Home Posts tagged Local Business
Holiday Gift Guide

Keeping It Local

Do you have Amazon or big-box fatigue, or just want to support some great local businesses? Thankfully, Western Mass. provides myriad gift-giving options this holiday season, from spa experiences to restaurants; from sporting events to concerts and museums; from art classes to an eclectic array of retail outlets. Even better, all support Western Mass. business owners and boost the region’s economy. On the following pages are just a few suggestions. Happy holidays, and happy shopping!

Cathy Cross Fashion for Women
151 Main St., Northampton
(413) 585-9398; cathycrossfashion.com

Cathy Cross is a Northampton shop that offers fashion-forward designs as well as timeless classics, with options ranging from jeans to power suits, lots of dresses, casual and contemporary wear, and constantly rotating seasonal collections that focus on current trends. Gift cards are available in any demonination, and can be purchased at the store or online.

CityStage/Symphony Hall
One Columbus Center, Springfield
34 Court St., Springfield
(413) 788-7033; symphonyhall.com

There’s always plenty of variety at Springfield’s premiere entertainment venues, which feature, this season, the Best of Boston Comedy Festival, Jim Brickman with “A Joyful Christmas,” “Moondance – the Ultimate Van Morrison Tribute Concert,” the Albany Berkshire Ballet’s performance of “The Nutcracker,” and much more. Visit the website for a full calendar and to purchase tickets.

Cooper’s Gifts
161 Main St., Agawam
(413) 786-7760; coopersgifts.com

Cooper’s is not just a store — it’s a destination,” shopkeeper Kate Gourde says. “Unlike almost anything else in retail today, Cooper’s is a shopper’s oasis, where you can select from trendy clothing, gorgeous window fashions, distinctive home furnishings, and exquisite gifts.  We are serious about style, yet you will find this shop unpredictable, quirky, and alluring. We want to be something exciting and new every time you visit.”

DIY Brewing Supply
289 East St., Ludlow
(413) 547-1110; diybrewing.com

With the popularity of home brewing on the rise, DIY Brewing Supply has everything an enthusiast would need to start making beer, wine, liquor, soda, cider, mead, and even cheese. Check out the regularly scheduled classes, too, aimed at teaching techniques to both beginners and more advanced practitioners. Gift certificates are available.

Faces
175 Main St., Northampton
(413) 584-4081; facesmainstreet.com

A downtown Northampton institution, Faces has been delighting shoppers for decades with an eclectic selection of clothing, home décor, housewares, accessories, toys, cards, bath and body products, seasonal items, and more. Whether looking for a unique outfit or hunting for a gift for a hard-to-please friend, Faces believes shopping should be fun.

Gateway City Arts
92 Race St., Holyoke
(413) 650-2670; gatewaycityarts.com

Conveniently located in the heart of Holyoke’s Arts and Innovation District, and host to a plethora of studios, galleries, and event spaces, Gateway City Arts is a co-working space for artists and creatives in a variety of disciplines. Among its many programs, the center offers art classes for the casual creator and the professional artist. Check online for the latest offerings, and give someone the gift of inspiration.

Glendale Ridge Vineyard
155 Glendale Road, Southampton
(413) 527-0164; glendaleridgevineyard.com

Glendale Ridge Vineyard is a small, family-owned winery committed to producing wines that express the land, climate, and winemaker’s vision. Visitors can taste small-batch wines, tour the inner workings of the boutique winery, or enjoy a glass of wine with family and friends in a scenic rural setting — then purchase a bottle or two from the wine shop.

Hope & Olive
44 Hope St., Greenfield
(413) 774-3150; hopeandolive.com

Hope & Olive’s owners call their establishment an “everyday-special restaurant,” one that makes the most of a rich bounty of local farms, sourcing much of its menu with nearby products. They say, “we serve inspired cocktails, have an eclectic by-the-glass wine menu, and 12 great beers on tap. We invite you to come and have lunch, brunch, dinner, or maybe just drinks, snacks, or a housemade dessert.” Or buy a gift certificate for your favorite foodie.

It’s All About Me
2 Somers Road, Hampden
(413) 566-2285; www.itsallaboutmehampden.com

Launched in 2004 in a tiny space as an eclectic gift and home décor shoppe, It’s All About Me now inhabits a spacious building on a busy corner in Hampden, and has evolved into a fashion boutique filled with women’s clothing and fashion accessories, not to mention gift items. Whether it’s an outfit for a whole new look, a unique scarf, or a fashion accessory to spice up the wardrobe, it’s easy to find something inspiring.

Jackson & Connor
150 Main St., Northampton
(413) 586-4636; www.jacksonandconnor.com

This small, unique menswear specialty shop offers a selection of eye-catching goods, from stylish suits to cozy sweatpants, ties, T-shirts, socks, vests, sport coats, accessories, shoes, hats, jewelry, care products, colognes, and more. The store also provides full tailoring services, and frequently tracks down hard-to-find items for customers through special and custom orders.

Michael Szwed Jewelers
807 Williams St., Longmeadow
(413) 567-7977; michaelszwedjewelers.com

As the area’s exclusive master IJO (Independent Jewelers Organization) jeweler, Michael Szwed Jewelers keeps up with the latest fashions and trends in fine jewelry and every other aspect of the industry, including innovative technologies. As a result, the owner notes, “we are able to offer the finest diamonds in the world at the best value.” The website features a searchable catalog.

Odyssey Bookshop
9 College St, South Hadley
(413) 534-7307; odysseybks.com

Over its 55-year history, Odyssey Bookshop has earned a reputation as an eclectic spot to look for books — and to take in a steady stream of literary events for adults and children. Odyssey also features a full-service website for ordering. “We believe that many customers need to look at, touch, and feel a book before they buy,” the owners say, “so being a ‘clicks and mortar’ store can afford them the best of both worlds.”

Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting
10 West St., West Hatfield
(413) 446-7845; pioneervalleykarting.com

The 1,000-foot track at Pioneer Valley Indoor Karting is capable of racing up to eight karts at once, with the fastest on-track speeds in Massachusetts, featuring a combination of straightaways designed for speed and sweeping corners for technical driving that will challenge everyone from beginners to experts. The track is equipped with a state-of-the-art timing system to record the individual lap times of each kart. Purchase special race packages and gift certificates online.

Refresh Whitening Spa
16 Gerrard Ave., East Longmeadow
(413) 384-5760
64 Gothic St., Northampton
(413) 779-3148; emadental.com

Emirzian, Mariano & Associates, a general, esthetic, and prosthodontics dental office, melds teeth whitening and dental hygiene with a spa-style experience. With several whitening options available, both at Refresh and at home, the team helps each customer select the best method for them. Gift certificates are available.

Renew.Calm
160 Baldwin St., West Springfield
(413) 737-6223; renewcalm.com

For the past 17 years, Renew.Calm has offered an array of both medically based and luxurious spa treatments, with services including skin care, therapeutic massage, nail care, body treatments, yoga, hair removal, makeup, and lashes. The 4,000-square-foot facility also hosts educational events, fitness classes, spa parties, and more. Multi-treatment packages make great gifts, and gift cards are available as well.

Ski Butternut
380 State Road, Great Barrington
(413) 528-2000; www.skibutternut.com

Skiing and snowboarding definitely make those New England winters more tolerable. This family-oriented ski area in Great Barrington provides 110 acres of skiing spread across 22 trails. If you are shopping for someone who loves the outdoors, a gift certificate to Ski Butternut may open the doors to a new passion. If they’re already hooked on skiing, a lift ticket may be most appreciated. Check out the website for prices and deals.

Rosewood
34 Elm St., Westfield
(413) 642-5365; rosewoodwestfield.com

Rosewood Home & Gifts is a trendsetting retail store located in the heart of downtown Westfield, offering home decor, gift items for special occasions, jewelry, apparel, and more, including many local products made in the Pioneer Valley. Rosewood also offers seasonal, interactive workshops on chalk paint and waxing, helping participants create beautiful, decor for the home and yard, using sustainable and recycled products.

SkinCatering
1500 Main St., Suite 220, Springfield
1 Country Club Road, Holyoke
(413) 282-8772; skincatering.com

SkinCatering offers a release from the hectic holidays, and after all the stress and strain, an extra-special, very personal gift may be just what the doctor ordered. Pamper someone special with a massage, facial treatment, spa and sauna package, or any number of other options. Gift certificates are available in any amount online or in person.

Springfield Thunderbirds
45 Bruce Landon Way, Springfield
(413) 739-4625; springfieldthunderbirds.com

A great deal for big-time hockey fans and folks who simply enjoy a fun night out with the family, Thunderbirds games are reasonably priced entertainment in Springfield’s increasingly vibrant downtown. The AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Florida Panthers, the T-birds play home games through April at the MassMutual Center. Purchase tickets at the box office or online.

WEBS
75 Service Center Road, Northampton
(800) 367-9327; yarn.com

A second-generation, family-owned business, WEBS, has been a destination for knitters, weavers, and spinners for more than 40 years. This Western Mass. mainstay with a national reach is known as America’s Yarn Store for a reason, with a 21,000-square-foot retail store, a robust online presence, as well as comprehensive classes and events for all skill levels.

White Square – Fine Books & Art
86 Cottage St, Easthampton
(413) 203-1717; whitesquarebooks.com

White Square – Fine Books & Art is an old-style bookshop nestled in an eclectic area of authors, artists, galleries, restaurants, and colleges on the western edge of Mt. Tom. It serves as a  literary resource for the community and a destination point for sophisticated collectors, selling books and art and hosting events and conversations with both local and national authors and artists.

Banking and Financial Services

Sowing Seeds

Julia Coffey brought this selection of mushrooms to a local farmers market

Julia Coffey brought this selection of mushrooms to a local farmers market. She also sells to restaurants, campus food services, and other food distributors.

Julia Coffey’s business was mushrooming — in more ways than one.

In fact, her enterprise, Mycoterra Farm, specializes in mushrooms. And when she was looking for a larger space in which to grow, she received a fortuitous phone call.

“In mushroom production, as with much agriculture, efficiency of scale is big — and we had maxed out capacity at our farm in Westhampton,” Coffey said.

She found a closed equestrian center on the market in South Deerfield that would make an ideal space, and initially pursued loans through the USDA Farm Service Agency. But she still needed more funding to get up and running on the new site.

“We were trying to figure out how to get the new farm online with a little less money than I needed, and it was Rebecca who reached out to me to see if we had any funding needs,” she recalled. “It was very timely.”

That was Rebecca Busansky, program manager for the Pioneer Valley Grows Investment Fund, or PVGrows for short, a regional investment and loan program launched in 2015 that provides financing and technical assistance to food and farming businesses in Western Mass.

“We really set out to help the whole food system. This is about farms and local food businesses and everything that makes a healthy food system,” Busansky told BusinessWest the day after the Franklin County Community Development Corp. (FCCDC), which oversees the fund, marked the project’s three-year anniversary with a celebration at Raven Hollow Winery at Koskinski Farms in Westfield.

It wasn’t just an anniversary being celebrated, but a funding milestone — $1.25 million, in fact, halfway to the fund’s original goal of $2.5 million. That money has helped more than 25 local farms and food entrepreneurs grow their businesses — and, in turn, a critical sector of the Western Mass. economy.

Mycoterra is a good example. The gourmet and exotic mushroom farm, as Coffey described it, grows “wood-loving” mushrooms indoors year-round. Mycoterra specializes in shiitake, oyster, and lion’s mane mushrooms, but experiments with many other varieties as well — and, in doing so, impacts scores of other food-related businesses.

“We market directly to farmers markets, about 50 restaurants statewide, and campus food services, and with the recent move, we’re increasing production and are working with a number of local distributors,” she noted.

John Waite, executive director of the FCCDC, said PVGrows offers an innovative, mission-driven way for community members to invest in their values by supporting and sustaining businesses that can make real changes to how food is grown, distributed, and purchased. “It takes the local movement to a whole new level. It’s beyond eating local — it’s investing locally.”

Good Idea, Naturally

To date, nearly 50 investors, including individuals, businesses, and foundations from New England and New York, have contributed a minimum investment of $1,000 to the fund, with interest paid annually, Busansky explained. These community investments are pooled together to provide the financing that farm and food entrepreneurs need to grow their businesses.

The fund grew out of existing FCCDC programs that provide technical assistance to local farms and food producers in the Valley, she added, noting that a need became evident for a funding source specifically aimed at benefiting these businesses.

Jennifer Ladd says supporting local food production brings cultural, economic, and even regional security benefits.

Jennifer Ladd says supporting local food production brings cultural, economic, and even regional security benefits.

Three foundations have been important to the fund’s growth: the Solidago Foundation, the Lydia B. Stokes Foundation, and the Henry P. Kendall Foundation, which collectively established a loan-loss reserve. A community pool was then established, accepting investments of $1,000 to $10,000 with a five-year term and a very low interest rate.

“We felt it was important to add this community-investment piece,” Busansky said. “The whole idea was to make it a minimum $1,000 to invest, which doesn’t make it completely accessible to everyone, but it’s not only open to wealthy people, either. It democratizes capital.”

Larger investments come with longer terms and higher interest rates, with the idea that investors with a little more money could be willing to take on more risk, Busansky added. But so far, there hasn’t been much risk for investors.

“We have 25 well-performing businesses borrow from us so far, and we haven’t touched the loan-loss reserve — in part because we give a lot of technical assistance.”

Coffey described the loan process as easy to navigate, but that straightforward experience wasn’t the only thing that impressed her.

The recent three-year anniversary celebration featured food provided by many of the fund’s borrowers.

The recent three-year anniversary celebration featured food provided by many of the fund’s borrowers.

“I’ve got a background in bookkeeping, so I feel I had some skill sets that some people don’t,” she said. “But they were prepared to offer technical assistance, too, for people and startups and agricultural food businesses that need it. They are a very knowledgeable resource, and it was great getting things established right away.”

The FCCDC has been involved in small-business lending for close to 30 years and has plenty of expertise in providing guidance to young enterprises, Busansky noted, from business plans to websites. So she’s not surprised the PVGrows fund has found early success in its mission. “We have a system in place that’s worked well, and now we’re ready to seek the additional $1.25 million in commitments.”

Jennifer Ladd is one of those investors. “You don’t have too be a wealthy person to invest in Pioneer Valley Grows, which I think is a wonderful thing about it,” she told BusinessWest.

“Supporting agriculture in this Valley feels like contributing to a sense of vitality. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when supporting the arts — there’s creativity, growth, collaborations between people,” she went on. “And there are multiple layers of assurance that your money will actually have an impact and be of service.”

Ladd said the low interest rates for investors shouldn’t deter anyone because most people getting involved in this do so because they believe in the value of supporting local farm and food businesses.

“I enjoy cheese, fruits, vegetables, and wine around here, and I don’t mind not getting much of a financial return,” she said. “I’m choosing low interest because that serves people just starting out. These new endeavors need time to get their roots in the ground, so to speak, and this money can help them do that. It will yield benefits in many ways.”

Some of that benefit is cultural, she added, contributing to quality of life and a certain agricultural fabric of the region, as well as a sense of connection with people who thrive off the land and wind up feeding their neighbors.

“We don’t have huge farms here, like in the Midwest, with thousands of acres of corn. This is agriculture we actually do benefit from immediately,” Ladd said. “I also feel like it’s contributing to my sense of security; with climate change and the volatility we see in the world, it’s good to have food being produced locally. So it’s a sort of regional security that has a payoff right now.”

Green Thoughts

Food and farm businesses applying for financing and business support through the PV Grows Investment Fund are vetted for mission fit by a consortium of community-lending institutions and food and agriculture specialists, Busansky explained.

Terry and Susan Ragasa, owners of Sutter Meats in Northampton, were among the early borrowers. “From start-up funds to get us open to facilitating a business consultation to get us to the next level, the PVGrows Investment Fund has been an incredibly supportive asset for Sutter Meats,” Terry noted.

Coffey has had a similar experience, as she grows a business that takes agriculture and sustainability seriously. Her mushrooms are handcrafted in small batches, and her natural methods of production accelerate decomposition, build soil, and cycle nutrients — critical processes for healthy ecosystems, she explained.

In turn, she also appreciates the financial ecosystem being created through the PVGrows investors and borrowers. She said she ran into an old friend recently who had invested in the fund, around the same time Coffey became a borrower, and it struck her how PVGrows is essentially neighbors helping neighbors — and helping a critical part of the region’s economy succeed.

“Western Mass. has a phenomenal agricultural economy, not just the producing, but the processing, and the loan program helps add layers to it,” Coffey said. “We eat really well locally, but the funding and the technical aspects of setting up a business — and setting up a business well — is something that is often overlooked.”

As the fund expands, the hope is that Mycoterra won’t be the only agricultural business in the region that’s mushrooming.


Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Folks in Western Mass. know they’re often dismissed by residents out east, Lisa Stowe says. So how does a city like Westfield make its case as a vibrant destination for a business looking to plant roots?

By working together.

That’s exactly what a handful of partners — municipal leaders, Westfield Gas + Electric (WG+E), Whip City Fiber, the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, and corporate sponsor Westfield Bank — have done by launching Go Westfield, a still-evolving engine to encapsulate what makes this city a desirable landing spot, and, more importantly, tell people about it.

“We worked on this for six or eight months,” said Stowe, marketing and communications specialist for WG+E. “We want to use this opportunity to highlight what makes Westfield unique and a good place to do business. So many people think Massachusetts stops at 495, but there are a lot of things that are not so great about living in that part of the state — cost of living, high traffic, the cost of buying a piece of land. We wanted to draw attention to the things that make Westfield really attractive for people who are looking to relocate.”

The partners in Go Westfield had been doing that, to varying degrees, in their own ways, she added, but a focused partnership allows them to broadcast the message more efficiently.

“If you’re a site selector, we check a lot of boxes,” Stowe said, citing not only the city’s access to Mass Pike, an airport, and rail service, but its strong inventory of developable land — not to mention the municipal utility.

“If you’re a commercial customer, you pay 18% less than the state average for electricity, and 13% lower for gas rates than the state average,” she added. “If you’re an organization doing manufacturing, that’s significant. We feel that’s a good piece of the story to tell.”

Kate Phelon

Kate Phelon

“We really want to promote our city and the positive aspects of it. It’s an ongoing joint effort to drive the message that businesses should come look at Westfield to develop. We have quite a bit of developable land, but how do you get the word out to a company in Texas or Minnesota?”

So is Whip City Fiber, a division of WG+E that now reaches 70% of residences and businesses with high-speed internet. “The fiber project is a big deal,” she said, noting that customers like not only the speed, but the fact that service comes from a local company, not a national behemoth. “We’ve easily met the targets we had set in the business plan.”

Kate Phelon, executive director of the Greater Westfield Chamber of Commerce, said early meetings with the Go Westfield partners focused on how to promote the economic-development landscape in Westfield.

“We wanted a way to really persuade businesses to come to Westfield,” she told BusinessWest. “There are the usual assets everyone knows, like the turnpike exchange, airport, and rail, but we wanted to get a group of stakeholders together and come up with a marketing plan for all of it. We’re very excited about this initiative. There’s a local component to it, but the bigger initiative is a push outside the region to get companies to look at Westfield for commercial developments.”

The group has been discussing marketing strategies as well as ideas like industry-specific focus groups.

“We really want to promote our city and the positive aspects of it,” she said. “It’s an ongoing joint effort to drive the message that businesses should come look at Westfield to develop. We have quite a bit of developable land, but how do you get the word out to a company in Texas or Minnesota?

Westfield also boasts strong schools, a state university, and proximity to numerous other colleges, she added, as well as a chamber of commerce that continually strives to keep businesses informed of state and national trends and developments that could affect them.

In short, the Whip City has a lot going for it, and Go Westfield is just starting to broadcast that message far and wide.

Heart of the City

Meanwhile, the Elm Street Urban Renewal Plan, approved in 2013, focuses on revitalizing 4.88 acres in a two-block area in the heart of downtown Westfield running along both sides of Elm Street, the city’s main commercial thoroughfare. The city has also directed funding to revitalize the so-called Gaslight District adjacent to it.

One recent success story is the $6.6 million Olver Transit Pavilion, which opened in April 2017. The transit center was designed to both catalyze related economic development and increase the use of public transportation. The state-of-the-art center includes parking space for four buses with bicycle racks, as well as a bicycle-repair station, which speaks to the proximity of the Columbia Greenway Rail Trail only a block away.

The Westfield Redevelopment Authority also demolished a former bowling alley near the transit center, with plans to create a multi-story, mixed-use building with retail, restaurants, office space, and market-rate apartments. The city recently issued a request for proposals for the project, taking advantage of the area’s designation as an ‘opportunity zone,’ a state program that provides tax relief for people willing to invest in certain neighborhoods in need of economic development.

“The PVTA project was the first phase of renewal,” said Peter Miller, Westfield’s director of Community Development. “We’re looking for private development to get some mixed-use retail space on the ground floor, and residential space on the top floors.”

Joe Mitchell, the city Advancement officer, noted that Millennials in particular are drawn to urban, mixed-use living, one reason why such projects have popped up around the region in recent years.

“A three-bedroom house and a white picket fence on a half-acre is not what young people are looking for,” he said. “They want a coffee shop downstairs and a bike rack, and being part of a tight-knit community where there’s activity going on right at their doorstep.”

Another $25,000 in state money will soon fund a wayfinding project for downtown, not just to point visitors to destinations off the main thoroughfare but to help them access parking as well. “We have sufficient parking in our downtown, but people don’t always know where it is,” Miller said. “This infusion of money from the state will allow us to better direct people to where the parking is.”

Phelon noted that the city recently switched all on-street parking, which had been a mix of one-hour and two-hour time limits, to two hours across the board — a small change, maybe, but a good example of how quality-of-life issues can be communicated and remedied across departments.

The momentum downtown has spurred some organic growth, too, Mitchell added, noting that Myers Information Systems is relocating there from Northampton, bringing 20 software-development professionals and renovating 110 Elm St., which used to be a restaurant with industrial space above it.

“They’re moving from an urban, walkable space they’ve outgrown in Northampton to buying one of our old buildings and investing private dollars here,” he added. “It was an extremely underutilized building, and they’re converting it into modern office space. They have a real vision for it.”

He doesn’t think Myers will be the last to make that move. “One of the reasons to relocate to Westfield is that we’re at the cusp of something, and people want to be a part of it.”

Back to School

Phelon says Westfield has accomplished more in recent years because of its culture of collaboration. One example is the Westfield Education to Business Alliance, which connects the city’s schools, where students are beginning to contemplate their career paths, with companies that are eager to mine local talent.

At a time when the state is looking for public schools to forge more meaningful pathways to economic development, she added, the alliance puts the Whip City at the forefront of an important trend.

Westfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1669
Population: 41,552
Area: 47.4 square miles
County: Hampden
Residential Tax Rate: $19.36
Commercial Tax Rate: $36.82
Median Household Income: $45,240
Median Family Income: $55,327
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Westfield State College, Baystate Noble Hospital, Savage Arms Inc., Mestek Inc., Advance Manufacturing Co.
* Latest information available

She said the next phase could be an adopt-a-classroom program in which area businesses could engage repeatedly with a teacher and his or her students. “I also think we need to get students and teachers into the business world on a regular basis. The work environment is changing so rapidly, with technology and robotics and social media.”

Because of this, she went on, it would benefit teachers to see what employees at area companies do on a day-to-day basis, and how. “That’s what they need to be teaching, so they need to see that.”

The Westfield Education to Business Alliance also facilitates a career fair at Westfield High School that gives students exposure to the types of career opportunities available at local companies — and, more important, what skill sets they will need to take advantage of them.

The goal of the next career fair will be to attract 75 companies, up from 51 last time, to interact with the 500 or so students who show up.

“It’s not a job fair; it’s a career fair,” Phelon stressed. “The message is twofold: for students to see what companies are here, and see that they can go away to college and come back here and get good jobs. It’s also good for these students to talk to these employees about their hiring practices, what degree do I need, should I expect a drug test or a CORI check, what are your procedures. And they could talk to students about internships and co-ops.”

The alliance one of many examples of how Westfield continues to bring people and organizations together to raise the fortunes of all.

“The mayor [Brian Sullivan] has been very supportive of these collaborations,” Miller said. “He made building bridges his theme. That’s how we’ll get the most out of the assets we have — not by operating in silos.”

Phelon agreed. “We have our individual purposes and missions, but there’s a bigger picture of working together and collaborating. It’s such a great city, and we’re fortunate to have the assets we have.”

Now it’s time to let everyone know it.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Sections

Driving Change

General Manager Mike Filomeno

General Manager Mike Filomeno

The modern auto dealership — marked by drive-in service areas, well-appointed waiting areas, and high-tech touches — have become standard in the industry, and Ford demands no less of its showrooms. Marcotte Ford, with a 50-year history on Main Street in Holyoke, was especially in need of such a makeover, and the family that owns it is set to unveil its new HQ this summer, bringing the company’s look and feel firmly into the 21st century.

When Marcotte Ford reopens its dealership on Main Street in Holyoke this summer — after a year spent in temporary digs across the street — it will be the culmination of two complementary visions: Ford’s on one hand, and the Marcotte family’s on the other.

“It’s been a long, long road to get where we are today,” said General Manager Mike Filomeno. “Obviously, Ford has a rebranding and a new look that they want, to refresh the whole facility and make it more customer-friendly. Then there are all the touch points we’re going to have — a brand-new shop, all-new equipment, indoor delivery areas for the customers to pick up their cars, all kinds of new technology to make the experience more user-friendly.

“It’s like a McDonald’s,” he went on. “Do you want to go to the old McDonald’s or the brand-new one that has the wi-fi and the TVs and the multiple drive-thru lanes? That’s the philosophy. People want to go someplace that’s new. They want new technology and a new experience.”

What both Ford and the Marcotte family are looking for is the fulfillment of two goals that seem contradictory, but really aren’t, and are being reflected in dealership remodels across all brands: to make it easier and quicker for customers to get in and out when buying or servicing a vehicle, but also making the space more welcoming during the time they have to be there.

To get to that point, Marcotte has spent the last year doing business across the street, in the former location of Gary Rome Hyundai, which relocated to a much larger lot on Whiting Farms Road in 2016.

It’s been cramped, Filomeno said, but much better than working out of temporary trailers. To ease the burden on a smaller service area, Marcotte has sent much of its heavy-duty repair work down the street to its commercial truck center, which opened in 2015.

“When this became available, we ended up buying this place,” Filomeno said. “That was perfect timing. It was empty for a while, and we reached out to Gary Rome and talked to him about renting some space, and he needed to do something as well. So we made a deal last June to move over here.”

Come this summer, the year spent in cramped quarters will have been worth it, Filomeno said, with the opening of the 40,000-square-foot, $8 million facility, which will include a 24-bay service area, including a dedicated space for vehicle inspections. As for the former Rome location, it will become Marcotte’s commercial-sales location, bringing to four (along with the neighboring Paper City Car Wash) the number of Marcotte-owned properties along a half-mile stretch of Route 5.

“We haven’t had that prime A location in the automotive world, as far as being on Riverdale Road or King Street in Northampton, where there are multiple franchises and people can go to one from another,” he noted. “But we have been a destination dealer, and we’ve done that by taking care of the customers, having good employees, and going the extra mile for people.”

New Look … and Taste

Doing all that will be easier in the redesigned Marcotte Ford headquarters, which reflects the types of features Ford demands in all its new stores, Filomeno said.

“They want to have the branding in the façade out front, and they want all the touch points to be user-friendly,” he explained. “We’ll have the indoor drive-through, where you bring in your car and drop it off, and service will come out to you to write it up. We’ll have a customer waiting area with a big TV there, and wi-fi hotspots where they can sit while they’re in the customer lounge.”

On the service side, customers have long been able to get a loaner vehicle when they bring their car or truck in for service, and Marcotte will continue with that service, he added, while employees will appreciate the state-of-the-art, climate-controlled shop decked out with new equipment.

The company is especially excited about LugNutz Café, a restaurant that existed in the former building, but will be significantly expanded in the new one.

LugNutz Café initially served breakfast two days a week for employees and customers, but will be expanding to breakfast and lunch six days a week, featuring sandwiches, wraps, soups, pizzas, and breakfast items like omelettes.

“Bryan came up with the idea, and people loved it,” Filomeno said. “With all the employees we have all day long, come lunchtime around here, we have Chinese, pizzas, and grinders being delivered here, or people going out for food. Now they’ll be able to eat right here. That’s another good service that people will enjoy — I think it’ll be a wow factor.”

Company President Mike Marcotte said customers will appreciate the new touches, from the drive-through service lane to interactive screens in the sales offices to help them quickly access information.

Marcotte expects to unveil its 40,000-square-foot renovation in August, followed by a September grand opening.

Marcotte expects to unveil its 40,000-square-foot renovation in August, followed by a September grand opening.

“The building was 50 years old, and we’ve added on, but now it was time to do a refresh,” he said. “It’s definitely more customer-oriented, with better flow and more technology.”

Filomeno said the dealership aims to be different because other Ford dealers have a similar look. “So we’re making it our own with the LugNutz and some of the other things we’re doing to make ourselves stand out.

“It’s more than the tile and furniture Ford wants,” he went on. “We’re looking forward to some new ways to do business, taking care of the customer, getting them in and out of here, both on the service and the sales side. People want to come in and buy a car in an hour and get through it. They don’t want to wait four hours. So that’s what we’re migrating toward.”

Marcotte agreed. “We feel like buying a car should be a fun experience, not stressful, even though it’s most people’s second-biggest purchase after their house,” he said.

It’s also a different sales experience than it used to be, thanks to the internet. “People do a lot more research before coming in, before they even contact us,” Marcotte noted, noting that the visit is still crucial, because vehicles today are so loaded with high-tech safety equipment and other features that customers still want someone to demonstrate everything they might be able to utilize.

The new facility will reflect those high-tech advances as well, Filomeno said. “Our vision is to have the grand opening come the fall, once we’re fully established, and have a soft opening around August. We have to get in there and get everything working.”

Family Legacy

Marcotte’s grandfather, Al, opened his namesake dealership in 1961 at a different site in Holyoke before moving to its long-time location on Route 5 in 1967. Bryan eventually joined the team, followed by Mike a generation later. Today, the dealership employs a number of other family members, including Filomeno, who married into the Marcotte clan.

It’s a company with not only family ties, but deep community roots as well, Filomeno said, noting that Marcotte Ford has supported a number of local nonprofits over the years, from Kate’s Kitchen and Providence Ministries to the baseball teams customers’ kids play on.

“You can only do so much, but we try to be as generous as we can because it does make a difference,” he added. “You’ve got to support the community you work in. So we’ve made a conscious effort to make sure we do that on a regular basis.”

With a 56-year history behind it, Marcotte said, the dealership felt it was past time to make the changes almost ready to be unveiled across the street.

“We’ve been looking at this for several years,” he said, noting that it’s a good time to reinvest, with sales — particularly the truck business and the commercial side — booming.

“Business has been good. We’re just always trying to find ways to find more business,” Filomeno noted, adding, however, that he’s unsure how people will react to Ford’s decision to discontinue some lines.

“That’s a challenge for us, because people are asking why and what’s going on, but I think they’re trying to get rid of some of the less-profitable cars and concentrate on more of the profitable items and come out with some new products. There’s a new Echo Sport, we’re going to have new Rangers, some new Broncos coming in.”

Meanwhile, people’s driving habits are different than before, with younger drivers more willing to rideshare and use public transportation — not to mention the prospect of autonomous cars, which may someday significantly impact people’s decision to even own a car. So it’s important, he said, for dealers and manufacturers to anticipate possible trends while continuing to focus on what they do well.

“There’s some uncertainty as far as what’s coming, but our bread and butter has been the truck line and SUV line, and that has been very strong,” he said. “There have been other changes in the industry, too. Right now gas is going up a little, and interest rates are going up a little. People have been spoiled for years, when we gave them 2%, 1%, 0% financing, and, that’s not always there now. You have to just adapt.”

With 142 team members across all facets of the company, there’s been plenty of adapting and moving around while the main site has been given over to construction over the past year, Marcotte said, adding, however, that employee morale has remained high during the transition.

That’s important, Filomeno added, because, while the internet has helped the company sell outside the local market, it’s still a company built on customer service.

“Although Ford has got a great product, you can’t say you’ll never have a problem with a car,” he told BusinessWest. “But if you do, we try to make that experience as positive as we can. That’s been the forte of our business model all along.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]