Home Posts tagged main street
Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

Vince Jackson

Vince Jackson says Northampton retailers have mixed reports on the state of business these days, but are mostly optimistic.

As executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce, Vince Jackson spends a lot of time talking to business owners, and what he hears is generally optimistic — to a point.

“Businesses are careful about using the term ‘fully recovered.’ For some retailers, their situation is better than it was in 2019,” he said, referring to the last pre-pandemic year. “Others say, ‘I’m open only three days a week versus seven, but I’m making more money now.’ Then, for others, things are still tough because we don’t have as much daytime foot traffic with a lot of people working from home. So it’s a mix of anecdotes around town, but the overall sentiment is that things are good.”

At the chamber, one way to gauge activity downtown is through Northampton’s gift-card program, which supports local businesses and, for the third straight year, got significant financial support from Keiter. Over this past holiday season, gift-card sales were up 9% from the previous year, and spending by people redeeming those cards has been up 12%.

“People are spending, and that translates into how retailers are doing,” Jackson went on. “I will say, however, that some retailers say things are not as strong as last year, when people were anxious to get back out and do more traditional shopping.

“So you’re going to get varied comments, but the overall sentiment is that business is good. Businesses are still dealing with supply-chain issues and inflationary issues, driving up costs of goods, but overall, people appreciate having made it through the pandemic and are ready to move on with a whole new start.”

Dee Dice, owner of Constant Growth, a marketing and consulting firm that works with many small businesses in the city and region, said there are supports in place in Northampton to help companies succeed, and new ones developing all the time, like the Sphere, a project of the Downtown Northampton Assoc. (DNA) that supports women entrepreneurs.

“Business owners and entrepreneurs are scrappy and resilient; they adapt well, and I think we’re moving into an era where we’re collaborating and coming together in different ways, figuring out how to share resources and how to come together as a community to set the next trend.”

“I feel like the city has much to offer, and it’s a really good place to start a business, for sure,” added Dice, who has become involved with the Sphere. “Is it ever the perfect time to start a business? That’s debatable, but Northampton is a good place to do it.

“I think Northampton values small businesses in the way they value artists and musicians,” she added. “They value that kind of rebel spirit, people who look to be different and take a risk. In that way, Northampton is great.”

The DNA recently launched a new series of downtown business owner meetings “to create an environment for businesses to come together and talk about what they face on the ground — what’s working and not working, and how DNA can help,” Executive Director Jillian Duclos said.

“I think there’s a lot of hope and a lot of enthusiasm for the future. I think the pandemic was really hard because it was isolating in a lot of ways, but things are shifting and changing on a daily basis,” she added.

“Business owners and entrepreneurs are scrappy and resilient; they adapt well, and I think we’re moving into an era where we’re collaborating and coming together in different ways, figuring out how to share resources and how to come together as a community to set the next trend. We’ve always been trendsetters here; a lot of communities follow in our footsteps, and now we’re resetting again.”


On the Road Again

And they’re doing so as a major Main Street road redesign looms ever closer, one that many business owners feel is necessary even as they fear the disruption it might cause once the actual construction work begins in 2025.

“Northampton is a city known for its resilience and community spirit. As we embark on the next phase of the Picture Main Street project, our top priority is to ensure that our local businesses not only endure but thrive,” Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra said in a recent statement. “Together, we will ensure that downtown remains a bustling hub of activity, culture, and business throughout the construction period.”

Northampton Main Street

Both the Northampton Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Northampton Assoc. are committed to communicating between their members and the city as the Main Street redesign project unfolds.

To that end, city leaders have joined with the chamber and DNA in a campaign around the road project with three goals: continuous communication channels between businesses, residents, and project teams; marketing, arts and entertainment programming, and educational initiatives to draw visitors and locals to Main Street; and innovative strategies to manage access and minimize disruption.

“A lot of business owners on the ground are actually very excited. Thinking ahead to when it’s complete, there’s not a lot of opposition,” Duclos said. “A lot of the comments have really been about the process of getting there. Because not much has happened, it leaves a lot of room to make up what might happen.

“But City Hall is working really hard,” she added, calling the campaign involving the chamber and DNA a “mitigation committee” that will keep its finger on the pulse of what’s happening and how it will affect businesses downtown.

“We’re going to make sure businesses have a voice at the table and they’re letting us know what they need. And businesses say they need to know the schedule of construction so they can work around that schedule,” she explained, noting that some businesses may not schedule certain events, appointments, or classes when loud construction is happening outside their window — but they’d like to know the schedule well in advance.

“We’ll work hard to create these communication channels to so they can operate their businesses in ways that make sense,” Duclos said. “This is not COVID. We’re not closing. We’ll be moving and shaking during construction, and we’ll be doing a lot of unique events.”

Jackson noted that the project’s goals match the acronym SAVE: safety, accessibility, vitality, and environmental sustainability.

“There is a need. There is a propensity for accidents, which have involved a death or two. And the state has said there’s an issue with two lanes on each side of Main Street that are not really marked for two lanes, and wide crosswalks and a number of other issues. And with accessibility, that means for everyone — bikers, people who have disabilities, people with mobility issues.”

In terms of vitality, Jackson is excited about how the redesign can build on some of the energy already being created not just in downtown businesses, but outside them.

“We’ve seen what outdoor dining can do for a community like this and how that has evolved. Even though we’re out of the pandemic, outdoor dining spots in Northampton are still very popular. That’s one of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic — we continue to capitalize on the beauty of the outdoors. That gives vibrancy to the city and gives people a reason to come downtown and shop, eat, and explore.”

Finally, environmental sustainability means not disrupting the environment too much, replacing and planting new trees so Main Street isn’t all about concrete and asphalt.

“You can come any night of the week into Northampton or Florence and get live music or some kind of performance. That’s encouraging, and of course it means not only the music scene will thrive, but people will eat out at more, hang out at bars and restaurants, and go shopping.”

Despite these positive goals, “business owners are nervous, rightfully so, about the disruption,” Jackson said. “What we’ve been told is that construction is expected to begin sometime in the fall of 2025, and the project is expected to take 18 to 24 months. So businesses are concerned.”

That said, the expectation is that the actual construction — both on the surface and with the underground infrastructure — will be tackled in phases, a stretch of road at a time, with the exact schedule communicated in advance. “It won’t be Main Street disrupted for a full mile; it will be broken up.”

Jackson pointed to previous road projects on Pleasant Street, where the chamber is located, and on King Street, that were successful, with plenty of commerce and activity along those well-traveled thoroughfares today.

“So I think, at the end of the day, people are optimistic about the future and realize this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to think holistically about all the things this project represents.”


Continued Momentum

Jackson reiterated that the city, chamber, and DNA are committed to unifying the community and thinking of creative ways to plan events, activities, programs, and general excitement about downtown momentum, giving people reasons to visit even after the road project commences.

“So there’s new opportunity and new performance venues,” he added, citing the return of the Iron Horse Music Hall this May. “You can come any night of the week into Northampton or Florence and get live music or some kind of performance. That’s encouraging, and of course it means not only the music scene will thrive, but people will eat out at more, hang out at bars and restaurants, and go shopping. It’s the kind of city that invites strolling.”

Duclos agreed. “A lot of businesses support artists and have artists up in their shops and doing events. We want to work more closely with everyone on the ground to connect them and use our resources to support what’s already happening.”

Community Spotlight Special Coverage

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner

Greenfield Mayor Roxann Wedegartner says Main Street will undergo much change over the next five years.

When it comes to her city, Mayor Roxann Wedegartner takes the long view.

“In five years or less,” she said, “you will not recognize Main Street in Greenfield because so many good things will be happening.”

Two notable projects in the works involve the building of a new, $20 million library on the east end of Main Street and a new, $18 million fire station on the west end.

“These two big investments at each end of Main Street show the city’s commitment to making Greenfield a desirable place to do business,” Wedegartner said.

That commitment also includes a $5 million project to address parking on Main Street. Right now, the street has a mix of angled as well as parallel parking. When complete, Main Street will have all parallel parking and a bike lane.

“Businesses are rightly concerned about the disruption from the work, but we have lots of parking downtown, so their shops will still be accessible,” the mayor said.

Danielle Letourneau, Wedegartner’s chief of staff, said the plan is to modernize more than the parking.

“During the redesign of Main Street, we want to replace the old pipes and infrastructure under the pavement,” Letourneau said. “That way, the redesign will get a couple things done with only one disruption.”

The street project is expected to begin in the fall, Wedegartner said. “By making investments above ground and on the infrastructure below ground, we are showing that we believe in the future of Greenfield and of our downtown.”

In 2021, Greenfield was one of 125 communities in Massachusetts that took part in the state-sponsored Rapid Recovery Plan (RRP), a program designed to help local economies recover from the impact of COVID-19. Based on input from city officials and businesses, the state put together a formal plan for Greenfield titled “The Deliberate Downtown.”

While noting the downtown area is “very walkable” and has solid entertainment anchors, the report also pointed out that Greenfield took a bigger economic hit from COVID than other communities. According to the plan document, more than 70% of downtown businesses said they lost money in 2020 and in 2021, and two-thirds said they were still far behind their pre-COVID levels of business.

“Greenfield is not a place you happen to go, it’s a place where you are drawn to. Once here, it’s our job to help people make the best use of their visit to downtown.”

Foot traffic also suffered as 97% of the local merchants said fewer people visited their businesses. MJ Adams, the city’s director of Community and Economic Development, said the community is in many ways a place of necessity because it serves as a hub for Franklin County and attracts people in from surrounding towns for the YMCA, the John W. Olver Transit Center, and other regional assets.

“Greenfield is not a place you happen to go, it’s a place where you are drawn to,” Adams said. “Once here, it’s our job to help people make the best use of their visit to downtown.”

One idea to bring more people downtown involved blocking Court Square in front of City Hall to create a pedestrian-friendly area with the adjacent town common. Tried for the first time last year, the effort was framed by Wedegartner as a pilot project that received positive reviews from people who enjoyed the weekly farmer’s market as well as the opportunity to relax at bistro tables and Adirondack chairs with eats from nearby food trucks. The only negative feedback came from some residents who couldn’t find parking near City Hall.

“We learned that people who have lived here for years did not know we have an accessible parking lot behind City Hall,” Wedegartner said. “This year, we’ll adjust the plan to make sure people know about all our parking.”

City staff spent so much energy to establish the space last year, they couldn’t give much thought to what programs could be offered there, Adams noted. “This year, we’re doing it the other way around. Now that people have seen the space, they are asking us when they can use it this year.”


Out and About

Indeed, a public open space was among the recommendations from the “Deliberate Downtown” report, which suggested this would be a good way to encourage more foot traffic downtown. According to Letourneau, this is not the first time the open-space idea has been suggested.

“We found plans from previous administrations that discussed closing off the Court Square area dating as far back as 1985,” she said.

The Court Square space now operates from May to November, and once she can find the budget for it, Wedegartner wants to redesign the area, incorporating the town common into a permanent pedestrian space.

Steve Capshaw says VSS Inc. may look to hire 50 more workers soon

Steve Capshaw says VSS Inc. may look to hire 50 more workers soon, and has found a solid pool of talent in the Greenfield area.

Outdoor dining will also return as the weather gets warmer. When the governor relaxed outdoor-dining restrictions at the height of the pandemic, the idea was to help restaurants generate some business during warm-weather months. That special order ended this week, on April 1, but cities and towns across the state have sought variances to continue the program through 2022.

While not all restaurants took advantage of outdoor seating, Wedegartner said, it was a popular option with many people. “We will be doing some version of outdoor dining again this year.”

An ongoing challenge for the mayor and her staff involves two prominent vacancies in Greenfield. The First National Bank building overlooks the town common and has been empty for several years. Efforts to reconfigure the space as a cultural venue were abandoned recently because several entertainment and cultural venues, such as Hawks & Reed, the Shea Theatre, and other spots no longer make the bank building feasible.

“We are putting together an RFP to see if a private developer might have an idea for that space,” Adams said. “It’s an important project for the city to get something in the former bank building.”

Wilson’s Department Store once dominated Main Street but now stands as a prominent downtown vacancy. The nearby Green Fields Market has been considering an expansion into Wilson’s, but it hasn’t yet happened. Wedegartner called the situation an ongoing conversation that’s still in progress.

“Their move into Wilson’s will be wonderful if it can happen,” she said.


Manufacturing Progress

Advanced manufacturing is one area where Greenfield has seen steady growth. Wedegartner pointed to Bete Fog Nozzle and especially VSS Inc. as significant companies to the city and surrounding communities.

Once known as Valley Steel Stamp, VSS has transitioned into high-tolerance machine services for the aerospace and defense industries. Steve Capshaw, president of VSS, said the company has grown over the last 10 years from $2 million in annual sales to $40 million.

MJ Adams in front of Court Square

MJ Adams in front of Court Square, which will be a pedestrian area again this summer.

“We’re looking to increase sales another 50% next year,” Capshaw said, adding that the three- to five-year plan is to become a premier advanced manufacturer and assembler for the aerospace industry. VSS customers include Pratt and Whitney and Raytheon Missiles, as well as manufacturing key parts for F-15 and F-35 fighter jets.

Demand for his company’s services remains strong as many of his customers are “re-shoring” or having components made here in the U.S. once again. As Capshaw pointed out, COVID exposed supply-chain issues and unrealized cost savings companies thought they were going to get when they moved production overseas.

“No one in our industry who is looking for a job comes here already trained. With the pool of available labor in the Greenfield area, we have successfully hired and trained people to become skilled machinists.”

“Our customers are making this shift for cost and strategic purposes,” he said. “Looking ahead, we see very strong demand for U..S-made precision machine services.”

With 135 employees currently at VSS, Capshaw would like to hire at least 50 more people this year just based on current business. Because his company uses computer numerical control (CNC) machining — pre-programmed software dictates the movement of the factory tools — Capshaw understands that he must build his workforce through training.

Greenfield at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1753
Population: 17,768
Area: 21.9 square miles
County: Franklin
Residential Tax Rate: $22.32
Commercial Tax Rate: $22.32
Median Household Income: $33,110
Median Family Income: $46,412
Type of Government: Mayor, City Council
Largest Employers: Baystate Franklin Medical Center, Greenfield Community College, Sandri
* Latest information available

“No one in our industry who is looking for a job comes here already trained,” he said. “With the pool of available labor in the Greenfield area, we have successfully hired and trained people to become skilled machinists.”

With a predicted need of several hundred more employees in the coming years, he said the search for new workers will encompass a 20-mile radius around Greenfield to “build on what has already made us successful.”

Despite the tight labor market, Capshaw welcomes the challenge. “We like competing for labor. It makes all companies do better, and I don’t see it going away.”

Back in 2010, VSS moved into a 22,000-square-foot facility in Greenfield Industrial Park. After several additions to the site, VSS now occupies 45,000 square feet and is looking to expand.

“Right now, we’re working with the city to find a local place we can buy or a site where we can build an additional facility,” Capshaw said. “We will keep what we have and look to add more space for manufacturing.” He also credited Greenfield officials for all their help in the company’s expansion.

With a new library taking shape, a new Fire Department about to break ground this spring, and a growing advanced-technology manufacturing sector, Greenfield is well on its way to realizing Wedegartner’s vision of transforming the city for the near and distant future.

Daily News

NORTHAMPTON — Colebrook Realty Services Inc. announced the sale of the 33,228 square-foot retail building on Main Street in Northampton between Main Street, LLP and 175 Main Street, LLC — a subsidiary of Redstone. The property is located at 175 Main St. in Northampton.

Redstone is a property management and development company based in Burlington, Vt. It has been investing in properties that inspire pride and interaction for nearly 30 years, with a particular focus on commercial real estate, multi-family, and student housing throughout New England. The acquisition of 175 Main St. represents Redstone’s affinity for the former Faces building and Northampton’s strong downtown area, said Joe Engelken, Senior Vice President of Acquisition & Development for the company.

“Redstone is delighted to have the opportunity to acquire a prominent piece of Northampton’s Downtown and become a part of the community,” he said. “We are excited for the coming years and will strive to recreate the sense of destination that Faces once had.”

Half of the property has remained vacant since the iconic Face’s store shut down in April, 2019. TD Bank leases space at the building across from Thornes Marketplace. The sale of the property was handled by Mitch Bolotin and Jack Dill of Colebrook. “The Faces building is an important landmark for Northampton’s Main Street,” said Mitch Bolotin, “and Redstone is the right development group to manage the property growing forward.”



When everyone gathered on Main Street that hot August day back in 2018 to mark the opening of MGM Springfield, no one really knew what to expect or what the future would bring.

Certainly, no one could have predicted what the scene would be like two and half years later.

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic took a resort casino that was ‘ramping up’ — that’s the phrase we kept hearing over and again from past and present leaders — and knocked it completely off the ramp. The casino was shuttered for several months, and when it reopened, it was only at a fraction of its full capacity. Until very recently, the hotel and most of the restaurants were closed, and the event venues were quiet and dark.

These days, the capacity is not quite half and destined to keep inching higher. The hotel is open on weekends, and the sports bar has reopened its doors as well. But huge question marks surround just when and under what circumstances the casino complex will again be able to host concerts, shows, and other large-scale gatherings.

In some ways, we’re all back where we were almost 32 months ago … wondering what will happen and just what the casino will mean for Springfield and this entire region. That’s where we are as MGM Springfield tries to get the ramping-up process back to something approaching the plane it was on before the world stopped almost exactly a year ago.

We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again … this region needs MGM to make a solid comeback from all that COVID has tossed at it. It needs to come, well, roaring back and play an important role in restarting, if that’s the right word, the renaissance that Springfield was enjoying before the pandemic made Main Street a quiet, almost depressing, place to be.

And a lot will have to go right for such a comeback to happen. First, people will have to regain the confidence needed to gather in large numbers. In other parts of the country, and especially Las Vegas, where the casino business is coming back to life, the signs are quite positive. ‘Pent-up demand’ is the phrase we’re hearing a lot these days, and the hope — the expectation — is that there will be large quantities of it.

But Springfield’s casinos — and all the state’s casinos — could use some help as they proceed back up the ramp. And the state Legislature could deliver some in the form of sports betting.

Lawmakers have been dragging their feet on this issue for years now, and we cannot understand why. Sports betting, if done right, would provide another, potentially huge revenue stream for the state’s casinos at a time when they really need it.

New Hampshire and Rhode Island now have sports betting, and Connecticut is poised to join the fray. Much-needed tax dollars are going to other states or the illegal-betting arena, and Massachusetts simply cannot afford to keep sitting on the sidelines. To borrow still another sports phrase, it needs to get in the game, and soon.

Reflecting once more on that day in August 2018, the expectation among many was that MGM Springfield would not solve all the region’s ills and would not magically transform the region overnight. Instead, it would be a player — a large and important player — and an economic engine.

The pandemic has certainly altered the timeline, but hopefully it hasn’t changed those expectations, or the probability they can be realized.