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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 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

The Great Escape

The Berkshire region

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

By JACLYN C. STEVENSON

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

Wistariahurst

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

AWDS5Neighborhood-Overview

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]