle on the stirrup, which has knocked off badly faded paint in several areas.
As a result, it is next in line for restoration work that will make it look like the much shinier and newer ‘middle horse #4’ just ahead. This work, to be carried out at the New England Carousel Museum in Bristol, Conn., will cost roughly $5,000, said Costello. To help pay that cost, the merry-go-round is staging a raffle this summer, with the winner gaining the right to give the horse a real name — like ‘Lancelot,’ ‘Flower Power,’ and others that have been assigned to other animals on PTC 80.
Restoring horses, staging raffles, and giving names to the stars of this attraction have been some of the many aspects of that labor of love which Wright described, made possible by the truly inspiring story of how Holyoke came together to keep its carousel a quarter-century ago.
Most in this region are now at least somewhat familiar with the saga, which began with Mountain Park owner Jay Collins’ decision to shut down the popular tourist attraction after the 1987 season ended.
After unsuccessful efforts to sell the park, the 300 acres it sat on, and all the equipment and inventory as one package (asking price: $4 million), Collins opted to start selling off the pieces. He had some attractive offers (up to $2 million, according to some accounts) for PTC 80, which was in extremely good condition. And while he was considering them, John Hickey, then manager of Holyoke’s Water Department, approached him with a plan to keep the carousel in the city.
The two agreed on a price of $875,000, and Collins gave Hickey one year to raise the money.
The rest, is, well, history.
An elaborate ‘save the merry-go-round’ campaign was launched, complete with a request for pledges with rhetorical calls to action that included ‘stop them from riding off with Holyoke’s mane attraction’ and ‘if you care about Holyoke’s future, put some money down on her past.’
In the end, residents, business owners, and schoolchildren heeded those calls, raising enough money to buy the carousel and build it a new home in Heritage State Park. Thus, PTC 80’s second life began in December 1993.
To say that it’s been a smooth ride since then would oversimplify things, said Wright, who noted that there have been many challenges over the first two decades, from getting people to come to downtown Holyoke to attracting revenue-generating events, such as birthday parties and weddings, to overcoming the loss several years ago of the four-day Celebrate Holyoke event that gave the carousel much-needed exposure and ridership.
“The real business challenge for us has been to replace the revenue from the Celebrate Holyoke festival, which was probably 10% to 15% of our annual revenue,” said Jackowski. “We’ve done it largely through the promotion of the birthday parties, the private functions, and the corporate functions, and spreading the word through an extended Pioneer Valley area.”
The attraction has managed to remain in the black throughout and meet its annual budget of roughly $100,000, he noted, largely through perseverance, imagination, and resourcefulness.
But if PTC 80, one of only 100 antique classic wooden merry-rounds still operating in North America, is to keep its Holyoke address, it must continue to act as a small business would, and that means strategic planning and, as Wright and Costello said, succession planning.

Round Numbers
That later assignment is a difficult one for many small businesses to even acknowledge, let alone address, said Wright, adding that it’s the same with the merry-go-round, where this exercise takes a number of forms.
For starters, it means active recruiting of younger professionals within the community to join the board and become involved with the carousel, she said, adding that a new generation of leadership must eventually take the reins — literally and figuratively — from the group that waged the campaign to save PTC 80 a quarter-century ago.
Succession planning also means developing and advancing a plan to hire a full-time executive director, said Costello, adding that the merry-go-round has a part-time operations manager (15 hours per week), and there are others who have held that position in the past.
Hiring a full-time manager would be a big step, one that would dramatically alter the budgetary picture, Wright told BusinessWest, but such a move is necessary given the current challenging climate. But the broad “transition,” as she called it, will nonetheless be difficult for the carousel’s older ‘friends.’
“We’ve all been here 25 years,” she said. “And we’re all somewhat reluctant to let anything happen to this merry-go-round. We all have a personal investment in this, and it’s a sizable investment.”
Succession planning is just part of the discussion when it comes to securing the long-term future of the merry-go-round, said Costello, adding that strategic planning initiatives involving the attraction, like those staged for businesses of all sizes, have focused on that acronym SWOT — strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.
Clearly, the 20th-anniversary celebrations fall into that third category, she said, adding that the attraction’s leadership intends to use the many events and special programs on tap this year to introduce (or re-introduce) people to the carousel, with several goals in mind. These include everything from increasing direct ridership to booking more special events involving both children and adults; from recruiting more supporters to simply raising more funds.
“The 20th anniversary is a time to reflect on the many things that we’ve accomplished here and be proud of those accomplishments,” Costello said. “But it’s also an opportunity to re-connect with our supporters and make more friends.
“We recognize that, while our merry-go-round was the crown jewel at Mountain Park, the people who remember the park are older now,” she went on. “We understand that those people are not going to be able to share their memories of Mountain Park, so we need to attract a new generation of riders and supporters, and we’re cognizant of that as we make our plans for the future.”
As it did 25 years ago, the Friends group is reaching out to the community for donations, she said, adding that donors can become members of the merry-go-round’s Ring of Honor, a collection of brass plaques that bear the names of supporters ranging from Holyoke schoolchildren to businesses across all sectors.
Beyond fund-raising, one of the main goals moving forward is to maximize other revenue resources, said Costello, adding that the increase in ticket prices resulted in a roughly 70% increase in total revenue in 2012, “which made a huge difference.”
But long-term, the merry-go-round must be more successful with scheduling events, she continued, because they are both solid revenue generators and vehicles for generating future ridership and more get-togethers.
Overall, the ongoing assignment for the merry-go-round’s leadership team is to make the attraction — and downtown Holyoke in general — more of a true destination for families with children, said Jackowski, adding that there are many developments that are moving the city closer to that designation.
“We hope, by keeping this building as attractive as it is, and this park as attractive as it is, that the future looks bright,” he told BusinessWest. “We have our new neighbor, the computing center, we’re hopeful that the canal walk comes to fruition in the next five years, and there is more development down here that creates optimism. We want to be the focal point of all that.”

The Ride Stuff
John Hickey, who passed away in 2008, once wrote of carousels, “man, and high tech, has not yet devised a better way to illuminate the faces of children and parents with pure joy. The lights, the music, the kids dashing for the right horse, the clang of the starting bell, and the motion … you don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave every time around … and their parent will wave back. It never fails … it never will.”
PTC 80 has lived up to those words for more than eight decades, and especially in its new home in Holyoke’s downtown. Its first two decades there have been an extraordinary ride in every sense of that word.
And that’s why this anniversary will be a time to celebrate, but also a time to make sure that the ride will continue for decades to come.

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

buy ivermectin for humans buy ivermectin online buy generic cialis buy cialis