’Tis the Season
It’s not always easy to find the perfect gift item for everyone on your list, but, thankfully, Western Mass. provides a plethora of options, from cooking classes to balloon rides; from sporting events to spa experiences — not to mention books, toys, locally created art pieces … the list goes on. Even better, all support local businesses and organizations — many of which have struggled during the pandemic — and, in turn, boost the region’s economy at a time when it could really use the lift.
When Bill Cole took over leadership of Living Local 413, he said, it was a loose collection of businesses in Longmeadow and East Longmeadow supporting each other. He knew it could be more, and grew its presence and mission; soon, it will even launch an accelerator program.
“Ultimately,” he said, “it’s about the entire business community in Western Mass.”
It’s a business community, like others across the U.S., that has been ravaged by the pandemic and the economic turmoil that has followed in the wake of COVID-19 — and those challenges have not ended, which is why Cole says it’s critical to support locally owned businesses over national chains and online retailers this holiday season, and beyond.
“We should all eat, shop, and hire local,” he said, citing some statistics to back up that thought. “It’s very, very simple: when you take $100 and spend it at a local business, up to $69 stays in the community. When you spend $100 on Amazon, none of it stays in your community.”
Even shopping at a local big-box store returns just $43 of that $100 to the community, he noted.
“The bottom line is, when your money stays local, it helps things like police and fire departments, and sports teams, which are always sponsored by some local business. And it’s better for the environment because you’re not shipping stuff all over the place. Basically, everyone wins. That’s what it comes down to.”
“It’s very, very simple: when you take $100 and spend it at a local business, up to $69 stays in the community. When you spend $100 on Amazon, none of it stays in your community.”
Claudia Pazmany, president of the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed, noting that local retailers offer unique, often handmade gifts that stand out from what can be purchased on Amazon.
“This is a time when we have to look inside and say, ‘I want to support local businesses,’” she said. “People often say they support local, but can you really say you do?”
To help shoppers come to that decision, the Amherst Area Chamber has developed an economic-stimulus initiative to support local businesses through a gift-card match program. The gift cards can be used at many local businesses, and two chamber members have each donated $5,000 to a gift-card match. Thus, beginning on Nov. 15, each $25 gift card purchased will be doubled in value to $50, thanks to these donations.
“That will translate into a $20,000 reinvestment in our small-business community,” Pazmany said, adding that the Amherst Business Improvement District is bringing back its red-ticket event, and for every $25 gift card purchased, the buyer will receive two red tickets toward a cash drawing on Dec. 18.
Again, it’s a win-win for shoppers and local businesses, she said, noting that restaurant gift cards make good holiday gifts as well.
“Let’s make an effort. Restaurants haven’t opened to full capacity because of staffing. We’re not there yet. That’s the big message I’d like to send — we’re not out of this by any means. A lot more support is needed, and the best way to do it is to buy local during the holidays.”
Cole said the pandemic has certainly made things tougher for businesses, but many were already feeling the crunch of online and big-box sales before COVID arrived. Fortunately, he added, more people have become aware of the need to support their area retailers, restaurateurs, artisans, and others.
“Any restaurant, smaller retailer, event business, these are segments of the economy that had the crap kicked out of them really, really badly, and they’re still struggling,” he told BusinessWest. “Even if they got help with PPP and all the things available to the small-business owner, it wasn’t easy to begin with. Some of these people may not recover.
“On a more positive note,” he added, “those people who will recover are awesome entrepreneurs. They know when to pivot and change and do things that make a difference.”
And they deserve the community’s support to keep pivoting and keep rebounding, Cole added. “Certainly, that’s what Living Local is going to do. We want to be 100% behind that.”
— Joseph Bednar
Keeping It Local
Western Mass. Offers Plenty of Gift-giving Options This Holiday Season
The Baker’s Pin
34 Bridge St., Northampton
(413) 586-7978; thebakerspin.com
This extensive kitchen store carries a wide range of cookware, cutlery, electric devices, bakeware, kitchen tools, home goods, cookbooks, and food products as well — extracts, condiments, jams and jellies, sweets and chocolates, oils and vinegars, tea, spices, pastas, and more. But it also offers an array of cooking classes, both online and in person, exploring different foods and techniques appropriate for the season.
86 Cottage St, Easthampton
(413) 203-1717; bookmoonbooks.com
Since its 2020 opening, Book Moon has established both a local clientele and a robust online presence. The independent store is run by married couple Kelly Link, author of the Pulitzer finalist Get in Trouble, and Gavin Grant, founder and publisher of Small Beer Press. They carry new and used books, collectible first editions, cards and gifts made by local artists, and “mysterious book bundles in brown paper packages tied up in string.”
161 Main St., Agawam
(413) 786-7760; coopersgifts.com
Cooper’s is not just a store — it’s a destination,” shopkeeper Kate Gourde has said, calling her facility a shopper’s oasis featuring trendy clothing, window fashions, distinctive home furnishings, and exquisite gifts. “I’ve watched babies be born, grow up, and shop now with their little ones. I’ve assisted them in finding the perfect gifts for all the happy and the sad occasions that life sends us.”
Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art
125 West Bay Road, Amherst
(413) 559-6300; carlemuseum.org
The Carle calls itself “the international champion for picture books. We collect, preserve, and present picture books and picture-book illustrations for audiences passionate about children’s literature.” But in addition to the museum, its store carries books, gifts, prints and décor, cards and stickers, clothing and accessories, party supplies, and more. Parent’s Choice calls it “the very best bookstore for picture books in the entire world.”
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. The winery building features indoor seating and space for private events.
The Mill District General Store and Hannah’s Local Art Gallery
91 Cowls Road, Amherst
Part art gallery, part experiential retail store, the Mill District General Store features an array of household items, gardening supplies, pet supplies, games, art supplies, gifts, and locally sourced items. The adjacent Hannah’s Local Art Gallery creates a community hub for emerging and established artists to show and sell their work, teach pop-up classes in their art modality, and learn with and from one another.
Misty River Ballooning
(413) 586-9579; mistyriverballooning.com
Misty River Ballooning offers hot air balloon rides in the skies above Western Mass. Veteran balloon pilot Don LaFountain launches from several locations in the Pioneer Valley and the surrounding hilltowns. On a clear day, riders can see the Berkshire hills, as well as the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire. Each flight is followed by a traditional champagne toast and light snacks.
31 South St., Pittsfield
(413) 499-1818; museumoutlets.com
One of the product categories on its website is ‘cool stuff,’ but really, it’s all cool stuff, with items like vintage maps, French posters, art and prints, and home goods, including elegant serving trays, candle lanterns, alpaca blankets, sculptures, Amish tin stars, bookends, weathervanes, picture frames, doorstops, pillows, rugs, as well as clothing and accessories. No wonder Museum Outlets was voted Best of the Berkshires in the gift-shop category in 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2021.
9 College St, South Hadley
(413) 534-7307; odysseybks.com
Over its 59-year history, Odyssey Bookshop has earned a reputation as an eclectic spot to look for books, and also also features a full-service website for ordering. In addition, according to its website, “we strive to provide a hospitable and nurturing environment to encourage the healthy exchange of ideas by hosting numerous readings, book groups, panel presentations, and online discussions.”
Off the Beam Woodworking
Local artist (and full-time nurse) Sheri Lee handcrafts unique woodworking pieces, including cheese and serving boards, picture frames, cribbage boards, knife racks, and lanterns from domestic and exotic woods. “Many of the items I make will represent a specific nonprofit organization,” she says. “When you purchase the item, all of the proceeds from the sale minus just the cost of wood and hardware will be donated to the nonprofit the item represents.”
Pioneer Valley Food Tours
This enterprise creates walking food tours that explore local flavors from Northampton and around the region. It also creates gift boxes sourced from the unique natural resources of the region’s fields and farms, as well as Pioneer Valley picnic baskets of selections ready to bring on an outdoor adventure. Choose a pre-set tour itinerary, or create a custom tour to suit your tastes.
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 longest races and fastest on-track speeds in New England, 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.
160 Baldwin St., West Springfield
(413) 737-6223; renewcalm.com
For the past two decades, 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, and more. Multi-treatment packages make great gifts.
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, with a focus on products that support fair trade and products produced locally on the Pioneer Valley. Rosewood also offers seasonal, interactive workshops.
1500 Main St., Suite 111, Springfield
(413) 282-8772; skincatering.com
SkinCatering offers a release from the hectic holidays, so 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. And check out its soothing, expanded space on the first floor of Tower Square. Membership packages are available at several different levels.
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 vibrant downtown. The AHL affiliate of the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, the T-birds play home games through April at the MassMutual Center, with a constant stream of promotions, from theme nights to $2 hot dogs, sodas, and beers every Friday night. Purchase tickets at the box office or online.
The Toy Box
201 North Pleasant St., Amherst
(413) 256-8697; thetoyboxamherst.com
The Toy Box is “the family fun store of Amherst,” encouraging kids and adults to play and explore, with a wide array of unique products and features like a birthday club and ‘mystery bags.’ For owner Liz Rosenberg, “the gift of sharing something that promotes family and togetherness, is educational and fun, brings joy to children and grownups alike … well, that helps extinguish fears and makes for a better world, better community, and just plain feels right.”
The Trustees of Reservations
200 High St., Boston
(617) 542-7696; thetrustees.org
This nonprofit land-conservation and historic-preservation organization is dedicated to preserving natural and historical places. The Trustees own title to 120 properties on 27,000 acres in Massachusetts, all of which are open to the public, including historic mansions, estates, and gardens; woodland preserves; waterfalls; mountain peaks; wetlands and riverways; coastal bluffs, beaches, and barrier islands; farmland and CSA projects; and archaeological sites. A membership makes a great gift.
1 Campus Center Way, Amherst
(413) 545-2619; umassstore.com
This is the place for UMass-branded men’s and women’s apparel, drinkware, home and office supplies, accessories, and more. The UMass Store is also the first collegiate campus store to develop a sustainability section. As part of this commitment, it is reaching out to vendors and increasing the variety of sustainable products carried in the store, from recycled newspaper pencils and bamboo calculators to organic cotton T-shirts and recycled bottle apparel.
Veronica Martin Design
(413) 628-1985; veronicamartindesign.com
“I’ve always felt compelled to make things with my hands. It’s a reaction, an impulse. It’s how I breathe. Every day should be filled with beauty, and the everyday item should be beautiful.” That’s how Veronica Martin describes her handmade ceramics, candles, and beauty products, which are both lovely and functional. “Their thoughtful aesthetic and elegant characteristics make them luxurious items to own or stunning gifts to give. They are made with a passion for quality, everyday luxury.”
801 Williams St., Longmeadow
(413) 754-3654; zenstoyland.com
Zen’s Toyland, formerly known as The Wooden Toy, has been in business for more than 30 years, selling a variety of items ranging from baby teethers to adult puzzles. “You will find high-quality and unique items that aren’t available elsewhere,” owner Harshal Patel says. “All the toys are handpicked, and we only bring in toys that we would give to our own kids. Also, we have a playroom for your little one to test-drive things we carry. Everyone is a kid at our toy store.”