Deerfield Strives to Be More Than a Tourist Town
Wendy Foxmyn acknowleged that, when pressed to describe Deerfield with a word or two, most responders would say ‘tourist town,’ or something to that effect.
And, sounding somewhat like the Seinfeld characters in that infamous episode, she said there’s nothing particularly wrong with that.
But she quickly, and repeatedly, stressed that this community that is home to Yankee Candle’s flagship store — one of the most visited attractions in New England — as well as Mount Sugarloaf, Historic Deerfield, and the Magic Wings Butterfly Conservancy and Garden wants to diversify and broaden its commercial portfolio.
“We consider ourselves be more than a tourist town — much more,” said Foxmyn, who has served several area communities in the town administrator role, including Deerfield for the past two years. She noted that the town’s location, roughly halfway between Northampton and Greenfield, could make it ideal as a home from which a business or nonprofit could effectively serve both Hampshire and Franklin counties, something many are trying to do at a time of consolidation.
“We’re becoming more of a hub — a central Hampshire-Franklin hub,” she explained. “I’ve been getting calls from service agencies and others who serve both counties who would like to find a central place because they’ve lost funding or anticipate losing funding.”
Meanwhile, Deerfield, population 5,400 or so, wants to take far more advantage of that bevy of tourist attractions than it has historically, said Foxmyn, noting that, far too often, cars and buses filled with those buying candles and admiring butterflies get back in their vehicles and simply return home.
“We want them to look left and look right,” said Foxmyn, referring specifically to Routes 5 and 10, just two of the major thoroughfares the town is blessed with, with Routes 91 and 116 being the others. “We want them to stay and take in more of Deerfield.”
For this to become reality, the town must give visitors more reasons to look left and right, she acknowledged, adding that, while there is a new restaurant, Gianni Fig’s Ristorante, and a new Cumberland Farms in South Deerfield, more development is desired and needed to both broaden the tax base and lengthen the average stay of those coming to Deerfield for an afternoon.
“We’d like to develop more businesses that would be attractive to the people who come here,” she explained. “Maybe places for them to eat after they’ve gone to Historic Deerfield or they’ve hiked up Mount Sugarloaf or gone to Yankee Candle.”
But town leaders know that to attract new businesses — in hospitality and other sectors as well — they need to make their downtown area more inviting and pedestrian-friendly, and they are eyeing a host of improvements in the Elm Street corridor, the main commercial area in South Deerfield.
Planned improvements include work on sidewalks, lights, and perhaps storefront improvements, and the town is exploring avenues for funding such work.
Selectman Trevor McDaniel, a traveling salesman (windows) by trade, told BusinessWest that his work takes him to communities across the region, many of which have made significant investments in their downtowns, and with recognizable results when it comes to those public expenditures spurring private investments and new business ventures.
He believes the same can happen in Deerfield.
“I travel all over Western Mass. … you go to Pittsfield, the streets look great, Great Barrington, everything’s redone, Lenox is really nice,” he said. “A lot of communities have done extensive work to their downtowns — they’ve put in new brick, some granite, planters, new lighting and light poles, and new cement sidewalks, and it looks fantastic. And then businesses freshen up the front of their building.”
For this, the latest installment in its Community Spotlight series, BusinessWest looks at how a community known for its butterflies, candles, and arrowheads will look to expand that profile and create new ways for people to describe it.
View to the Future
While Deerfield, as noted, is well-known as the home of Yankee Candle, which has both its manufacturing facilities and flagship store within the town and is therefore a very large employer, it has historically been dominated by small businesses.
And they come across a host of sectors — tourism, obviously, but also agriculture, healthcare, retail, manufacturing, and nonprofits.
The goal moving forward, as Foxmyn mentioned, is to simply broaden the portfolio. And the town has many assets to work with as it goes about that task, everything from that attractive location and presence on major highways to a uniform tax rate (several neighboring communities have a higher tax rate for businesses).
The assignment, simply, is to take full advantage of those assets and create still more of them.
Deerfield at a Glance
Year Incorporated: 1677
Area: 33.4 square miles
Residential and commercial Tax Rate: $16.57 (Deerfield), $18.24 (South Deerfield)
Median Household Income: $74,853
Median Family Income: $83,859
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting
Largest Employers: Yankee Candle Co., Pelican Products Inc.
* Latest information available
The town’s location, as well as easy access to highways and ample farmland with space for greenhouses, could make it a potential landing spot for marijuana cultivation and/or retail ventures, for example, said Foxmyn, adding that the town, which has placed zoning restrictions on such businesses, has already fielded some inquiries and will carefully consider any that come its way.
“They are knocking on our doors — the industry is swarming us,” she told BusinessWest. “And they’re approaching people locally to get them involved, whether they’re farmers or people who have buildings that might become a retail site.”
Meanwhile, there have been some momentum-building endeavors over the past several months, with several projects in various stages of development.
A machining company, Dumont, will be relocating into the former Oxford Pickle complex, acquired by the town several years ago, joining New England Natural Bakers and a granola-making outfit on that parcel.
On the retail side, both Foxmyn and McDaniel mentioned Gianni Figs, located on the site of the former Sienna restaurant, which gives the community an intriguing dining attraction after the closing of Chandler’s restaurant on the Yankee Candle campus.
The Cumberland Farms is another important addition; plans are advancing for a small market to replace Savage’s, a small market that operated for decades; a bakery/café is going in the old Savage’s site; and an international market is being opened, among other retail developments.
Meanwhile, on the residential side, a large condominium project is now underway. Called the Condominiums at Sugarloaf because it will be built at the base of the mountain, it will have 70 units, presenting more options for those mulling Deerfield as an attractive place to live, including those working at the nearby Five Colleges.
On the municipal side, plans are emerging for a new senior center, said Foxmyn and McDaniel, noting a replacement is needed for an aging, largely inadequate facility. A church that closed several years ago has been donated to the town, and it may become the focus of efforts to create a new senior center.
But perhaps the most significant development involves plans for comprehensive improvements to improve South Deerfield Center, an initiative that has been long discussed, again with that goal of attracting both more tourism- and hospitality-related ventures and service businesses that would serve both the town and the larger region — and keeping tourists in town for a longer stay, spreading the wealth, if you will.
“With all that traffic that comes to Yankee Candle, and now they’ll be filling up at Cumberland Farms — they’ll pull out onto Elm Street and look left or right,” said McDaniel, imaging a scenario from down the road, literally as well as figuratively. “We want them to take that look and say, ‘what’s downtown? Let’s go take a look.’”
There are other items on what could be called a ‘wish list,’ said McDaniel, including much-needed improvements to the town’s sewer system, built in the ’70s and currently serving only a small percentage of the population, but finding the funding for such an endeavor will be a real challenge.
“We’re in the midst of trying to figure out what’s needed, how much it’s going to cost, and who’s going to pay for it,” he explained. “That’s a big topic we’ve been studying for the past 16 months or so; it’s hard to figure out what to do. There’s not a big base of users, and there’s huge expense involved.”
Scents and Sensibility
The more immediate goal is to undertake those improvements to Elm Street and, hopefully see those public investments inspire private investments in the form of new businesses and additional residential projects.
As Foxmyn noted, Deerfield has the location — and the potential — to become an important hub serving two neighboring but very different counties.
This community is already much more than a tourist town, she explained, but it wants to make that abundantly clear to everyone who might come for a visit.
George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]