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Special Coverage Women in Businesss

Driving Ambition

Alex Balise

Alex Balise


Alex Balise always thought she would get involved in the family business.

She just thought that would happen when she was maybe 40, not in her mid-20s, as things turned out.

But since they did turn out that way (and we’ll go back and explain way later), she is now eight years into what has become an intriguing and wide-ranging career, one that has her engaged in everything from cars — the family business is Balise Motor Sales — to car washes; from two laundromats (one in Springfield and the other on the Cape) to whatever might come next for this 105-year-old enterprise.

Indeed, Balise, 36, representing the fourth generation of the family to assume leadership roles with the company, recently saw her role change, or, to be more precise, expand. While she’s still director of Marketing, she is now also director of Corporate Strategy, which means she will play a large role in helping to shape what might come next.

“I’ve been doing more … projects,” she said, being intentionally vague. “I’ve been very involved in the car washes, and that’s been a rapid expansion, and we’re also looking at some other business opportunities that we haven’t done before.”

While doing that, she is still leading the marketing efforts for the Balise company, which has dealerships in the 413, on the Cape, and in Rhode Island; car washes in Western Mass. and Connecticut; five collision centers; and that aforementioned laundromat in Springfield’s South End.

“We’re doing a lot to highlight our people in the ads recently, and that makes sense. After all, they’re the people who make Balise … Balise. Our teams are who make the difference, so why not have them be the face?”

This a wide-ranging assignment, one that keeps a staff of six (with some help from a few agencies) busy, and includes ad creation, media buying, social media, website content, and determining if, how, and to what degree the company will honor the myriad requests it receives for support from area nonprofits, a difficult assignment because, as she put it, “I can’t think of a single thing that came in that wasn’t a good cause; they’re all good.”

For many years, marketing at Balise was the purview, if you will, of her late uncle Mike, who succumbed to stomach cancer in 2015 and was named a BusinessWest Difference Maker posthumously in 2016. He was the face of the company, she acknowledged, adding that she has resisted any and all efforts to become the new ‘face,’ noting that “I don’t have the personality for it.”

Instead, she has led efforts to make the company’s employees the collective new face, with ads featuring them in many different roles.

“We’re doing a lot to highlight our people in the ads recently, and that makes sense,” she said. “After all, they’re the people who make Balise … Balise. Our teams are who make the difference, so why not have them be the face?”

Meanwhile, she is carrying on her uncle’s tradition of getting involved in the community, especially in the broad realm of education.

Alex Balise is carrying on her uncle Mike Balise’s tradition

Alex Balise is carrying on her uncle Mike Balise’s tradition of buying coats for students at Springfield’s Homer Street School, now the Swan School.

Indeed, just as Mike did for several years, she reads in the classroom for Link to Libraries at the recently opened Swan School, a replacement for Homer Street School, which was sponsored by the Balise company for many years.

She also carries on another of Mike’s traditions — buying winter coats for students at the school — and takes it to another level with some serious shopping for deals, stretching the allotted dollars and using the savings to buy hats and other accessories.

“Costco will have these deals — ‘spend this much and get this much off,’” she explained. “So I’ll buy them in buckets so that we get the most of the discount, and then I’ll use what we saved with the discount to buy the extra things, like hats and gloves. There are definitely some things that Mike started that we’re happy to continue.”

And while doing all that, she’s also raising two young children, son Connor, 5, and daughter Emma, 3. It’s a complicated and delicate balancing act, one that she discussed, along with many other topics, in a wide-ranging interview with BusinessWest for this issue and its focus on women in business.


Drive Time

One of the better perks for those in the auto-sales business — even those in charge of marketing and, now, corporate strategy — is being able to drive a demo.

And for Balise, the car of choice — and there is a lot to choose from in an auto group that sells several different makes — is the Toyota Crown, a sporty hybrid sedan. Yes, a sedan. Even with two young children, she’ll leave the SUVs for others to drive.

“If we have the opportunity to have more focused donations that have a bigger impact on the organizations that we’re helping, that’s the direction we’ve decided to take.”

Although this sedan doesn’t look much like anything else on the road.

“I’ve never had more people ask me, ‘what is that you’re driving?’” she said. “Because it is a little different.”

Balise spends a considerable amount of time in whichever Crown she’s driving at the moment — she doesn’t keep them past 5,000 miles — splitting her days between the 413, Rhode Island, and the Cape. While driving, she’s usually listening to audiobooks (she likes both fiction and nonfiction and is currently ‘rereading’ the Harry Potter books) and thinking about all the many balls she’s keeping in the air at present.

All this wasn’t exactly where she pictured herself at this stage of her life and career, but there have been some, well, unexpected turns.

Like most who grew up around the car business, Balise spent summers and school breaks working in various jobs at dealerships. She recalls working in the parts department, calling customers to tell them their appointments were coming up, and even handling paperwork created by the federal government’s infamous Cash for Clunkers program designed to fuel auto sales in the wake of the Great Recession.

But she wasn’t thinking about making this a career.

Alex Balise meets some residents of the Zoo in Forest Park

Alex Balise meets some residents of the Zoo in Forest Park after the company wrapped a vehicle and donated it to the zoo for its educational programs.

Instead, while earning her undergraduate degree at Colgate University, she was thinking about teaching and then working in the broad realm of education policy.

But she graduated into a tough job market in 2009 and eventually moved to Boston with her husband, Trevor McEwen, who did manage to find work. She eventually secured some herself, working for a student health-insurance brokerage and consulting firm for three and a half years.

She learned a lot about business in that role, but decided she needed to further that education and earned an MBA, with a concentration in marketing, at Babson College. With that degree, she sought work in education consulting and hospital operations, but “couldn’t find anything I loved.”

Meanwhile, Balise Motor Sales was opening another car wash in West Springfield, and her father, Jeb, its CEO, asked her to run some pro formas and work on the project.

“That was really interesting — I didn’t know anything about car washes, so I learned a lot there,” she said, adding that she spent most of her time on the Cape, where the company opened its first such facility.

To make a long story shorter, that learning experience would be the start of her career with the company, she said, adding that she moved on to a different project, the opening of a Kia store in West Springfield in 2016 after the company was awarded that franchise.

And during that project, Balise’s vice president of Marketing retired, and Alex was asked by then-President Bill Peffer to take over that broad realm.

She did, but while doing so, she became a hybrid worker long before that phrase came to be, working at her home in Framingham two or three days a week and driving to West Springfield the others.

“My father didn’t love that idea — he felt that a manager should be in the office every day,” she recalled. “He said, ‘how can I manage these people if I wasn’t there every day?’ But I decided to do it and see if we could make it work. And we did.”


To a Higher Gear

Balise eventually moved back to this area in 2018, putting her further away from the company’s dealerships in Rhode Island and on the Cape, but in a better place overall to oversee marketing for a steadily growing portfolio of auto-related businesses.

And some not auto-related.

Balise said the laundries, operating under the name Love Your Laundry, were her father’s idea, and the Springfield facility, right behind the company’s Mazda dealership, was seen as a way to help the residents of Springfield’s South End.

“It’s not something that we’re planning to blow up and have 25 locations, like the car washes, but if there are opportunities … we’ll see where it goes,” she said, adding that she has plenty of other things on her plate, especially the duties that come with being director of Corporate Strategy.

Whatever the title on the business card might be, Balise said she will always be heavily involved in the community. In fact, opportunities to do so comprised one of the larger reasons why she joined and then stayed with the company.

“I felt I could make a bigger impact through the family business than I could on my own if I worked somewhere else,” she told BusinessWest, adding this impact comes in many different forms.

One of them is playing a lead role in reviewing requests for support from the area’s legion of nonprofits and deciding which directions the Balise company’s philanthropic efforts will take.

It’s a huge responsibility and one she takes quite seriously.

“Having to say no is the worst — it’s tough,” she said, adding quickly that it’s even harder to say no when Balise doesn’t have guidelines for its giving.

So the company — more specifically, her team — created some, addressing everything from areas of focus, such as youth, education, healthcare delivery, and civic and community development, to how to make the most impact.

“In talking about it and in looking at what we’ve supported historically and where we’ve been able to have the biggest impact, we thought we could say yes to $100 for several small donations and have small impacts for some, or … we could refine our guidelines and make sure that, where we’re donating, we have a bigger impact that’s going to have a lasting result in the community.

“So instead of sponsoring a golf tournament or a gala, we want to actually sponsor the new computers or building a new classroom or medical deliveries, as opposed to the 5Ks to raise money. They’re all important, and we need all of those to fundraise, but if we have the opportunity to have more focused donations that have a bigger impact on the organizations that we’re helping, that’s the direction we’ve decided to take.”

Meanwhile, as noted, she is out in the community herself. In addition to reading at Swan School, she’s a corporator at Square One (the company also sponsors a classroom there), and, in the Providence market, she helped wrap presents to be given to patients at Hasbro Children’s Hospital, an initiative that involved many from the company.

While doing all that, she also saves large amounts of time for family, part of the balancing act that is part and parcel of being a woman (and, especially, a manager) in business today.

“It’s a lot, and it’s hard,” Balise acknowledged. “I’m lucky that I have a great team at work, and I have family nearby that can help pick up some days.

“When you have two young kids and you work, there is no balance. Basically, when I’m not working, I’m focused on my kids and my family, and we try to fit in as much as we can and have dinner together.”

Building Trades Special Coverage

Current Events

President Jeff Goodless

President Jeff Goodless

Early on, Jeff Goodless knew life wasn’t easy in the world of electrical contracting.

But he also knew his family had built a strong reputation in the field since 1945, so it was always on his mind to one day enter the family business.

“I went to Northeastern University for five years,” he said, studying electrical engineering and business management there in the 1970s and taking advantage of NU’s well-known co-op work programs. “Everybody said, ‘why did you go to the co-op school?’ But I wanted to go through the experience of actually working and doing real interviews, knowing I was coming here, just to have that experience.

“I came back here and thought I was going to take a month off, and my father said, ‘you can have a day off,’” he went on. “So I came right to work, right out of college.”

He knew that was a good decision and knows it even more now, almost a half-century later, with Goodless Electric marking 78 years in business, still serving clients in the residential, commercial, and industrial sectors, just like his father, Leon Goodless, and uncle, Irving Goodless, did from the start.

Irving launched the business behind his parents’ home in Springfield, and his brother Leon joined in 1957, when the firm took the name Goodless Brothers Electric Co.

They did quite a bit of moving in the first few decades, Jeff said, to Riverdale Road in West Springfield, Worthington Street and then Winter Street in Springfield, then to the current location at 100 Memorial Ave. in West Springfield, alongside the Route 5 rotary at the Memorial Bridge. Irving retired in 1977, Irving retired in 1977, around the time his nephew came on board part-time. Jeff moved into a full-time role around 1982 and eventually took over the firm’s leadership.

“Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

“Believe it or not, the type of work has stayed the same, although maybe on a larger scale later,” Jeff told BusinessWest. “But even way back when, they always did residential, industrial, and commercial work. They ran maybe three, four, six guys.”

At its heyday, Goodless said, the company was running about 90 workers, where now, it boasts about 20, keeping them busy with projects ranging from parking-lot maintenance and upgrades, generator services, and fire-alarm systems to lighting retrofits, swimming pools and hot tubs, and residential and commercial service upgrades, just to name a few.

“There’s a lot of jobs with UMass Amherst, a lot of state work, some city work, fire stations, DPW facilities, a little bit of everything. A lot of work for the housing authorities throughout the years, too,” he said. “We don’t do new homes, but I do additions and a lot of repair work. Out of our service department, we run about four vans, and we roll basically 24 hours a day.”

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020

Goodless Electric celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2020, a major milestone for any company.

As the firm celebrated 75 years in business in 2020, an emerging pandemic posed serious challenges, especially since it was performing work at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where COVID killed 84 residents.

“I couldn’t get my people to go up there, and I couldn’t really blame them,” Goodless recalled. “People didn’t want to work; people were scared. I had an outbreak in my office. It was challenging.”

What made a difference, he said, was the federal Paycheck Protection Program, which poured funds into businesses to keep their teams employed. “We took advantage of that; it was so helpful. We used it right. We used it responsibly. We kept guys going. In fact, we didn’t have to let anybody go through the pandemic at all.”

“I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.”

The economic ripple effects from the pandemic — particularly higher costs and supply-chain issues — still resonate, however. Goodless was able to stock up on things like 100-amp and 200-amp panels to keep housing projects moving, but said customers are still shocked to hear it might take nine to 10 months to get switchgear in.

“We say it over and over again: we’re not the chef; we’re the waiter. We don’t make the stuff,” he said. “It’s still a very difficult message to get through, though.”


The Next Generation

Goodless said the company’s reputation for fast response and competitive bids has helped it earn multiple awards for customer service.

At the same time, though, growth is challenging at a time when building trades of all kinds are beset with a talent drain.

“The workforce situation is awful,” he said. “You can get people, but it’s very hard to get good people in. But I’ve been pretty fortunate; I’ve been able to pick up a few people along the way during the past couple of years, and I’m working on a third one right now.”

Part of the issue has been the pipeline of new, young talent not keeping up with the pace of retirements, but Goodless said that might be changing.

Jeff Goodless’ first projects

This wall represents some of Jeff Goodless’ first projects for clients in the late ‘70s.

“Over the years, we noticed a huge decline in the electrical trade,” he said, referring to the programs young people were choosing to study. “Everybody went into computer technology. That’s really what happened; they all went into IT, computer technology, and they weren’t going through the electrical programs. But now, I think the classrooms are filling up again.”

He’s gleaned as much through conversations with teachers at the trade schools in Springfield, Westfield, Holyoke, and others, who say students are more serious than before about entering the electrical field and other trades. Part of the reason may be the talk of graduates of four-year colleges entering the workforce with six-figure debt and a cloudy career path.

“A kid in a trade, they’ll pay their dues and go through the program, and at the end, you can make well over 100 grand a year. And you’re going to do your side jobs like everyone does and make another 25 grand,” he said. “I tell them, ‘if you work hard, if you work diligently, you can have anything you want. The sky’s the limit if you want to work.’”

And work hard Goodless has over the past four-plus decades, outlasting many former clients whose companies are no longer in business. And it’s work he relishes.

“Everybody will have something different to say,” he noted when asked what he enjoys about running this 78-year-old business. “I love going after a bid, going over the numbers, and winning the bid. That gives me a thrill. My second-biggest thrill is going out and doing the buys.”

He’s also got his eye on making sure Goodless Electric continues to be a force for many years to come, even after it moves past family ownership.

“I always think about what I’m going to do with this business as I’m getting older. My ultimate goal is to turn it over to the employees, or half to the employees and maybe sell the other half, something of that nature,” he said. “I just want to keep the business going, keep the name going.”


Material Growth

LiftTruck celebrates 35 years

As LiftTruck celebrates 35 years, Kara Sotolotto says, its focus is on continuing to grow its many business operations and building on an already-solid foundation.

Kara Sotolotto says she essentially grew up in her family’s business, LiftTruck Parts & Service Inc. in West Springfield.

She remembers doing a little bit of everything for this company — founded by her father, Mario C. Sotolotto, which specializes in forklift and lift-truck sales, maintenance, parts, rentals, and more — but especially the vast amounts of paperwork that have long since been replaced by computer files. This included handling work orders, parts inventory (something that is still done by hand), calling customers, and much more. It seemed there was something new every day, and, collectively, those various assignments have prepared her for her current and somewhat new role, as the company’s vice president, a title she shares with her brother, Mario A. Sotolotto.

She was still waiting for her new business cards when she talked with BusinessWest, but she has already eased into the role, which will see her work with other family members (and there are many of them) and other employees to chart a course for future growth for this venture, which this year celebrates 35 years in business.

It is marking this milestone in a mostly quiet fashion — but also with charitable donations each quarter, including one recently to Baystate Children’s Hospital — and by essentially doing what it has been doing from the start, Kara Sotolotto said — taking care of the many different needs of its clients, mostly manufacturers and distributors located across the Bay State, but also in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Over the years, the company has expanded well beyond its West Springfield roots, opening an office in Brockton to better serve customers in the eastern part of the state, including Cape Cod and the islands, as well as Rhode Island. Looking forward, she said the company is looking at possible additional expansion in the Worcester area, with a location to house what she called a ‘green division,’ dedicated to sales and service of battery-powered BYD material-handling equipment (more on that later).

Overall, though, the business plan calls for shifting more of the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the company to the second generation, Sotolotto explained, as well as simply building on the solid foundation created over the past 35 years, one that has enabled the company to thrive in a sector with many competitors.

Indeed, when asked how LiftTruck manages to stand out in such a crowded field, she said simply, “our service and our mechanics; these are mechanics that everyone likes and trusts, and they really know their stuff.

“He started from the ground up with a few mechanics, who are actually still with us today, and one person in the office.”

“Also, our lines,” she went on, adding that, while many competitors will sell one or a few brands, LiftTruck handles many labels and many options when it comes to how machines are powered — from propane to electric.

It is this ability to provide clients with choices, but also reliable, quality service, that has both enabled the company to thrive for the past 35 years and positioned it for continued success for the next 35.


Getting a Lift

As she offered BusinessWest a tour of the LiftTruck facilities and posed for a few pictures, Sotolotto pointed to a Clark forklift — vintage 1948, by her estimate — that was at the shop for some maintenance. It’s not really used anymore, and she believes it is one of the items on display at a small museum at Barnes Airport in Westfield.

While it is not in active service, the company services many pieces of equipment dating back to the ’60s and even the ’50s that still are, she said, adding that fork trucks, depending on how much they are used, can run for decades, and most clients are determined to get their money’s worth out of their machines.

But there are challenges to servicing such long-lasting pieces of equipment.

“These forklifts were built like tanks because they were used in the military,” she explained, referring to the older Clark machines. “The trouble is, it comes to a point where you can’t find parts for them; there are times when we can have people fabricate the parts for them, but once you get to certain big parts, like cylinders, you have to give in.”

Helping companies keep their machines running as long and as efficiently as possible has become one of the many trademarks of this company, which was started by the elder Mario Sotolotto in 1987.

As Kara explained, her father worked for Northeast Clarklift, joining his father-in-law there, and starting in the parts department and moving up the ladder. He eventually decided to take all that he had learned and start his own venture, one that would focus on all aspects of this competitive business — including sales of new and used machines, service, parts, forklift training, rentals, and more.

“He started from the ground up with a few mechanics, who are actually still with us today, and one person in the office,” she said, adding that the company has enjoyed steady, consistent growth over the years.

This is a family business, she added with conviction in her voice, noting that there are many members of her family who are involved, including her father, the company’s president, who, she said, “likes to keep involved in all aspects of the business,” as well as his uncle, Sales Manager Anthony Sotolotto.

There’s also her brother, Mario, who works mostly out the Brockton facility, and focuses on the sales and everyday operations sides of the business, while Kara is focused more on the back end of the operation — accounting, receiving equipment, managing the West Springfield facility, and talking with the press.

As noted, this is a multi-faceted business, with several components and revenue streams.

On the sales side, the company handles a number of manufacturers, including Clark, Komatsu, Doosan, Heli, and the most recent addition, BYD, which offers machines that run on iron phosphate batteries, Kara said, noting that buyers have a number of options these days in terms of both brands and how machines are powered.

Indeed, while gas-, propane-, and diesel-powered vehicles are still popular, this sector, like the automotive industry, is moving aggressively toward more electric vehicles.

“A lot of people are switching over to electric forklifts,” she explained. “It’s more economical for them, and it’s better for the environment; they’re becoming more and more popular.”

Looking ahead, Sotolotto said the company is strongly considering creation of that aforementioned ‘green division,’ one that will focus on the BYD line and likely be based in the central part of the state so it can effectively serve all corners of the Commonwealth.

“Having a facility to at least store all of our electric lifts and maybe have a few mechanics operate out of there would be great,” she told BusinessWest. “This is definitely something we’ve been talking about and moving toward; it’s a logical next step.”

The sales side of the business has been steady, she added, and it received a somewhat unexpected boost during COVID, when rentals were harder to come by (just as rental cars were) and many customers decided to buy instead — if they could find machines to buy.

And overall sales remain steady as customers seek to replace machines that hit a certain number of hours.

Meanwhile, the machine-rental side of the business remains solid as well, she said, noting that businesses will rent equipment for a day, a few weeks, a quarter, or for much longer stretches depending on need. To mark its 35th anniversary, the company is donating 10% of its rental revenue to various charities, including Baystate Children’s Hospital, each quarter.

The service side of the operation is another key contributor to the company’s overall success, Sotolotto said, noting that clients need their machines to operate successfully, and LiftTruck’s ability to provide reliable service has been another of its hallmarks.


Lock and Load

These various parts contribute to the whole, she said, adding that LiftTruck has much to celebrate as it marks its milestone anniversary this year.

Mostly, it is celebrating what has become a family, or a bigger family, to be more precise, one that includes several people related to one another, but also others who have been part of this operation for years — in many cases, 35 years.

Together, they have made this venture an uplifting success story — in every sense of that phrase.


Giving Them the Business

By Gina M. Barry, Esq.


More often than not, a family business is doomed by the failure of the owners to plan for its continuation. Currently, only 30% of family-run companies succeed into the second generation, and only 15% percent survive into the third generation. Fortunately, with proper planning, most business owners can ensure the continued operation of their business should they become incapacitated or pass away.

Contemplating one’s mortality is not a pleasant activity. Most believe they have plenty of time to plan. Some business owners identify so closely with their business that they simply cannot comprehend the idea of their business being operated by anyone other than themselves. However, when a business owner becomes incapacitated or passes away without a plan in place, the business always falters and often fails.

Gina Barry

Gina Barry

“Currently, only 30% of family-run companies succeed into the second generation, and only 15% percent survive into the third generation.”

The general recommended time to plan for business succession is between the ages of 55 and 65. This timeframe is recommended because most successful business-succession plans include several steps carried out over time. Some succession consultants recommend a three- to five-year plan, while others advocate a five- to 10-year plan. Adequate planning time allows a business owner to test potential successors in different roles and to evaluate their maturity, commitment, business acumen, and leadership abilities. Further, once a successor is chosen, adequate lead time allows the successor to gain expertise so that the business does not falter when the former business owner leaves the business.

More often than not, the head of a family-owned operation chooses a child as a successor. Commonly, more than one child is competent to step into the parent’s shoes, which makes the selection process even more difficult. When a family member is not available, a key employee often fits the bill. Typically, these employees have already displayed the abilities necessary for operating the business.

The business owner should begin by determining three things: when they want to step away from the business, for how long they want to remain active in the company thereafter, and in what capacity they wish to remain involved. Next, the business owner needs to discuss their ideas about the future with their family, senior management team, and key employees. Thereafter, the business owner should begin working with the successor to revise their business plan, thereby allowing them to include any future new products, plans for expansion, growth, or new investment, as well as a candid assessment of the company’s current environment and competitive positioning.

The business owner will also want to develop a financial strategy for actually stepping fully away from the business. A financial strategy, which is perhaps the most significant activity associated with succession planning, protects the company, the family, and the employees against a monetary burden that could doom the entire process to failure. For example, if a business owner intends to leave the business to their children, they must consider any estate taxes their estate may face upon their passing that may require the liquidation of the business, despite best intentions.

It is also critical to obtain an accurate valuation of the business regardless of who will take over or inherit the enterprise. Such a valuation encompasses tangible assets, such as real estate, buildings, machinery, and equipment, as well as intangible assets, such as employee loyalty, manufacturing processes, customer base, business reputation, patents on products, and new technologies. Employing a professional valuation company is recommended, as there are many different factors that affect the value of a business.

Once the business has been valued, it is necessary to determine the method of transferring the business. Some options for transferring a business include gifting, the use of a trust, buy-sell agreements, and life-insurance-funded plans. The choice of successor will strongly influence this decision. Surely, a plan that gives the business to children or family members would differ greatly from a plan that requires a third party to purchase the business owner’s interest. When transferring to a child or related party, the business owner may gift some of the company’s value, whereas, when transferring to an independent third party, the business owner would most likely want to be paid the full fair market value of the business.

As various plans may be established and the specifics of the business must be considered, each different plan must be reviewed on its own merits. The process of choosing a succession plan involves numerous factors, and there are many pitfalls along the way. Thus, it is best to consult with the necessary professionals, such as attorneys, financial advisors, and accountants, to assist with the transition and to allow as much time as possible to plan and make the transition. By doing so, business owners can ensure the vitality of their business for many years to come.


Gina M. Barry is a partner with the law firm of Bacon Wilson, P.C. She is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, the Estate Planning Council, and the Western Massachusetts Elder Care Professionals Assoc., and concentrates her practice in the areas of estate and asset-protection planning, probate and trust administration, guardianships, conservatorships, and residential real estate; (413) 781-0560; [email protected]

Company Milestones Daily News Real Estate The Business of Aging

NORTHAMPTON Richard ‘Rich’ Cooper, whose family built and nurtured the Cooper’s Corner and State Street Fruit Store markets, announced today that he is selling the businesses to a dedicated, longtime employee who is committed to honoring the legacy.

A Florence resident, Cooper, 67, will retire this fall and sell the markets to Michael Natale, 31, a native of Florence who now lives in Easthampton. Natale has worked at State Street and Cooper’s since 2006 in various roles, steadily rising into management and most recently serving as general manager. His father, five siblings and a niece and a nephew have also worked at the popular, hometown convenience stores.

“Mike is a clone of me. He sees what I see. He knows what customer service really means, and he understands the importance of community,” said Cooper. “Mike has a great way with the employees and customers. He is enthusiastic, dedicated and has long-term commitment.”

Cooper will work part-time alongside Natale for a few months after the sale as Natale takes over full ownership.

“Mike is the ideal buyer. This choice feels right to me,” Cooper added. “It meets the obligation I feel toward employees and to the community to keep the stores locally owned and locally committed, the way we’ve been from day one. I didn’t want to sell to a chain or the highest bidder or someone from outside the community.”

Between the two stores, there are 104 employees, most of whom live locally and work part time; roughly 40 work full time.